Story by Andrea Grimaldi
Photos by Bruce Thorns & Bernie Laframboise
If your dreams are in the clouds and you prefer a little dedication to instant gratification, model airplanes are the hobby for you. Ferndale is in the lucky position of being home to one of the oldest model airplane clubs in the country, and currently one of the largest clubs that fly free-flight, control line and remote control models. Whether you’re a seasoned builder or a newcomer, the Cloudbusters are a necessary destination.
The Cloudbusters have been growing in members and knowledge for 77 years. The group started in 1939 as a handful of teenagers who enjoyed building planes and flying together. Originally called the Thermites Club, they met at different hobby shops and churches around Royal Oak and Southfield. Although participation dropped rapidly during World War II due to the draft, the group carried through the war and gained momentum in post war America. In 1944 the group changed their name to the Cloudbusters, which has stuck to this day.
In 1965 the Cloudbusters became incorporated under Michigan law, with their own bylaws and Constitution. In 1983 the club gained charter status with the Academy of Model Aviation (AMA) as Charter number 1911. Throughout their history they have competed in national competitions as well as local. The Cloudbusters also put on their own events and competition annually to showcase what years of practice and dedication can build. Yearly group auctions allow for members and newbies to trade parts and rare models.
Although there are remote control and control line enthusiasts in the group, the majority of the members prefer the original free-flight concept. The planes can weigh less than a penny and are propelled by rubber-band motors. Because the free-flight planes have no steering capabilities, a chase vehicle (normally a golf cart or a motorcycle) must be ready to follow. Despite not being able to steer the planes, they are designed for stabilized flight, rotating in slow and steady circles across the sky. Seeing people lay on the ground under planes is not an uncommon sight, as the hypnotizing flight path draws audiences. Free-flight planes compete mostly on flight time, with members of the Cloudbuster’s boasting over 20 minute flights on some of their planes.
Throughout the summer the Cloudbusters arrange for outdoor flying events. Whether it is casual club meet ups or group contests, any fair weather, low-wind day is fair game for model flights. The club sponsors the annual FAC Outdoor Championship at the National Flying Site in Muncie, Indiana. The Cloudbuster’s annual club picnic in August is open to friends, families, and locals, and includes prizes for the contest winners and lunch for the spectators and contestants.
To protect against unpredictable weather conditions, the group also arranges for indoor flights weekly during the winter months. They sponsor the annual Indoor Fling, one of the largest indoor contests in the USA. The Indoor Fling is held at the Ultimate Soccer Arena for a more controlled environment.
The Cloudbuster’s also hold monthly meetings throughout the winter months. The meetings serve as a place for exchanging tips and product recommendations. Each meeting includes members presenting their prized models as well, from planes made of dowel rods and tissue paper, to larger fiberglass planes. The meetings are the perfect starting spot for people new to the hobby, where the seasoned pilots are happy to share their knowledge and stories. The jovial conversation that carries the meetings is welcoming for even the clueless (author included).
The passion that the club members share for model planes goes beyond inclusive events. Cloudbusters are available to put on educational events and have hosted scout groups as well as Science Olympiads. In the age of drones and pre-built remote control planes, the Cloud-busters are more than happy to accommodate young Busters-to-be. A little dedication takes model planes a long way, and the Cloudbusters want nothing more than the tradition carried on.
Watch the Cloudbuster’s website for upcoming events, at http://cloudbustermac.tripod.com. The website is also a great resource for information on and photos of the different models. The monthly newspaper is also a great place to find plane design plans as well as recaps of past events. There are summer flights and fun flies planned, and monthly meetings resume in September, the third Tuesday of each month at the Drayton Avenue Presbyterian Church.
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