Last of Their Kind

Airplanes without equal at the National Air and Space Museum

(Library of Congress)

Loudenslager Laser 200

(Dane A. Penland)

Aerobatic and airshow pilot Leo Loudenslager so radically modified a Clayton Stephens Akro homebuilt that it was classified as a new aircraft, a unique mid-wing monoplane that set the design standard for the next generation of competitive aerobatic airplanes. After Loudenslager altered the wing, forward fuselage, vertical and horizontal stabilizer, propeller, spinner, and cockpit, a mere 10 percent of the Akro—mostly the tailcone— remained. Between 1975 and 1982, in what was then named Beautiful Obsession, capable of 230 mph and 9 Gs, Loudenslager won seven U.S. national aerobatic championships and one world title. First flight: April 1971. Donated by Caroline and Kelly Loudenslager in 1999; one built.

Cierva C.8W (not shown)
Spanish engineer Juan de la Cierva built his first autogyro in 1920, and in 1928, Harold Pitcairn, a biplane builder in Pennsylvania, bought de la Cierva’s C.8. Just as Pitcairn set about improving the aircraft’s performance, the Great Depression struck. Regardless, in 1930 Pitcairn received the Collier Trophy for his development of the PCA-1, and eventually built almost 100 autogyros. The vehicle’s greatest contribution to rotary-wing flight was Cierva’s addition of a hinge to each rotor. That innovation equalized lift on all blades, leading to the helicopter’s success. Pitcairn pilot Jim Ray flew the C.8W onto the National Mall in July 1931, where Secretary Charles Abbot accepted it on behalf of the Smithsonian Institution. One of two survivors; a Cierva C.8W is at the Musée de l’Air in Paris. The NASM C.8W is in storage.


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