A quest to create the world’s only flightworthy Bugatti 100P replica ended in tragedy on Saturday when builder Scotty Wilson was killed in a crash of the airplane shortly after takeoff from Clinton Sherman Airport in Burns Flat, Oklahoma.
Video of the takeoff showed the airplane struggling to gain altitude before it turned sharply left and crashed in a fireball in a field near the airport.
The 100P is an unusual 1930s design that was the vision of Ettore Bugatti, who hoped to race the plane and perhaps sell the design as a potent French fighter. It promised record speeds from a combination of supercharged Grand Prix engines, contra-rotating propellers and forward-swept wings. But Germany’s invasion of France at the outset of WWII forced Bugatti to hide the 100P in a barn in the French countryside before it could ever be flown. It was rediscovered in the 1970s, brought to America and now resides in the EAA museum in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, having never taken flight.
Wilson, an Air Force veteran with more than 11,000 hours of flight time in everything from F-16s to corporate jets, hoped to reverse engineer Bugatti’s airplane. Wilson and his team reportedly spent more than $400,000 and 10,000 man hours to build the replica, which featured a pair of 450 hp racecar engines placed in tandem just behind the single-seat cockpit.
The first test flight last August ended with nose damage when the brakes failed on landing and the 100P veered off the runway. It flew again, successfully, in October. Saturday’s test flight was the 100P’s third, and was intended to be the last. A crew member told local NBC affiliate KFOR that Wilson planned on retiring the plane to a museum after Saturday’s flight.