A story of ambition, a lost aircraft and a project that ended sadly in tragedy, the 100P tells us much about the struggle of aviation.
If you were to ask an average Joe about Bugatti, they’d probably think of Veyrons, Chirons and classic Grand Prix cars - but certainly not airplanes. This is, perhaps, because Ettore Bugatti, the man behind the legendary Bugatti automotive, and designer Louis de Monge only designed the one. However, this could have been different.
Bugatti wanted to create a race plane to compete in the Deutsch de la Meurth Cup in the Grand Prix d’Aviation. Like other contemporary championships of the era, such as the Schneider Trophy, this race saw the most powerful planes of the time go head to head in a thrilling sprint.
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Bugatti hoped to race the plane and perhaps sell the design as a French fighter. Work to design the aircraft started in 1938 culminating in just one prototype that was never completed. This was just one year before war burst across the continent and the project had to be halted.
Unfortunately, the 100P had come too late. The company was forced to hide the only prototype along with drawings and specifications as the German army invaded France in 1940. It was stowed in a barn in the French countryside. Sources suggest that the Germans were aware that the aircraft existed, but the prototype was never found. The lost fighter stayed in its hiding place for decades before it was rediscovered in 1970. It was then taken to the US for restoration.
So what made the design so revolutionary? Well, everything about the project was angled to create the fastest, most eye-wateringly quick airplane in the world - something that would have been extremely valuable to the air force during the Invasion of France. It was designed to reach staggering speeds in excess of 450mph. This was at a time when contemporary aircraft were struggling to reach 300mph.
Its configuration was extremely unusual, both for then and today. Two 8-cylinder Bugatti Type 50 engines were mounted behind the cockpit which drove two contra-rotating propellers up front. It also attempted to make use of the recently discovered ‘Meredith effect’. This was the idea of creating a sort of negative-drag affect why pulling air through a radiator to create an expansion effect that cancels out the drag that would usually be induced. This tech was later used on aircraft like the P-51 Mustang. Clearly, the Bugatti would have been a very clever airplane.
It’s not all that surprising, therefore, that a group of people one day decided to see if they could build a flying replica of the Bugatti 100P.
Triumph and Tragedy
Every so often, we’re reminded of the inherent dangers of aviation. Risk to life has always been a part of manned flight and will likely continue to be. Tragically, in 2016, the Bugatti 100P project lost its founder and test pilot Scotty Wilson in a crash at Clinton Sherman Airport, Oklahoma. He and his team had been on a quest to create the only flying Bugatti 100P in the world.
The project reverse engineered the found original prototype from 1938. It was reconstructed using two Bugatti engines, just like the original.
The finished aircraft was a magnificent recreation of de Monge’s vision.
The Bugatti 100P project succeeded in bringing a lost design into being. Although the story ended in sadness, this achievement will be remembered as the history of aviation continues to unfold. Here’s to you, Scotty Wilson.
Find out more about the Bugatti 100P
Images by the Bugatti 100P Project
Article by James Whomsley
Editor of FliteTest.com
YouTube Channel: www.youtube.com/projectairaviation