He's a big man. Played football in his youth. Could pass for Paul Newman's brother. Has flown airplanes for decades, and is recently retired from 30 some years as an airline captain. So what draws him, with all his aviation experience, to the cockpit of the CubCrafters Carbon Cub SS? John Moreland's large frame and broad shoulders fill a goodly part of my forward view as we fire up the engine. The answer will have to wait for now—it's showtime.
One thing about flying a Cub-like taildragger: In the rear seat on the ground, it's a bit like riding up that first steep climb on a roller coaster. Everything seems to hang above you, with thrills to come just a few heart-tickling seconds away.
There are plenty of good views on either side of the SS through the side windows, even in the rear bucket. And since the Carbon Cub SS is in fact a thoroughly modernized Super Cub-style airplane—with a honking outsized (for an S-LSA) engine up front to charge even the most jaded pilot's excitations—it needs to be flown solo from the front seat.
But being a bit of a Cubbie traditionalist, I've asked Mr. Moreland if I can fly from the rear just to compare apples to apples. And a note of appreciation: This is a customer's airplane—Dr. Alan Maurer is the happy owner—and he's decked it out to the nines, including a special Garmin G3X custom panel.
For the record: Taildragger drivers know viewing ahead from the rear seat requires fish-tailing during taxi. From the Carbon Cub's front seat, forward view is sufficient for seeing over the cowl (I'm 5'11").
And now for a word from our power-plant, the 180hp CC340: Rawrrrrr! Zip, the tail is up, and yes, I can now see past Big John, and okay, we should lift off any...whoa...there goes the ground, dropping away at somewhere around 2,000 fpm at a freakish deck angle and, Holy Hannah, but this puppy's got some mojo!
I do confess to having flown the Carbon Cub SS before and know what to expect. But hey: We're pilots. Some things just fire your rockets every time, and Carbon Cub's climb is for sure one of them.
So much for comparing apples to apples. If I were in my J3 right now, I'd still be scraping the treetops instead of blasting skyward past startled hawks!
"It's What's Up Front That Counts"
That ancient cigarette commercial slogan befits the addictive thrill of the SS's well-muscled pedigree. Although its LSA-on-superfood power persona has garnered excitement from customers and grumbling from competitors, when operated within company-specified parameters, it's indeed ASTM legal.
The CC340 is, at heart, a CubCrafters-reworked Lycoming O-360 mill that went on a diet—it's now less than 250 pounds—yet rams out 180 horsepower. The airplane is placarded for (and derives its TBO of 2,400 hours from) no more than five minutes at full power. Then it must be throttled back to 80 hp for boating around at continuous power settings.
There's a horsepower-specific formula within the ASTM spec that I won't bore us all with. It's meant to make it impossible for an LSA to have a big-horsepower engine and still end up with a useful load of more than two gnat's whiskers.
CubCrafters worked around that with the proviso, specified in the operating instructions, that the herd of 180 stallions only can run at full speed for five minutes. Then 100 of them have to graze and let the remaining 80 carry the freight. That way, the formula, calculated using the 80 hp rating, not 180 hp, does indeed work out to allow a workable useful load.
In the company's promotional literature, it's spelled out in red ink: "It is the pilots responsibility to operate the aircraft in accordance with the pilot operating handbook and aircraft placarding. There is NO governor or limiting system that controls the engines (sic) power settings."
|The Cub Is A Small Bear|
|There are a few timeworn rules about taildragger flying, chief of which is you fly a tailwheel airplane from engine start to engine shutdown. Disrespect that rule, and that cute yellow bear will straightaway become an angry grizzly.
Corollary to that sentiment is advice from friend and UK aviation superscribe Dave Unwin, who suggests that before you even get in an airplane of the rear-wheeled persuasion, you note which way the wind is moving and visualize its potential effect on the airframe's aerodynamics.
Tailwheel airplanes require a singular skill—using your feet—that was rendered moot last century by Clyde Cessna, William T. Piper and all designers of nosewheel airplanes.
We're talking about adept application of the rudder, which aligns the fuselage about the yaw axis. Rudder skills are imperative for successfully flying a taildragger, since the concentration of mass (pilot/passenger) is behind instead of in front of the center of gravity of the aircraft. Once in motion, that center of mass (you) has inertia and wants to keep moving, and move it will, in our case sideways, right around the center of gravity and on to scraping a wing, mangling a prop and damaging your personal equilibrium in one tidy handful of seconds.
Taildraggers weathervane into the wind, and in motion will always try to swap ends if you don't stay on top of them with constant, small applications of rudder to keep the tail aligned with direction of travel. That's the big secret: Keep that fuselage straight with your tootsies (and appropriate applications of aileron in crosswinds), and you've got it.
