who was Howard Hughes, billionaire and prototype of Tony Stark


Howard Jr. was fond of physics, mechanical engineering and engineering since childhood, and at the age of 12 he made a moped and a radio transmitter himself. Around the same age, he became interested in airplanes. According to some biographersHughes first drove a biplane at the age of 14. Due to the difficult relationship between his parents, Howard moved frequently, changing private schools. He did not pay due attention to classes and spent more time on the golf course – this hobby will remain with Hughes for life. At the behest of Howard Sr., the future billionaire entered Rice University, where, however, he also did not attend classes and led the hectic life of a young rich man. In one of the diaries of his youth, he put three goals: to become the best golfer, pilot and film producer in the world.

Howard’s life changed dramatically when, at age 18, two years after the death of his mother, he lost his father and became the heir to a huge fortune – a prosperous oil company Hughes Tool Company. According to state law, he could not take over the management of the business due to his age, and his relatives wanted to sell the business.

On the eve of the trial, which determined the fate of the inheritance, Howard met the judge on the golf course and played a few games with him, charming him. At the hearing, the servant of Themis ruled in favor of Hughes, obliging the latter to still get a higher education (Howard, by the way, did not keep this promise). When Hughes Tool was taken over by the young bon vivant, the company evaluated in $ 2 million. By the way, the total assets of Hughes Jr. at the time of his death in 1976 were about $2 billion

The office of Sharp Hughes Tool, which Howard Hughes inherited from his father.  Source

The office of the Sharp Hughes Tool Company, which Howard Hughes inherited from his father. Source

Howard Hughes and the Golden Age of Hollywood

In the early 1920s, entrusting the affairs of an experienced manager from his father’s team, Howard plunged into the cinema. With the ability to sponsor his films, Hughes immersed himself in filmmaking.

The young millionaire showed himself well in the movies. In 1928, after his film “Two Arabian Knights” received an Oscar, the entrepreneur began filming the famous “Hell’s Angels” – a film that brought him worldwide fame.

Hughes, who dreamed of airplanes since childhood, conceived an epic drama about two British pilots of the First World War. The scale of the plan was colossal: he spent $4 million, a record for the film industry of that time, on shooting (” class=”formula inline”>70 million at today’s rate). On the production of Hells Angels, Howard finally realized his passion for aeronautics: for filming battle scenes, he I bought over 80 old airplanes and personally performed the most difficult stunts. To learn how to fly, he took a job as a baggage handler for American Airlines under a false name. During the flights, Hughes sat next to the pilot and carefully studied the instrument panel. After that, he managed to get into the training program and even briefly work as a co-pilot in the company that would become his main competitor, American Airways. When the deception was exposed, Hughes was fired.

Hughes is an American Airways pilot.  Source

Air fights “Angels” at the same time filmed 24 operators. How wrote American columnist Louella Parsons, Hughes “created his own war and it was almost as expensive as a real one.” In 1935, with Angels nearly cut, the first-ever sound picture, The Jazz Singer, came out, and Hughes, a lover of innovation, immediately found another actress and completely remade the film into the current sound format—leader Greta Nissen had a strong Norwegian accent.

Howard Hughes Air Machines

In 1932, at the height of filming and the Great Depression, Hughes founded the Hughes Aircraft development company, which would bring him the fortune and fame of an outstanding inventor and aviator. Its first employees, including the talented young pilot Glenn Odekirk, participated in the creation of the Hells Angels. Hughes bought 500 hectares in a small town in California, on which disposed a small workshop, an office and a six-seater S-43 Sikorsky Amphibian purchased for tuning.

After 3 years, Howard decided to participate in the US Department of Defense competition and built his first aircraft for it – H1 or Racer, as he himself called it. How notes aviation historian Richard P. Hallion, the aircraft was an exemplary demonstration of technology: modern skin and flat rivets for better aerodynamics and hydraulic undercarriages. Hughes did not win that tender, but he broke a record on his invention, flying over the US from coast to coast in 7 hours 28 minutes.

Howard Hughes and his Racer.  Source

Hughes’ second aviation brainchild was Trans World Airlines, which he acquired in 1939. Civil aviation had only just appeared at that time, and Howard aspired to become its leader, overtaking Pan American and American Airways. Having agreed with the head of the aircraft manufacturer Lockheed Bob Gross, he bought for their airlines, exclusive liners L-049 Constellation, affectionately nicknamed “Connie” by the designers. They had a smooth fuselage, four engines, a carrying capacity of 32 tons and a flight range that made it possible to cross the Atlantic.

