The Piper J3 Cub


Never in his wildest dreams did Gilbert Taylor think that he was designing a legend when he rolled out the first Cub in 1930 known at the time as a Taylor Aircraft E2.

Unfortunately Taylor Aircraft didn’t manage to sell many of them and by the end of 1930 Taylor had exhausted all the available funds and could no longer afford to manufacture the aircraft. William T Piper a Bradford investor and industrialist bought all the assets of Taylor Aircraft thus saving the company from bankruptcy, Piper decided to keep Taylor on as president of what was later to become the Legendary Piper Aircraft Company. In 1936, an earlier Cub was altered by employee Walter Jamouneau to become the J-2 while Taylor was on sick leave. When he saw the redesign, Taylor was so incensed that he fired Jamouneau. Piper, however, had encouraged Jamouneau's changes, and hired him back. Piper then bought Taylor's share in the company, paying him US$250 per month for three years

The Cub was originally intended as a trainer, and saw great popularity in this role and as a general aviation aircraft. Due to its performance, it was well suited a variety of military uses such as reconnaissance, liaison and ground control, and was produced in large numbers during the Second World War as the L-4 Grasshopper. Large numbers of Cubs are still flying today. Notably Cubs are highly prized as bush aircraft. The Cub is a high-wing strut-braced monoplane with a large area rectangular wing. It is powered by an air-cooled piston engine driving a fixed pitch propeller. Its fuselage is a welded steel frame covered in fabric, seating two people in tandem. The aircraft's standard chrome yellow paint has come to be known as "Cub Yellow" or "Lock Haven Yellow".

Although sales were initially slow, about 1,200 J-2s were produced before a fire in the Piper factory ended its production in 1938. After Piper moved his company from Bradford to Lock Haven, the J-3, which featured further changes by Jamouneau, replaced the J-2. The changes mostly amounted to integrating the vertical fin of the tail into the rear fuselage structure and covering it simultaneously with each of the fuselage's sides, changing the rearmost side window's shape to a smoothly curved half-oval outline, and placing a true steerable tailwheel at the rear end of the J-2's leaf spring-style tailskid, linked for its steering function to the lower end of the rudder with springs and lightweight chains to either end of a double-ended rudder control horn. Powered by a 40 hp (30 kW) engine, in 1938, it sold for just over $1,000.

A number of different air-cooled engines, most of flat-four configuration, were used to power J-3 Cubs, resulting in differing model designations for each type: the J3C models used the Continental A series, the J3F used the Franklin 4AC, and the J3L used the Lycoming O-145. A very few examples, designated J3P, were equipped with Lenape Papoose 3-cylinder radial engines.

The outbreak of hostilities in Europe in 1939, along with the growing realization that the United States might soon be drawn into World War II, resulted in the formation of the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP). The Piper J-3 Cub became the primary trainer aircraft of the CPTP and played an integral role in its success, achieving legendary status. 75% of all new pilots in the CPTP (from a total of 435,165 graduates) were trained in Cubs. By war's end, 80% of all United States military pilots had received their initial flight training in Piper Cubs.

The need for new pilots created an insatiable appetite for the Cub. In 1940, the year before the United States' entry into the war, 3016 Cubs had been built; wartime demands soon increased that production rate to one Cub being built every 20 minutes.

Piper produced a military variant of the J3 know as the L4 and were given the nickname “Grasshopper”. The only noticeable differences between the J3 and L4 was the use of a Plexiglas greenhouse skylight and rear windows for improved visibility, much like the Taylorcraft L2 and Aeronca L3 also in use with the US armed forces. Carrying a single pilot and no passenger, the L4 had a top speed of 85 mph, a cruise speed of 75 mph, a service ceiling of 12,000 ft , a stall speed of 38 mph, an endurance of three hours, and a range of 225 mile. 5413 L4s were produced for U.S. forces, including 250 built for the U.S. Navy under contract as the NE1 and NE2.

The L-4 was used extensively in World War II for reconnaissance, transporting supplies, artillery spotting duties, and medical evacuation of wounded soldiers. During the Allied invasion of France in June 1944, the L4’s slow cruising speed and low-level manoeuvrability made it an ideal observation platform for spotting hidden German tanks, anti-tank gun emplacements, and Sturmgeschütz and Jagdpanzer tank destroyers waiting in ambush in the hedgerowed bocage country south of the invasion beaches.

