The Little Yellow Cub
Memories of the J-3 Cub.
There was a time during my childhood the name “Piper Cub” was pretty much synonymous with the word “airplane.” In those days, a young boy might see a C-124 passing overhead whereupon he would exclaim, “Look, a Piper Cub!”
Although I began flying in the age of Cessna, rental Cubs were still available for very reasonable hourly rates. For that reason, I have many happy hours in the cockpit of J-3s. While “efficient” Wichita “spam cans,” had steering wheels, side by side seating, radios and a better than 15 knot increase in cruise airspeed over the Cub, they had no soul.
There was something about that time one of the mechanics drilled out a row of rivets to see the unsupported 150 empennage twist over to one side and fall on the ground. Something about sitting on the aircraft center-line with a joystick in one's hand – instead of a steering wheel. Something about dope and taut fabric versus drumming aluminum.
For me the J-3 was hot, dusty, Texas afternoons, with preflights being performed in the shade of an open T-hanger. Auto gas for fuel - without an STC. Grass strips with grass burnt from lack of rain. Racing alongside trains crossing the prairie, while ducking under power lines. Watching cars race ahead of me on the freeways below. Landing almost vertically in a small gale after wondering for many tense moments if there would be enough fuel to make it back to the field in plain sight.
So tell me grasshopper, what is the sound of one hand propping? Standing in front of the wing strut, beside the open doors, reaching in to work the throttle while hand propping from behind with one hand because there was no tail tie-down. I once found a loose exhaust manifold because a couple of the brass nuts had worked loose and fallen off the C-65's cylinder heads, leaving the exhaust manifold rattling loosely from the cylinder studs.
Alarmed, I went back to the house and explained to Mac that the aircraft wasn't airworthy, hoping he would fix it in time for me to get in an evening flight. Mac looked at me and said, “Why not? Go ahead and fly it, everything will be fine. I'll fix it tomorrow.” Puzzled, I went back and took off. Sure enough, the Cub flew just fine with the exhaust blowing past the manifold, straight out of the cylinder heads. Sure, I know about the potential issues involved, but luckily the Cub didn't know anything about such problems.
The odd step, turned 45 degrees, that did not improve entry into the cockpit. Standing on the brakes only to find they weren't strong enough to restrain the aircraft during run-up. The bent-wire gas gauge on a float adopted from Briggs and Stratton. The art of the three-point landing the Cub taught so well. Flying with the doors open. The bottom door's luffing, signaling the stall of a three point landing.
The time we got a ride in the Goodyear blimp (turn the control wheel and say three hail Marys while waiting for a response). After our ride, the Goodyear pilots wanted to fly a J-3 with its smokin' hot control response. So we went to a small strip just behind the international airport and went Cub flying. It was the sunset of classic aviation. So many memories, some of the best of my flying career.
Here is Minicraft's version of the J-3. This very basic kit is not for beginners wishing to make a scale representation of the Cub. There are no holes, or even marking positions, for anything, so one must do their research if they want to put things in the right places. Having intimate memories of the aircraft was a real plus. However, even then I had to go back and research various locations of items that had to be scratch built.
Then there is the cowling. Why Minicraft decided to mold it with halves running in the vertical plane is a mystery as it is almost impossible to properly assemble the engine and cowling together. The answer was to glue the cowling halves together and then cut them on the horizontal plane as was the real aircraft cowling. After that, engine assembly is simple. The cylinder cooling scoops were the wrong shape, so new ones had to be constructed out of led foil.
Details are minimal, but at least there were seats and joysticks. I added a scratch-built fuel tank under the instrument panel, along with a mag-switch, throttles etc. The doors are molded closed with no provision for opening them. Opening the doors was a micorsaw challenge. Then upper and lower doors had to be had to be scratch built, as the kit plastic was far to thick to reuse the cut out pieces.
This was one of those nightmare builds with everything seeming to go wrong. I spent quite a bit of time re-gluing and repainted various mistakes. There was a time when I would have flown a kit like this into the trashcan over some minor snafu, but that was back when I was a perfectionist. In time I learned to press on. This has resulted in my learning and developing many techniques for correcting mistakes I once considered impossible to correct.