Bremont H-4 Hercules Limited Edition chronometer: A Unique Timepiece Containing Original Parts of H-4 Hercules, the World’s Largest Flying Boat Ever Built

This new limited edition chronometer watch by Bremont pays tribute to H-4 Hercules, the iconic flying boat of the 1940s. Famously known as the ‘Spruce Goose’, the vast silver ship is as legendary as its inventor Howard Hughes. The famous one minute of flight on 2nd November 1947 by the H-4 Hercules is considered as the one of the greatest moments in the aviation history.

Howard Hughes (1905 – 1976) was an eccentric Hollywood moviemaker with a talent for aviation. A skilled test pilot and respected engineer, he set up the Hughes Aircraft Company to build his unique aircraft designs. Hughes designed many new advances in aviation engineering that became standard on future large aircraft.

Built during 1940s, the Hughes H-4 is arguably one of the most important aircraft ever to have flown, in terms of its innovations in construction and control systems – a huge contribution to aviation development and history.

H-4 Hercules – World’s Largest Flying Boat Ever Built 

Up until 2019 it was the largest aircraft in terms of wingspan ever to have flown. It is still the biggest flying boat ever to fly and will likely remain so forever.

In 2019, British luxury watch brand Bremont celebrates the famous ‘Spruce Goose’, declared a national treasure by the United States House of Representatives, with the launch of H-4 Hercules Limited Edition chronometer.

Limited to just 300 pieces in stainless steel, 75 pieces in rose gold and 75 platinum pieces, the Bremont H-4 Hercules is a sublime fusion of micro-engineering, watch design and aviation history.

The 25 jewel Bremont BWC/02 movement is based on the original proprietary automatic BWC/01 calibre built in partnership with movement house, La Joux Perret, and is housed in a beautifully finished 43mm case. The new slate grey coloured BWC/02 movement has GMT functionality, along with hours, minutes, a smaller non-hacking seconds hand at 9 o’clock and the date at 6 o’clock.

Remarkably, the movement of the Bremont H-4 Hercules has an automatic winding rotor incorporating some original birchwood veneer that took to the air on that famous flight in 1947. The tungsten rotor features this veneer from Howard Hughes’ H-4 Hercules, as four propeller blades.

The wood (which was made available only through essential preservation work on the H-4) was carefully shipped to the UK from the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville Oregon, USA, where it was painstakingly cut to size by the renowned bespoke furniture makers Silver lining. Furthermore, original aileron fabric from the aircraft’s control surfaces can be found sewn into the English made bridle leather watch packaging.

A percentage of proceeds from each Bremont H-4 Hercules Limited Edition will go to the Museum in order to preserve the aircraft.

The History of World’s Largest Flying Boat Ever Built

In 1942 the United States and her Allies battled against the Axis powers. Packs of Nazi U-boats patrolled the oceans, sinking Allied vessels at a ferocious rate and threatening vital supply lines. By July, 681 ships had been lost to the submarine peril in just seven months.

When American industrialist Henry Kaiser had taken up ship building in 1940, he revolutionised the industry with his ‘Liberty Ships’. Even though he had reduced the build time of a 10,000-ton freighter from 355 to just 48 days, in 1942 this was not enough.

The submarines torpedoed vessels faster than replacements could be launched. Kaiser proposed giant flying boats should carry cargo over the sea out of the reach of enemy torpedoes. Although Kaiser knew ships, he had no aviation experience. His approaches to the established aircraft companies failed. They believed the idea impossible. There was only one man with the vision and resources to bring the idea to fruition: billionaire businessman Howard Hughes.

An eccentric Hollywood moviemaker with a talent for aviation, Hughes was born in Texas in 1905. After directing a series of successful films, his focus turned to aviation. A talented engineer, Hughes proved himself to be a skilled test pilot. In 1932, he set up the Hughes Aircraft Company at Culver City, CA, to manufacture his unique designs.

The prospect of building the world’s largest aircraft intrigued Hughes, and Kaiser’s enthusiasm for the project was infectious. The two men agreed that if Hughes designed and built the prototypes, Kaiser would utilise his shipyards to build a fleet. They won a government contract for $18million to produce three prototype aircraft.

To take a new aircraft from the drawing board to the skies takes years. The contract allowed just 24 months and Kaiser was boasting they would do it in ten. Time constraints were not the only challenge, leading both men to suspect the government was against their project. They were contracted not to compromise the war effort and forbidden from attracting experienced personnel away from other aircraft companies.

Worse still, they were not allowed to use materials deemed scarce, such as aluminium. The great flying boat would have to be constructed from wood, a feat that many considered impossible. Watchmakers and aircraft manufacturers alike know that wood is a difficult material. To counter variations in density, each piece used in the aircraft was weighed and matched to an opposing part, to maintain the correct overall weight and balance.

Hughes developed a technique called Duramold. Criss-cross layers of wafer thin birch veneers were bonded together with resins to create a strong and beautiful skin that required no rivets. The entire surface was sanded down by hand and finished with layers of rice paper and silver aluminium paint.

The Hercules was more than double the size of any contemporary aircraft. Its wingspan was 320 feet, longer than the Statue of Liberty. The tail was comparable to an eight storey building. The wings housed eight Pratt & Whitney R4360 28-cylinder radial engines. They produced 24,000 horsepower to lift the 400,000lb fully loaded airframe. With a 3,000-mile range and cruise speed of 200 mph, the Hercules was designed to carry 400 troops or two Sherman tanks safely across the ocean.

