Race planes of the 1930s' - The Bugatti Model 100

By Willie Bodenstein


Ettore Bugatti of Bugatti of automobile racing car fame, started design work in 1938 on Bugatti Model 100 a racing aircraft to compete in the Deutsch de la Meurthe Cup Race, using engines sold in his automotive line for co-marketing.

The Coupe Deutsch de la Meurthe was an international aeronautical speed competition instituted on 25 August 1909 by the French oil magnate Henry Deutsch de la Meurthe. The race was reinstated three times through the years at the initiative of the Aéro-Club de France, and later by Deutsch de la Meurthe's widow Suzanne.

The trial was to be run in two 1,000 km stages separated by a 90 minutes refuelling stop, and was limited to aircraft with an engine capacity of less than eight litres. The starting point of the race was still at Étampes. Suzanne Deutsch de la Meurthe was offering one million Francs, and the Ministère de l'Air (Air Ministry) offered another three million.

Bugatti's chief engineer was Louis de Monge, with whom Bugatti had worked before. The Model 100 had an unusual inboard mounted two Bugatti Type 50P Straight 8 4.9L, 340 kW (450 hp) engines each driving forward-mounted contra-rotating propellers through driveshafts. The aircraft also featured a 120-degree v-tail arrangement and retractable landing gear. The construction was mostly of wood, with sandwiched layers of balsa and hardwoods, including tulipwood stringers covered with doped fabric.

The aircraft was the source of five modern patents, including the inline engines, v-tail, mixer controls and the automatic flap system. Bugatti was also approached by the government of France to use the technology of the racing aircraft to develop a fighter variant for mass production.

The aircraft, only one of which was built, was not completed by the September 1939. Bugatti had the aircraft disassembled and hidden on his estate prior to the German invasion of France. He passed away 1947, having never resumed work on it.

The aircraft remained in storage throughout World War II. In 1971 a restoration effort was started. The aircraft was stored by the National Museum of the United States Air Force, then transferred to the EAA Aviation Museum collection where restoration was completed and it remains there on static display.

A full-scale flying reproduction was constructed by Scotty Wilson, John Lawson and a team of enthusiasts. On 4 July 2015 the reproduction aircraft, powered by two Suzuki Hayabusa engines took to sky for a short test flight. It few a second time and then on 6 August 2016 crashed during its third test flight killing Scotty Wilson. The aircraft was completely destroyed in the ensuing fire.

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