The revered Piper J-3 Cub is the definitive taildragger airplane and is one of the designated features of AirVenture 2017. It was in primary production from 1937 to 1947, initially built in Bradford, Pennsylvania with later production relocated to Lock Haven, Pennsylvania after a major factory fire at Bradford.
Nearly 20,000 Cubs were built with approximately 25% still flying today, which is an extraordinarily high percentage for an 80-year old airplane. There are dozens of variants of the Cub and it has served in numerous roles, including military, flight training, bush flying, and of course, general aviation. However, it struggled for survival in its early days. It began life as a Taylor E-2 Cub with its creator, C. Gilbert Taylor, with funding by William T. Piper. Taylor Aircraft went bankrupt in 1930 and the assets of the company were acquired by Piper. During the early Piper years, it was updated and re-engineered extensively from the original Taylor Cub design by Walter Jamouneau to become the J-3 Cub that we know and love today. Some say that the letter “J” in the Piper J-3 Cub stands for Jamouneau. During its production heyday, at least 150 Piper Cubs were manufactured in Canada. In those days, the cost of a new Cub ranged from $995 to $2,461.
The Cub is absolutely not a high-performance, high-endurance airplane. Originally, the Cub was powered by a 40-horsepower engine built by Continental, Lycoming, or Franklin and selling for $1,300 in 1938. As the design evolved the engine horsepower increased too, first to 50 horsepower, then to 65 horsepower by 1940. Even the venerable Rolls-Royce company built these Continental engines under contract. With just 65 HP, and a cruise speed of about 65 knots (75 mph, 121 kph), the “low and slow” motto was attached to the Cub. Most Cubs carry just 12 gallons of fuel because they sip 5 gallons per hour in normal flight conditions. They can be adjusted to burn less, albeit at lower airspeeds. A popular modification is to add wing fuel tanks. With a standard range of just 191 NM, numerous fuel stops on any cross-country trip are mandatory. With an empty weight of just 680 lb and a gross weight of 1,220 lb, its 540 lb useful load leaves little capacity for passengers, camping gear, and fuel when on the journey to Oshkosh.
As this is the 80th anniversary of the Piper J-3 Cub, the good folks at EAA decided to celebrate it with a mass arrival fly-in at AirVenture 2017. Pilots assembled at Hartford, Wisconsin (KHXF) with hopes of at least 80 Cubs participating. The weather for the days proceeding the event did not cooperate with the plan and by July 22nd, the requisite Hartford gathering date, just 43 Cubs were able to make it for the July 23rd mass departure scheduled at first light. The weather trapped many other Cubs, some as close as 30 miles away, grounded by low cloud and rainy drizzle. The scheduled departure time saw most of the pilots depart Hartford on time, one by one, with the remainder of Cubs arriving later in the day when the weather improved.
Once all the Cubs finally arrived at Oshkosh, they parked together in a specially designated area close to the Vintage Aircraft section. Even with the reduced numbers, it was still a vast sea of the bright chrome yellow paint trimmed with the Cub’s signature black lightning bolt on the fabric on steel fuselage and wings. These iconic yellow airplanes can easily be identified by the bear cub logo on the tail.
Piper J-3 Cubs flew in to Oshkosh from everywhere with at least 20 US states and four Canadian provinces represented at AirVenture 2017.
Some notable Canadian participants in this 80th anniversary event include:
Saskatoon – CF-VIC, 1940 J-3 Cub
R. D. (Doug) Tomlinson flew his 1940 Piper J-3 Cub to Oshkosh from Saskatoon. Doug was proud of his blistering average airspeed of 64 knots over the 16.5 hours of flight time. His Continental 65 HP engine earn its pay on this trip. Now, he will fly his Cub, CF-VIC, back home while enjoying the slow and low view that only birds, helicopters, and a Cub pilot get to see.
Calgary – CF-YYC, 1946 J-3 Cub
A Piper J-3 Cub flew in from Calgary. It would be easy to guess its home airport by its mark, CF-YYC. It is flown by pilot, Brad Koal. Brad’s Cub is a 1946 J-3C-65, again with a 65 HP engine. He took 19 hours to make the journey from Indus/Winters Aire Park Airport, (CFY4), which is located southeast of Calgary and one nautical mile southwest of Indus, Alberta, Canada. I am told that Brad elected to depart AirVenture on the Thursday as he was scheduled for work five days later. You need to plan a long time ahead when you fly a Cub. Flying a Cub long distance means making a lot of stops, addressing far more weather issues, and camping under the wing a few nights more than other pilots. Cub pilots gain more flying experience not commonly had by most pilots.
Calgary – C-FAUU, 1947 J-3 Cub
Piper Cub, C-FAUU, a 1947 J-3C-65, also hails from Alberta. Glen Tinckler of Calgary, flew to Wisconsin for the Cub gathering at AirVenture with two other Canadian Cub owners. He said the trip to Hartford took almost 19 flight hours. Glen is a new pilot who just earned his pilot’s licence last fall. He purchased his Cub two years ago. By far, this is his longest flight and it is dramatically adding to his 130 hours recorded in his log book.
Vancouver – C-FOXQ, J-3 Cub
Gerard Charlton flew his 1942 Piper J-3C-65 Cub to Oshkosh from Vancouver. A longer trip than most, but when you consider that he flew C-FOXQ “through” the Rocky Mountains, instead of over them, it makes for a much more challenging trip. He took several days to get here. Gerard is a very experienced pilot and works as a Civil Aviation Inspector for Transport Canada, so he possesses the skills to meet this mountain flying challenge.
Calgary – CF-VEO, J-5A-1 Cub
CF-VEO (C-FVEO) is an amateur built J-5A-1 Cub that is classified as a variant of the J-3 Cub. It was built by EAA in 1942, so technically it is not a Piper production version like most of the others here at AirVenture, but it is from the same era and to the same over-all design parameters. The airplane is co-owned by Mark Oliver and Robert Riege. They departed from Alberta to attend AirVenture in Oshkosh, with plans to head next to Ottawa. So, this is an epic flight in any general aviation airplane, let alone in a Cub. Like CF-YYC, it is from Indus/Winters Aire Park Airport. (CFY4). The J-5 Cub is wider and is christened a three-person airplane, but most who know it, think of it as a 2.5-person airplane. It sports a larger Lycoming O-235 engine. This engine was released in 1942 and comes with different horsepower ratings from 100 to 135 HP. CF-VEO uses a 100 HP type of the O-235 power-plant to deliver a blazing airspeed nearer to 75 knots (86 mph, 138 kph). With a range of 430 miles, it needs fewer fuel stops on longer trips.
The golden age of aviation is said to be long ago, during the barnstorming, biplane, wing-walking days when Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic Ocean to reach Paris-Le Bourget in France. Today’s modern airplanes leverage computer navigation technology, glass cockpits, composite materials, and fly higher, faster, and with more payload than any of these Cubs. But, with these technological advances, something important is being left behind. The Cub pilots still live a life of romance in the air and know the joy of flying low and slow. They experience the nap of the earth like few others. Cub pilots know weather and they know patience. Flying a Cub is an experience like no other.
About the Author
Michael J Martin is a licenced pilot and passionate aviation buff. He lives in Toronto with his wife Candy and their four dogs. They own a 36’ Holiday Rambler diesel-pusher motorhome and the entire family loves spending time together. This was his ninth year attending AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.