Although the production itself was the task of Lockheed, Hughes could not help but participate in the process. According to Gross, an eccentric entrepreneur spread out drawings around the living room, stripped naked and began to study them, demonstrating amazing knowledge of aircraft engineering, until he finally stood up and said “Name the price, man, I want them all!”

Hughes kept the development in the strictest confidence, fearing that the drawings would get to competitors and even communicated with Gross in a cipher in which he designated himself as God, and him as the Apostle Paul. The development of the civil aviation industry was stopped by the Second World War, and the already produced transport workers were transferred to the US Army. Hughes’ first such aircraft personally delivered to the military, flying from one coast of the United States to another in 7 hours and setting a new speed record for such a flight.

In the 1950s, recovering from the crisis, TWA became the first air carrier to establish regular flights across the Atlantic. At the same time, the company introduced Lockheed’s Super Constellation aircraft into use. The machines were equipped with a new type of cabin with a division into first and economy class – these are now widely used in civil aviation.

First class on a TWA aircraft in the 1950s.  Source

Hughes Aircraft used its own developments in the filling of its aircraft. In total, during its existence, the company has filed more than 6,000 patent applications: on-board electronics, accelerometers, optical systems. Among the innovations patented under Howard’s leadership are – system moving target recognition module missile launch control and computing cars. These developments allowed the company to become one of the main suppliers of the US Department of Defense.

Hughes continued to invent aircraft with his usual megalomania. His main brainchild, the Hercules H-4, which took off only once, had a wingspan of 98 meters – this record was broken only in 2017 – and then stood forever in the hangar. For a long time, the businessman persisted in aircraft construction, but rockets brought real success to his company. Patented Hughes Aircraft radar systembased on microwaves allowed companies to create a targeting system for enemy targets. As a result, the first American AIM-4 Falcon air-to-air missiles were created, which were actively used in the Vietnam War, but after it was replaced by the army with new models due to low efficiency.

H-4 prototype drawings from Howard Hughes' patent.  1943-1944.  Source

H-4 prototype drawings from Howard Hughes’ patent. 1943-1944. Source

Those innovations that the company did not invent itself, Hughes deftly found and bought. To create the body of the experimental mixed-type aircraft D-2, and then the Hercules inspired by it, Hughes used the technology of pressing wood, which allows hermetically gluing parts of the fuselage, which had been patented shortly before under the name Duramold. In 1949 he I bought the Kellett company has the rights to the design of the XR-17 heavy transport helicopter and began to produce them by order of the Pentagon. The project was soon curtailed, but Hughes Aircraft got its own helicopter department, and the XR-17 became the prototype of the “flying cranes” – the heavy rotorcraft of the US Air Force.

In the 1960s, Hughes commissioned NASA to design and build the unmanned Surveyor 1, the first American vehicle to land on the moon. Hughes Aircraft Innovative Device possessed a sophisticated cushioning system for a soft landing, as well as numerous sensors, sensors and radars.

Howard Hughes v United States

The first difficulties in Hughes’ relations with the state began immediately after the Second World War. In 1947, Howard appeared before a Senate Committee on charges of embezzling some of the money received from military contracts. How claims the author of the book Howard Hughes: Hell’s Angel Darwin Potter, these accusations were not fair: moreover, Howard, who was on fire in the aircraft industry, invested his own $ 12 million in the development of Hercules and XF-11, but did not manage to deliver the army aircraft before the end of the war.

With the help of detectives hired by him, Hughes found out that the head of the commission, Republican Senator Owen Brewster, was closely connected with the head of Pan American, Juan Trip – the corporation was among TWA’s main competitors. He skillfully used this and launched a campaign in the press, and sent all potential witnesses in the case from his team on distant business trips. In the end, in 1947, the charges were dropped, although Hughes could not reliably explain what the allocated $ 40 million was spent on. Despite the loss of confidence in the army, in the eyes of millions of Americans, Hughes remained a hero unfairly persecuted by Washington. Five years later, when Brewster ran again for Senatorship from Maine, Hughes took revenge on him by buying up all the state’s major media outlets, ensuring the victory of his Democratic opponent.

Howard Hughes at a Senate committee hearing, 1947. Source

Howard Hughes at a Senate committee hearing, 1947. Source

But the difficulties of the businessman in relations with the American state did not end there. In an attempt to invent alternative, more efficient technologies, Hughes lagged behind civil aviation’s transition to turbojets, leading to poor management decisions and pushing TWA to the brink of extinction. At the same time, the entrepreneur fired his longtime colleague, engineer Roy Dietrich. After a futile string of lawsuits and appeals, Hughes was removed from the airline by regulators and forced to sell his majority stake, making him a dollar billionaire.

