Piper’s Lock Haven plant closed in 1984. Every summer since then Cub lovers have returned to Lock Haven for the Sentimental Journey Cub fly-in. This year’s event, featuring a special commemoration of the Cub’s 75th anniversary, was one of the biggest ever.
Because the J-3 meets light sport aircraft guidelines, there has been a resurgence of interest in the airplane, both the original and remakes of the design, including the models built by CubCrafters, Legend Aircraft and others (see story on page 57). Of the incredible number of original J-3 Cubs built, more than 5,500 remain on the FAA’s aircraft registry today, a testament to the design’s longevity. Prices for used Cubs start at under $20,000 and can rise well above $50,000. Thanks to simple construction and low fuel consumption (under five gallons an hour), the care and feeding of a J-3 Cub requires less cash on hand than almost any other production airplane.
The J-3’s 75th birthday was a perfect excuse for me to get reacquainted with the Cub, which I hadn’t flown in a few years. For my reintroduction to Cub flying, there was no question about whom I would call. Damian DelGaizo runs Andover Flight Academy, a bush-flying school in northwest New Jersey that relies on J-3 Cubs and other tailwheel airplanes including a Stearman and a modern CubCrafters Top Cub on tundra tires. DelGaizo has more than 20,000 hours under his belt, most of it in taildraggers teaching people how to fly — or how to fly better. (When Harrison Ford trained for his role in the film Six Days, Seven Nights, he flew with Damian in New Jersey.)
My impressions of the Cub were nearly the same as when I was taking lessons as a teenager. The airplane is a joy to fly, with excellent control harmony at low speed that makes you want to keep on flying — unfortunately, the Cub’s 12-gallon gas tank limits endurance to about two hours. At its max cruise speed of around 85 miles per hour, you can’t go very far either.
Our plan was to depart Andover-Aeroflex Airport (12N), which has a 1,981-foot paved runway flanked by an equal-length turf runway, and head a few miles west to Trinca Airport (N13), a 1,900-foot grass strip. I was thrilled about the chance to try some takeoffs and landings at Trinca because that’s where I learned to fly, under the tutelage of my instructor, Ernest “Pete” Billow, in N91949. When he was still alive, Pete was one of the foremost Cub experts in the country. Born in 1922, he started instructing in Cubs at Trinca in 1950. When he died in 2005, scores of friends and former students turned out at the airport for a moving tribute and fly-over.
“You want to fly with the door open?” Damian asked as I was climbing aboard.
“Of course!” I said.
It was June, after all. This was a J-3 Cub. Was there really any other way?
It didn’t take long to refamiliarize myself with the basics of Cub flying — probably because it’s about as basic as it gets. As Damian pulled the prop through, I dug my heels into the brakes and kept one hand on the mag switch. The engine fired and I was hit with a blast of air thick with the wonderful smells of gasoline and motor oil and freshly cut grass.
This particular Cub, NC6114H, has been upgraded with an 85 hp Continental, so it would have a little more get-up-and-go on takeoff, but otherwise it handled pretty much exactly how I remembered. I started by S-taxiing to the runway, made necessary because of the Cub’s tailwheel configuration and steeply pointed nose, which blocks out the view ahead.
Besides the mag switch, the Cub has a stick and throttle for each pilot, rudder pedals, heel brakes, carb heat knob, fuel shutoff and trim. In the panel, the only instruments are a wet compass, airspeed indicator, altimeter, rpm, and oil temperature and pressure gauges. The fuel gauge is a metal wire connected to a cork float (or, more likely these days, a synthetic float) that protrudes from the top of the cowl. In a Cub, you really don’t need anything else — and much of the time, even this sparse array of instrumentation is overkill.