Of all the mass produced airplanes ever to come off an assembly line, anywhere in the world, there may be no more iconic a flying machine than the humble Piper J3 Cub.
First built in 1937, production of the Cub lasted a mere 10 years. By the time the Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, production line closed down in 1947, nearly 20,000 airframes had left the factory.
Aviation had gone from being perceived as a dangerous endeavor practiced by thrill-seekers and fools to an industry well on its way to changing the way the people of the world lived, worked, and interacted.The diminutive Cub played a major role in that process. Even now, 70 years after the original run of Cubs ended, it remains instantly recognizable in its standard yellow covering with the black lightning bolt running aft from just behind the engine compartment.
It is a much loved and highly revered airplane.
I have been fortunate enough to act as caretaker for one of these amazing machines for a period of time. I’ve truly enjoyed it.
For all the headaches, mechanical quandaries, weather-related challenges, and profound limitations of the type, I consider myself to have been very lucky indeed to have one of these amazing examples of early aviation tucked away in my hangar.
The Cub I’ve cared for came off the line in 1940. Yes, on paper it’s 77 years old, but I consider it to be timeless. A hundred years from now, there is no reason it shouldn’t still be flying. As long as there is a piece of chromoly tubing to weld into the airframe and a bit of Dacron to cover it, there is no reason for the humble Cub to ever come out of service.
It’s as close to bulletproof as any machine ever built.
The Cub I’ve been caring for left the factory in September 1940 with a price tag of $1,302.24. It was financed for a period of 12 months, at $108.53 per installment.
Home base moved from the factory in Pennsylvania to Ong Aircraft Corporation in Kansas City, Missouri, low and slow all the way. A month later its first individual caretaker, Floyd Paul Klee, took possession. In the intervening month its price had escalated to $1,468. Even so, Floyd bought the Cub as a cash deal.
I wish I could have met that man. I’ll bet he had some stories to tell.
Two years later Floyd sold the Cub to G.E. Penn of Kilgore, Texas. A few months after that my little yellow friend went to live in Lafayette, Louisiana, under the care of Leo Joseph Grob.
Leo kept the airplane for five years before passing it on to the Lafayette Flying Service, which relinquished it to R.E. Segelquist in 1953, sending it back to Texas in the process.
In the decade to follow two important events occurred. Way out west in Arizona I came into being and the Cub went to live with its seventh owner, Robert D. Hering. It didn’t go anywhere though, it stayed right there in Alvin, Texas.
Donald L. Cole took over conservatorship a few years later, then passed it on to James A. Hayes Jr. who eventually took on Lawrence F. Johnson and Ralph W. Stenzel Jr. as partners.
I was in high school at this point, still totally unaware of the existence of the airplane I would come to love and care for years later. But I love the synchronicity of her next move. N30931 was sold to the Santa Fe Flying Club of Hitchcock, Texas. The sale occurred on Jan. 1, 1977. I’m very pleased to know she served in a flying club at some point in her life.
By August she’d changed hands again, going to Houston Northwest Aviation. Within months Ridgley Aviation, a division of Wepco, Incorporated, took possession of her, then sold her to Robert E. Jenkins.
After just a few months, Jenkins sold her to Jan Heintjes of South Houston. A few years later, Classic Aviation International picked up the Cub, eventually selling it to John D. Startz, who let it go to Cecil G. Ice way up north in Pierre, South Dakota.
Cecil sent it on to the partnership of Patrick A. Pakiz and Leo B. Wood of Prior Lake, Minnesota. In 2001 Leo sold his share out to Patrick, who eventually transferred it to Earl F. Adams of Adams Aviation, which then sent it on to Jerry A. Woodstrom.
Michael T. Tacoma took over next, followed by William V. Wright, then Jason Randall Hebrink of Fairbanks, Alaska, and finally Cubby Air of Grafton, North Dakota.
Cubby passed the airplane on to a young fellow who wasn’t a pilot, and never registered the change in ownership with the FAA. That’s when I came upon it. Loved, but uncared for. Appreciated but unused, I took the Cub in and got her back up to snuff.
Somewhere along the line the original Lycoming was replaced with the more coveted Continental powerplant. The wooden propeller remains however. It’s not the most efficient airfoil ever designed, but it just might be the prettiest.
The airplane itself has been rebuilt at least twice. Once because of a long ago ground loop. Maybe more than once. The records are not entirely clear through some time periods.
And now I’m passing it on to a new owner who will take great care of N30931, Serial Number 5215. I know they will. I’ll visit from time to time, just to say hello to an old and much loved friend. I’m talking about the Cub, of course.
She’s had nearly 30 owners over the past eight decades. There will be more. I’m just pleased that I got to fly her, care for her, and extend her life a bit while I had possession of this fine, classic, flying machine.
Oh, the sights she’s seen. The places she’s been. The hearts she’s filled with wonder. That’s quite a life she’s had, and it’s not nearly over yet.