by Budd Davisson
You can no more talk about Laser 200ís 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 ë70ís, the writing was on the wall: the day of the biplane was near an end and Leoís monoplanes drove the final nails in the biplaneís competitive coffin.
By the time I flew Leoís 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 Leoís airplane would be in a million pieces up to a week before the national contests were to start. Thatís 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 didnít 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 didnít 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 him mightily.
Leo and I were friends back in the early 60’s when we were racing Comet sailboats against each other. He was known as Lenny at the time. I even dated his sister Susie for the short time that a distance of 130 miles would allow. This was before Leo learned to fly in the army. He was a top-notch sailor and when he was on the water no one could touch him and he won everything in sight. His focus in sailing was a precursor of his flying prowess. I talked with him one last time when he was performing in an air show in Dallas. It was maybe a month before he died. Fond memories.
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