Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Piper Cub Heaven

Sentimental Journey 2011 at Lock Haven, Pa., where it all began

Eagles Mere is the creation of George Jenkins, a true aficionado of antique aviation. It's a private grass strip—landing permission required—but a public museum. If you're ever near, go! Antique fuel trucks, gas pumps and 22 immaculate, award-worthy airplanes, including a knockout 1928 Curtiss Robin, 1933 Aeronca C3 "Bathtub" and the last remaining Travel Air 10D, honor aviation's glorious past there.

After a bucolic flight back to Piper field, the awards banquet features '40s music from Stardust, a World War II tribute band, and a stirring presentation from the crew of Spirit of Freedom, a Douglas C-54-E turned into a flying Berlin Airlift museum that visits air shows each year.

After the awards, the Cubs lift off for home from Lock Haven's carpet of green as they have since 1937. They'll all plan to return next year: Count on it. Take it away, Doris: "Gonna make a Sentimental Journey, to renew old me-mo-ries...."

"Save Time, Fly Piper"—Not!

In the Piper Museum, a retro electric wall clock has the phrase "Save Time, Fly Piper" emblazoned on its face.

Last April, taildragger wunderkind Amy Gesch, Speedy Richardson, a host of Cub pilots across America and I had the brain-numbing bad luck to discover that Cub flying, in bad weather, is the singular aviating thing most remote from a time-saving experience.

Everything started nominally in our quest to join scores of Cubs headed for Lakeland, Fla.'s annual Sun 'n Fun Fly-In. The culmination would be a formation flyby at the air show, commemorating the 1936 Cub Convoy.

Dakota Cub Aircraft, a very busy PMA Cub parts supplier and kit Cub manufacturer, lives in Brandon, South Dakota. On a crisp, clear morning, Gesch, Speedy and I launched from there in two of the company's Cubs for Florida: Little Airplane, Gesch's name for the LSA-eligible kitbuilt Cub, and Super 18, the 180 hp certified Dakota Cub that Speedy flew. Lucky me, I got to hop back and forth between both planes.

Initially cheered by the 500-mile sunny leg we logged the first day—we even passed a couple J-3s to land in Sparta, Ill., that night—it all flew downhill from there.

A massive weather system caught us from behind. Over the next five days, we averaged about 100 miles per day. Even then, we barely snuck in to Lakeland after a very, very low scud run down Florida's Gulf Coast, just ahead of another weather system, that arrived with a tornado that destroyed dozens of airplanes two days after we arrived.

One of those airplanes was Speedy's Super 18. It was a total loss. Tears flowed that night at Lakeland.

In the end, we missed the flyby. Only four Cubs made it. Of the rest, some gave up and 180'd back home. Some, like George Richmond and Dick Pattschull, persevered. Both men took nine days in their J-3 Cubs to make Lakeland.

"They deserve the Cub Convoy Iron Butt award for that trip!" quips Amy Gesch, who faithfully kept track of everybody en route through a frenzy of texts, emails and Facebook posts.

As she says, wise beyond her 21 years, Cub pilots flight-plan with a calendar...not a clock.


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