The most beautiful airplane that never flew
August 8, 2015 9:13 PM   Subscribe

The Bugatti 100p (Yes, *that* Bugatti) was a remarkable airplane and an innovative design. A single-seat air racer, it was supposed to have been the fastest thing in the skies with a projected top speed of almost 500MPH.

Designed by Ettore Bugatti and Louis de Monge, the 100p was nearing completion when, as the German Army marched on Paris in June of 1940, Bugatti had the plane disassembled and hidden on his estate outside the city. The plane was rediscovered and transported to the United States after Bugatti died, and ended up at the AirVenture Museum in Oshkosh, WI. It never flew, due to deterioration of some of the wooden parts in storage.

Thanks to a Kickstarter campaign, an international group of volunteers has built a replica. Called the Blue Dream, it's due to take flight within the month.
posted by pjern (23 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Oooh. That is pretty.
posted by Artw at 9:34 PM on August 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

And it looks the way the future should have been! It's right out of a Boys' Own Magazine illustration. All it needs is a raygun.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:41 PM on August 8, 2015 [9 favorites]

I don't know how to fly but I want one now
posted by clockzero at 9:45 PM on August 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

A lovely looking thing indeed.

Just one small question.

How does the pilot see to land?
posted by fallingbadgers at 9:53 PM on August 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

That's the sex
posted by wotsac at 10:12 PM on August 8, 2015

How does the pilot see to land?

Just fine, I assume?

Consider this photo of the original.

The pilot's head will be right at the top rear of the canopy, so there is enough room to see over the instrument panel. Additionally, the excellent visibility to each side will provide plenty of peripheral information with respect to the airplane's height above the runway.

The arrangement looks similar to a sailplane's cockpit. The visibility in those is actually pretty great!

Part of learning how to be a pilot is learning what it looks like when your wheels are juuuust about to touch...
posted by tss at 10:16 PM on August 8, 2015 [4 favorites]

Forward swept wings, V-tail? That's some serious future tech for a 1940 airplane. Inline counter-rotating props are some crazy shit; did anything like that ever fly that wasn't a helicopter rotor?
posted by Nelson at 10:38 PM on August 8, 2015

did anything like that ever fly that wasn't a helicopter rotor?

A few have- notably the Russian TU-95.
posted by pjern at 10:42 PM on August 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

Some late Spitfires were built with contra-rotating props but I don't think they saw combat. There have been a number of other types doing the airshow circuit over the years, and lots of experimental and prototype planes for the military. Looks like Wikipedia has more. What I'm not sure of is how many of them had a separate engine driving each one as this does vs some sort of ring gear splitting the power between two coaxial shafts.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:06 PM on August 8, 2015

I think there are some problems here. Front-swept wings are inherently unstable. If you do the wrong thing, they bend up or down, and forces get stronger to keep bending them further and further, and in the extreme case they break off. Your design has to be particularly robust, and probably that requires materiels which didn't exist in 1940.

The dual props counter-rotating right next to each other is also a problem. The turbulence from the front prop should drastically reduce the performance of the rear prop. I'm not sure you gain enough to compensate for all the extra weight.

It looks to me like all this is compensation for the fact that the engine they had to work with was pitiful. 450 HP for an aircraft is a joke. The A-6M Zero engine was 950 HP. The F4U Corsair's engine was 2000 HP. The P-38 Lightning had two engines, totalling 3200 HP.

With only 450 HP, you can do fine for a civilian aircraft, but for a warplane you're wasting your time. So they decided to figure out a way to use two of them.

That's been done successfully, but the way they did it was to put one prop in the front of the plane, and the other at the back behind the tail. One example is the Dornier Do-335. And it worked, but it didn't work well.

It's fundamentally a design hack. The right answer is to improve your engine, and only use one of them. The Allies never had to bother with this kind of crap because they had the two finest aircraft piston engines ever designed: the Rolls Royce Merlin, and the Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:55 PM on August 8, 2015 [9 favorites]

To split hairs for a moment: The Bugatti 100 was the air racer which was built but never flew. The 100P was a militarized version which never got off the drawing board. Per Wikipedia's entry on fighter aircraft, the "P" might've been for "Pursuit"

> With only 450 HP, you can do fine for a civilian aircraft, but for a warplane you're wasting your time.

