Photo courtesy of Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum.

Usually America commemorates its winners. How then, has a ungainly airplane that flew but once become the top draw at one of the world’s leading aviation museums?

Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum in McMinnville, Ore., (503-434-4180, displays 136 of aviation’s winners, including a Wright Flyer, a Spitfire and an Apollo Lunar Module. But it is the Spruce Goose—that draws crowds, says Curator Stewart Bailey. “People come from around the world to see it.” 

America was in a world war and U-Boats patrolled the sea. Howard Hughes proposed to lift troops over the danger in gargantuan “flying boats.”

His Spruce Goose still holds the wingspan record. If you put it on a football field’s 50-yard line, its wing tips would rest in the goal posts at both ends. Hughes himself flew the Goose on its one and only flight—30 feet above the water—to prove it wasn’t a boondoggle. 

“People said, ‘This thing will never fly,’” says Museum Director Larry Wood. “When the Goose flew, it was Hughes’ vindication. It’s an example of what can happen when you dream big.”

That OCD Young Man and His Flying Machine

The only thing that dwarfed the Spruce Goose was its creator’s ego. Howard Hughes was a gifted engineer (he designed a bra for Jane Russell), movie mogul and lover of beautiful women. But his perfectionism, which would later become full-blown obsessive-compulsive disorder, kept his greatest design from making it into production. In 1947, infuriated with skeptics who mocked it as a “Spruce Goose,” Hughes taxied it into Los Angeles Harbor, took off and set the Goose down after a mile flight. 

Other Stuff To Do: Splash Down

As improbable as it sounds, it’s possible not everyone in the family is an aviation geek. Fortunately, the Evergreen Museum Campus offers much more than airplanes. For instance, you can cool off at the 71,000 square foot Wings and Waves Waterpark, on slides like the “Nose Dive,” “Tailspin” and “Mach 1.”

Back>>>Read about other fall getaways.