Howard Hughes: The Eccentric Genius Who Rocked the World of Aviation

Howard HughesHoward Robard Hughes Jr was born on December 24, 1905, He was a man who wore many hats, and due to his raw unbridled passion became successful in every task he set for himself. In his life time he was renowned as a shrewd investor, a record setting pilot, a powerful business magnate, skilled engineer a well-known film director, and perhaps above all else, as an exceptionally generous philanthropist. All of these combined, meant that he was known even during his lifetime as being pretty much one of the most financially successful individuals in the whole world.

o   Tinsel town: The glittering world of Hollywood filmmaking

He first rose to prominence as an up and coming film producer when the industry was practically in its infancy, and then later on as a highly influential figure in the then nascent aviation industry. Later on, in life, he became well known for his otherwise highly eccentric behavior as well as leading a particularly reclusive lifestyle that practically made him for all extents and purposes, a hermit. Such quirks in his personality seemed to have been caused in part by a steadily worsening OCD or obsessive compulsive disorder, as well as near permanent chronic pain because of a near fatal plane crash, from which he was very lucky indeed, to walk away with his life. Apart from that, his steadily increasing deafness also made him shy away from crowds to a large extent.

As the ultimate film tycoon, a highly unconventional and at times even controversial Hughes earned the title of maverick while gaining lasting fame in the era of the silent movies, back in the roaring twenties. This was a time when he was able to produce mega big budget and often highly provocative movies such as Hell’s Angels (1930), The Racket (1928), as well as the original rendition of Scarface (1932).

o   Taking to the skies: the Hughes Aircraft Company Ltd

Later on, Howard Hughes went on to form the Hughes Aircraft Company, way back in 1932. He hired various top engineers and cutting edge designers of the era in a bid to make his company a success. As a matter of fact, he went on to spend the reminder of 1930s and even the early part of the 1940s in personally setting multiple world air speed records.

It was during this era that he built the (by now) legendary Hughes H-1 Racer as well as the “Spruce Goose” the H-4 Hercules. He also went for the acquisition and the subsequent expansion of the Trans World Airlines and later on its rival Air West, that he renamed Hughes Air West.  It is for his memorable contributions to the world of aviation, that his name has also been included in Flying Magazine’s own list of the “51 (greatest) ‘Heroes of Aviation,’ where Howard Hughes has been ranked at No. 25.

o   His early years

Howard Hughes birthplace is recorded as Houston, Texas. There is a lot of controversy regarding his date as well as place of birth, with some people claiming he was born in Humble while others insist it was Houston. What is however clear is the fact that he was the son of Howard R. Hughes Sr. a man who was a highly successful inventor as well as businessman in his own right and a descendant of John Gano, the minister who had originally baptized George Washington himself.

It was from a very young age that little Hughes started to demonstrate a whole lot of interest in electronic and mechanical sciences and their related technology. Here he found that he had great aptitude in the field of engineering in particular, and it was this avid interest that helped to build (what was touted to be) Houston’s first true “wireless” radio transmitter long before he was even twelve years of age.  But that was not all, within a few short months, in fact hardy after his 12the birthday, Hughes was actually photographed in one of the local newspapers of the city, as being the very first boy in all of Houston to have his very own “motorized” bike. A machine that he had personally built from various parts and components that he had appropriated from his father’s steam engine.

From land machines, his interests soared to the skies and he partook his very first flying lesson at the age of 14.  Thus, began his love affair with aviation that was to propel him to great success and made him a well-known figure all over the world.

o   His business career

Hughes had always enjoyed enviable success throughout his extensive business career that also went well beyond aviation, engineering, and even filmmaking. The Summa Corporation is one such brain child that survives to this day and has been a vehicle that ensured that much of his fortune was subsequently used for various philanthropic causes, the most notable of which would be the upliftment of the health care and medical research sectors. Indeed, these two causes had always been of great interest to him, because he had lost his parents due to medical complications, early on in life.

He also branched out into the real estate sector and is widely known for transforming the city of Las Vegas from a small town that was still grappling with its ‘wild west’ image to the playground of the rich and famous, that it has become today.

Since he insisted on testing his own aircraft, he had a series of near fatal crashes that left him badly injured. The severe injuries (including third degree burns) made him dependent on many pain killing medicines and he continued to use them for the remainder of his life.

He lived as he had died, in the air while en route from Mexico to his residence in Houston, leaving behind a vast fortune to be distributed to philanthropic causes and a legacy that can hardly be equaled by anyone else.

by Bobby J Davidson

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