St Declans' Boys College Aviation Club's Cloud Buggy Project

Compiled by Willie Bodenstein
Photos by Baden Dowie and Willie Bodenstein


St Declan's school for boys is located in the Rietvlei nature reserve, just off Swartkoppies road Alberton. Director of St Declan's, Derek Robinson, has always had a love for flying and is currently building hours for his Private Pilot's License. With St Declan's school being so close to Panorama air field (Home to Johannesburg Flying Academy) and Tedderfield airpark (Home of Sling aircraft), Robinson, school principal Ngosa Bwalya and staff member Baden Dowie decided, due to the frequent humming of aircraft flying overhead every day, to start an aviation club.

The intrepid trio and the club members then began their search for a possible kit aircraft, along with the support from the local aviation community. After months of research, they came across an unfinished restoration project: a cute little single seat ultralight.

The Cloud Buggy, registered as ZS-WJC, is a unique one-of-kind build, originally designed and manufactured by Steve Crutchley of Pietermaritzburg in 1989. The Cloud Buggy is the only one in the world and may have had approximately 5 owners (this is still being confirmed.) The St Declan's Aviation Club deliberated to take on the challenge to restore the Cloud buggy. They bought the aircraft from FJ Barnard, who had the same restoration intentions, but unfortunately had his plans grounded due to the Covid pandemic. The Cloud Buggy has a total flying time of 263 hours and was last flown in 2004.

The Cloud Buggy was owned at one stage by EAA Chapter 322-member, Jean-Pierre Duponsel, who described it as probably one of the best fixed-wing aircraft he had ever flown!

Upon purchase, Baden Dowie immediately signed up with the EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association) and started building relationships with the guys at JFA (Johannesburg Flying Academy) and Sling Aircraft Manufacturing.

All that was then needed was a St Declans' Boys College student “Flight and Aerodynamics Team”. It was decided that during the April school holidays to run a glider building competition to determine suitable candidates for the team. Sixteen boys entered each building 4m+ gliders from recycled material. All sixteen were selected to be part of the team.

During 2021, the Aviation Club took a deep dive into aerodynamics by joining various EAA breakfast Fly-Ins by bus and trailer. They have also toured the Sling factory, built mini gliders and rubber-band propeller flying toys, learnt about agile project management using eduScrum and formulated a project backlog.

Although of aluminium construction and a covering that seemed quite sound, the club was advised that should they wish to restore the cute little Cloud Buggy to flying condition it would be best to remove the covering to establish the soundness of the frame work.

With 2021 drawing to an end on Monday 6 December, the club closed the year with an “unwrapping party” to which Pilot's Post was invited. Students and parents armed with Stanley knives, blades and pairs of scissors spent the afternoon 'unwrapping' the Cloud Buggy, carefully removing the covering and exposing the bare aluminium structure.

Everyone expressed how unusually satisfying the experience was. The slicing and dicing through the fabric and ripping the cloth off exposed the framework proved to be a very enjoyable and educational experience.

As was to be expected, there were a few dings here and there probably caused by 'hangar rash' over the years of storage. Nothing serious became glaringly obvious after she was unwrapped.

For 2022, the aviation club, with the assistance of EAA members, will start inspection of the fuselage, the wing structure after which cleaning off the glue from the frame in preparation for the recovering will commence. They will also have the Cloud Buggy's 35hp Rotax 447 engine serviced.

This is indeed a worthwhile and doable project and a number of Chapter 322 EAA members have offered their expertise and assistance. Judging by the enthusiasm of the club members and the support of the parents, providing no serious damage is discovered, the Cloud Buggy will no doubt take to the sky in the near future.

Pilot's Post will report on the Cloud Buggy and club's progress. However, if you are ever in the area, please stop by and visit the St Declan's Aviation club and Cloud Buggy.

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