The sheer scale of the aircraft presented unique challenges that Hughes solved with innovative solutions. During construction, normal workbenches were far too small to be useful. So the moviemaker used film projectors to display plans onto the factory floor, allowing his engineers to manufacture parts to size. The Hercules pioneered advances in control and power systems that paved the way for future large aircraft types. The fabric control surfaces were vast. The ailerons alone were 140 feet long. The equivalent strength of 200 men would be required to move them in flight with traditional mechanical cables. So Hughes designed the first hydraulically actuated control system.

The miles of electrical cables presented a weight problem, so the Hercules pioneered a 120v DC electrical system, which enabled the use of smaller cables, giving a 75% weight saving overall. A series of intercom radio points were used to enable immediate communication with engineers on board and counter the distances inside the aircraft.

The interior featured two decks connected by an elegant spiral staircase. The cockpit had large windows and reclining padded chairs for the pilot and flight crew. With two generators bolted to the floor of the flight deck, the air on board risked being less than fresh so Hughes had a pipe installed to pump fresh air directly over the left hand side pilot’s seat, where he would be seated.

Amongst Hughes’ many aviation feats was a record-setting global circumnavigation in 1938. Concerned about ditching at sea, he prepared his aircraft with 80lbs of ping-pong balls positioned in the wings and fuselage to keep the aircraft afloat. For the Hercules, he scaled this idea up and used nets of inflatable beach balls stowed in the fuselage and wings.

Progress was slow. Hughes was a legendary perfectionist who involved himself in every decision, no matter how small. The Hercules was not his only project. As 24 months came and went, Kaiser withdrew in frustration. The airframe was not ready for testing until June 1946 and that required moving from Culver City to the ocean.

The move was a major operation. Crews went ahead to prepare the route for this giant cargo, taking down over 2,000 telephone and power cables. The hull, wings, tail and control surfaces were positioned on enormous trailers. Crawling along at 2mph, the convoy took two days to complete the 28-mile journey to Terminal Island, Long Beach. School children were released from lessons and crowds lined the roads to witness the unusual sight.

The Hercules was nearing completion, but any strategic requirement for the huge flying boat was gone. The Allies had long since turned the tide and won the war. Questions were asked and the voices critical of Hughes grew louder. In the summer of 1947, he was called to a Senate hearing to be accused of wasting government funds.

Although contracted to produce three aircraft, Hughes had not yet finished one. He argued that building an aircraft on this scale had pushed the boundaries of aviation design. He had made discoveries that would prove vital in future aircraft manufacture but conceded that the process was slow.

Hughes vigorously defended his project and reputation. The Hercules had cost $25million so far, which included $7million of Hughes own money. During six days of intense questioning, Hughes won the support of the press and the public. The hearing collapsed into a media spectacle and was permanently adjourned. Wounded by a Senator’s accusation that his ‘flying lumberyard’ would never get airborne, Hughes devoted all his attention to completing the project. Work commenced 24 hours a day and a date was set for taxi trials.

On 2 November 1947, crowds of onlookers lined the shores watching the Hercules taxi out into the harbour in blustery conditions. VIPs, starlets, photographers and the media were all in attendance.

After two successful taxi runs, Hughes flew the flying ship low level for a little under a mile and a little less than a minute before gently executing the smoothest of landings. The Hercules had flown and his critics were silenced.

It was the first and the last flight of the Hercules. For the remainder of his lifetime, Hughes never admitted whether he intended to fly. He spent millions of dollars keeping the aircraft in airworthy condition until his death in 1976.

Four years after Hughes’ death in 1976, rumours circulated that the airplane was going to be disassembled so that pieces could be given to museums around the country. There were public protests, and the United States House of Representatives voted to declare the ‘Spruce Goose’ a national treasure. The aircraft is not only an engineering feat of huge magnitude, it’s also an aesthetically beautiful machine.

The Hercules was exhibited at Long Beach, before making one final journey in 1993 to its current home in Oregon. The Hercules remained the world’s largest aircraft for over seventy years. It is still the largest flying boat ever built. Hughes wanted to be remembered for his contribution to aviation.

Today, the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum is home to the Hughes H-4 Hercules, popularly known as the ‘Spruce Goose’. The museum is based in McMinnville, Oregon, across the street from the former headquarters of Evergreen International Aviation and across Oregon Route 18 from McMinnville Municipal Airport (KMMV).

Technical details

Model: Bremont H-4 Hercules Limited Edition

Movement
Bremont BWC/02 automatic with 25 jewels, Glucydur balance, Nivarox CT balance spring, Highly efficient double reverser bi-directional winding mechanism to achieve 28,800bph and 50+ hour power reserve
Galvanised NAC (Nickel Anthracite Coating) balance cock, barrel bridge and train bridge. Four bladed propeller rotor constructed using birchwood from the H-4 Hercules fuselage

Functions
Hours, minutes, non-hacking small seconds at 9 o’clock and 24 hour GMT
Date at 6 o’clock

Case
Stainless Steel, Rose Gold or Platinum in Bremont’s TripTick® construction
Case diameter 43mm, height 14.40mm, lug width 22mm
Screw-down crown
Anti-reflective scratch resistant sapphire crystal
Case back: Stainless Steel, Rose Gold or Platinum case back with integrated flat sapphire crystal. 4 screws to compliment case material
Water resistant to 10 ATM/100 metres

Dial
Matt black/dark brown metal dial with polished applied indexes, polished nickel/rose gold hands with SuperLumiNova®. 24 hour marked dial ring and brushed nickel calendar disc

Strap
Vintage leather/brown alligator strap with pin buckle to compliment case material

Edition
Limited to 300 pieces in stainless steel, 75 pieces in rose gold, and 75 pieces in platinum

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