The name Howard Hughes is synonymous with early 1900s aviation, with the billionaire tycoon having left a massive stamp on the industry. Though, his legacy is perhaps more in regards to his eccentricities than his aviation industry achievements.
The film The Aviator released in 2004, directed by the legendary Martin Scorsese. The role of Hughes was played by Leonardo DiCaprio. Upon release The Aviator received almost universal acclaim, with most assuming the film was an accurate portrayal of the man. Needless to say, the film wasn’t particularly accurate. Although the broad strokes of the billionaire’s life were more or less accurately depicted, most of the darker reality was cut out.
Daring But Dangerously Obsessive
In the film it is only hinted that Hughes was a film director and producer. In reality he was, in fact, a highly prolific movie maker in the early 20s. His production Two Arabian Knights was Academy award winning, suggesting that he was more than competent. But even in filmmaking the man was, in reality, obsessive to the point of being dangerous.
During the production of Hells Angel’s the real life Hughes insisted on capturing much of the action himself, essentially flying with a clunky camera. He crashed and fractured his skull, though survived. Two other pilots and a mechanic were not so lucky, dying during production. Today these deaths would have been a worldwide scandal that ended the career of Hughes on the spot.
A Disaster In The Air And On Land
Today, many get their thrills with diversions like FIFA betting, in the 30s and40s Hughes apparently got his thrills crashing planes. The film depicts a single crash, perhaps the most well-known, during which the billionaire smashed into a residential area in Beverly Hills.
This did happen, but wasn’t his only major crash by a long shot. The Beverly Hills crash occurred in 1946, decades after the nearly fatal crash during Hells Angels. The film omitted another serious crash, in 1943, that cost the lives of 2 Hughes employees.
The Hercules Aka Spruce Goose
What most know about Hughes is his later life, namely the scandal of The Hercules. Hughes was paid millions by the government to develop a plane in the 40s; a plane he never delivered. He was labelled a war profiteer, dragged before the senate, and forced to defend his reputation.
In reality a fierce rivalry did indeed exist between Trans World Airlines and Pan American World Airways. There is also genuine speculation as to whether Pan American pushed to have Trans World investigated, namely as a means to ruin Hughes’ company.
The truth about the billionaire being a war profiteer is debated to this day. What most do agree on is that The Hercules, AKA the Spruce Goose, was a questionable plane. While it is true that Hughes flew the plane once to prove it worked, in reality the flight was so short, and the plane so low to the ground, that the stunt proved nothing. But it was enough for him to escape prosecution.