One of the most high-profile accusations against Hughes is related to the opening of the Medical Institute named after himself. Howard donated Hughes Aircraft shares to the institute, making the largest defense contractor a tax-free charity. Hughes retained this status of the company until the end of his life, taking advantage of loopholes in the law and dragging out court cases.

An NY Times article published a year before Hughes’ death calls his “most successful subpoena evader”: in two decades of litigation with US authorities, Hughes almost never showed up for hearings and avoided testifying in person, sending an army of lawyers in his place.

Hughes not only eluded the government, but also sought to influence politics himself, making friends with officials at various levels. This allowed him, for example, to keep a license for his casinos, probably obtained by circumventing the law, and after being removed from the leadership of TWA purchase own a new airline, Air West – the deal was even approved by the Civil Aviation Committee.

But his own interest was not the only thing that interested him in politics. According to Robert Mahe, the former right-hand man of Hughes, who was fired after Dietrich, in 1968 Howard sent him offer $1 million, first to President Johnson, and then to Nixon for the abolition of nuclear tests in Nevada. At the same time, Hughes did not have any visible party preferences, generously sponsoring both the Democrats and the Republicans in the elections, depending on their interests.

By the end of his life, Hughes was constantly monitored by intelligence agents and paparazzi, so he spent his last years hiding in constant moving from hotel to hotel. The film The Aviator, based on his biography, tells in detail about how Hughes escaped from antitrust, tax and FBI prosecutions.

Leonardo DiCaprio as Hughes in The Aviator.  Source: https://filmz.ru/photos/films/2406/

In recent years, the inventor has become a recluse. By the time of his death in 1976, Hughes had not been seen by relatives for so long that the FBI used fingerprinting to identify the body of an overgrown old man. Hughes did not leave a will, so after a long process, the court divided his property between 22 relatives, forcing them to offset $300 million in unpaid taxes. Hughes Aircraft was sold to General Motors.

Interestingly, after his death, Hughes managed to once again defeat the American government, posthumously forcing him to recognize his merits in an intellectual property court. In 1993, after 20 years of litigation in the case of Howard Hughes v. USA, the court decidedthat the United States and Great Britain illegally used stabilization systems on Skynet II satellites patented by the businessman’s company and decided to pay royalties to the company. Well, better late…

Howard Hughes’ Recipe for Success

In addition to aviation, Howard Hughes’ business empire included a variety of areas: brewing, electronics, cinema, and casinos. But a special place among them was occupied by the same Medical Institute, which helped him avoid paying taxes. Despite the controversial history of creation, the institution was and remains one of the leading research centers in genetics, biology and immunology. Since its inception, thirty scientists affiliated with the Institute, got Nobel Prizes.

Part of the billionaire’s interest in the biomedical industry explained his own ailments: towards the end of his life, Hughes almost lost his hearing and acutely suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder, overcome by an obsessive desire for cleanliness. Hughes himself declaredthat he wants to create an institution that will do basic research to study the “origin of life itself.”

In the past 47 years since the death of its creator, the Institute has registered hundreds of patents. Among them, for example, methodsallowing to detect cell mutation in the body, three-dimensional microscopes and genetically modified biomaterials. With their help, scientists are looking for ways to counteract HIV / AIDS, cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes. Total Howard Hughes Medical Institute was over 200 patent applications filed.

It seems that Hughes’ ability to turn everything he turned into gold is greatly exaggerated and perhaps mythologized by himself. His own aeronautical developments often failed to meet the demands of the industry and never made it into mass production, and his engineering mania eventually ruined his airline.

Howard Hughes at the controls of his own plane.  Source

Howard Hughes at the controls of his own plane. Source

Despite this, Hughes was driven by the passion for innovation and business acumen inherited from his father. Natural adventurism allowed the billionaire to take on every business that fascinated him with passion, although not all of them became successful. With his insane energy, he set in motion aircraft designers and Hollywood filmmakers, army generals and presidents, attracting constant attention to his personality, who wondered where the eccentric billionaire had disappeared this time.

Thanks to these qualities, Hughes became the owner of the greatest business empire, but lost his mental health and left no descendants to whom he could pass on a thriving business, as his father once did.

Nevertheless, the name Hughes is preserved in the names of several companies whose shares are still traded on the stock exchange, and the developments of the same Hughes Aircraft are still cited in patents. So the aviator left a certain legacy.

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