SI Vault
Budd Davisson
October 11, 1976
Leo Loudenslager and his single-wing plane seem out of place in aerobatic contests—until the points are tallied
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October 11, 1976

A Struggle To Stay In Control

Leo Loudenslager and his single-wing plane seem out of place in aerobatic contests—until the points are tallied

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"When I came down from the first flight, I thought I'd flown a good flight, not perfect maybe, but good," says Loudenslager. "I was absolutely floored when I came in 20th."

Among the more obvious areas in which the Russians seemed inclined to bend the rules was in judging the boundaries of the "box," the 1,000 x 800-meter area in which all maneuvers must be performed during competition at altitudes not less than 100 meters nor more than 1,000. All of the boundary judges were Soviets during the 10-day contest and Loudenslager, who was judged out of the box twice during the first of his three flights, says, "I know for a fact that at least one of those outs was a phony. I was going straight down at the time, so I could see the boundary marker. I was at least 250 feet inside."

James Black, a member of the British team and chairman of the international body that governs aerobatic flying, says, "Our people walked out to the box boundaries and watched Russian pilots leaving the box repeatedly without being properly penalized. Eventually we found we could buy better treatment from the box judges by offering them chewing gum."

"The environment got to me," says Loudenslager. "The food was marginal, the people surly, the field terrible and my low score on the first flight convinced me the judges weren't competent. The whole thing looked so futile I just couldn't get up for the second flight and it showed. I was just going through the motions. But my third flight was good. I felt great about it and the German champ raved on how it was the best flight he'd ever seen in competition. On the same sequence Russia's Igor Egorov zeroed two maneuvers, enough to take him right out of the running. On that flight I was placed 20th again, Egorov was 29th.

"There was absolutely no way anybody but the Russians were going to win," Loudenslager says and shakes his head thinking about the U.S.' fourth-place finish in a field of 15. "It's really too bad they had to cheat because their pilots were good enough to give us a run for our money without any help from the judges."

The pressure of the world contest behind him, Loudenslager now faces the never-ending problem of all champions—staying on top. In Sherman, Texas he will have to prove once again that he is the best in the U.S.

"Right now, there are at least three of us who are a whisker away from being equal," he says. "The man who is most likely to beat me is Haigh. He's a heck of a pilot and he showed at Kiev that his modified Pitts is nearly a match for my plane. Clint McHenry has a lot of time in his new 'T' model Pitts and even though he vowed never to compete again after the debacle in Russia, he'll probably be at Sherman and he could easily wax us all. And then there's Bill Thomas, he's always in there at the top if any of us should stub our toes."

At 180 mph, with 8 Gs hauling on his every move, it takes only a flick of an eye for a pilot to lose enough points to trade the lead for a position far down in the pack. Control is everything, and even in the elite company of "extremely driven men" who will be trying to wrest his championship from him, few expect Leo Loudenslager to lose control for even a blink of an eye.

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