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Hughes Aircraft Company was a major aerospace and defense company founded by Howard Hughes. The group was based in Culver City, California.

Hughes Aircraft was acquired by General Motors in 1985. In 1995, Hughes Aircraft sold its automated wire and die bonder division to an investor group led by Citicorp and incorporated the division as Palomar Technologies. In 2008, Citicorp sold the bonder division to the current management team at Palomar Technologies [1]. GM sold off the aerospace and defense operations during the late 1990s; Hughes Aircraft was sold to Raytheon in 1997 and the Hughes Research Laboratories became jointly owned by Boeing, GM, and Raytheon. Raytheon has since sold its share to GM and Boeing, but remains a customer of Hughes Research Laboratories. Hughes Space and Communications Company was purchased by Boeing in 2000 and renamed Boeing Satellite Development Center. GM sold the remainder of Hughes Electronics to News Corporation which renamed the company DirecTV Group.


In 1932, Howard Hughes Jr. formed Hughes Aircraft Company operating out of Grand Central Airport in Glendale as a division of the Hughes Tool Company.[2] In 1935 Hughes, with his trusted friend and aviation engineer Glenn Odekirk, built the H-1 Racer, which included every streamlining concept then known, including retractable landing gear, a fully enclosed cockpit, and the first use of recessed rivets. The H-1 captured a number of speed records during the next few years, and made Hughes a household name.[verification needed]

During World War II the company designed and built several prototype aircraft including the famous Hughes H-4 Hercules, better known as the "Spruce Goose". However the plant was used primarily as a branch plant for the construction of other companies' designs. At the start of the war Hughes Aircraft had only four full-time employees — by the end the number was 80,000.[3]

Post World War II[]

Hughes Aircraft was one of many aerospace and defense companies which flourished in Southern California during and after World War II and was at one time the largest employer in the area.

By the summer of 1947, certain politicians had become concerned about Hughes' alleged mismanagement of the Spruce Goose and the XF-11 photo reconnaissance plane project. They formed a special committee to investigate Hughes which culminated in a much-followed Senate investigation, one of the first to be televised to the public. Despite a highly critical committee report, Hughes was cleared.

In 1948 Hughes created a new division of the company, the Aerospace Group. Two Hughes engineers, Simon Ramo and Dean Wooldridge, had new ideas on the packaging of electronics to make complete fire control systems. Their MA-1 system combined signals from the aircraft's radar with an analog computer to automatically guide the interceptor aircraft into the proper position for firing missiles. At the same time other teams were working with the newly formed US Air Force on air-to-air missiles, delivering the AIM-4 Falcon, then known as the F-98. The MA-1/Falcon package, with several upgrades, was the primary interceptor weapon system in the US for many years, lasting into the 1980s. Ramo and Wooldridge, having failed to reach an agreement with Howard Hughes regarding management problems, resigned in September 1953. They founded the Ramo-Wooldridge Corporation, later to join Thompson Products to form TRW, another aerospace company and a major competitor to Hughes Aircraft.

Howard Hughes donated Hughes Aircraft to the newly formed Howard Hughes Medical Institute in 1953 allegedly as a way of avoiding taxes on its huge income.[4] The next year, L.A. "Pat" Hyland was hired as vice president and general manager of Hughes Aircraft;[2] he would ultimately become company president and CEO after Howard Hughes' death in 1976.

Under Hyland's guidance, the Aerospace Group continued to diversify and become massively profitable, and became a primary focus of the company. The company developed radar systems, electro-optical systems, the first working laser, aircraft computer systems, missile systems, ion-propulsion engines (for space travel), and many other advanced technologies. The Electronic Properties Information Center (EPIC)[5] of the United States was hosted at the Hughes Culver City library in the 1970s. EPIC published the multi-volume Handbook of Electronic Materials as public documents.

Nobel Laureates Richard Feynman and Murray Gell-Mann had Hughes connections: Feynman would hold weekly seminars at Hughes Research Laboratories; Gell-Mann shared an office with Malcolm Currie, later a Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer at Hughes Aircraft. Greg Jarvis and Ronald McNair, two of the astronauts on the last flight of the Space Shuttle Challenger were Hughes alumni.

