Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Golden Angel

Seventy-five years of the ultimate Flivver: celebrating the immortal J3

The reward comes when you roll into a turn to see that inside wing drop straight down: not yawing forward, not yawing backward. There's a quiet surge of pleasure every time you do it right, just as there's a distinctly frown-worthy sense of being out of whack, like stepping on your waltz partner's foot, when you don't.

So many stories, anecdotes, books, movies, videos and photos honor and celebrate the J-3 in as much depth as any diehard fan could possibly desire. Strip all that mystique away, and what remains is the simple ease and pleasure of flying the airplane. If you haven't had the pleasure, it's no more complicated than this:

Climb into that rear seat and strap on the lap belt

Reach up left and overhead to switch on the magnetos

Push hard on the heel brakes while someone hand-props the engine for you

Rev-'er-up, check oil pressure and temp, then fishtail down the taxiway to the active

Do the runup, check that the wire "fuel gauge" sticking out of the gas cap on the cowl shows plenty of fuel

Push the left side-mounted, ball-knobbed throttle to the stops and hear the throaty rumble of the 65 horse Continental A-65

Keep that twitchy tail from misbehavin' with a quick, lively tapdance on the rudder pedals. Ground loops? We don't need no steenking ground loops.

Ease the big, rubber-grip stick forward to lift the tail. Keep the nose straight!

Watch the airspeed needle smoothly arc toward 50 or so...that's mph, by the way

Ease the stick back and take the skies at a ripping 400 feet per minute...or 300...or 250 maybe, depending on a whole lot of things, like density altitude, wind, your weight, your passenger's weight and how peppy that little motor is feeling today

Depart the pattern at a rip-snortin' 70 mph or so

And now for the most important part: lean forward to trim for cruise by cranking the big pitch wheel on the left side, then ease open the right-side clamshell window, hook it up to the underside of the wing, hang your elbow over the side of the bottom half door, and...well, just try not to smile

Easing along, seduced to that middle realm between the patchwork land below and infinite roiling blue above, you share the air in the exact same aircraft and feel the exact same seat-of-pants feedback as all those tens of thousands of aces, astronauts, fighter jocks, bomber pilots, air show aerobats, 30,000-hour airline and commercial pilots and backyard sport flyers who have gone before you.

You're a Cub pilot. You belong to the American sky.


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