AAFO.COM PRESENTS:

AN INTERVIEW WITH THE 1999 UNLIMITED CLASS BRONZE WINNER

by: Wayne Sagar
 
In 1997, I returned to the pylons of Reno after several years away. Drawn by the spicy smells of the high desert, pangs of homesickness and the desire to, once again, see and hear the sights and sounds of the Reno National Championship Air Races. This time would be a little different for me.. this was now work ..... I was at the pylons for an upstart publication... aafo.com...

Between races, it's quiet out on the high desert plains of Nevada... Nothing but strange colored poles sticking out of the ground with the letters "RENO" painted on them gives you any clue this is anything other than the sleepy little community that it is for 50 weeks a year.. then you hear the sound.... Starting like a distant rumble of thunder, it grows to a crescendo of "aeromotive music".... There are piston engines coming... big ones, turning polished propellers.... pulling the beautiful machinery of another era behind them!... "GENTLEMEN YOU HAVE A RACE" crackles over your radio... .... here they come!....

Reno could almost be considered two separate races; there's the "full blown, all out, rip it out, tear it up and take it home" Gold Race contenders.... All of them seeking the very top of the envelope of speed.... Everything and anything goes in this class and many of the machines in this top group exhibit this in the extreme! Huge engines, modified wings, clipped canopies.. ANYTHING.. There is no question, this is an impressive group!

Equally impressive in their speeds and historic significance, are the many nearly stock beauties running at Reno.. Some, in their original paint schemes, or emulating an aircraft of historic significance, honoring the brave men who flew them in their time. Though this group could be called slower... that is a misnomer; the pilots of this group are pushing the performance envelopes far beyond what had ever been intended by their designers. This is the Bronze Racing Group.... The first group of the day to race....

Out of this pack of flying history, materialized just about the most beautiful machine I had ever seen. Looking exactly like the airplanes of my boyhood dreams, her brightly polished metal and AIR FORCE BLUE paint scheme glistening in the bright Nevada sunlight... I will always remember that moment; not only how close to the ground that beautiful creation was flying.. but HOW CLOSE TO ME! Sheer beauty.... beauty of sound, sight, smell... all of it... I had been baptized.

The airplane, a North American P-51D with a big 51 painted on her side, was being flown by the subject of this interview. That year was not only my first year back at Reno after a 5 year absence, it was the first year in competition for this airplane and her talented pilot, Vlado Lenoch. Showing he has what it takes to fly this difficult course, hugging the ground, "polishing the pylons," he rushed by clawing at the air for more speed, a better line... he too had been baptized!

Personal commitments kept Vlado and his immaculate "Moonbeam McSwine" away from competition in 1998... but Vlado was hooked.. he'd be back! As Reno '99 grew closer we contacted Vlado and learned he would, indeed, return to race the pylons again in 1999.. And race he did...

I commented in 1997 that Vlado was a pilot to watch; exhibiting such skill his first times around the pylons.. he showed he has what it takes to do well in this very rare environment of the "Worlds Fastest Mototrsport." Vlado Lenoch proved me correct in this observation by winning the Unlimited Bronze Championship for 1999!

It is with great pleasure that we present the bulk of a conversation with Vlado that actually stretches from right after his win in 1999, until fairly recently... What's it like to go around the pylons? How does it feel to be in this place most of us will never be?

Vlado Lenoch has "been there" and done very well "doing that"... His name will be forever etched into the record books... Ladies and gentlemen... The 1999 National Championship Air Races Unlimited Bronze Champion: Vlado Lenoch!

 
"if the engine was running fine with good temperatures and vibration, I would just let Moonbeam run the course"
 

aafo: Last year, after RARA (Reno Air Race Association) announced the course would be changed for '99, there was a lot of speculation on what the changes would do to the race speeds. Your speeds this year were faster than when you last raced in '97; even after the event, there's still no real agreement on this issue. What was your take on the new layout?

Vlado: "Regarding the shorter course and slower speeds, there was some speculation about the new race course producing slower speeds; I do believe that this was the case. At Reno 99, Strega & Dago were well prepared to fly hard and should have been able to post speeds in excess of 500mph if flown on the old course. The weather conditions were just right to get the higher speeds, with cooler air and less humidity and also with little winds and gusts. The first thing Steve Hinton said on arrival at Reno 99 was that we would probably not see speeds approaching 500 mph anymore. His comment proved true as the days ran on."

aafo: Shortly before Reno '99, you mentioned a couple of modifications that had been done to Moonbeam.... A new scoop arrangement and the addition of spray bars for better cooling. Even with the shorter course you ran faster this year than in '97, how big a part did these mods play in Moonbeam's higher speeds?

