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Flight simulator helps 'solve' Howard Hughes mystery


3 November 2011

A university lecturer believes he has come up with a definitive answer to one of the biggest unanswered questions in aviation history – that billionaire Howard Hughes’s Spruce Goose would have been capable of flying.

Using one of the most advanced flight simulators in the UK, Glynd┼Ár University’s Nick Burdon has designed an aircraft with an identical spec to the famous 1940s Hercules H4 flying plane which featured in the 2004 film The Aviator.

The simulator, housed at the university’s Wrexham campus and designed to aid engineering students’ understanding of aviation, is capable of replicating the flying experience of any aircraft when programmed with its key characteristics, such as height, length, weight and wingspan.

After programming the simulator to replicate its 97.5m wingspan, 1060m2 wing area, 68m in overall length, 180,000kg fully loaded mass, and its eight 3000hp engines, the computer could then predict its flight characteristics.

Nick researched the Hercules H4’s flight capabilities by locating detailed plans of the original aircraft design and obtaining data from Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum in Oregon, USA, where the plane is now housed.

Spruce Goose attracted criticism worldwide from engineers sceptical over whether it would have flown successfully over a longer distance.

It only ever made one test flight, on Long Beach California in 1947, during which it remained in ‘ground effect’ – an altitude below that of the plane’s wingspan.

Nick said: “It’s hugely exciting for me personally. I’ve been interested in aircraft since I was a young boy and whether Howard Hughes’s Spruce Goose would have flown is one of the great unanswered questions in aviation history.

“When the idea sprang to mind I started off quite sceptical that it would actually work, simply because of all the controversy surrounding the plane. I’ve got the simulator to replicate it as closely as possible and it proves that it would fly.”

Glyndwr University received delivery of the Merlin flight simulator in 2009. The high-tech piece of kit is designed to replicate as closely as possible the experience of flying an aircraft – and the engineering technology which underpins them.

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