Not sure that's relevant, the 100P sounds like it was more of an 1939 version of "Oh yeah, by bolting this stuff to it you can also make it a killing machine" that's common among companies wanting to become military contractors, rather than a vehicle designed with involvement in the evolving theater of air combat.

I don't get the point of twin props either, though I'm curious what the aviator mefites have to say about it.
posted by ardgedee at 5:52 AM on August 9, 2015

Twin props => no need for a constant counter-rotating force from the flaps to oppose the torque from the engine. (This is why helicopters need a tail rotor) I imagine that implies better aerodynamics, as there’s no longer the constant drag from having to set the flaps slightly off perfectly straight in normal flight.

The wikipedia page also says that two contra-rotating props are more efficient than a single one as the first loses energy to rotational airflow which is wasted in a single prop design, but can effectively be harvested by the second prop with a twin prop.
posted by pharm at 7:02 AM on August 9, 2015

Contra-rotating propellers are almost standard now in marine sterndrives because they are more efficient.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 7:15 AM on August 9, 2015

It really reminds me of the Dornier 335 (upthread) - which I think is one of the most attractive aircraft built, fast too.

There were some successful contra rotating designs. The RN used a few - Fairy Gannet (the ugliest plane ever built) was pretty successful as was the Fairy Firefly, Seafire too I think as well as the Sea Fury which was pretty damn fast.
posted by mattoxic at 7:40 AM on August 9, 2015

Apparently I'm wrong about the contra-rotating props. Hmm. Learn something new every day.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:45 AM on August 9, 2015

Driving contra-rotating props from two different engines raises some interesting challenges in case of engine failure. Presumably if one prop is stopped, you get back all the interesting handling characteristics of a single prop (torque, P-factor, gyro effect, propeller slipstream pushing the rudder to the side).

But depending on which engine stopped, you'd get these in either the left-handed or right-handed varieties. I imagine it would be somewhat like going back and forth between western and Russian helicopters, where they've established opposite conventions for main rotor direction, except you get them all in the same aircraft, unpredictably!

I wonder if that would be less or more challenging than the more usual twin engine configuration where the props are not on the centerline?
posted by FishBike at 7:46 AM on August 9, 2015

An old bird equipped with contra-rotative propellers: the "Precious Metal" P-51 air racer.
posted by elgilito at 10:04 AM on August 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

Ooh it's lovely, I expect Buck Rogers to step out of it.
posted by nom de poop at 10:15 AM on August 9, 2015

With only 450 HP, you can do fine for a civilian aircraft, but for a warplane you're wasting your time.
It looks like it is 450hp per engine. That means 900hp total. Second, this is a much much much smaller airplane than any of the fighter aircraft. That 900hp is going to go a long way on such a small light aircraft.

Driving contra-rotating props from two different engines raises some interesting challenges in case of engine failure.
From the schematic in the 'innovative design' link there appears to be a small gearbox coupling the two engines together. This is practically required so that the propellers are spinning at the correct relative speeds. The separate drive shafts let the coupling gearbox stay small by only having to carry the difference in torque generated by the two engines. If one engine seriously goes boom then you're really in trouble because then neither prop can spin.
posted by TheJoven at 1:19 PM on August 9, 2015

Man, I remember seeing this thing in the museum in Oshkosh and immediately falling in love with it. The X-15 in the Smithsonian is the only more "holy SHIT!" plane I've ever come across in a gallery.
posted by the phlegmatic king at 1:34 PM on August 9, 2015

@fishbike, if you are interested, it seems the Precious Metals videos include an incident of engine failure...
posted by eustatic at 2:15 PM on August 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Nice post, very interesting, thanks for bring it pjern.
posted by Daddy-O at 10:42 PM on August 9, 2015

This thread needs a soundtrack.
posted by MsVader at 5:49 AM on August 10, 2015

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