Editor: Jaap Horst
"You wore blue. The Germans wore grey"
; Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca
Imagine the scene. Paris was about to fall. Thousands of Parisians, lacking any instructions from their government which was now in Bordeaux, simply left the city, to be marooned along the roads and highways outside Paris, in the heat of the early summer, far from any decent shelter or food or water.
Now imagine the scene in an obscure furniture factory in an obscure Paris rondissement. Willing and patriotic workers manhandle parts of what looks like an alien spacecraft out of a window and spirit them away in an unknown location, far away from "Les sales Boches". They were utterly determined not to allow the Germans get their hands on one of the most advanced aeronautical designs ever to emerge from the almost moribund French aviation industry. And, there – hidden away by these patriotic Frenchmen, one of the most advanced prototypes ever conceived in La Belle France stayed for the duration of the occupation. The name of the creator of this advanced aeroplane was ( I am not making this up) one Ettore Bugatti. Zut alors!!
Many enthusiasts are aware of Ettore Bugatti’s marvelously delectable sports cars and exemplary GP cars. However, not many people know that in the late 1930s, he planned on building record-braking aeroplanes as well. Therein hangs a tale.
Ettore Bugatti departed from his usual creation of advanced racecars and hired Louis de Monge design the Bugatti Model 100 in 1937 to compete in a 1938 closed circuit aeroplane race. At this time, the Germans, the Italians and the English led the world in high-speed monoplanes. In the early 1930s, the English and the Italians had been fighting it out for the Schneider Cup Trophy races, but by the late 1930s, the Germans had been raising the bar with their speedy fighter prototypes like the Heinkel 100V2 which Ernst Udet, First World War ace and crack pilot would eventually urge in 1938 to a new world 100 km circuit speed of 394.6 mph (634.73km/h). Then, on March 30th, 1939 Hans Dieterle raised the bar even further in a Clipped wing V3 to 463.92 mph (746.6km/h) for a world land plane speed record. Remember, these were the days when Mercedes Benz and Auto Union race- cars were also dominating automobile racing on the continent and abroad. Clearly something would have to be done to regain the prestige of La Belle France, and Ettore thought he had a way.
Bugatti had originally envisioned his slick and crafty design to have one engine, but then he changed his mind and added a second engine so that his pilot could attempt the world’s three kilometer speed record. Buried in the fuselage behind the pilot were two straight eight cylinder Type 50B, 4.7 liter magnesium block engines of around 400 horsepower each. The two engines were canted to one side and set one behind the other with long shafts extending on either side of the pilot’s cockpit linked to a connecting gearbox driving the contra-rotating propellers.
The radiators for the engines were located in the Y shaped tailplane, and ducts in the leading edges of the V shaped horizontal surfaces drew air through the leading edges of the tail. There was no vertical tailfin. The airflow cooled the water in the radiators, flowed forward then out through slats at the trailing edges of the wing root. Underneath there was a large skid, and although it appears that the craft should have had a tricycle landing gear, the skid contacted the ground as the airplane landed.
Constructed out of balsa wood and hard wood and skinned with tulip wood covered with fabric, the aeroplane displayed innovation in other areas as well. Designer de Monge created a complicated set of split flaps which set themselves automatically depending on how fast the aircraft was flying. By the way, Bugatti was aiming at a top speed of 500 miles per hour plus. Sacre Bleu!!
The aircraft never flew and Bugatti and his loyal workers successfully concealed the blue beauty from the Germans. After the end of World War II, Ray Jones, the dean of Bugatti restorers purchased the craft and brought it to the USA. He removed the engines and sold the airframe to an enthusiast in Connecticut. This individual donated it to the Airforce Foundation, but in June of 1996, through the auspices of Dr. Peter Williamson and Bob Fergus, EAA obtained this one of a kind bird. After about a year of work, Chief Restorer Bruce Jovaag and his staff completed the restoration and now after nearly 60 years the rare Bugatti Model 100 went on display at the 1997 Fly In at the EAA Museum in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
To get some idea of what kind of problems he ran into during the restoration of this one of a kind, priceless aircraft, I asked Bruce about the restoration:
J.W.: How did the restoration go? What was the most difficult part?
Bruce: The Bugatti project was unique because treatment of its parts required preservation, stabilization and painting processes aimed strictly at preserving a piece of history. The Bugatti is a hand made aircraft with no drawings or prints to follow. Most of the difficulty was due to its arrival in a disassembled condition. It has one-of-kind systems, and we were faced with many parts that needed not only to be assembled, but also identified regarding their purpose and placement.
JW. How did this restoration compare to other restoration?
Bruce: At EAA, we do restoration work with two main considerations. Will it fly again or will it be restored for display only? The aircraft in the collection vary dramatically, so comparing projects is impossible.
JW: Did you get a feel for the thought behind what Bugatti and Company were thinking when they designed the aircraft?
Bruce: The airplane was designed strictly for speed. The Bugatti is a totally unique approach in nearly every aspect as a racer. Bugatti used his own engines and engine instruments. The airframe was created at a furniture factory. The rest was handmade. I cannot guess what costs were involved or if there was a limit. I am sure the designers were aware of the performance of other aircraft of its day. However, this airplane was a new concept with a particular top speed in mind.
JW: Did you get a feel for the capabilities of the Bugatti?
Bruce: No. Without basic test flying there is no base line for performance.
JW: I was told that a Bugatti pilot might not have liked the way he was imprisoned inside. I was told the canopy was fastened down with 64 bolts from the outside.
Bruce: The canopy can be opened from the inside. Also, the seating position is comfortable and somewhat recumbent. Visibility is good, except straight ahead due to the instrument placement.
JW: Would you have gone up in it?
Bruce: If I were a pilot back in the era of the Bugatti, I would have liked to fly it! The airplane was very innovative and flying it would have been exciting.
JW: Any other thoughts?
Bruce: Every piece of the airplane is a work of art, as were Bugatti’s cars. The thinking behind its design is amazing. An automobile designer of Bugatti’s caliber was developing new concepts into an airplane and like the car, the airplane would be as innovative as it was beautiful. Bugatti did not simply improve and existing design. He created his own.
With Files from
Jaap Horst in the Netherlands, Pacific Flyer, The Guild of Automotive Restorers courtesy of David Grainger, and The EAA Museum Library
Special Thanks to: Tricia Lundquist, Sue Lurvey and Bruce Jovaag of EAA
For more information on the Bugatti M100, contact the EAA at the following:EAA Aviation Center
Or of course the Bugatti Aircraft Association on home.uni-one.nl/bugatti/baa The story first appeared in Vintage Racecar Journal in July, 2001