On any sunny summer day at Bullard Field in Elkhart you will find the sky full of aerobatic feats as planes perform loops, rolls and spins over the nearby rows of corn. During one Sunday the steady hum of engines was disrupted by a loud plunk as a plane lost control and crashed back to earth.
Club members with the Flight Masters of Elkhart County watched as a young pilot ran to the opposite edge of the flight field to search through the tall corn for his downed model plane. Five minutes later, the small crowd let out a cheer as the man returned with the plane intact.
“You can do a lot more with these than you can a real airplane,” said Jim Bowers, designated flight trainer for the club, “and they’re a lot cheaper.”
Up and down the flight line model planes of different shapes, sizes and colors were pulled out of the backs of cars, canvas bags and trucks.
Steve Bailey picked a spot near the end of the open field and worked on attaching the wings to his electric launch sail plane. When not in use, the electric propeller folds back, allowing the plane to soar, Bailey explained.
“What you’re doing is searching for bubbles of warm rising air and you try to keep yourself aloft with just that power,” Bailey said.
Farther up the field Harry Rombke, a club member since 1991, was having difficulty with his plane’s engine. A few other pilots crowded around the plane. Tool boxes were dug through, fingers pointed and poked at different parts of the plane’s exposed engine as the group tried to help solve the mystery.
“We’re a very tight-knit group,” said club president Nathan Soward. “If one person is having problems with his plane, we’ll all gather around and see what we can do to help.”
Soward started flying full-scale airplanes when he was 16. His health keeps him on the ground these days. Hearing the propeller start on his model airplane, grabbing the controls and watching the model soar across the sky gives Soward his flying fix, he said. “I kind of do the Walter Mitty thing, you know, kind of imagine myself in the airplane,” Soward said, “It gives me that satisfaction of flying.”
It’s a passion and enthusiasm for flying that is shared among the rest of the clubs model pilots, but numbers are shrinking. Bowers, at 53, is among the youngest in the club. “There isn’t a lot of kids into it,” Bowers said. “Computers have kind of replaced model airplanes.”
But for the flyboys at Bullard Field, computers just won’t cut it.
With a few slight twitches of his fingers Bowers’ plane stalled, tumbled, and looped before righting itself and soaring down the length of the field. Shouts and cheers joined the steady hum of engines.
“My wife will tell you that I have 30 planes,” laughed Bowers. “You buy one and then you buy two and then you buy three, it’s kind of an addiction.”