An icon of the era, and of American general aviation in general, the J-3 Cub has long been loved by pilots and non-pilots alike, with thousands still in use today. Piper sold 19,073 J3s between 1938 and 1947, the majority of them L4s and other military variants. After the war thousands of Grasshoppers were civilian-registered under the designation J3. Hundreds of Cubs were assembled from parts in Canada, Denmark and Argentina, and by a licensee in Oklahoma.

When the Korean War started in the 1950’s the L4 was once again called upon to for military service, the L4 was used extensively by both U.S. and South Korean Air Forces. During the war, the L4 saw service in many of the same roles it had performed during World War II, such as artillery spotting, forward air control, and reconnaissance. Some L4s were fitted with a high-back canopy in order to carry a single stretcher for medical evacuation of wounded soldiers.

Civil variants

J3 Equipped with a Continental A-40, A-40-2 or A-40-3 engine of 37 hp (28 kW), or A-40-4 engine of 40 hp

J3C-40 Certified 14 July 1938 and equipped with a Continental A-40-4 or A-40-5 of 40 hp

J3C-50 Certified 14 July 1938 and equipped with a Continental A-50-1 or A-50-2 to -9 (inclusive) of 50 hp

J3C-50S certified 14 July 1938 and equipped with a Continental A-50-1 or A-50-2 to -9 (inclusive) of 50 hp. Equipped with optional float kit.

J3C-65 Certified 6 July 1939 and equipped with a Continental A-65-1 or A-65-3, 6, 7, 8, 8F, 9 or 14 of 65 hp or an A-65-14, Continental A-75-8, A-75-8-9 or A-75-12 of 75 hp or Continental A-85-8 or C-85-12 of 85 hp or Continental A-90-8F of 90 hp

J3C-65S Certified 27 May 1940 and equipped with a Continental A-65-1 or A-65-3, 6, 7, 8, 8F, 9 or 14 of 65 hp or an A-65-14, Continental A-75-8, A-75-8-9 or A-75-12 of 75 hp or Continental A-85-8 or C-85-12 of 85 hp or Continental A-90-8F of 90 hp Equipped with optional float kit.

J3F-50 Certified 14 July 1938 and equipped with a Franklin 4AC-150 Series 50 of 50 hp

J3F-50S certified 14 July 1938 and equipped with a Franklin 4AC-150 Series 50 of 50 hp Equipped with optional float kit.

J3F-60 Certified 13 April 1940 and equipped with a Franklin 4AC-150 Series A of 65 hp or a Franklin 4AC-171 of 60 hp

J3F-60S certified 31 May 1940 and equipped with a Franklin 4AC-150 Series A of 65 hp or a Franklin 4AC-171 of 60 hp. Equipped with optional float kit.

J3F-65 Certified 7 August 1940 and equipped with a Franklin 4AC-176-B2 or a Franklin 4AC-176-BA2 of 65 hp

J3F-65S Certified 4 January 1943 and equipped with a Franklin 4AC-176-B2 or a Franklin 4AC-176-BA2 of 65 hp. Equipped with optional float kit.

J3L certified 17 September 1938 and equipped with a Lycoming O-145-A1 of 50 hp or a Lycoming O-145-A2 or A3 of 55 hp

J3L-S certified 2 May 1939 and equipped with a Lycoming O-145-A1 of 50 hp (37 kW) or a Lycoming O-145-A2 or A3 of 55 hp. Equipped with optional float kit.

J3L-65 certified 27 May 1940 and equipped with a Lycoming O-145-B1, B2 or B3 of 65 hp.

J3L-65S certified 27 May 1940 and equipped with a Loaming O-145-B1, B2 or B3 of 65 hp Equipped with optional float kit.

Piper J3P Variant powered by a 50 hp Lenape LM-3-50 or Lenape AR-3-160 three-cylinder radial engine.

J3R Variant with slotted flaps powered by a 65 hp Lenape LM-3-65 engine.

J-3X 1944 variant with cantilever wing powered by a 65 hp Continental A-65-8 engine.

Cammandre 1 A French conversion of J-3 Cub/L-4 aircraft.

Poullin J.5A Five L-4 Cubs converted by Jean Poullin for specialist tasks.

Poullin J.5B A single L-4 Cub converted by Jean Poullin for specialist tasks.

Wagner Twin Cub A twin fuselage conversion of the J-3.

Anyone who has had the privilege to take to the air in a J3 Cub will agree that it rates amongst the greatest aircraft ever built, a friend and very experienced pilot recently summed it up brilliantly “My proudest conversion ever”. Many pilots young and old have been introduced to taildraggers in the J3 Cub and I believe most pilots strive to fly one at least once in their flying career.

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