Howard Hughes

United States of America


1905 - 1976

Howard R. Hughes, Jr. was a famed entrepreneur, philanthropist, billionaire playboy, and founder of Hughes Aircraft Company and Hughes Helicopters.

He was born in Humble, Texas on September 24, 1905. His father Howard Hughes Sr. was an oil man in Texas and his company Hughes Tool Company had made a fortune by producing a new oil drilling bit. Howard Jr. attended California Institute of Technology, and later Rice University, but quit school when his parents died in order to take over his father’s company. He then abandoned the oil business and used his wealth to pursue his interests in aviation and film. He was able to combine these two interests in a WWI film he directed, “The Hells Angels”. He later acted in and directed several other Films.

Hughes founded the Howard Aircraft Company in 1932, and his first design was the H-1 and used it to break the world landplane speed record. He also broke the record for the American trans-continental flight in the same plane. Finally, he made a flight circumnavigating the world in 91 hours and 14 minutes.

In the years immediately prior to World War II, he was intent on becoming a mass producer of aircraft, particularly for the U.S. military. Despite his failure to secure a contract with the government for fighter and transport aircraft with the XF-11 and the H-4 Hercules, his persistence eventually led, quite unexpectedly, to the fabrication and testing of the world’s largest helicopter at that time, the massive XH-17. This project had already been taken up by Kellett Aircraft Corporation. Hughes began experimentation with tip-jet propulsion on the XH-17 and planned (but never built) the XH-28. He also designed and tested the XV-9A, a hot cycle research aircraft. Though none were selected for production, these aircraft were significant in marking Hughes’ fateful entry into the world of helicopters. Under his leadership, the company produced the Model 269, which had tremendous success in the civil market, and was selected by the U.S. Army to be their TH-55 Osage. This became a major turning point for Hughes, resulting in the production of about 2,900 of these aircraft.

Hughes’ skill if not shrewdness in his business dealings led to the marketing of the OH-6A Cayuse Light Observation Helicopter (LOH) and its commercial counterpart, the Model 369. Its controversial entry into the LOH competition and its subsequent victory gives great insight into the shrewd business tactics sometimes employed by Hughes, who grossly underpriced the aircraft in order to gain an overwhelming advantage against competing designs, despite the self-incurred loss in profit. This gamble ultimately paid off and displayed the notorious industrialist’s indomitable will to win.

He was also responsible for the development and sale of the AH-64 Apache – the company’s next great success and the final aircraft type to be produced under the Hughes Helicopters name. It was selected as the winner of the Army’s Advanced Attack Helicopter (AAH) competition.

Aside from the development and manufacturing of specific aircraft types, there were other facets of the Hughes aviation empire, such as the company’s entry into defense electronics and missile development, a venture which would prove very successful. Additionally, the creation of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) – a tax-exempt foundation that would own 100% of Hughes Aircraft’s stock – and the formation of the Summa Corporation in later years, adds valuable insight to the business-sense of Howard Hughes.

By the end of his life, he had developed mental illness and began to seek isolation. Due to his self-neglect and extensive use of painkillers, he died on April 5th, 1976.


Vertiflite Spring 2004

Vertiflite Nov-Dec 2013

Rosenberg, J. (2019). Biography of Howard Hughes, Businessman and Aviator

ThoughtCo. Retrieved on June 18, 2019 from


Milestones associated with Howard Hughes
September 16, 1952 First flight of largest diameter main rotor ever flown (Hughes XH-17)
May 16, 1978 First AHS Howard Hughes Award presented