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Friday, January 22, 2010

Bugatti power!

I know it's been over a week since my last post, I have been rather busy with young 'bomber' Tom and family amongst other things, but I return now to write another blog featured aircraft, and I'm going to make you read this whole post to figure out what it is...

You may notice the subject line enthusiastically, and surreptitiously reads 'Bugatti power', and I wouldn't be surprised if that description arouses a mental image of the mighty 8 Litre 1001hp Bugatti Veyron sports car as that particular road-rocket has been getting rather a lot of exposure since it's debut. It toppled the previous champions - the long standing McLaren F1 road car, Koenigsegg CCX & Saleen S7 as the 'world's fastest production car', until an American newcomer by the name of the 'SSC Ultimate Aero' snatched the title by going a whole 4mph faster. Here's an actual picture of the Veyron, nicely ghosted to show the W16 powerplant - A 'W16' basically being two V8's lumped together.

Anyhow, in many peoples minds, the Veyron is still the world's fastest production car, if only because not everyone has heard of 'SSC Ultimate Aero' yet - That's not as memorable a marque as 'Bugatti' and the racing pedigree behind the name. Additionally, at $1.7 million dollars, it's certainly one of the most expensive, and exclusive cars in the world.
Those kind of bragging rights will definitely earn the Veyron many-a-poster spot on the bedroom walls of a generation of young car-crazy boys.

Unusually though, I am one writer who will not foam at the mouth over this machine, numerous motoring journalists have excited themselves over it like giggling schoolgirls, but not me, and for some very simple reasons.
  • Highway Speed limits. The Veyron is designed to reach speeds that will automatically have you thrown in a very cold jail cell without toilet paper, with only large bearded, tattooed cell mates for company to help pass the time.
  • Newtons laws. Of a different kind to those imposed by the police, they are still very serious laws indeed when traveling at high speed at ground level, in a collision at the kind of speeds the Veyron can attain, all three laws will come and kill you quicker than your life can flash before your eyes.
  • Lastly, and you might think this is out of tact with the previous two points, it's clearly worth noting that for $1.7 million dollars, you can buy MUCH more serious speed than the Veyron can offer.
To elaborate on the last point, consider that in the UK the national motorway speed limit is 70mph, in the US on the highways it varies between 55 and 75mph, in most of Europe, probably 130kmh-ish (80mph).
The one exception would be Germany's autobahns - and even those are quite strictly policed for potential hooligans wishing to take advantage of their highly efficient uber-gangways.
So that gives you only one road system, in a country whose language you probably don't speak, to legally enjoy your Veyron, or live with a guilty conscience speeding anywhere else.
Oh, and your top speed of 253mph won't help you one bit when you're sitting in a traffic jam either.

Conversely, for a lot less cash, you could spend a mere $600,000 dollars you can buy a 'Viper Jet' kit plane- you do have to build it yourself, but when it's done, you own your own personal fighter jet. There is a small catch, for civilians there are speed limits in the air too. In UK and US airspace, below 10,000ft aircraft are restricted to 250 knots. (287mph, 34mph more than the Veyron's top speed - oh so slow!) Above 10,000ft over land, the speed limit is mach 1. To me, it's clear to see which would be the most cost effective and more enjoyable extravagance to have. (Though the Viperjet is not the featured aircraft! Read on...)

But I have digressed muchly, as I meant to discuss in more detail the father of Bugatti Automobili himself, Etorre Bugatti. Proud as he might be of the Veyron if he were here today to see it, it's rather sad to note that the only real connection between the man and the car is the name as Ettore Bugatti died in 1947.

Starting at the beginning then, Ettore Arco Isidoro Bugatti was born in Milan, Italy on 15 September 1881, son of acclaimed artist/designer Carlo Bugatti and brother to successful sculptor Rembrandt Bugatti. Ettore, a great designer in his own right, had much more mechanical inclinations.

In brief, Ettore began as an apprentice in bicycle manufacturing, it wasn't long before he had built a motorized tricycle for a cross-country race. He built an award winning automobile in 1900 - his first, and continued building automobiles/cars for De Dietrich, entering races in the cars he designed. Later he signed on with engine producer Gasmotoren-Fabrik Deutz in Cologne and while working for them developed an extremely lightweight car in his basement. (What, you're not building a car in your basement..??) In 1909 he quit Deutz and leased a disused dyeworks in Molsheim, Alsace. That was the beginning of Bugatti cars.

