In June, 1986, the Florida Air Museum (then the SUN 'n FUN Air Museum) took proud possession of more than 180 crates and boxes of Howard Hughes aviation memorabilia, including a 14-foot model of the Spruce Goose, Hughes’ leather flying suits, racing trophies, books, manuals, maps, scrapbooks, and personal memorabilia were included.
The museum prevailed over such institutions as UCLA, Embry Riddle and the University of Southern California for the collection. The quest for the collection, which started in 1994, came to fruition in January, 1996, when Vernon Olson, Sr. Vice President of the Hughes Corporation paid his second visit to the Museum. Olson appreciated the fact that the Museum would make the collection accessible to the public. He also noted that Howard Hughes visited Florida many times and was enamored with the flying boats he found. Hughes’ close associate, Al Lodwick, who helped plan his trip around the world in1938, had his base of operations in Lakeland and ran the Lodwick School of Aviation at Lodwick Field, now the site of Joker Marchant Stadium.
The Hughes collection contains memorabilia from several facets of Hughes life including the 65 movies he directed or had a major role in producing. “Hell’s Angels” is probably the most famous of these, at least among aviators.
Another phase of Hughes life and artifacts concern the four aircraft he built; the HK-1 nefariously called the “Spruce Goose”; the H-1 racer with which he set closed course and cross-country speed records; the D-2 bomber which, though aerodynamically advanced, failed to interest the military; and the XF-11 which crashed. During his recovery from injuries sustained in the crash Hughes was inspired to develop the modern, adjustable, hospital bed. Large wind tunnel models of all four aircraft are on display and contain additional wings and airfoil sections.
A third facet of Hughes career was his around the world flight in 1938. The flight created media frenzy comparable to that of Charles Lindbergh’s flight and man’s first landing on the moon. Many items in the collection lend credence to this major world event. A fourth group of artifacts record many of the business details of Hughes’ life and includes samples of his personal notes, business dealings, and specific projects not universally known. Objects in this exhibit present Hughes as a designer, test pilot, movie producer and entrepreneur.
Artifacts are on display to the public on a rotating basis, and the full archives are available upon request for research purposes by qualified scholars. The Museum is currently seeking much-needed funding for vital ongoing preservation and cataloging work in order to enhance this significant part of American history.