Lessons from the Cub

There was a particularly compelling event at AirVenture this year. One I wish I had been there to see. Sadly, I was unable to attend. But that puts me in the same boat with many thousands of aviation enthusiasts. I was interested, but from afar. I was motivated, but constrained by circumstance. In short, I was somewhere else and I missed it.

The event I allude to is the Cubs 2 Oshkosh mass fly-in. The expectation was that Cub owners would fly to Oshkosh from far and wide — and they did. On the field at Wittman Regional Airport (OSH) there are more than 125 Cubs and teeming throngs of Cub crazy visitors. Seething masses of tube and fabric fans are being granted the visual satisfaction of seeing a grassy infield populated by the kind of airplanes so many of us wish we had in our hangars – assuming we are lucky enough to have hangars.

There is something undeniably appealing about a Cub. And that’s the crux of the issue, ladies and gentleman. Because for all the preconceived notions we might have about what a Cub is and what a Cub is not – there is a tremendous amount of diversity in the breed.

It’s unfair to generalize. When dealing with people, we call that stereotyping. And while most stereotypes are borne from a few basic similarities shared by a group, the individuals in that group are in no way responsible for maintaining the attributes they’ve been arbitrarily assigned. That goes for people, and it goes for airplanes, too.

Consider the Piper Cub. There may be no more ready example of a bare-bones, basic airplane. The high wing, tube and fabric classic is simplicity at its best. Instantly identifiable in flight by that familiar silhouette of gracefully rounded wingtips and diminutive tires. The sound of a Cub is familiar too, with a time tested 65-horsepower engine rattling away out front, spinning that little prop for all it’s worth.

They’re yellow, as we all know. Yellow with a black lightning bolt streaking down both sides, pointing the way forward hopefully, as if real speed is a possibility for an airplane of such considerable drag and limited power.

That’s not entirely true, of course. Cubs aren’t all yellow. They don’t all have diminutive tires, or 65-horse motors, or black lightning bolts plastered on their sides. They’re a diverse bunch, just like we are. They come in all colors, with myriad modifications, propelled to individualized greatness with all the panache an individual owner can muster.

Some are stock. They look pristine, as if they were only delivered new from the factory the other day. Others look like they’ve been sandblasted by the desert winds for so long they can’t possibly hold together for one more day. But they do. And they fly just fine even though they might look as if they’re as old and weatherbeaten as the hills.

The original Cub panel could be described as spartan at best. Some still are, too. Others have all the doo-hickeys and gizmos installed that an owner can find room for. GPS units and handheld radios adorn the cockpit. Whatever works, and fits, seems to be the order of the day.

Not even the trusty 65-horse engine is sacred. Some have been reworked to pump out 85 horses, or even 100. Heck the General Aviation News crew even found one with a 3-cylinder Lenape radial installed out front. We liked it so much we put a photo of it on our Facebook page.

The point of all this is of course they are all Cubs. Whether they’re called L-4s and hail from a military lineage, or have a checkerboard paint scheme that makes it look like a Purina Dog Chow billboard, they’re all Cubs. And we can lust after their simple beauty with as much fervor as ever, regardless of what variations they might have among them.

Let’s consider that gathering of Cubs to be a lesson about ourselves. We aviation enthusiasts, whether male or female, young or old, with different complexions, different religious affiliations, different political allegiances, are all similar in some way. We are human beings with a common interest. That’s enough. At least it’s enough most of the time. Certainly we have as much in common as any random gathering of people at a business conference. So let’s dispense with focusing on what divides us and spend our time more deliberately on what unites us.

We are aviation enthusiasts – that ought to be enough. It was certainly sufficient to get a whole field full of Cubs to Wisconsin from all over the map. And that worked out pretty darned well, don’t you think?



Jamie Beckett is a CFI and A&P mechanic who stepped into the political arena in an effort to promote and protect GA at his local airport. He is also a founding partner and regular contributor to FlightMonkeys.com. You can reach him at Jamie@GeneralAviationNews.com.


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