No airplane in the world could outshine Howard Hughes' H-1 Racer--until Jim Wright built a copy of it.
- By Preston Lerner
- Air & Space magazine, May 2003
(Page 4 of 6)
The speed record attempt in Reno was just the means to an end: giving the Racer replica an appropriately grand debut. Wright shattered the old mark with an average speed of 304 mph. But back on the ground, after accepting the congratulations of his crew and hundreds of well-wishers, he quietly confides, “We’ve still got some issues to deal with.” A lingering pitch problem limited Wright to 62 percent power, and the leather seal in the prop took such a beating that grease flowed into the airstream and slathered the canopy. “Visibility was so bad I couldn’t have done one more run,” he says.
In January, the right landing gear collapsed on rollout. The damage is being repaired, and Wright hopes to replicate Hughes’ record-setting cross-country flight. He also plans to take his airplane on the airshow circuit. As it is, the Racer is the star attraction where it’s parked on the ramp in Reno. In fact, hardly anybody seems to notice the rare P-63 Kingcobra or F7F Tigercat on either side of it.
Later, after most of the spectators have left, a passerby spies the unguarded Racer. “Major wow!” he says. After a furtive look around, he ducks under the protective rope and reverently strokes the fuselage. A security guard materializes and orders him to get out of there, pronto. “Sorry,” the interloper says sheepishly. “I couldn’t resist.”
The two of them stand there for a moment, gazing at the airplane. “It’s like a beautiful woman, isn’t it?” the guard says.
“Yeah,” the interloper agrees. “Like a beautiful woman.”
“Would you like to see the Howard Hughes H-1 Racer?” I asked the Air Force pilot. I was sure “Joe Bill” Dryden would be interested. “Howard set a world speed record of 352 miles per hour in 1935,” I added.
It was the spring of 1975. I was a test pilot for the Hughes Aircraft Company, flying out of the company’s private airfield at Culver City, California. Dryden would evaluate our new radar by flying test missions in an F-4 Phantom. I would fly a T-33 target aircraft. We would be spending a lot of time together.
Another Hughes employee, Bruce Burk, the caretaker of all of Howard Hughes’ stored aircraft, held the keys to a Quonset hut next to our flight test building. He agreed to meet us there and unlock the door. We could get a peek at the H-1 if we brought a flashlight.