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. The classic Cub doesn’t care about horsepower or tailwinds; it’s on a flight plan to nowhere, without a worry in the world. “What’s the rush?” the gentle old machine asks. “I will show you what flying is about: fun, passion and simplicity.” But what if you wanted to have your cake and eat it too? Then CubCrafters is your answer.
I Want It All
Founded by Jim Richmond in 1980 in Yakima, Wash., CubCrafters quickly attained success as a top rebuilder of PA18 Super Cubs. Today, the company also manufacturers its own aircraft, the Sport Cub and Top Cub. Both are modernized versions of the original Cub that combine classic design with new technology, safety features and comforts.
Priced at a base of $127,500, the 2009 Sport Cub S2 weighs in at 832 pounds empty, has a gross weight of 1,320 pounds and is certified as a light-sport aircraft. The second-generation, fabric-covered aircraft features numerous improvements (more than 100, according to CubCrafters) over its predecessor. Among these is a 30-inch-wide cabin (four inches wider than the Top Cub) that benefits from a relocated panel four inches forward and a door that’s four inches wider. Safety features, including AmSafe air bags and inertia-reel shoulder harnesses, now come as standard equipment. Flaps are now standard as well, as are two 12-gallon wing tanks that provide a 450-mile range. There’s a new cabin heater, battery and battery access. There’s new light housing on the wing and tail. There’s a lot of new in this airplane.
The S2’s cowling has been redesigned to improve cooling and speed characteristics, and by achieving weight savings through carbon-fiber technology, CubCrafters also is able to provide options such as glass panels, big tires or floats. Additional options include a $1,495 performance package that provides 10% more horsepower through a tuned exhaust system, a $395 single-seat conversion, $1,495 leather seats and $22,000 Bauman 1500 straight floats.
Around The Patch
It’s a crisp, sunny January morning in King City, Calif. The lofty hangar at Sean Tucker’s Tutima Academy of Aviation Safety, CubCrafter’s newest dealer, is always filled with colorful aerobatic planes from Pitts to Extras. But today, the brilliant Sport Cub outshines them all. The plan is for Tutima instructor Ben Freelove and me to demo the new 100 hp Sport Cub, followed by a comparison flight in a 1946 65 hp J-3. Sales rep Chelsea Engberg is sure I’ll be wowed by the difference: “The Sport Cub takes everything you love about the J-3 to the next level.”
We pull the yellow youngling onto the ramp and begin to preflight. “CubCrafters looked at all the mods that bush pilots were making to their Super Cubs and incorporated them into the Sport Cub,” says Ben as he points out precision CNC-machined hardware. Other modifications include a rear seat that resembles a sort of mini hammock; it’s suspended from the steel frame by reinforced straps and can be stowed away to allow more room for baggage.
Unlike the original J-3, the Sport Cub is flown solo from the front seat, and as we taxi to runway 11, I immediately appreciate the great visibility. In most taildraggers, it’s difficult to see over the nose while on the ground, but in the Sport Cub, I don’t even have to make S-turns. It feels a bit like cheating, and Ben grins, “The Sport Cub is the envy of all taildraggers.” Looking around the cabin further confirms that I’m not in grandpa’s Cub: Our panel is equipped with a $10,500 “deluxe VFR” option that includes a Garmin 495 GPS and Garmin 327 GTX transponder. (Customers also can opt for a $19,900 “deluxe flat” option that features a Dynon EFIS.)
|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.”
Although the Cub may be best at short-field ops and idyllic local flights, it’s a fairly decent cross-country platform. Our cruise speed is 105 mph and fuel burn is only 4 gph. I’m comfortable up front, and Ben is good in the sling seat: “All airplanes should have hammocks for seats!” My only minor complaints are that the cockpit volume is such to require ANR headsets, and the position of the push-to-talk button on the front of the stick conflicts with where I want to rest my fingers. We wind our way above rolling hills and I think of the epic journey documented by author Rinker Buck in Flight of Passage, recounting an East-to-West Coast flight that he and his brother flew in a Cub when they were teenagers back in 1966. What would that adventure be like for them today, in a Sport Cub?
There’s another Cub in the pattern when we arrive at Frazier, and during our downwind leg, we watch the older classic do a touch-and-go. The juxtaposition of old and new enjoying a timeless activity is a perfect precursor for the rest of our day.
Old Vs. New?
Oddly, the final stage of our Sport Cub demo doesn’t actually take place in the Sport Cub. Ben and I trace back time as we step into N98083, a 65 hp J-3, to see just what a difference 63 years has made. And it has! Without an electrical system, we must hand-prop to start the engine and communicate by handheld radio. Taxiing is tricky due to elusive heel brakes and limited visibility from the backseat. I notice a draft and I squirm in my uncomfortable seat—it’s clear that in just a short time, I’ve been spoiled by CubCrafters.
When we line up for takeoff, I’m already convinced that this will pale in comparison to the day’s earlier flights. But as I apply full throttle with some right rudder, raise the tail up and ease back on the stick, we’re skyward and I’m instantly elated, once again. The fact is, it’s impossible to dislike any Cub. Even without modern design and fancy technology, a Cub is still a Cub: the ultimate icon of general aviation. Each pattern becomes more fun than the previous as I familiarize myself with the idiosyncrasies of the airplane, and I’m disappointed when it’s time to call it a day.
Was I wowed by the improvements of the modern plane over the classic? Definitely. Do I think any less of the beauty and charm of the original J-3? Not a chance. “I told you so,” smiles the Cub.
|Tutima Academy Of Aviation Safety
Sean D. Tucker is CubCrafters’ newest dealer
For more information or to test-fly a Sport Cub at CubCrafters’ newest dealer, contact Chelsea Engberg at [email protected] or (916) 517-2020. Visit www.tutimaacademy.com.
Tailwheel 101: www.tailwheel101.com