Howard Hughes with plane.
Credit: NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images
Personal Fleet: That magnificent man and his flying machines

H-1

The H-1 was conceived to be the world's fastest plane – and it was, busting the airspeed record in 1935 and the transcontinental speed record in 1937. Among its many innovations: retractable landing gear.

Lockheed 14

In 1938 Hughes piloted this 12-passenger plane – to which he himself had added supercharged engines and a souped-up instrument panel – in a record-breaking round-the-globe flight.

XF-11

Designed as the ultimate cloak-and-dagger spy plane, to fly at 40,000 feet and at a top speed of more than 400 m.p.h., it was scuttled after a test flight crash in 1946, which Hughes barely survived.

H-4 Hercules

The Noah's Ark of airplanes, the Spruce Goose weighed 400,000 pounds and, conceivably, could carry 750 passengers. Alas, it never carried anyone but Hughes, his crew, and a few reporters.

Trans World Airlines

Hughes bought a controlling stake in TWA in 1939, but his weird managerial style – especially during his later years – nearly broke the airline. Even so, his 1966 sale of his shares netted him close to half a billion dollars.

The Goose's Roost

The largest plane ever built, Hughes's Spruce Goose now sits in a 121,000-square-foot glass-walled hangar at the Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville, Oregon, 40 miles southwest of Portland. In addition to gaping at its sheer size – a DC-3 and other planes sit under its wings, like baby chicks – visitors can actually enter the giant bird's cargo deck and see its elaborate wooden skeleton. [sprucegoose.org]