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Air show faces uncertainty after 48 years of flying model planes in Traverse City

TRAMPS President Richard Blaum retrieves a model plane that ended up on the edge of a farm field during a landing attempt Sunday afternoon. Gusty winds made flying challenging.
Scott D. Harmsen
Traverse City Record-Eagle
Traverse Area Model Pilots Society President Richard Blaum retrieves a model plane that ended up on the edge of a farm field during a landing attempt Sunday afternoon. Gusty winds made flying challenging.

The engine of a plane sputters, then picks up speed.

The aircraft taxis down the runway before taking to the sky.

The sound may be loud enough to make some watching wish they had earplugs, but then the plane doing loops and free-falls through the air is so eye-catching it doesn’t matter.

This is no ordinary plane. It’s an Edge 540, a model plane flown by Jerri Leaf. Leaf and his 10-year-old son, Calvin, are members of the Traverse Area Model Pilots Society (TRAMPS).

They were preparing for the TRAMPS 48th Annual Air Show, where model aircraft pilots come from across Northwest Michigan to demonstrate their skill.

“We’re like a family in a lot of ways,” Leaf said. “We fight like a family. We fix it like a family.

“The Navy Blue Angels have a saying: ‘I’m glad to be here.’ And by and large, everyone in this club, no matter how frustrated they get or if they crash their plane or anything goes wrong for them, they just remind themselves, ‘I’m glad to be here’.”

The air show was rained out this past Saturday. But Sunday’s rain date ended up working out just fine when about a dozen pilots showed up to display their aircraft on the field just off Rennie School Road.

But this could be their last air show on this field.

Former TRAMPS president Mark Hamlyn said the Oleson Foundation is selling the property they’ve been using for more than 45 years.

“I have nothing but good things to say about the Oleson Foundation,” Hamlyn said. “They’ve let us use this property rent-free for years.”

It isn’t the first time the field has been for sale. Hamlyn said the Oleson Foundation tried to sell the property a few years ago, but the deal fell through. He said he wouldn’t mind if that happened again.

“Maybe it’s cursed,” he said. “I think we’ll be here next year. We’ve been fortunate, all these years, to not lose our field.”

Even if they stay on the field, however, the land around them is being developed. Across the street, an apartment complex is under construction.

That development is a concern.

Ken Couturier, who has flown with TRAMPS for 42 years, said he doesn’t fly his fastest planes on that field anymore because he doesn’t want to risk hitting a building.

“We do have another field down at Interlochen and it’s a very nice facility, but it’s surrounded by trees,” Couturier said. “What’s nice about the current location is if I’m out running around and I just want to stop and see who’s there for a few minutes I’ll do that.

“I won’t do that at Interlochen because it’s too far away.”

Even if the group can’t stay at the Rennie School Road property, Hamlyn said, they’ll still have “fun flies” at the Interlochen field. But that space just isn’t big enough to host an air show.

If the group can’t host an air show here, they’ll go fly elsewhere in other air shows, members said.

This group has been active for 48 years, and several members said it has changed a lot — especially the technology involved.

“The planes are easier to fly these days,” said Richard Blaum, current TRAMPS president. “I think the community that’s in it is a lot more helpful nowadays because the memberships in the clubs have been dwindling, so we try to reach out to communities to get them going and flying.

“Our training program basically is set up to where it’s free of charge.”

Hamlyn said the most common way to get new members is when they’re kids. Parents often pass the hobby down to their kids, just like Jerri and Calvin Leaf.

“This is probably the thing we spend the most time doing together,” Jerri said. “The hardest thing is not to push him, but I’m just so proud of him.”

Jerri Leaf, 42, has been building and flying model planes since he was Calvin’s age, and Calvin has been learning from his dad for two years.

Couturier said group member ages range from 10 to 94.

And, after 42 years in the group, he said he doesn’t fly as much as he used to — but he’s still there for the people.

“At this point… it’s about the camaraderie,” Couturier said.

For Hamlyn, his favorite memory is teaching some of the younger pilots to fly.

“Parents want to get their kids outside and off the computer,” he said. “The thing that I like best this year is teaching those boys how to work the planes.”

Most of their members started as kids, then drift away to attend school and start families, he said, but they usually come back.

Lauren Rice is a newsroom intern for WCMU based at the Traverse City Record-Eagle.
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