Hughes’s wartime ambitions during World War II led to two unusual projects: the XF-11 and the H-K 1.
Hughes was now a world-renowned aviator and looking to push his company even further forward. He just needed a new source of funding to developing and build more planes, and during World War II he found it: the US government.
Hughes secured a manufacturing contract for a long-distance spy plane he called the XF-11.
In 1943, he managed to convince Elliott Roosevelt, Air Force Colonel and the son of the US president, to get the military to put $43 million toward building 100 XF-11s. By the time the war ended, however, Hughes had only built two. The project was subsequently abandoned.
The plane also had a faulty propeller that caused a near-fatal crash when Hughes took it for a test flight. As part of his recovery treatment, Hughes was given morphine, marking the beginning of what would become a lifelong addiction to painkillers.
Hughes’s next manufacturing project took shape after he met a charismatic man named Henry J. Kaiser. Kaiser had revolutionized the boating industry by mass-producing 10,000-ton ships in little over a month – ships that usually took over a year to produce.
Unfortunately, German U-boats were still destroying ships faster than Kaiser could manufacture them. So he came up with a new idea: a flying boat that could lift troops and cargo over the water, thus avoiding submarines.
The government was skeptical of the idea but still wanted to see what Kaiser would come up with. So Kaiser got in touch with Hughes and won him over with his charm.
Hughes had a condition, however: he wanted full control over the design. Metals were in short supply because of the war, so he went for the duramold construction process: a technique based on bonding thin strips of plywood together.
The project was named the H-K 1, and it would be troubled from the start.
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