Hughes Space and Communications Company[]

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Hughes Space and Communications Company was formed as a subsidiary of Hughes Aircraft in 1961 following the merger of the company's Space and Communications Group and the Hughes Space Systems Division.[3] This division built the world's first geosynchronous communications satellite, Syncom, in 1963 and followed it closely with the first geosynchronous weather satellite, ATS-1, in 1966. Later that year their Surveyor 1 made the first soft landing on the Moon as part of the lead-up to the moon landings in Project Apollo. Hughes also built Pioneer Venus in 1978, which performed the first extensive radar mapping of Venus, and the Galileo probe that flew to Jupiter in the 1990s.[3] The company built nearly 40 percent of commercial satellites in service worldwide in 2000.[6]

Hughes helicopter business[]

Main article: Hughes Helicopters

In 1947, Howard Hughes redirected Hughes Aircraft's efforts from airplanes to helicopters. The effort began in earnest in 1948 when helicopter manufacturer Kellett Aircraft Co. sold their latest design to Hughes for production. The XH-17 "Sky Crane" first flew in October 1952, but was commercially unsuccessful. In 1955, Howard Hughes split the helicopter production unit from the Hughes Aircraft Company, and reconstituted it with Hughes Tool Company calling it Hughes Tool Company's Aircraft Division. The Aircraft Division had a focus on the production of light helicopters, mainly the Hughes 269/300 and the OH-6 Cayuse/Hughes 500.

In 1981, Summa's Hughes Helicopter Division was reconstituted as Hughes Helicopters, Inc.. By December, six AH-64A prototypes had been built and the Army had awarded a purchase contract to the company.[7] Production would reach more than 1,100 by 2005. In 1983, the first production model AH-64 rolled off the production line at the company's new Mesa, Arizona facility. That same year, the company was honored by the National Aeronautic Association with the prestigious Collier Trophy. The company also licensed Schweizer Aircraft to produce the Model 300C.

In 1984, Hughes Helicopters, Inc. was sold to McDonnell Douglas by Summa Corporation, under the parent's efforts to streamline its focus and interest in real estate development. McDonnell-Douglas paid $500 million for the company, which it soon renamed McDonnell Douglas Helicopter Systems.

Howard Hughes Medical Institute sells Hughes Aircraft Company[]

Hughes left no will and following his death in 1976 there were numerous claims to his estate. A Hughes executive and a Hughes lawyer claimed they had the right to set up an "executive committee" to take over the running of the HHMI and its Hughes Aircraft subsidiary. The Attorney General of Delaware Richard R. Wier challenged this and filed suit in 1978. Charles M. Oberly continued the action when he became attorney general in 1983. Oberly stated he wished to see an independent board of trustees to ensure both that the institute fulfilled its charitable mission and that it did not continue to operate as a tax shelter.[8]

In January 1984 Judge Grover C. Brown ruled that the Chancery Court should appoint the trustees because Hughes had not left a succession plan. Brown asked for the both the executive committee and the attorney general’s office to submit a list of recommendations that he could approve. Brown approved a list in April 1984.[8] In January 1985 the new board of trustees of the HHMI announced they would sell Hughes Aircraft either by private sale or public stock offering.[9]

Hughes Electronics Corporation[]

On June 5, 1985 General Motors was announced as the winner of a secretive five month, sealed-bid auction. Other bidders included Ford Motor Company and Boeing.[10] The purchase was completed on December 20, 1985 for an estimated $5.2 billion, $2.7 billion in cash and the rest in 50 million shares of GM Class H stock.[11]

On December 31, 1985 General Motors merged Hughes Aircraft with its Delco Electronics unit to form Hughes Electronics Corporation, an independent subsidiary. The group then consisted of: Delco Electronics Corporation, Hughes Aircraft Company, and Hughes Space and Communications Company.

In August of 1992 Hughes Aircraft completed its purchase of General Dynamics' missile businesses for $450 million.[12] This brought the Tomahawk Cruise Missile, Advanced Cruise Missile, Standard missile, Stinger missile, the Phalanx Close-in weapon system and the Rolling Airframe Missile into Hughes' portfolio.

In 1994 Hughes Electronics introduced DirecTV, the world's first high-powered DBS service. In 1995 Hughes Electronic's Hughes Space and Communications division became the largest supplier of commercial satellites. Also in 1995 the group purchased Magnavox Electronic Systems from the Carlyle Group. In 1996 Hughes Electronics and PanAmSat agree to merge their fixed satellite services into a new publicly held company, also called PanAmSat with Hughes Electronics as majority shareholder.

In 1997 GM transferred Delco Electronics to its Delphi Automotive Systems business. Later that year the assets of Hughes Aircraft were sold to Raytheon for $9.5 billion.[13] The remaining companies remained under the Hughes Electronics name and within GM.

Hughes Space and Communications Company was purchased by Boeing in 2000 and became Boeing Satellite Development Center. In 2003 the remaining parts of Hughes Electronics: DirecTV, DirecTV Latin America, PanAmSat and Hughes Network Systems were purchased by NewsCorp from GM and renamed The DirecTV Group.

