While piloting an experimental aircraft for the US Air Force, Howard Hughes, one of the greatest American inventors and innovators, perished in a crash in Beverly Hills, California. The craft was the XF-11, a plane meant for reconnaissance with a range of 5,000 miles and a top speed of 450 mph. Later searches through the wreckage would point the failure to an oil leak, which thus ended the exciting and versatile life of Howard Hughes.
Hughes was known for many skills: He played golf with professional athletes through his twenties, but never pursued a career himself. He produced numerous films in Hollywood, including 1932's Scarface and 1928's Two Arabian Knights, which won an Academy Award. He also designed and flew aircraft, his greatest work.
Most famous was his H-1 Racer, a plane in which he set airspeed records (though later proven already accomplished) and records for flight time, such as his trip between LA & NYC in 7 hours, 28 minutes, 25 seconds in 1937. Awards were showered upon him. Hughes even received a Congressional Gold Medal in 1939, but he was much too busy to pick it up. It now rests in the wing dedicated to Hughes in the National Air and Space Museum.
At the time of his death, no one could say a bad thing about him. None can guess what would have come of the young genius had he survived. Perhaps with his designs and urgings, commercial airliners would have eclipsed the ever-popular train for travel within the country.
In reality, Hughes survived, despite third-degree burns, broken ribs, a collapsed lung, a crushed collar bone, and additional injuries. In the years that followed, he would design and fly the infamous H-4 Hercules (also known as the “Spruce Goose”), gain control of RKO films, and finally moved to Las Vegas, where he would descend into mental and physical illness. Today, Hughes is sadly much better known for his eerie lack of hygiene and various addictions than for his innovations in aviation.