Senate Hearings 1947
By Bob McCaffery
The War Department had established a Senate war an investigation committee to evaluate outstanding war contracts after the end of World War II. The Senate investigating committee was chaired by Senator Owen Brewster Republican from Maine. Brewster was also author of a national airline bill to be introduced into the Senate that would have virtually given Pan-American Airways a monopoly on the lucrative government airline passenger and mail routes.
Senator Brewster was crooked as a stick. He was in bed with Juan Trippe, President of Pan-American Airways, a fierce competitor of TWA, Howard Hughes’ airline. Brewster had targeted the Hughes Aircraft Company in these Senate hearings, in particular the Hughes Flying Boat, to discredit Hughes publicly as a wealthy playboy who profited from war contracts. Hughes, highly incensed, grabbed an armful of manila folders, flew his own B-29 to Washington, DC and took-on the Senate. Hughes was absolutely brilliant in his defense and strategy to counter these attacks. No one in modern history had ever challenged the Senate to this degree, using the media, public opinion combined with his moviemaking skills. Hughes filmed most of his dramatic testimony during the hearings that have become rare historic footage of how smart he really was.
Hughes was not about to let Brewster and Juan Trippe get away with jeopardizing his reputation as an aviator or damaging TWA. Hughes gambled. Senator Brewster publicly stated; "The Spruce Goose is a flying lumberyard and will never fly". Howard Hughes countered with; "I have my money and my reputation wrapped up in this airplane, and if it doesn't fly, I'll leave the country and I won't come back, and I mean it". The Senate hearings then recessed in August 1947 and were scheduled to adjourn in late November.
On November 2, 1947, what was supposed to be three high-speed taxi test runs in his Flying Boat, turned out to be a dramatic triumph for Howard Hughes. In what surprised the world, and probably Hughes too, he flew the airplane for one mile at an altitude of about 70 feet that put an end to the Senate hearings. When the hearings resumed in late November, Brewster did not have the guts to appear at the hearings. The way Hughes said it; "Brewster was too cowardly to face the music, he took a run out powder to the back roads of Maine. That meant that the hearings were over". Hughes directed one of its executives; “Find out who is running against Brewster, and give them anything they want”. Brewster was never reelected.
The Senate Hearings: In his own Words
Hughes was preparing to testify before Senate War Investigating Committee, August 6, 1947. Despite his company's poor performance on government contracts during the war and some questionable methods in obtaining those contracts, Hughes emerged from the hearings and in public opinion as a persecuted aviation hero, who bested the bumbling Republican-dominated committee bent on discrediting the Roosevelt administration and on protecting the transcontinental monopoly of Pan Am from Hughes's TWA. Prior to his appearance, Hughes launched a vitriolic media campaign against the Committee and in particular against Senator Owen Brewster through the Hearst newspapers.
Hughes: "In due time Hughes flew in from the West Coast, piloting his own plane, and disembarked at Washington with a minimum of toilet articles and one clean suit thrown over his shoulders. Having elaborately made reservations at the Mayflower Hotel, he proceeded at once to the Carlton Hotel, where he had hopes of finding a room which had not been equipped with a microphone. (His rooms at the Carlton, however, were later tapped by lowering a microphone down through a ventilating duct. The report is that all anyone ever monitored from these rooms was a phrase in which Hughes described Brewster in terms utterly unrepeatable in public - or in most private groups, for that matter.)"