Bugatti is famed primarily for its automotive prestige, and rightly so, as Bugatti built some duzies! In fact, the term 'Duzie' eminates from the luxury car maker 'Dusenberg', some of which were actually powered by 'King Bugatti' U-16 engines(Like two straight-8's side by side) built under license in the US, designed by Bugatti. So, literally, Bugatti really did help build some Duzies.

But what else did Bugatti design, apart from cars and engines? Well, he also designed a train known as the 'Automotrice Rapide Bugatti' which translates as 'Quick Autolocomotive engine'. It was quite a special train for the time (1933), and while it doesn't look particularly unique 77 years later, for the time it was a very exciting and modern looking train and novel mode of transport. This was back when 'streamlining' aerodynamics was still having growing pains, it's clear that Ettore had an innate understanding of the fluid motion of air.

The fastest 'Presidential' 48 luxury seater example of the 'Automotrice Rapide Bugatti' was powered by four 12.7 litre petrol engines centrally mounted in the cars, producing 800 horsepower each, allowing a top speed of 196 kph (122 mph), claiming the record (at the time) for the worlds fastest train, only to be beaten later by the 'Mallard' I think - the world's fastest steam train, achieving 126mph. Nonetheless, a great achievement, and an early toll of the death knell for the era of steam trains.

So finally then, having rambled on long enough about Bugatti's present and past I will move on to discuss the actual 'featured aircraft' all of this was leading up to; and that is the one and only aircraft ever created by Bugatti. Not just one type, but one sole, singular, lonely aircraft.
The Bugatti 100P.

I've been a little unfair in that up til now in that I haven't given any credit to Luis De Monge - Luis was the Belgian hired by Ettore to 'engineer' the 100P airplane, presumably while Ettore himself sketched its artistic aerodynamic lines. I guess that makes it a Franco-Belgian-Italian airplane, since it was designed by a Belgian and an Italian and made in France! :D

It was originally intended to fill a fighter requirement for the french airforce, the first aircraft being the proof-of-concept prototype racing plane, to be designed and tested first and then a military version would follow. Armament-wise, the intention was to house a 37 mm cannon firing through the centre of the propeller and 3 machine-guns in each wing, making it eerily similar to another mid-engined WW2 era design, the american P-39...
Had the military design ever come to fruition, it could have been a devastating war bird.

Of the notable design features, the most obvious are its 'forward swept' wings, though really the leading edge is nearly straight, while the trailing edge is dramatically swept back, making them appear more forward swept than they are. This arrangement would have made the 100P a very maneuverable, if rather unstable aircraft to fly - perhaps agile in the hands of a good pilot, and hazardous in the hands of a novice.

Twin 500hp 4.9L supercharged straight-8's each drove a seperate half of the contra-rotating propeller via convoluted drive shafts running past the pilots shoulders on either side. The mid-engined arrangement allowed for greater streamlining of the nose which undoubtedly would have resulted in a very low drag co-efficient and high top speed, though the designers original estimate of 531mph seems a little exaggerated.

The 531mph top speed claim may have been ambitious, as even the 1850hp Griffon-engined late model Spitfires only achieved 439mph, but a sleek and light Bugatti 100p, with 1000hp available from its two engines and a more efficient twin contra-rotating propeller design may have neared those kinds of speeds, the only way of knowing now being to build a replica, which somebody is actually doing...

It's fairly obvious to me that a real military version would have needed to be bigger and probably use larger engines to carry heavy machine guns and ammunition, but that aircraft only exists in the imagination so it's impossible to say.

So to wrap this up then, if you're interested, here are some of the source websites for this article:

And if you want a more sobering come-down review of the beautiful 100P, here's a 'model review' by some guy who doesn't know what he's talking about:

But to conclude, it's clear that the 100P is an unfulfilled piece of aviation history and it certainly was very advanced for it's time as were all of Ettore's works, and it's also a very attractive looking aircraft, which is why I'm using a picture of one on my business card! :)

Lastly, if you want to see the only Bugatti 100P in existence, get your butt up to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, where they have the only one in the world on display at the EAA Airventure museum.

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