Like most pilots, I’m not certain I can remember a time before I flew a J-3. That’s probably because I too started out in a Cub. I was fifteen years old and even then found one of the biggest hurdles to flying a Cub to be simply getting in it. The dance includes the following steps:
1. Right foot on the step
2. Stand up and lean far over the front seat
3. Put your left foot over the back stick onto the far floor board.
4. Fall gently backward into the hammock-like back seat and drag your right foot inside.
Once in you realize two things: the airplane is barely one butt wide so you have excellent visibility to the sides and the nose is a sizeable amount above your head. Forget seeing ahead.
“Mags off.” A head appears from around the nose, looking in to make sure you do as told.
You yell back, “Mags off” as you double check that the mag switch is truly off.
The prop is flipped through a few times to draw fuel into the cylinders and the voice says “Make it hot! Crack the throttle! Brakes!”
You flip the mag switch to ìbothî and at the same time wiggle your feet half under the seat to make sure the brakes are fully on. The airplane rocks as he pulls on the prop to make sure the brakes are holding.
One, maybe two, flips and the 65hp Continental A-65, the engine that actually saved general aviation, pops into life and in seconds youíre at the end of the runway ready to go.
You advance the throttle and a lot of noise rattles around from somewhere far ahead. It is louder on the right, because youíve left the top half of the door clipped to the bottom of the wing and the bottom half hanging down. From your knees to the wing, there is no airplane visible giving you an award winning view of the side of the runway as you pick the tail up and clatter down the runway.
Then the airplane floats off the ground and your view rapidly changes to that which has been savored by pilots for well over half a century. If youíre lucky, itís a late autumn afternoon, the foliage is in high-color and the sun is barely two-fingers high, throwing long, creeping shadows across the land.
There is no better place to watch a sunset than through the open door of a J-3 Cub. Having that experience just once means it will stick in your mind forever.
Then, it’s home again and, as the runway comes up to meet you, you remind yourself that the Cub has an extremely steep deck angle so you start flairing high and bring the stick back, back, further back. The whispering slipstream changes tone, then slowly dies as the speed goes away. You know youíve done it right when, just before settling into the grass, the bottom door gently floats up saying youíre right at stall speed. Then the tires kiss the grass and the slow motion world around you stops.
That night, when you kill the lights and snuggle into your pillow, the last thing to go through your mind will be that flight. And youíll smile. Is there a better way to end a day?