Corporate legacy[]

The wide range of science and technology developed by Hughes Aircraft never included medical applications because the company was owned by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. This restriction was imposed to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest.[verification needed]


  • 1932: Howard Hughes formed Hughes Aircraft Company as a division of Hughes Tool Company.
  • 1948: Hughes formed the Aerospace Group within the company, divided into:
    • Hughes Space and Communications Group
    • Hughes Space Systems Division
  • 1953: The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) was formed, and Hughes Aircraft reformed as a subsidiary of the foundation. The Internal Revenue Service unsuccessfully challenged its "charitable" status which made it tax-exempt.
  • 1955: Hughes formed its helicopter division, Aircraft Division
  • 1960: The first laser is produced at Hughes Research Laboratories, by Theodore Maiman
  • 1961: Hughes Space and Communications Company was formed, bringing together Hughes Space and Communications Group and the Hughes Space Systems Division and Hughes Research Laboratories completed its move to Malibu.
  • 1972: Hughes sold the tool division of Hughes Tool Company. His remaining interests were transferred to the newly formed holding company, the Summa Corporation. This included Toolco Aircraft and Hughes' property and other businesses.
  • 1976: Toolco Aircraft became Hughes Helicopters
  • 1976: Howard Hughes dies at the age of 70, leaving no will
  • 1984: The Summa Corporation sold Hughes Helicopters to McDonnell Douglas for $500 million; it was soon renamed McDonnell Douglas Helicopters.
  • 1984: The Delaware Court of Chancery appointed eight trustees to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute; they decide to sell Hughes Aircraft.
  • 1985: The HHMI sold Hughes Aircraft to General Motors for $5.2 billion. This was merged with GM's Delco Electronics to form Hughes Electronics. This group then consisted of:
    • Delco Electronics Corporation
    • Hughes Aircraft Company
    • Hughes Space and Communications Company
    • Hughes Network Systems
    • DirecTV
  • 1987: Hughes Aircraft Company acquires M/A-COM Telecommunications, to form Hughes Network Systems
  • 1994: Hughes Electronics introduces DirecTV
  • 1995: Hughes Space and Communications Company became the world's biggest supplier of commercial satellites
  • 1995: Hughes Electronics acquires Magnavox Electronic Systems from the Carlyle Group
  • 1996: Hughes Electronics and PanAmSat agree to merge their fixed satellite services into a new publicly held company, also called PanAmSat with Hughes Electronics as majority shareholder.
  • 1997: GM transferred Delco Electronics from Hughes Electronics to its Delphi Automotive Systems. Delphi became independent in 1999.
  • 1997: The aerospace and defense operations of Hughes Electronics (Hughes Aircraft) are merged with Raytheon; Raytheon also acquired one half of the Hughes Research Laboratories
  • 2000: Hughes Space and Communications Company remained independent until 2000, when it was purchased by Boeing and became Boeing Satellite Development Center. Boeing purchased one third of the HRL Laboratories, LLC which is now co-owned by Boeing, GM and Raytheon.
  • 2003: The remaining parts of Hughes Electronics: DirecTV, DirecTV Latin America, PanAmSat and Hughes Network Systems were purchased by NewsCorp and renamed The DirecTV Group.
    • Newscorp sold PanAmSat to Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. (KKR) in August 2004.
    • SkyTerra Communications, Inc. completed its purchase of 100% controlling interest in Hughes Network Systems from the DirecTV Group in January 2006.


  2. 2.0 2.1 Michel, Peter. Hughes Aircraft and Electronics. University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Retrieved on 2006-12-06.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Judy, Rumerman. The Hughes Companies. U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission. Retrieved on 2006-12-06.
  4. "Virginia lab putting big money into pure research". The Wall Street Journal (Associated Press Financial Wire). 2006-09-22. 
  5. The Electronic Properties Information Center (EPIC)
  6. Boeing: Integrated Defense Systems - Space and Intelligence Systems - About Space and Intelligence Systems
  7. The Boeing Logbook: 1977 - 1982. Boeing
  8. 8.0 8.1 Griffith, Ted (2005-02-12). "Delaware shaped legacy of 'Aviator'; Court helped Howard Hughes tax shelter become leading charity". The News Journal: p. 1. 
  9. Gillot, Roger (1985-01-10). "Medical Institute to Sell Hughes Aircraft". The Associated Press. 
  10. Potts, Mark (1985-06-06). "GM to Buy Hughes Aircraft; Offer Provides Windfall for Medical Institute". Washington Post (The Washington Post). 
  11. Reuters (1985-12-23). "G.M. Purchase Of Hughes". The New York Times (The New York Times Company). 
  12. "Missile completion". Flight International (Reed Business Publishing). 1992-09-02. 
  13. Chuter, Andy (1998-01-07). "Raytheon Completes Hughes Merger". Flight International (Reed Business Information Ltd.): p. 15. 

External links[]

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