Return of the Cub

If you learned to fly before 1965, chances are you have some stick time in a Piper Cub. For many people, even the aviation-challenged, the little yellow aircraft is synonymous with pleasure flying. Is it any wonder then that several aircraft manufacturers who are targeting the Sport Pilot/ Light Sport Aircraft market are producing aircraft that resemble the famous little yellow bird?

THE LEGEND CUB

“Son of Cub” — that’s how a visitor at this year’s Sun ‘n Fun described the Legend Cub at first glance. The aircraft is built in Sulphur Springs, Texas, by the Legend Aircraft Co.

The company got its start about two years ago when Tim Elliott and his business partner Darin Hart wanted to build a Cub of their own.

“If they built one from a kit they realized it would take at least 12 months,” said Mike Taylor, marketing manager, “so instead of waiting around for that, they figured they’d start their own company.”

The design was already out there and proven, notes Elliott, so they didn’t anticipate a long design approval process with the FAA. They expect the first Special Light Sport Aircraft certification this summer.

The aircraft made its public debut at Sun ‘n Fun 2005. The Legend Aircraft display was designed to look like a 1930s aerodrome. Elliott and Hart, along with several of their pilot friends who were pressed into service giving rides to potential customers, wore 1930s-era costumes consisting of khaki breeches, knee high boots and driver’s caps. Elliott and Hart worked the crowd answering questions about the design and the fledgling company. Many of the visitors to the booth were former Piper Cub owners who are looking for a light sport aircraft that will allow them to return to flying.

“This looks like the Cub they are familiar with,” said Elliott.

Despite the homage paid to the past, Elliott notes they have made improvements to the classic design. “For starters, the Legend Cub has a cockpit that is three inches wider than the Piper model,” he said.

The aircraft also features an electric starter and a turtle deck for maximum visibility.

Another refinement is the repositioning of the fuel tanks to the wings. The shift of the CG of the aircraft makes solo flight from the front seat a possibility. The tanks, capable of holding 24 gallons, increase the range of the aircraft past that of the traditional J-3. For the especially safety conscious, Legend Cub comes with the option of a BRS ballistic parachute recovery system.

The panel sports a glass cockpit display. Elliott concedes that pilots raised on the purity of the J-3 Piper model are skeptical of the glass in the Legend Cub cockpit. “But once they fly the airplane and play around with the unit a little bit, they change their minds,” he said.

Other modern touches include floorboards made from composite and covered with carpet and a rear compartment lined with Fiberglas to make it easier for mechanics to access control surfaces. The Legend Cub also can be mounted on floats, if the customer desires.

According to Elliott, the company is already fielding orders from anxious customers.

“Most of our customers tell us that they chose our airplane because it reminds them of the planes they learned to fly in,” he said. “They want an airplane to fly just for fun. What they find in the Legend Cub is an airplane that reminds them very much of what they remember, but with more performance and comfort. Most still love taildraggers. It also intrigues them that we still build them the old-fashion way with fabric and rib stitches.”

The Legend Cub will be one of the first LSAs to be built in the United States. Elliott noted the company would begin by having each individual aircraft certified by the FAA as the company builds toward mass production of the design.

The Legend Cub starts at $67,000.

A QUARTER OF A CENTURY OF CUB WORK IN A NEAT LITTLE PACKAGE

While the Legend Aircraft Co. is new to the world of Cubs, on the other side of the experience spectrum is Cub Crafters, Inc., based in Yakima, Wash.

Cub Crafters was established in 1980 and since then has made a name for itself in the Cub kingdom with refinements to the Piper Super Cub, which resulted in the FAA, Part 23 Certified Top Cub. Now the company has entered the LSA market with the Sport Cub.

“We could have rebuilt the old J-3 or PA-11 design, but that is not what we wanted to do,” explained Todd Simmons, director of sales and marketing.

“We see LSA as an opportunity to improve and refine the design without losing the essence of the aircraft, similar to the way the modern VW Beetles, Harley Davidsons and MiniCoopers hearken back to their original designs, but are contemporary in every other way, such as engineering, construction, safety, and so on.”

The LSA refinements began with the fuselage. The Sport Cub measures four inches wider than the Piper J-3 and has a larger door for easier entry and exit.

Vintage J-3 Cubs are not exactly the easiest airplanes to get in and out of, notes Simmons, who adds, “today’s pilots in general are a little larger than they were in the J-3 days. Also, the pilots who flew the J-3s back when they were in their 30s may be a little less nimble at age 70, so we made Sport Cub easier to get into and out of.”

The door, cowl and select fuselage components will be made from composites, something that wasn’t even thought of back in the day of the J-3.

“We are producing an aircraft that is considerably stronger than the original J-3, but we have not changed the essence of the airplane,” he said. “The modern materials allow us to build a safer aircraft. In many cases we have exceeded the ASTM standards for safety.”

The fuel tanks have also been repositioned to the wings, shifting the CG so that the Sport Cub can be flown solo, safely, from the front seat.

Cub Crafters began taking orders for the Sport Cub in April. While not releasing exact numbers, Simmons said the company is very pleased with the interest the buying public is showing in the Sport Cub.

“We have 25 years in the business with Cubs,” he said. “We have developed a reputation for quality. The customer is buying into that Cub legacy.”

Development of the Sport Cub was facilitated by the work that went into the Part 23 certification of the Top Cub in late 2004, Simmons said.

“The Sport Cub is in some ways like a lighter weight version of the Top Cub,” he said. “In our facility in Yakima, we will be building Sport Cub right alongside the Top Cub, with the same quality assurance and FAA oversight as is given to Top Cub production.  By midsummer, we will be producing an airplane a week, and with current orders for both Top Cub and Sport Cub, our backlog takes us well into next year.”     
Details of the Sport Cub design are very much up to the customers. The basic model will come without flaps and have analog gauges and instrumentation. However, if a customer would rather have flaps and a full flat panel with all digital instruments, that desire can be accommodated. Sport Cub also will be offered as a floatplane or with a backcountry bush plane package.

The base price for a ready-to-fly Sport Cub is targeted in the mid $80K range. The Sport Cub makes its public debut at EAA AirVenture 2005.

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