Vlado: "For Moonbeam, it was better race prepared than from its last outing in Reno '97. The engine was set up for a bit more power, yet its full potential was really never pushed. This better preparation did produce higher speeds than shown from Moonbeam's last appearance in '97, but I felt if it were flown on the old 9.128 mile course, the qualifying speeds would have been at least 10 to 15 mph higher. In flying this year's course of 8.355 miles, I felt proportionally more time was spent turning, thus slowing down the overall speeds. As we know, turns load up the g-forces and the induced drag from these loads slow the aircraft speeds. My airspeed indication is calibrated in knots, it would indicate 310 to 320 kts. in the straights and slow to 290 kts. or less in the turns. I felt we had less time to accelerate in the valley of speed to push up the lap speeds around the course."

 
"the closer I flew to the pylons, the less distance I would cover over the ground and again get higher speeds"
 
"Since Moonbeam is really a bolt-on, stock racer, the modified parts really contributed to better speeds than from its last appearance in Reno '97. The belly coolant scoop was reconfigured for lower drag. The scoop was modeled after a P-51H scoop. Also, a few more spray bars were added to get the coolant door to run in the closed and lower drag position. The motor was set up for a bit higher RPM than last time and a shorter propeller was installed. Though ADI was available, for the power setting that I wanted to run and with the cooler air, I never did use the ADI. The induction temperatures never exceeded 80 degrees centigrade. I did run the ADI during qualifying and did flame out the motor one time with the ADI on for a resultant mayday ... I needed one to stay current anyway!"

aafo: This also happened in '97 didn't it; what does this do for your pulse rate !?

Vlado: "As far as my personal adrenaline rush, it only came during join up with the pace plane, all around 'the mountain' until we were let loose down the chute. I was posted on pole position twice, so I was very concerned to fly a good formation for the other guys and I wanted to set up for a good entry onto the course upon release from the T-33. [pace plane] After the release, it just became the humdrum of flying around those pylons and setting the line I wanted. With the power set up I had, I wanted to use just enough to get ahead of the pack and stay my course in clean, clear air. At Reno '97, I did not enjoy the turbulence from flying behind Curt Brown's Sea Fury, so I wanted to be sure I had ample power to get to where I was free and clear. From then on, if the engine was running fine with good temperatures and vibration, I would just let Moonbeam run the course."

aafo: In our interview with you in '97, you mentioned how it felt, pushing your beloved Moonbeam so hard for the first time.. Did you, with the new setups for cooling and drag reduction, push her any harder this year ['99]?

Vlado: "I did not use full throttle travel this year since I basically had only a stock engine on board and I wanted to fly that motor back home to Chicago. I probably had throttle travel to get 80 to 85 inches of manifold pressure, but since the motor was essentially stock inside -rods, bolts, crank, etc.- it was structurally marginal to run that high manifold pressure. Thus I limited myself to about 75 inches maximum. This was enough to post a good qualifying time and to win the Bronze class on Sunday."

aafo: You looked good, congratulations on the win!... Could you take us around the course.... talk us through a lap at Reno and the new layout?

Vlado: "Now for the visceral impression of the new course, I felt it was fun to fly, in a different way than last time. Since I spend most of my summer airshow flying doing low level 'akro', I really enjoyed the action around the corners of pylons 4 and 5. It was quite fun to fly over the undulating, sexy sounding!?- terrain at these pylons. [laughing] I got a great feeling of speed at this turn, while at the same time I was loading the airplane up to make the corners. The valley of speed is always fun, but this year was, of course, a bit shorter. Previously, it was nice to get down in the valley and let the airplane really accelerate, while I had a chance to catch my breath. It seemed like the airplane appreciated that as it got a chance to get a better gulp of air through the system and thus speed up."

"In the shorter course, to fly the course properly, one had to be set up to approach the guide pylon, which is between pylons 3 & 4, at least 100 to 200 feet wide. If one were closer to the guide pylon, then turn 4 would have to be flown too tightly to make it to turn 5 properly. Also, pylon 4 was in lower terrain than where the guide pylon was positioned. So when you approached the guide pylon, you could not see pylon 4 up ahead. Thus prior planning was critical for approaching the guide pylon. Since I was enjoying flying a tighter and lower course this year, I had to almost pull the airplane down into the valley where pylon 4 was planted to keep the tighter line I was trying to fly. This was fun, since the flight became a bit more 3D than just flying a flat race course. The ground really drops away after the guide pylon. The small hills and surrounding sagebrush ridges visually zoom by after that guide pylon. At pylon 4 and around the rest of the course until again reaching pylon 2, the track is fairly flat and 'kinda' visually boring from the cockpit."

