Warbird Heritage Foundation Acquires P-51 Mustang “Moonbeam McSwine” To Honor Vlado Lenoch

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Vlado Lenoch and Moonbeam McSwine

Moonbeam McSwine is coming home!

The Warbird Heritage Foundation announced Wednesday that they’ve purchased the P-51 Mustang named “Moonbeam McSwine” from its most recent owner, Mr. Frederic Akary of France. The aircraft will reside under a new FAA registration number, N51VL, in honor of Vlado Lenoch.

Vlado and Moonbeam were synonymous; he flew the aircraft for over 20 years before he sold it to Akary in 2012 and began flying WHF’s P-51 Mustang “Baby Duck” at airshows instead. Vlado and passenger Bethany Root were flying in Baby Duck when they were killed in a crash last July. The aircraft was completely destroyed in the incident.

Moonbeam McSwine ReassemblyMoonbeam McSwine Reassembly

Rumors have been swirling for weeks now that Moonbeam was being brought home to the US to be flown as a tribute to Vlado, but until today nothing was confirmed publicly. The aircraft has arrived from overseas and is scheduled to be re-assembled at Tab-Air in East Troy, WI before joining the WHF fleet in Waukegan, IL. If all goes well, the aircraft should be up and flying in time for this summer’s airshow season!

Moonbeam McSwine Reassembly

Moonbeam’s history dates back to October of 1944, when it was manufactured in Inglewood, CA. In the 70s, 80s and 90s, Moonbeam raced in the Reno Air Races. Vlado flew it regularly in the United States Air Force Heritage Flight program (see the video below) before he sold it to Frederic Akary in 2012. Since then, it has been seen regularly at airshows across Europe.

We were fortunate to work with Vlado for many years, and continue to mourn his loss. This tribute is well deserved, and Moonbeam will certainly see many emotional reunions with Vlado’s friends as it returns to the airshow circuit. We look forward to bringing you plenty of photos and videos of this piece of history!

Vlado Lenoch And Passenger Killed In Kansas P-51 Mustang Crash

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Vlado Lenoch Leads the United States Air Force Heritage Flight
This photo, taken just two weeks before the crash, shows Vlado and Baby Duck leading a Heritage Flight. At the time, it was a cool photo but now it means so much more.

Nearly everyone in the airshow community lost a friend this weekend. Pilot Vlado Lenoch, along with passenger Bethany Root, was killed when the P-51 Mustang “Baby Duck” crashed near Atchison, Kansas Sunday morning. Vlado had performed at the Amelia Earhart Festival the previous night in Atchison. Bethany was the manager of the airport there, and Vlado was no doubt taking her for a flight before heading home.

Vlado was an airshow and warbird icon, and one of the most prolific pilots here in the Midwest. He flew many types, but was most closely associated with P-51 Mustangs; especially “Moonbeam McSwine”, which he owned for many years. After selling Moonbeam he instead became synonymous with Baby Duck and frequently flew it all across the Midwest. He was also an Aerobatic Competency Evaluator (ACE) for other pilots and one of the few civilian pilots in the US Air Force Heritage Flight program.

Vlado Lenoch and his P-51 Mustang "Moonbeam McSwine"Vlado Lenoch and his P-51 Mustang "Moonbeam McSwine"

His biography on the Air Force Heritage Flight Foundation website gives only a glimpse of his amazing experience:

Vlado Lenoch of Burr Ridge, Illinois is married with three children. His love of aviation began in 1970 when, at age 17, he learned to fly at Chicago’s Midway Airport. He earned an aeronautical engineering degree from Purdue and a Master’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Following college, he was employed at the Boeing Commercial Airplane Company in Seattle as a 747 instructor. From that point, he was employed at two major airlines flying the Boeing 727 and Douglas DC-9 aircraft. Currently, he flies a corporate Citation jet for a private company in Illinois.

Lenoch is a licensed Airline Transport pilot with flight instructor ratings in single and multi-engine aircraft, instruments and gliders. He holds authorization for the B-727, Cessna 525, F-86, A-1, A-37, L-39, T-33, P-40, P-47, P-51, F6F, F4U and T-28 aircraft. Vlado has over 11,000 hours of flight time and has built his own aircraft, a Pitts S-1T biplane, which he competes in at the highest level.

A member since 1997, the year in which the Heritage Flight program was founded, Vlado is one of the most seasoned pilots. He has been a director in the FAST Fighter Formation program since 1990 and an ICAS and EAA Warbird Aerobatic Competency Evaluator since 1995. Vlado is a lifetime member in the Commemorative Air Force, Soaring Society of America and Experimental Aircraft Association. Vlado’s great uncle, Cvitan Galic (of Czech ancestry), was a 39-victory Luftwaffe Fighter Ace in the Me-109 in World War II.

Vlado Lenoch and the P-51 Mustang "Baby Duck"

Vlado was also famous for his laid back and friendly attitude. Everyone was his friend, and he was always willing to help us pesky photographers out. We worked with him on many occasions through the years, setting up on board cameras and taking photos of the cockpit. Two of us were standing on Baby Duck’s wing doing just that only two weeks ago – we took a smiling selfie that is almost haunting now. We were starting to look at that footage today, before the news broke. All of us here at AirshowStuff, and so many more like us, will miss Vlado terribly. Our condolences further go out to his family as well as the family of his passenger.

Volumes could be written about Vlado’s kind heart and piloting skill, but we think the best tribute is to simply watch the master pilot work at what he loved. Enjoy the video below, remember the smiles he brought to everyone’s face, and keep ’em flying. Please share your own photos, videos, and memories of Vlado in our forums – we want to see them all as we attempt to process this tremendous loss.