Tuesday, March 24, 2009
A light-sport blend of old-school nostalgia and modern technology
|In a sky filled with high-performance pistons, turboprops and jets that speed to their destination, there’s still something undeniably irresistible about a little yellow Cub. Puttering around low and slow, the humble two-seater makes lazy circles over emerald fields as its pilot smiles down on Earth, senses ignited by a soft breeze and the scent of grass airstrips that waft through the open window. |
|Vortex generators reduce stall speed to 32 mph. |
On takeoff, I lift the tail up and then ease back on the stick. “The plane will let you know when it wants to fly,” says Ben, and in no time, we’re airborne. We fly several patterns in the familiar setting of King City and I pay extra attention to which control I’m using—carb heat, cabin heat and mixture are the same shape; furthermore, carb heat and cabin heat are the same color. There’s potential for confusion, especially for the uninitiated.
During three-point landings, Ben instructs me to flare at 10 feet over the ground and “don’t let it touch down.” Wheel landings, he explains, are all about maintaining the same sink rate. In an exchange between airspeed and altitude, pitch and power, he has me flare lower, barely pinching the controls. When the wheels touch, a gentle push on the stick is all that’s required.
|The deluxe VFR panel option includes a Garmin 495 GPS and Garmin 327 GTX transponder. |
But a Cub doesn’t belong on a paved runway, so we head to the dirt strip at Metz Field, just 7 nm up central California’s Salinas Valley. En route, we climb for some airwork and perform slow flight (the vortex generators improve controllability and reduce stall speed to 32 mph; with the addition of power, we’re able to slow to a mere 5 mph indicated airspeed!) and stalls (when a wing drops, it’s easy to recover using opposite rudder).
Boasting a landing roll of only 245 feet and a takeoff roll of 415 feet, the Sport Cub excels as a STOL performer. With flaps fully extended to 50 degrees, we slip on final for a steep but slow descent to the rough gravel runway. Ben teaches me short-field takeoff technique: Add full power while moving the stick full forward to lift the tail, and then pull back on the stick. We launch off the ground way before I had anticipated. “When I first flew the Sport Cub, I felt like a super bush pilot,” laughs Ben, who has 2,500 hours in taildraggers. “But then I realized that the unreal performance was because of the plane, not me.”
Sturdy hardware is the norm on the Sport Cub S2.
After brushing up on my stick and rudder skills, we continue north to Frazier Lake, a grass strip that parallels an unusual waterway (60 feet wide and 1.5 feet deep) for courageous seaplane pilots. For the 40 nm journey, we opt for a scenic route east of the valley, and from our vantage point, the dramatic rock formations and narrow gorges of Pinnacles National Monument look better suited for the pages of a Dr. Seuss book. Roads are scarce and we continually look for potential emergency-landing spots. But after the morning’s STOL demonstrations, it seems there are many, and I’m reminded of the CubCrafters slogan, “The world is your runway.”
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