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EAA AirVenture Oshkosh RSS Feed This Bugatti aims to fly

By RANDY DUFAULT
Bugatti
Scotty Wilson’s Bugatti 100Preplica will do something the prototype never did: fly. PHOTO BY JIM KOEPNICK

EAA’s AirVenture Museum is the permanent home of the Bugatti Model 100P racer, a plane designed in the 1930s to demonstrate Ettore Bugatti’s automobile racing engines. Expectations were high for an eventual world speed record.

But it never flew. World War II ended the project, and the prototype ultimate ended up here in the museum.

Scotty Wilson plans to change all that. “This is the most historically significant airplane that never flew,” he said. The Bugatti replica he and other volunteers are constructing is on display in the EAA Welcome Center at AirVenture Oshkosh.

“It is structurally complete right now, and the rest of the parts are in the manufacturing pipeline,” he said. “If the gearbox is complete in September, we will fly the airplane before the end of the year.”

Hear Scotty Wilson and Ladislas de Monge talk about the project
Part 1 | Part 2

A unique configuration for any airplane, the Bugatti’s two engines are located behind the pilot. Long shafts pass on either side of the reclined pilot seat to a gearbox driving the craft’s two concentric propellers.

“The technical challenge is with the drive shafts,” Wilson explained. “There is a phenomenon called torsional vibration. It is the bugaboo of every drive shaft installation. We know it’s a challenge, but the engineers tell me it’s solvable, and I believe them.

“The original engine, drivetrain, and gearbox system worked perfectly in mock-up form. We know that for a fact. But we also know that the engines were never started once it all was installed in the airplane.”

To Wilson the project is not just about the racer’s namesake. “We take nothing away from Bugatti, but Louis de Monge is the real hero of this story,” he explained.

When Bugatti asked de Monge if he could build a record-setting airplane using his automobile engines, de Monge said he could…and the Model 100P is the result.

“That is what this airplane is designed to do,” Wilson said.

News of the unique project traveled fast, and soon Ladislas de Monge, a grand-nephew of Louis, heard about it at his home in Belgium.

“In the beginning I did not know much about my grand-uncle,” Ladislas said. “We just knew he built a plane with Bugatti. We had seen some pictures on the Internet. One year ago a friend of mine called me and said, ‘Did you know there is an exhibition of a century of Bugatti cars, and there is a plane over there, a scale model?’ I visited the place, and somebody there said there are people in Oklahoma building a replica of this plane.

“I sent an e-mail to Scotty Christmas Day of 2009 saying I am the nephew of Louis and I would like to know what you are doing. He sent me back an e-mail immediately and 15 days later came over to see the exhibition and to meet us.”

With new knowledge of their great-uncle’s achievements, Ladislas and his brother traveled to Oshkosh last fall to see the original. Their trip continued on to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to see and touch the developing replica.

Ladislas’ Oklahoma visit prompted an offer. “Because I am a craftsman I said to Scotty, ‘Maybe if you need help to do something, maybe I can help you,’” he said. “I don’t know because I am not an airplane craftsman. He said you are welcome any time. So this past May I came to Oklahoma to spend three months with him.”

With Ladislas’ help the airframe came together, and he accompanied Wilson to AirVenture but must travel home soon.

He and his nephew and oldest daughter are making a documentary about the project.

“I will be back for the flights,” he said.

Power for the prototype was to come from two Bugatti T50B, mechanically supercharged racing engines capable of each producing 450 hp. But those originals would be too heavy and too expensive, Wilson said. “The original front engine is available for $2 million. Reproduction engines are available for $200,000, and you need two of them. So they are not financially practical and, frankly, not required for our purpose.

“We are in discussions right now with a European company that modifies stock engines for racing, car racing primarily. Right now we are exploring using two Suzuki Hayabusa engines.”

The Suzuki engines should develop around 200 hp each.

Beyond the engines Wilson’s replica will depart a bit from the prototype.

“Externally, aerodynamically, it’s identical,” he said. “Then we wanted to incorporate the five patents Bugatti received for features on this airplane.”

Those patents included a construction process primarily using balsa wood and poplar; the unique powertrain configuration; the V-tail control system (like the Bonanza it mixes elevator and rudder control); an automatic flap system that samples airspeed, throttle position, and manifold pressure; and a zero-drag engine cooling system.

Wilson does not have a major sponsor for the project but felt the expense of bringing the project here is justified. “The primary goal here is to share this experience with other EAA members,” he said. “I’ve had several people come up to me today and say they could never do this—they’d be intimidated. My response is don’t be intimidated. We, the EAA, can help you do whatever you want to do.

“So the number one goal is to show our community what you can do if you decide to do it, and the second is to get kids to dream big.”

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