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.
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’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!
Here is the full statement from the WHF Facebook page:
All of us at the Warbird Heritage Foundation are deeply saddened at the death of our close friend and superb fellow pilot, Vlado Lenoch.
Vlado and a passenger passed away yesterday morning while flying in our P-51 Mustang, “Baby Duck”.
The Warbird Heritage Foundation will make no further comment regarding this tragic event until after the FAA, NTSB, and other relevant parties have completed their respective investigations.
Effective immediately, all WHF flight operations will be temporarily suspended until further notice. Also, the Warbird Heritage Foundation is cancelling the airshow appearances of all of our aircraft for the remainder of the 2017 airshow season.
Our heartfelt condolences go out to Vlado’s family and friends and to the family and friends of the passenger aboard “Baby Duck”.
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 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 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.
The 2016 Gathering of Warbirds in Waukesha, WI brought together many different warbirds for a public open house. The warbirds included a P-40 Warhawk, P-51 Mustang, MiG-17 Fresco, T-37 Tweet, T-28 Trojan, De Havilland Chipmunk, T-34 Mentor, two F-86 Sabres, and more. A C-130 Hercules and King Air from the Royal Canadian Air Force were also on display.
Five Things is our regular feature to review the airshows that we attend. You already know that the performers were great, so instead of recapping who flew what, we want to jump straight to the most notable moments or stories; things that would remain in your head on the drive home and for a long time afterward.
Small Show Atmosphere
While airshows with jet teams and major gatherings get a lot of press, small shows are almost an entirely separate world. The layout is more intimate, the people are generally friendlier, and the gate rules are often relaxed. There is not an ‘ego’ to the event. Wings Over Waukegan is one of these small shows, and it provides a wonderful change of pace from larger blockbuster events. The entire show layout is smaller, and there are no chalet tents. The only tent, set up for performers and other VIPs, is at one end of the show line. The performer aircraft were parked directly in front of the main crowd area with just enough room to taxi out. Before the show, this section of the ramp was open to the public to get up close with the performing aircraft and pilots, something rarely seen at large shows.
One Day Only
In fitting with the small show atmosphere, the event is only held for one day. This is not unheard of with smaller shows, but it certainly feels different to know that you cannot come back and see the same thing the next day. Photos must be taken with cautious settings as there is no second opportunity. This also makes the show organization much more vulnerable to bad weather since the crowd cannot alter their plans if rain or storms are forecast. Last year’s show dealt with large storms throughout the afternoon, but thankfully was successful enough to continue this year. However, the single day schedule is nice because it affords a chance to relax afterward without fear of an early morning to come.
Luckily for the show the weather this year was very nearly perfect. Cloudless blue skies helped the photographers use the show’s sun-at-your-back orientation to its full potential and temperatures in the low 70s kept everyone comfortable. The one factor that wasn’t favorable was the decently strong on-crowd wind, and it led to some interesting moments during the show. Only a few performers used smoke during their routine, but those that did quickly smothered the crowd with it. During the jet warbird segment it got so bad that the aircraft could not be seen until they were past. A T-33 making a high speed pass and suddenly appearing in front of you is a pretty cool sight!
Warbirds Front and Center
The core of the Wings Over Waukegan show is undoubtedly the warbirds. The Warbird Heritage Foundation, a major player in Midwest shows, is based on the field across from the crowd area and puts most of their aircraft on display each year. The WHF A-4 Skyhawk served as the show finale this year, but their P-51 Mustang, T-2 Buckeye, A-1 Skyraider, F-86 Sabre, and L-39 Albatros also either flew or sat on static display. Other warbirds came in for the show, including a T-37 Tweet that put on an impressively nimble aerobatic demo, and an F4U Corsair that performed aerobatics and a US Navy Legacy Flight with the A-4.
An Army of Cadets
One of the most stunning aspects of the Waukegan show was the massive number of cadets present. Be they Civil Air Patrol, Young Marines, or other groups with a similar purpose, the cadets and their handlers almost outnumbered the actual spectators at the show. Every static aircraft had a minimum of 3 to 5 cadets stationed around it on guard duty, making photos difficult or impossible to come by. Once the hot ramp closed, a line of cadets marched out to form a human wall in front of the spectators rather than simply setting up some sort of fence. Luckily some areas of the crowd line had normal snow fencing, but anyone with the misfortune of sitting behind the cadets surely had to feel angry at seeing a bunch of uniformed butts where aircraft should have been. Hopefully the show can look at this and come up with an alternate method of creating a crowd line. Dragging some stands out and running rope between them would not be difficult. On a positive note, the cadets were relatively relaxed and the power trips that have become all too familiar to airshow fans were not a problem. And when the only complaint about the show is a bunch of well behaved cadets, you know there isn’t much to complain about at all!