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Piper J-3 Cub

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J-3 Cub
Piper J-3 Cub
Type Trainer
Manufacturer Piper
Designed by C. G. Taylor
Walter Jamouneau
Maiden flight 1938
Produced 1938-1947
Number built 19,073
Unit cost $995-$2,461 when new
Variants PA-15 Vagabond
PA-16 Clipper
PA-18 Super Cub

The Piper J-3 Cub is a small, simple, light aircraft that was built between 1937 and 1947 by Piper Aircraft. With tandem (fore and aft) seating, it was intended for flight training but became one of the most popular and best-known light aircraft of all time. The Cub's simplicity, affordability and popularity invokes comparisons to the Ford Model T automobile. Its standard yellow paint has come to be known as “Cub Yellow” or "Lock Haven Yellow."


The Taylor E-2 Cub first appeared in 1930, built by Taylor Aircraft in Bradford, Pennsylvania. Sponsored by William T. Piper, a Bradford industrialist who had invested in the company, the E-2 was meant to be an affordable aircraft that would encourage interest in aviation. Later in 1930, the company went bankrupt, with Piper buying the assets but keeping founder C. Gilbert Taylor on as president. In 1936, an earlier Cub was altered by employee Walter Jamouneau to become the J-2 while Taylor was on sick leave. (The coincidence led some to believe that the "J" stood for Jamonoueau, while aviation historian Peter Bowers concluded that the letter simply followed the E, F, G, and H models, with the I omitted because it could be mistaken for the numeral one.)[1][2]. 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. [3]

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. Powered by a 40 hp (30 kW) engine, in 1938, it sold for just over $1,000.

The outbreak of hostilities in Europe in 1939, coupled 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 would play an integral role in the success of the CPTP, achieving legendary status.[4]

The Piper J-3 Cub became the primary trainer aircraft of the CPTP — 75 percent of all new pilots in the CPTP (from a total of 435,165 graduates) were trained in Cubs. By war's end, 80 percent of all United States military pilots 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, 3,016 Cubs were built; soon, wartime demands would increase that production rate to one Piper J-3 Cub being built every 20 minutes.[4]

World War II service

File:USAFM ey22.jpg
L-4A painted and marked to represent an aircraft that flew in support of the Allied invasion of North Africa in November 1942
File:DoD USMC 86249.jpg
A Piper Cub of the 1st Marine Division’s improvised air force snags a message from a patrol on New Britain's north coast.

The Piper Cub quickly became a familiar sight. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt took a flight in a J-3 Cub, posing for a series of publicity photos to help promote the CPTP. Newsreels and newspapers of the era often featured images of wartime leaders, such as Generals Dwight Eisenhower, George Patton and George Marshall, flying around European battlefields in Piper Cubs. Civilian-owned Cubs joined the war effort as part of the newly formed Civil Air Patrol (CAP), patrolling the Eastern Seaboard and Gulf Coast in a constant search for German U-boats and survivors of U-boat attacks.

Piper developed a military variant ("All we had to do," Bill Jr. is quoted as saying, "was paint the Cub olive drab to produce a military airplane"), [3] variously designated as the L-4, O-59 and NE-1. The variety of models were collectively nicknamed “Grasshoppers” and were used extensively in World War II for reconnaissance, transporting supplies and medical evacuation.[4] L-4s were also sometimes equipped with lashed-on infantry bazookas for ground attack. Mechanically identical to the J-3, the military versions were equipped with large Plexiglas windows extending over the top of the wing and behind the rear-seat passenger, and the side windows were enlarged.

In Europe, the final dogfight of WWII occurred between an L-4 and a German Fieseler Fi 156 Storch. The pilot and co-pilot of the L-4, Lts. Duane Francis and Bill Martin, opened fire on the Storch with their .45 caliber pistols, forcing the German air crew to land and surrender.

After the war, most L-4s were destroyed or sold as surplus, but a few saw service in the Korean War. The Grasshoppers sold as surplus in the U.S. were redesignated as J-3s, but often retained their wartime glazing and paint.


Piper Cub portrayed in a 1997 stamp by the United States Postal Service, part of a series called ‘Classic American Aircraft’.
A Piper Cub

An icon of the era, the J-3 Cub has long been loved by pilots and non-pilots alike, with thousands still in use today. Piper sold 19,073 J-3s between 1938 and 1947, the majority of them L-4s and other military variants. Postwar, thousands of Grasshoppers were civilian-registered under the designation J-3. Hundreds of Cubs were assembled from parts in Canada (by Cub Aircraft as the Cub Prospector), Denmark and Argentina, and by a licensee in Oklahoma. A 1946 model that sold new for about $2,500, today, in good condition, would fetch more than $30,000.

In the late 1940s, the J-3 was replaced by the PA-11 (1,500 produced), and then the Piper PA-18 Super Cub, which Piper produced until 1981 when it sold the rights to WTA Inc. In all, Piper produced 2,650 Super Cubs. The Super Cub had a 150 hp (110 kW) engine which increased its top speed to 130 mph (210 km/h); its range was Template:Convert.

Modernized and up-engined versions are produced today by Cub Crafters of Washington and by American Legend Aircraft in Texas, as the Cub continues to be sought after by bush pilots for its STOL capabilities, as well as by recreational pilots for its nostalgia appeal. The new aircraft are actually modeled on the PA-11, though the Legend company does sell an open-cowl version with the cylinder heads exposed, like the J-3 Cub. An electrical system is standard from both manufacturers.

So popular is the J-3 as a subject for radio controlled model aircraft that manufacturers of R/C heat shrinkable iron-on covering film and similar fabric coverings produce it in a readily available Cub Yellow hue.

The J-3 is distinguished from its successors by the exposed cylinder heads. There are very few other examples of "flat" aircraft engines (as opposed to radial engines) in which the cylinder heads are exposed. From the PA-11 on through the present Super Cub models, the cowling surrounds the cylinder heads.

A curiosity of the J-3 is that when it is flown solo, the lone pilot normally occupies the rear seat for proper balance, to balance the fuel tank located at the firewall. Starting with the PA-11, and some L-4s, fuel was carried in wing tanks, allowing the pilot to fly solo from the front seat.

Specifications (J3C-65 Cub)

File:Piper Cub cockpit.jpg
Inside the cockpit of a Piper Cub. The aircraft has far fewer instruments than do more modern aircraft.

General characteristics



  1. Piper J-3. Aircraft of the Smithsonian. Retrieved on 2006-04-02.
  2. Peter M. Bowers, Piper Cubs (Tab Books 1993)
  3. 3.0 3.1 Spence, Charles. They're All Not Piper Cubs. Aviation History. Retrieved on 2006-04-02.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Guillemette, Roger. The Piper Cub. US Centennial of Flight Commission. Retrieved on 2006-04-02.
  • Bowers, Peter M. (1993). Piper Cubs. McGraw Hill. ISBN 0-8306-2170-9. 

External links

See also

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Related development

Comparable aircraft

Designation sequence

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Template:Lone designation Template:USN hospital aircraft Template:USN trainer aircraft Template:USAF liaison aircraft Template:USAAF observation aircraft Template:USAF transports

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