The Bugatti 100P: Reviving a Ghost
By D.R. STEWART World Staff Writer
In June 1940, as Ettore Bugatti and Louis de Monge were preparing to roll out their technologically advanced Bugatti 100P aircraft in Paris, the German army marched into France.
Despite spending years in the manufacturing and engineering of racing cars and airplanes leading up to the debut of their masterpiece, Bugatti and de Monge set aside their dreams.
They disassembled the 100P aircraft, packed it in crates and hid it away in a barn in the French countryside so its cutting-edge technology wouldn’t fall into the hands of the Nazis.
The stylish art deco racing plane never flew, and it remained hidden away from the world for more than 30 years.
After its restoration had begun under several owners in the 1970s, the airframe was installed in the Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture Museum in Oshkosh, Wis., in 1996 – nearly 50 years after Bugatti’s death and 19 years after de Monge died.
But the Bugatti 100P may not remain a museum piece.
A loosely knit coalition of classic aircraft enthusiasts, led by Scotty Wilson, a Tulsa resident and former U.S. Air Force fighter pilot, is building a reproduction of the Bugatti 100P at a hangar at Harvey Young Airport in east Tulsa. To learn more about the project, go to tulsaworld.com/bugatti
Beginning in August 2008, Wilson and his colleagues studied de Monge’s early sketches and small-scale designs as well as photographs of the classic airplane.
“We are building a reproduction of the Bugatti 100P,” Wilson said. “A replica is an exact copy down to the screws and glue used in the original airplane. The fact is, no one can build a replica of this airplane because not enough information is available.
“Our reproduction is faithful to the original in the important ways. Externally, it is identical in appearance, and aerodynamically, because we want to experience flying it the way they would have flown it. Also, we are incorporating elements of Bugatti’s five patents on the airplane.”
‘Most elegant plane’
Although Bugatti was granted the patents by the French, Italian, British and U.S. governments, the designs behind them were de Monge’s, Wilson said.
De Monge’s and Bugatti’s patented techniques include:
Automatic flight controls. Wing flaps, which are hinged surfaces on the trailing edge of the wings and can add lift or reduce drag, are adjusted automatically, according to air speed and throttle setting.
A V-tail, which is part of the engine cooling system. It also incorporates a unique control system that combines the elevator and rudder.
Sophisticated engine cooling system. Instead of placing the engine radiators externally, which would create drag and loss of air speed, the radiators are incorporated into the fuselage. Air is directed at the leading edge of the stabilizer on the V-tail by inlet guide vanes that direct it through ducts forward into the fuselage to the radiator. After the air passes through the radiator, it exits at the trailing edge of the wing.
Composite sandwich construction of light balsa wood between two layers of strong poplar wood.
Two Bugatti-type 50B engines that are 4.7-liter supercharged and capable of 450 horsepower. The engines, mounted behind the cockpit, drive contra-rotating propellers through a gearbox in the nose of the airplane.
“It is arguably the most elegant airplane ever designed, an art deco masterpiece and a technological marvel of the era,” Wilson said of the 1937 Bugatti plane. “Louis de Monge was a risk-taker, a real leaning-forward type of guy, and he wasn’t afraid of failure.
“Since we didn’t have drawings and plans, one way to get to know the airplane was to get to know Louis de Monge philosophically because that will help me understand the design.”
For the past few months, Wilson has been assisted in these efforts by Ladislas de Monge, the great-nephew of Louis de Monge, who lives in the house in Belgium where his great-uncle was born.
Ladislas de Monge, who also is a former fighter pilot, said his great uncle obtained many patents. He worked on a sonar system and sent information on it to the British army during World War II, de Monge said.
“Louis had four brothers, and they all were university-educated engineers,” de Monge said. “One brother, Gerard, developed 40 patents as a civil engineer.”
Nearing the finish
Wilson and de Monge hope to have the fuselage and wings constructed and painted by mid-summer for display July 25-31 at “2011 AirVenture Oshkosh,” where 800,000 people and 12,000 airplanes are expected.
“We are the center of the show this year,” Wilson said. “2012 is the 75th anniversary of when they started construction of this airplane. I am so enthusiastic about this project that it borders on evangelism.” (update: as of Oct 2012, they did attend Oshkosh and it was very exciting). Plans have been updated to fly in 2013.
Wilson’s and de Monge’s fervor for the project is matched by that of their colleagues and collaborators.
Greg Carlson, of Carlson Design in Tulsa, developed a digital profiler that enables the team to reverse engineer the angles and distances of the Bugatti’s wings.
Technicians and engineers at NORDAM Group’s Transparency Division are fabricating the plane’s cockpit canopy.
Vince Thomas and Tescorp. of Tulsa are constructing the fuel tanks and have fabricated 150 bushings.
Oscar Taylor of Tulsa is building the landing gear.
John Lawson of Nottingham, England, is designing the gear box.
G.T. Propellers, an Italian manufacturer, is building the Bugatti’s two propellers.
Wilson and de Monge said they hope to begin ground and flight tests of their Bugatti in the fall (ed note: or early 2013).
“This is what I refer to as heaven,” Wilson said. “I’m at an airport, building an airplane, I’ve got beer in the fridge and country music on the radio.”
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