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Written by Rachelle Haughn
Free Flight family comes together for fun and competition
Event coverage
As seen in the March 2018 issue of
Model Aviation.

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Model Aviation Magazine - 2017 Flying Aces Club Outdoor Championships

Click here for the 2017 Flying Aces Club Outdoor Championships results!

"I am taken with the magic and wonder of flight,” Ralph “Rotten Socks” Kuenz stated as he was handed a shiny, red Peanut Scale model to inspect.

He checked every detail of the small airplane, comparing it with drawings and taking notes. “We’ve got two or three guys who have not built since age 12 and they’re having a ball,” he explained while adjusting his yellow Flying Aces Club (FAC) 2014 Nats staff cap.

Behind him, modelers were quietly winding long lengths of rubber, inspecting airframes, and chatting about their lives. If not for their attire and smartphones, one might think he or she had boarded a time machine back to the days when model aviation’s popularity soared.

Compared with other events that take place throughout the year at the International Aeromodeling Center, in Muncie, Indiana, the FAC Outdoor Championships for Free Flight (FF) seemed to be the quietest and most laid-back.

When the rubber-powered aircraft were launched, they made no noise and left no carbon footprint. The only noises came from the roughly 40 pilots who sometimes cheered, sometimes complimented each other on their outstanding craftmanship, and other times gasped if their airplanes took a sudden nosedive.

Although there have been many innovations since FF aircraft gained popularity in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, these models seem to be frozen in time. And that’s just fine with their pilots.

“My first memory of an airplane was my dad putting his hand on my shoulder and saying that my airplane was gone,” Ralph said. He was 12 years old at that time and the airplane he lost was an Ercoupe.

Nine-year-old Eric Kondrat gets an aircraft ready to fly. He attended the event with his dad and older brother. Eric later tried his hand at the Jet Catapult event.

Arriving on the second day of the September 14-15, 2017, contest was Roger Wathen, a retired teacher, who also has fond memories of flying FF aircraft in his younger years. “The rubber presents a challenge that RC doesn’t,” he said. That is why he likes rubber-powered FF aircraft. “When you let go” of the airplane, everything has to be right. “I think I like building as much as I like flying,” he said. When he wasn’t visiting with other pilots, Roger was inspecting and adjusting his airplanes.

At the flightline, there were plenty of types of FF models competing. The categories included FAC Peanut, Rubber, Dime, and Jumbo Scale, Golden Age Multi-Wing and Monoplane, Low-Wing Military Trainers, and World War I and II aircraft.

Ralph explained that Peanut Scale is for aircraft with wingspans of up to 13 inches and Jumbo Scale is for multiwing models that have wingspans of 30 inches or more and monoplanes that have a wingspan of 36 inches or more. There were also two rise-off-ground (ROG) contests: Old Time Rubber Fuselage, and Embryo Endurance.

Roger Wathen attends the FAC Outdoor Championships each year more for the camaraderie than the competition. He said that being around his fellow pilots, whom he counts as friends, is “good for my psyche.”

The Greve Race, WW I Dogfight, Thompson Trophy Race, Goodyear/Formula Race, and WW II Combat were all mass launches. The aircraft that stayed in the air the longest won. Each of these contests had multiple rounds with one to two pilots eliminated after each round.

The mass launches seemed to be the most popular and exciting contests—both for the pilots and their helpers. Roughly 15 minutes before each mass-launch contest, co-contest director (CD), Pat Murray, drove his golf cart up and down the flightline to announce when the contests would begin. He continued this until there were 5 minutes left before start time.

The pilots and their helpers walked or drove golf carts to an area that was a good distance from the flightline for the mass launches. When given the signal by CD Winn Moore, the pilots began winding the rubber for their aircraft, as their helpers held the airplanes. When the winding was complete, the propellers were attached to the models’ noses. The helpers stepped away and the pilots lined up. At the word go, the contestants simultaneously released their aircraft.

There were a few near midairs, but some fantastic flights. One airplane landed in a beanfield, and a couple had to be chased by pilots on golf carts. But no one complained, had a bad attitude, or was a sore loser. One pilot won most of the mass launches, and received several pats on the back each time.

Harrison Knapp, of Illinois, shows some body English while launching his Jet Catapult aircraft.

“I’ve never seen anybody get openly cross” at this event, Winn commented.

Throughout the two-day contest, the wind direction and thermals constantly changed—so did the variety of aircraft that were competing. Some of the most unique ones came from Pres Bruning and Gerard Kondrat.

Pres’ Flying Fish, which he entered in the Embryo Endurance category, caught the attention of a few pilots as he launched it. Many were accustomed to Pres building unique aircraft, which he has done for several years.

