With the Laser 200, Leo Loudenslager won an unprecedented seven U.S. National Aerobatic Championship titles between 1975 and '82, as well as the 1980 World Champion title. The airplane originated as a Stephens Akro, a sleek aeroback design, but by 1975 Loudenslager had completely modified the airplane with a new forward fuselage, wings, tail, and cockpit. The Laser 200 emerged as a lighter, stronger, and more powerful aircraft, enabling Loudenslager to perform sharper and more difficult maneuvers.
Loudenslager's legacy is evident in the tumbling and twisting but precise routines flown by current champions and airshow pilots. The Laser 200 heavily influenced the look and performance of the next generation of aerobatic aircraft, including the Extra, which dominated competition throughout the 1990s.
Leo Loudenslager built the Laser 200 for competition aerobatics and the goal of winning a world aerobatic title. Ultimately, Loudenslager and his Laser were so successful that he won an unprecedented seven U.S. National Aerobatic Champion titles, a record that still stands, and the 1980 World Champion title. Loudenslager's legacy is evident in the design characteristics and performance of current aerobatic aircraft, powerful and agile monoplanes, and in the tumbling and twisting but precise routines flown by current champions and airshow pilots.
Loudenslager learned to fly in 1962 when he was a mechanic in the U.S. Air Force and his flying skills immediately impressed his instructors. He became a certified flight instructor and co-operated a fixed base operation at Vacaville Aiport in California before joining American Airlines as a pilot. When Leo attended the 1964 Reno Air Races, he was so impressed by the flights of legends Duane Cole in his clipped-wing Taylorcraft and Bob Hoover in his North American P-51 Mustang that he decided to become an aerobatic competitor.
In the late 1960s, Loudenslager decided to build an aerobatic airplane but decided against one like the popular, though not yet dominant Pitts Special, the deHavilland Chipmunk, or the Czech Zlin. Instead he ordered plans for a sleek new design by Clayton Stephens, the Stephens Akro. The Akro was a midwing monoplane inspired by European aerobatic aircraft. Stephens and George Ritchie designed the aircraft for Ritchie's wife Margaret, an aerobatic competitor, and Ed Allenbaugh refined and engineered the design. Loudenslager bought plans and began work on the fuselage and tail while Stephens built the wings. Margaret Ritchie was killed in her Akro, but the cause was determined not to be design-related so Loudenslager continued his work.
His Akro first flew in April 1971, but he continued to modify the aircraft, still searching for perfection, in the forms of better rates of climb and roll and overall strength of the airplane. He remodeled it continuously and, in 1975, finally ended by cutting the aircraft in half and building an entirely new aircraft from the cockpit forward. Changes included modified airfoil and wing, and several forward fuselages, tails, instrument panels, propellers, spinners, and turtledecks. Only about 10 percent of the original Stephens Akro remained, specifically the tail-cone behind the pilot running to the tail section. The aircraft's data plate still labels the aircraft as a Stephens Akro, but this was because, as a matter of expediency, Loudenslager never requested a new one bearing the Laser designation. Only six months passed from the time when he embarked on the major rebuild until the 1975 national championship, and he did not have time for paperwork. He also wanted to keep the registration number N10LL.
When the Laser 200, resplendent in blue and yellow, emerged, it was lighter, stronger, and more powerful, with a 200 hp engine. These modifications allowed Loudenslager to perform more difficult and sharper maneuvers with seemingly endless rolls throughout the sequence. Loudenslager and the Laser could fly at more than 230 mph and endure gravity forces up to 9 Gs. Mattituck Engines modified the Lycoming engine to achieve maximum performance under these stressful conditions. The aircraft is made of steel tubes with fabric-covered fuselage and tail section. The single-piece wing consists of a spruce spar reinforced with birch plywood caps on bottom and top, to prevent the cracking of the spar near the wing root, as happened in the Akro. The plywood and spruce ribs are covered in 1/8th inch mahogany skin.
In 1971, Loudenlagser competed in his first contest at the second level of competition and then immediately proceeded to the highest level, unlimited. He flew at the U.S. nationals and amazingly came in eighth in the men's division. He won his first U.S. National Championship title in 1975 and repeated in '76, '77, and '78, and then again in '80, '81, and '82. Aerobatic champion and judge Clint McHenry once said he had only seen two perfect aerobatic routines, and both were flown by Loudenslager. Loudenslager retired from competition flight in 1983 but continued to fly at airshows around the country until his death (not flight related) in 1997. In 1983, the Laser was painted in the brilliant red Bud Light scheme to reflect its sponsorship.
The Laser 200 heavily influenced the next generation of aerobatic aircraft, including the Extra, which dominated competition throughout the 1990s. Monoplanes have less drag, full-length ailerons for crisp maneuvers, and, for the judges, better presentation in the sky than biplanes. The monoplane design offers a stronger frame so that more powerful engines can be attached to provide power for high power but precise maneuvers.
N10LL is one of about five or six Laser aircraft, and others, with significant modifications, have been built from Laser plans. Carolyn and Kelly Loudenslager donated the Laser 200 to NASM and it arrived at the Garber Facility in Suitland, Maryland, on October 1, 1999. It is currently on display at the Museum's Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center at Washington Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Virginia.