Piper Super Cub

Piper Super Cub

For years, until the 1960’s, whenever someone saw a single-engine airplane overhead they always referred to it as a “Piper Cub.” To many the name was synonymous for “airplane.” The Cub is often referred to as the aeronautic equivalent of the Ford form T, and this is not far from the truth. In the post-war era, though, the J-3 Cub lacked the additional oomph needed to serve in its natural ecosystem: the unimproved airstrip. So Piper considered their options, and, with an army of engineers, came up with the Piper Super Cub.

The Piper Super Cub addressed the shortcomings of the old J-3 Cub in a fact that was similar to Ford’s improvement of the form A with the Deuce V8. Payload capacity of the J-3 Cub was marginal at around 450 lbs. including fuel, and it couldn’t carry much fuel in the small header tank anyway. The Piper Super Cub was given a much larger engine: first a 90HP Continental, then the newer four cylinder Lycoming developed during the war. From the original 108HP mill, the Super Cub quickly progressed until it was fitted with the 150HP Lycoming 0-320. This gave an increase in useful load to 820 lbs. It also meant higher fuel consumption, and the fuel was moved to two tanks in the wing roots.

This additional horsepower had several desirable effects on performance. The cruise speed increased considerably, from 65 knots to 100, and the service ceiling went up to 19,500 feet. This 7,500 foot increase in ceiling made the aircraft more useful in the west, where mountain passes can be as high as two miles. Takeoff roll was now reduced to a insignificant 200 feet, and the steep climb-out enabled the aircraft to depart from almost any improvised runway. Landing speed had increased with the additional weight, though, making approaches to very short fields a problem. The solution was simple: flaps. Initially a very simple flap was fitted to the rear spar behind the fuel tanks. Acting chiefly as an air-brake, it allowed the plane to make very steep approaches at low speeds. This proved so successful that a proper flap was fitted between the ailerons and the cabin, improving both landing and takeoff performance.

The Super Cub could now go almost anywhere. Spray rigs were developed for agricultural purposes. Super Cubs were fitted with floats and skis, and their yellow silhouettes were soon seen across the skies of newly developed Alaska. The Super Cub could land on the smallest gravel bar or frozen lake, and was the bush taxi of choice for a generation of sportsmen and prospectors. already today, the Super Cub is nevertheless the best aircraft on unimproved landing strips across the world.

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