The Monoplane Legacy of Leo Loudenslager
You can no more talk about Laser 200’s without
mentioning Leo Loudenslager than you can talk about Pitts Specials and
not talk about Curtis Pitts. These landmark airplanes are the direct
result of the landmark people behind them.
Leo is the primary reason for the demise of the Pitts Special as the
competition aerobatic airplane. Although the Pitts armada pretty well
cleaned the collective clocks of the Europeans and their Czech Zlins
in the very early ‘70’s, the writing was on the wall: the
day of the biplane was near an end and Leo’s monoplanes drove
the final nails in the biplane’s competitive coffin.
By the time I flew Leo’s airplane in 1973, I had been a Pitts
pilot for years and had a fair amount of Zlin time, and, as I climbed
out of it, I knew I had seen the future. That particular airplane was
his Stephens Akro, the pre-Laser bird from which the Laser evolved.
It was almost axiomatic that Leo’s airplane would be in a million
pieces up to a week before the national contests were to start. That’s
because he was always changing, redesigning and rebuilding the airplane.
By the time he was done, only about ten percent of the original design
still existed: the tubing from the wing back to the tail.
Gradually, as the canopy lines came down and the turtledeck flowed smoothly
into the flight deck, the Laser we all recognize appeared. Inside, however,
were a million little secrets known only to Leo. He was, for instance,
the penultimate weight freak. He went to such extremes as painstakingly
spot drilling the inside surface of his canopy frame, removing aluminum
half way through the thickness. He shaved 12 pounds off the motor just
by grinding away unnecessary bosses and casting flash. We used to accuse
him of having had a butt-ectomy to save weight, because it didn’t
look as if there was anything back there holding his jeans up.
And he knew exactly how to make the airplane behave the way he wanted.
A careful examination of the wings would show how at times he used model
airplane trim tape down the leading edges to trip the airflow more predictably
during snap rolls. Later that mutated into lapping the edges of the
paint trim in such a way they too were to control airflow separation.
Leo, who died in a tragic motorcycle accident a few years ago, was one
of the most driven, most intensely focused people I have ever known.
He was my first glimpse into the mind of a true champion and he went
on to win seven consecutive national championships and a world championship.
He and his airplanes were unbeatable because he didn’t simply
strive for perfection, he exceeded it by a wide margin. He rewrote the
book on aerobatics and set new standards that even today are met by
only a few pilots.
Leo was an absolute original who left an indelible mark. And we miss
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