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The Back Story: The H-1 Racer Airplane

The replica plane is a sign of the lasting legacy Howard Hughes had on UNLV's College of Engineering.

UNLV History  |  Jan 13, 2011  |  By Brian Sodoma

A replica of the Hughes H-1 Racer hangs inside the Thomas T. Beam Engineering Complex. (R. Marsh Starks/UNLV Photo Services)

While his time spent sequestered in a Desert Inn penthouse in the late 1960s makes up much of the lore surrounding the days that Howard Hughes spent in Southern Nevada, the recluse billionaire left his legacy on Nevada's universities as well.

Hughes's contributions to UNLV's fledgling engineering college helped the programs take off. The college now carries his name, and inside the Thomas T. Beam Engineering Complex, suspended from the ceiling of the William Wells Great Hall, is an H-1 Racer replica in honor of the iconic aviator.

Hughes built the original H-1 and first flew it in 1935, when he broke the landplane speed record of 352 miles per hour. The plane's advancements included a streamlined, smooth aluminum surface with recessed rivets and a single elliptic wing. Hughes pitched the aircraft to the U.S. Air Force, which declined to manufacture it, but its technology influenced future military aircraft designs.

The original H-1 was donated to the Smithsonian Institute in 1975 and is on display at the National Air and Space Museum. Some replicas have been used in films. The Howard Hughes Corp. donated the one housed at UNLV soon after the Thomas T. Beam Engineering Complex -- which now houses the Hughes College of Engineering -- was constructed in 1988.

About the H-1 Racer

  • Donated by: Howard Hughes Corp.
  • When: 1988
  • Cost: Unknown
  • Location: William Wells Great Hall
  • Purpose: To celebrate the spirit of aviation pioneer Howard Hughes and serve as an inspiration for engineering and computer science students at UNLV.