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.
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.
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.
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]