No news can sometimes be better than good news. In fact, no news is probably good for your health, because lots of news certainly isn’t. That’s an easy conclusion to come to because most of us listen to, and read, so much news that we wind up feeling hard-pressed, oppressed and just a little depressed. Nearly every facet of life has become too complicated, and all most of us really want is to live life like a pilot flies a Piper Cub. Simplify, simplify.
Some folks are going to miss the Cub analogy. These days, not many modern pilots grew up in one, so, to many, the airplane is an icon, but still an enigma. And that’s a shame. That means we have generations of people who have gotten so used to their lives becoming increasingly complicated that they’re willing to accept the same trend in their airplanes. And that’s a shame, too. We now have generations of pilots who wouldn’t think of climbing into an airplane without a GPS, a big watch and an ANR headset, and switching on the glass panel that says what every spark plug is thinking, how many yards/meters/miles/furlongs it is to the next latte stop and who’s ahead in the world soccer tournament. What they don’t realize is that all of these gadgets form a barrier that insulates them from what they got into aviation for in the first place—the freedom of flight. This isn’t good, but the move to complexity could be moderated if more people had Cubs in their lives to use as a sort of complexity yardstick.
For the above reason, aviation would definitely benefit from a new FAR that says every single person in aviation, pilot or not, must get at least two flights in a J-3 Cub over the next 12 months. And it has to be at least two flights; the first flight will be largely wasted on modern-day pilots because they’ll be overwhelmed by the new sights, sensations and realizations. The experience will be so bright and new that it will still be ricocheting around inside their heads days after the flight. The second flight is the one that’ll count—they won’t be so overwhelmed and they’ll be more in touch with the experience, which will make the simplicity that much more obvious.
First, although I’m kicking a sacred cow to say this, it should be noted that a Piper Cub is a helluva long distance from being the perfect airplane. That’s not why it needs to be flown. It’s barely one butt wide, the controls are a tad heavy, and the response is just a little leisurely. On the ground, you can’t see squat over the nose, and the airframe offers virtually no protection against the elements. If it’s hot, you’re hot. If it’s cold, you’re even colder. If it’s bumpy, you’re getting the snot knocked out of you. And, if there’s any wind on your nose, you’re practically standing still and looking at the same piece of real estate for a depressingly long time.
For all of its theoretical shortcomings, however, when measured against modern flying machines, the Cub totally de-emphasizes the “machine” part of that term because, among other things, it isn’t truly a flying machine. To even call it a machine is to overstate its mechanical complexity because it has so little in the way of systems or even nuts and bolts. Further, because it has so much wing and so little power, it actually flies; it’s not dragged into the air by an overly anxious, many-cylindered mode of propulsion. And a beautiful thing about barely trundling across the landscape is that you’re forced to slow down and smell the sunsets.
And therein is another prejudice from modern times. We think it’s too slow, not because it’s actually slow, but because we’re used to running too fast. It’s that “relative” thing at work. And that’s a sure indication of our level of impatience with life in general. A good percentage of us fly because we like to fly. So, of what value is being fast? All being fast does is shorten our flights and deprive us of time spent in the air.
It’s fully understandable that there are many people who fly only because it’s a grand form of transportation. (What a concept, by the way. I would have never thought of that.) And there are others who view it as a way to make a living without having to actually work, although most who look at it that way eventually see it become work. It’s a fact, however, that there are many in the community who couldn’t not be pilots, mechanics, etc. They have no choice. They have The Passion and absolutely have to be a part of flight, in whatever way they can. They like being close to the very concept of flight, and that’s why people should be made to fly a Cub: It will put them back in touch with the basic concept that originally brought them into aviation.
Even within aviation, it’s easy to let the complexities of life put pressure on our passion and force us off the path we once knew was right. A flight in a Cub, however, puts all that back in perspective. In a Cub, it’s just you, a minimalist airplane and flight. We’ll never get our lives that simple, but with a Cub around, we at least know where to go to start the process.
Budd Davisson is an accomplished aviation writer and photographer, CFII & CFIA, aircraft owner and builder. He has authored two books and lectured at the Smithsonian and NASA’s Langley Research Center. Check out his website at www.airbum.com.