Say the name Bugatti, and a fair number of folks will recognize it as an automobile. Fewer will know the name of Ettore Arco Isidoro Bugatti, the founder of Automobiles Ettore Bugatti, or that he, while Italian by birth and heritage, was actually French, as was his namesake company. Fewer yet will know that Bugatti was founded in 1909 in Molsheim, which, at the time, was actually a German town; (Molsheim is located in Alsace, which changed hands quite a few times back in those days). Likely next to nobody knows that Ettore Bugatti also built airplanes, actually, an airplane – One very special airplane – Le Reve Bleu – the Blue Dream.
Ettore Bugatti came from an artistic family. His father designed furniture and his mother was a renowned sculptor. When Bugatti’s father insisted he follow a traditional apprenticeship program, he became involved with internal combustion motors. Quite quickly, it became apparent that Ettore had a knack for automobiles. After starting his own motor car company, he became interested in expanding the role for his elegantly engineers engines. His first flirtation with aircraft design came with engines he developed during World War One.
The war to end all wars drove truly astounding advancements in aircraft design. The fragile, clunky machines at the start of the conflict gave way to cutting edge fighters by war’s end. Naturally, having experienced the adrenaline rush of unprecedented speed in the air, several army’s worth of pilots had no desire to quit, and air racing rose from the ashes of war.
Bugatti, who’s motor car designs showed clear signs of his parent’s artistic influences, quickly became enamored of the air racing concept, and was determined to design a winner – Having won the very first Monaco Grand Prix race, he saw no reason why he’d not succeed in the air. At the same time, the late 1930s, it was amply evident that peace in Europe would not last; the French government approached Bugatti about designing a fast fighter. Bugatti saw no reason that he couldn’t kill both birds with one design. His answer was the Model 100.
Co-designed with the legendary Belgian aeronautic engineer, Louis de Monge, the Model 100 generated five patents that survive well into the modern age – the pressure differential air cooling system, offset/inline engine system, automated flaps, V tail control system, and variable geometry wing. The Model 100’s fuselage was as sleek as you’d expect from a Bugatti. It was, in fact, one of the first composite air frames; laid up from balsa and tulipwood, covered with stretched linen, and doped in Bugatti racing blue – Hence the Model 100s nickname, Le Reve Bleu, the Blue Dream.
Bugatti’s primary motivation was to beat the Germans for the world air speed record. By the spring of 1939, a Messerschmitt Bf 109 had flown faster than 469 mph. Bugatti believed his Model 100 would surpass 500 mph; he would never find out if it were true. Before the Model 100 could be finished and flown, the Germans invaded France. The plane was removed from the furniture factory it was being built in, trucked into the countryside, and hidden in barn. Bugatti died in 1946, never having seen his creation fly.
In 1970, an American Bugatti restorer bought the plane, had it shipped to the U.S., where he removed the engines and left the rest as is. Though the first half of the ’70s, a restoration of the Model 100 was attempted and eventually abandoned. That effort was resumed after the Experimental Aircraft Association, (EAA), took possession of the plane; it now resides at the Airventure museum in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, but still has never been flown, and is too fragile to leave the museum.
That fact have driven the efforts of the Rev Bleu team from the EAA. This crew intends to build and fly an exact replica of the fighter variant of Bugatti’s dream, The Model 100P. They are well on the way to achieving their goal, though much remains to be done. Fundamentally, they are attempting to build a plane from very sparse plans and technical information, with literally no one who was involved with the original left alive to consult. It is a labor of love as much as engineering, as the project’s webpage clearly reflects. Perhaps in the no too distant future, Ettore Bugatti’s Blue Dream will finally soar, a fitting tribute to its inspired creator.