 
"At Reno 99, Strega & Dago were well prepared to
fly hard and should have been able to post speeds in
excess of 500mph if flown on the old course."
 

"My race strategy was to fly a low, tight course over the race track. I wanted to enter and exit all the turns as smoothly as possible. Prior to this race, I tried to 'read up' as much as I could about flying the perfect line. A lot of this translates from auto racing, obviously. The less erratic and smoother I flew, the less drag would be induced by the wings, which hopefully got better speeds. Also, the closer I flew to the pylons, the less distance I would cover over the ground and again get higher speeds. In the gold class this still holds true, tough it is less apparent since they are flying almost 100 mph faster and thus are in almost constant banking flight in this shorter race course."

aafo: Our Reno Reporter, Mark Daniels, spoke with RARA's Mike Houghton recently; [see interview] it looks like the proposed changes for the 2000 race course have been worked out. Pylons one and eight will be pulled in, softening the turns, making the course more of an oval; how do you see these changes affecting things?

Vlado: "Making a smoother course will make flying easier as well as bump up the speeds a fractional increment. The planes won't have to be so highly loaded [increased G] in those turns. It is similar to compare [it] to auto racing, the effects of a hairpin turn to a sweeping curve; the hairpin obviously slows everyone down."

aafo: There is apparently quite a bit of interest being expressed by some competitors to attend the 2000 pylon school; not to be certified but to see the changes, get some input into the changes and probably most importantly, from a competitive standpoint, get in some laps on the course... Any plans to bring Moonbeam to Reno this June for this purpose?

Vlado: "Any chance to get more time on the course is very valuable. It helps a pilot fly it more naturally and with less mental effort. Time on the course is so very limited to begin with, any advantage such as more practice time is very valuable. Moonbeam would likely not be there in June. Since I fly a fairly active summer airshow schedule, it would be hard to give up a paid airshow event to get out to Reno for the available practice."

aafo: Your home base is a long way from Reno, how do you deal with bringing together a crew for the races?

Vlado: "Many people offered to come out to help in the pits, however, they wanted to join the crew midweek. This is not a good time to join a crew; most of the work starts on arrival on Saturday and thus it is not fair for the rest of the crew members to have someone join so late. Also, those few early days are important for the crew to 'gel' and adapt to each other; thus again, a midweek join up does not produce the needed camaraderie. The help offers are appreciated but full time involvement and availability makes for a better pit crew."

"Just some final notes to thank the guys that helped. Dan Martin provided a bunch of good, very appreciated ideas and thoughts about running this years race. Bruce Lockwood & crew provided some hanger space at Mojave for some engine preparations prior to the race. My next door pit neighbor, Matt Jackson & Rare Bear crew were always available for a cotter pin or the odd bolt when needed (Hope to see you next year for some good racing!). Mike Nixon and his shop basically set up a field shop in my pit to watch & pamper the motor. John Marlin, of the Martin Baker project, provided a few parts to replace some breakage. And my dedicated pit crew Steve & Dick provided all the sweat and work in handling the airplane for the race week."

 
"Moonbeam is really a bolt-on, stock racer,
the modified parts really contributed to better speeds"
 

aafo: We talk a lot about sponsorship around here; it costs a lot of money to field a race team to Reno or, for that matter, a publication [laughing] for the race week (actually nearly two weeks)... We've never seen any "billboard" on Moonbeam... Have you managed to get any sponsorship for your team as yet?

Vlado: "No sponsor, but I have a booking agent that I use for airshows, Dave Dacy Airshows that can be located at jdacy@mail.owc.net . I do an aerobatic flight display and also fly the Heritage Flight with the USAF fighters."

aafo: You posted a question on the aafo.com message board the other day about the jet race rules... is there a jet in your life?

Vlado: "I have a T-33 which might be fun to fly around the pylons."

aafo: Certainly sounds like the interest in jet racing is increasing! We're looking forward to seeing how this possible addition to the Reno Air Racing schedule will work out. It's been great to talk with you again Vlado! Congratulations on your win in the Bronze.... We predicted in '97 that you and Moonbeam were a team to watch... Thanks for making us look good!!

Vlado Lenoch flies an annual air show schedule, to see this
exciting performance check his 2000 schedule for a show site near you
CLICK HERE FOR SCHEDULE

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