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
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
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.)"