Let that tail swing too far, though, at below-flying speeds, and it will quickly reach the point of no return, overruling all your frantic, but way too late, attempts to keep it in line. Pass that point and next stop: Groundloop Town, where you, the pilot, become hapless passenger and nothing more.
Call it The Grizzly Effect.
Many pilots are intimidated by taildraggers though they need not be. It's simply a flying skill, and, to repeat: The flying begins between your ears before you ever climb aboard. Many CFIs wish their students started training in taildraggers.
Once you're off the ground, taildraggers fly just like nosewheelers. Until that moment, you're always in the bear's lair. And that's a vulnerable place if you never learn to be fleet of foot.
Galloping Into The Lead
CubCrafters has enjoyed steadily growing sales, and at the beginning of 2012 notched its 200th delivery. Not sale—delivery. That makes it the top-selling American-made S-LSA in the U.S. market. (Cessna's Skycatcher is produced in China).
Airborne over the expansive towns, ranches and swamps of Central Florida, John Moreland guides me through a thoroughly enjoyable demo of the SS that includes departure and approach stalls, high-bank turns, and even a simulated "Impossible Turn" drill I'm doing from now on to demonstrate the minimum altitude LSA in general require to return to the tarmac after an engine failure (the number, by the way, is around 300 feet for a 270-degree turn).
Here's the short tell about handling: it's Super Cub-plus smooth, firm and solid. Feed in rudder and aileron to enter/exit from turns; short-field chops are legion; stalls are so benign as to be almost laughable—relax the stick, barely nudge the throttle and that's it.
And slow flight? Ha! Again: The airplane will whisper along holding altitude at stall-threshold speeds all day, with excellent aileron control, behind that big mill and Catto composite fan. The simple truth: If you want Super Cub performance and then some, look no further.
Walking around and sitting in the airplane is a decidedly visceral treat, too. Every last fitting is impeccably designed and beautifully finished. You won't find a classier, more re-fined or polished LSA in any style or performance bracket.
Take the medium gray floor pan: It's molded in textured carbon fiber: sexy, strong and makes you feel good just to look at it. The Carbon Cub SS gets its name, of course, from the numerous carbon-fiber components throughout.
| Vertex Standard Spirit
There may be nothing more reassuring for student pilots making their first solo in a Carbon Cub or any other LSA than being able to hear their instructor's voice talk them through any rough patches...from the ground. That neat little trick is often accomplished with handheld radio transceivers like the Vertex VXA-710 ($349), a do-it-all air-band transmitter/receiver that does a whole lot more in a compact, hand-sized package. A handheld radio also is a great backup.
The top-o'-line, feature-packed VXA-710 is no exception, with dimensions of 21⁄4x33⁄4x11⁄4 inches and a crazy-light weight of 9.9 ounces, thanks in part to its magnesium case. This baby nearly does it all; full aviation transceiver band and five watts of transmitter power; impressive VOR and CDI Navigation tools; NOAA and WFM Broadcast band during downtime.
Yakima, Wa.-based CubCrafters has enjoyed steadily growing sales, and at the beginning of 2012, the company reached its 200th delivery, making it the top-selling American-made LSA in the U.S. market.
Also: Both windows open and securely latch up in flight, and are now removable; the cockpit is four inches wider at the shoulders than a traditional Cub; instrument panel is four inches further forward than a Super Cub, which can get cramped in the front seat; the 4130 chrome-moly, reinforced, welded tube fuselage was tested to 1,865 pounds, 40% higher than the LSA spec calls for. And much, much more to be sure.
One more thing: Carbon Cubs are 85% of all CubCrafter's sales, with the rest represented by Top Cub and Sport Cub models.
Cub Love And Then Some
There's likely nothing that hasn't already been said about the lovable mystiqsue of the Piper Cub. But I'm still curious about what draws John Moreland and veteran pilots like him to Cub-like flight.
"I got a scholarship with the Civil Air Patrol out of high school," he tells me after our flight, "then worked for an FBO in Burlington, Vt. After college, I joined the Air Force and was there for 15 years. I've been a pilot for 46 years.
"More than 30 years in the airline business was work," Moreland continues, "A good job, but it was work."
Now, Moreland gives every appearance of a vitally healthy senior: This is no aging pilot driven by flight medical-anxieties into LSA flight. Said another way: I wouldn't want to line up across from him in a Sunday pickup football game in the park. Yet here he is, giving demo rides and extolling the virtues of the Carbon Cub SS.
"Being affiliated with CubCrafters has simply put the fun back into flying for me."
You hear that from veteran pilots all the time. Taildraggers connect you to the ocean of air, like a sailboat does to the sea. You're more fully engaged in the nuances of flight and aerodynamics in a taildragger.
No wonder Cub-style LSA represent fully a quarter of all U.S. sales. And with the CC340 breathing fire into the Carbon Cub SS's performance envelope, no wonder CubCrafters has surged to the front of the pack.