Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


IT WAS the color scheme that attracted me to the Vulcan American Moth. Its photograph in Classic Airplanes of the Thirties: Aircraft of the Roaring Twenties (Flight, Its First Seventy-Five Years) was black and white, but I recognized the sweeping paint job as being familiar. Indeed, it was similar to a motif exhibited on the grandest Bugattis.

I felt compelled to learn more of the American Moth and build a GMax model, completed in that color scheme.


1928 Vulcan American Moth at KSNA, Santa Ana, California; my GMax rendering for Microsoft Flight Simulator. 1930 Bugatti Type 46 Superprofile Coupe. Image from Sports Car Market.

The Bugatti Type 46 acquired the sobriquet La Petite Royale, honoring its imposing presence and spiritual kinship to the Type 41 Royale. This latter Bugatti was to be the car of kings, though only three of the six produced were ever sold, and not to royalty.

The Type 46 is particularly fetching in its Superprofile coachwork, designed by Jean Bugatti, Ettore’s son. The particular example shown here is chassis no. 46208 of 400 produced between 1929 and 1936. It sold at Sotheby’s Amelia Island Auction in March, 2012, for $1,017,500.

The American Moth Monoplane appeared in 1928, its American appellation separating it from Britain’s de Havilland Moth, a completely different aircraft. Design work was done by John Pavlecka, who also contributed to development of the Ford Model A and Trimotor.


Vulcan American Moth. Image from EAA.

Vulcan Aircraft Company built the craft. Its corporate parent, Vulcan Last Company, was a shoe-making concern that branched into golf clubs and other sports equipment. Though encouraged by the Lindbergh boom of 1927, Vulcan was in the aircraft business for only two years, 1928 and 1929. Before the Great Depression set in, fewer than ten Vulcan American Moths were built, each selling for $2500 (figure perhaps $35,000 in today’s dollar). The Doyle Aero O-2 Oriole and Davis V-3 evolved from the American Moth.

In many ways, the American Moth was 1928 state of the art. Its parasol wing (mounted above and clear of the fuselage) had next to no wire rigging. The fuselage was fabricated from steel tubing, its design optimized to reduce the number of welds.


My American Moth buzzes Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. (Don’t try this at home, kids. We’re professionals.)

Two rode in tandem in the American Moth’s open cockpit, the pilot seated up front. I had fun with GMax making the passenger’s scarf billow, by virtue of a Flight Sim “engine rocker arm” name that animates the element whenever the engine is running.


The American Moth at KSNA, Santa Ana, California.

The American Moth was powered by a LeBlond five-cylinder air-cooled radial. It produced perhaps 60 hp and propelled the aircraft to a top speed of around 115 mph.


The craft visits Santa Ana Blimp Base, thanks to Microsoft Flight Simulator.

During its Vulcan heyday, albeit a brief one, the American Moth was used for promoting the parent company’s sports products. The aircraft would fly over country clubs, its passenger parachuting with a set of Vulcan golf clubs. I like to imagine some of the club members drove Bugattis with a similar color scheme. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2016

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