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WHAT A tantalizing idea: Use the fuselage of an aircraft for lift, not just its wings. Lifting-body aircraft have recurred throughout aviation history (the Space Shuttle, for instance, glided to Earth on this concept). Fascinating early examples existed too, a first one powered by a pair of Bugatti Brescia engines, others involved in an alleged conspiracy theory, a later one not retired to a museum until 1964.
Count Pierre Louis de Monge de Franeau, 1890 – 1977, was a Belgian engineer best known for the Bugatti 100P racing aircraft in 1939. More than a decade earlier, though, he designed a monowing transport aircraft, its wide fuselage carrying an airfoil shape that contributed significant lift.
In 1926, De Monge built the Type 7.5, a flying prototype at one-third the size of an envisioned transport. The 7.5 had a wingspan of 38 ft. and a gross weight of 1544 lb. It was powered by two 1500-cc inline-fours used in the Bugatti Brescia sports car.
On the choice of Brescia power, Bugatti authority Hugh Conway wrote in Bugatti Magnum that De Monge “claimed much for the benefit of fitting two standard and well tried car engines, which could be started readily by handle inside the pilot space in the wing, avoiding the dangerous current practice of swinging the propeller. (The Brescia owner might have reminded him that the engines were not always so easy to start!)”
As shown in contemporary photographs, the De Monge 7.5 made several flights. However, construction of the full-size transport was never attempted.
Meanwhile, U.S. aeronautical engineer Vincent Justus Burnelli had the same passion for deriving lift from an aircraft fuselage. His CB-16 had its first flight in 1929. Akin to De Monge’s design, its fuselage was wide with an airfoil contour. (By contrast, the fuselage of a conventional airplane, having no airfoil shape, contributes essentially no lift.).
Independent of its lifting-body nature, the Burnelli CB-16 had other claims to aviation fame. This two-engine craft could sustain flight at gross weight with only a single engine. It also featured retractable landing gear, a rarity among aircraft of its era.
Burnelli’s UB-14 transport first flew in 1934, with a trio eventually built. Data for the craft list its official NACA airfoil shapes for fuselage as well as “exterior wing.” The fuselage was said to provide half the UB-14’s lift at its cruising speed of 205 mph. The craft’s fuselage width offered expansive and sumptuous accommodation for its 14 to 18 passengers.
Burnelli stressed the structural integrity and safety of his aircraft, as well as their aerodynamic efficiency. Indeed, these claims led to controversy, with some perceiving a conspiracy of the aviation industry precluding any adoption of Burnelli’s concepts. See Air and Space Magazine “The Burnelli Controversy” by David Noland for an account of this.
In 1939, Cunliffe-Owen Aircraft (a subsidiary of British American Tobacco) licensed the Burnelli UB-14B design and produced a sole example identified as OA-1. During World War II, this aircraft was pressed into RAF service and eventually assigned to the Free French Air Force.
At one point, OA-1 was used as personal transport for General Charles de Gaulle. Ironically, the aircraft met its end in a bonfire celebrating victory over Japan.
The last Burnelli aircraft, the Loadmaster CBY-3, was built in 1944 by CanCar, Canadian Car and Foundry of Montreal. CanCar also contributed to the war effort with versions of the Hawker Hurricane, Curtiss Helldiver and North American AT-6 trainer.
The Canadian company had no production orders for Loadmasters and Burnelli acquired CBY-3 after the war. In 1955, he outfitted the craft for a North Pole expedition carrying 41 sled dogs, 20 explorers and their equipment. The adventure was never carried out.
CBY-3 continued in commercial service in northern Canada and South America until 1964. It now resides at the New England Air Museum where its restoration has begun. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2015