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HISTORIC AIRCRAFT PLANT SHUTTING DOWN

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The aircraft plant where aviation pioneer Howard Hughes built the world's largest plane 50 years ago, the Spruce Goose, is shutting down.

McDonnell Douglas Corp., which took over the facility after buying Hughes Helicopers in 1984, said a decline in defense orders for the Apache helicopter was behind the closure that will cost 140 workers their jobs by the end of the year. About 80 were laid off May 26.The remaining work is being shifted to McDonnell Douglas' plant in Mesa, Ariz., although the Culver City facility won't be entirely vacated until December. Two weeks ago, McDonnell Douglas auctioned off hundreds of typewriters, personal computers and office furniture from the facility.

Building 15, which employed 3,000 people at its peak, is longer than two football fields with a ceiling eight stories high and was thought to be the world's largest wooden structure when it was finished, a McDonnell Douglas spokesman said.

The enormous wooden Spruce Goose, which flew only once, was officially known as the HK-1 Hercules Flying Boat. It remains the biggest airplane ever built.

The facility also boasted the longest privately owned runway in the United States, a 2-mile stretch of tarmac that was closed in 1986 and eventually dug up.

St. Louis-based McDonnell Douglas, the nation's No. 1 defense contractor, has cut about 60,000 jobs since the mid-1990s. The current work force is about 70,000. Much of the decline can be traced to a 65 percent decline in federal defense spending.