“I still use a T-square and triangle” when building, Pres commented. “I used a French curve for the swept wings on the Flying Fish.” Other aircraft that he brought to the contest included a Klingon aircraft equipped with aliens that was designed by Ralph Kuenz. “I like to do strange, flying objects,” he stated with a smile.

Building since he started high school (he graduated in 1955), one would guess that an impressive list of aircraft has graced his workbench. When asked how many airplanes he has built, he responded with, “Oh boy … hundreds.” The 2017 FAC Outdoor Championships was roughly the 10th one that Pres has attended.

Pres launches one of his aircraft. He had a smile on his face throughout the contest.

Throughout the years, many of his plans have been published in Model Airplane News, Flying Models, the Cloudbusters Model Airplane Club’s newsletter, and the FAC’s newsletter. He also published a book with Ralph about aircraft.

Not as unique in design as they were in choice of covering were those built by Gerard Kondrat of Canada. Each time he walked past the flightline to launch, he had a different airplane. One was covered in images of Astro Boy on a material that looked similar to comic book paper. Gerard said he enjoyed covering his airplanes with cartoon characters that he liked as a kid. Gerard brought his sons, Eric, age 9, and Ryan, age 14, to the contest with him. Eric was the youngest pilot at the event.

The FAC Outdoor Championships is definitely a family affair—not just in the traditional sense of blood relatives. Many of the contestants referred to each other as family—a family that comes together once or twice a year, and can rely on each other in good times and bad.

Pres Bruning’s creativity is evident in the selection of unique aircraft that he scratch-builds and brings to the FAC Outdoor Championships each year. This year he brought his Flying Fish. Before retirement, he designed futuristic automobiles for General Motors, one of which was featured in a movie.

During the 2016 contest, there was bad.

“Jack [Moses] passed away a year ago this time during this contest,” Winn explained, while trying to hold tears back. Jack was a longtime FAC Outdoor Championships and FAC Nats competitor and a member of The Sky Busters Flying Aces Club Hall of Fame. He died September 22, 2016, at home, on the first day of the FAC Outdoor Championships.

After he passed away, Jack’s family went to his basement and found a half-finished Martin Mauler on his workbench.

The sky was beautiful and mostly clear during the second day of the 2017 FAC Outdoor Championships. The thermals were great for flying.

Each year at the FAC Outdoor Championships, there’s a One-Design aircraft that several of the pilots build. The 2018 aircraft will be the Martin Mauler.
“So there you go—we’re going to finish it for Jack,” Winn said, wiping away tears.

The shirts given to pilots who attended the 2017 contest featured a Martin AM-1 Mauler with a cartoon version of “Smilin” Jack as its pilot.

“We will definitely have a mass launch in Jack’s honor” at the 2018 contest, Winn stated. He plans to invite Jack’s family and hopes pilots will bring 20 to 30 airplanes to launch. “He was a great guy,” Winn said.

Co-CD Pat Murray takes pictures of the winners of the Golden Age Multi-Wing contest. L-R are Paul Boyanowski, third place; Tom Hallman, second place; and Wally Farrell, first place. Wally is holding Paul’s cigar to tease him.

Also in Jack’s memory, the first-place plaque for the 2017 Dime Scale contest read, “The Jack Moses Memorial Dime Scale Trophy.” On the top right corner of the plaque is one of Jack’s participant patches from the FAC Nats. Tears were shed when the award was handed to Harrison Knapp. The mood quickly lightened, however, when someone asked Walter “Wally” Farrell if he’d brought a big enough van to the contest in which to take all of his awards home.

“These guys are my brothers and my sisters,” Roger commented about the camaraderie at the event. “You just can’t beat it anywhere.”

“It’s the camaraderie, it’s the people” that bring contestants back each year, Winn stated. He’s been the event’s CD for roughly four years. “These guys are a bunch of really nice guys.” He also believed that the nature of the contest was attractive. “It’s baked a lot in tradition. It’s not expensive to get into or participate in.

“There’s such a variety of airplanes you can build—from simple to complex,” Winn said.

He has learned a few things along the way about those who participate in the FAC Outdoor Championships. “I think you gotta be a little weird,” to participate in this, he said with a laugh.

The One-Design Model for the 2017 FAC Outdoor Championships was the Vega Starliner, pictured here near the flightline. The full-scale Vega Starliner, a five- to six-seat, low-wing cabin monoplane, featured retractable landing gear and an unusual powerplant. The model version was kitted by Comet Model Airplane and Supply Company in the late 1930s. Walking along the flightline is Chris Boehm.

Event Sponsors

Charlie Sauter
Cloudbusters Model Airplane Club
Dave Niedzielski/
Easy Built Models
George Bredehoft/
Volaré Products
McCook Squadron
Pat Murray
Tom Hallman
Wally Farrell
Winn Moore

—Rachelle Haughn


Cloudbusters Model Airplane Club


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