It is safe to say that hundreds of thousands of pilots learned to fly in a Piper Cub. For many non-pilots, the Piper Cub is the entirety of small aircraft aviation — like Kleenex is to facial tissue.
2017 marks the 80th anniversary of the J-3. As a tribute to that milestone, following are eight random facts you may — or may not — know about the yellow little two-seaters.
1. Piper’s J-3 Cub was built between 1937 and 1947
The two-seat tandem taildragger had a maximum takeoff weight of 1,220 pounds and an empty weight of 765 pounds. Max speed was 87 mph, cruise speed was 75, and it could fly 220 miles.
2. The J-3 is the ninth most produced aircraft
19,888 models of the J-3 were built in the United States. Another 150 were assembled in Canada. At peak production in 1940, a new J-3 rolled off the assembly line every 20 minutes.
3. A rare J-3 ran a radial engine
The rare Piper J-3P was powered by a 50-hp Lenape LM-3-50 or Lenape AR-3-160 three-cylinder radial engine.
4. $1,300 could buy a new J-3 in 1937
Buyers could choose between a 40-hp Continental, Lycoming or Franklin engine for the J-3.
5. Flitfire Fundrasier
Before the U.S. entered World War II, William T. Piper, owner of Piper Aircraft, and his dealers supported the British Royal Air Force (RAF) with a fundraiser. The 49 identical J-3s — called Flitfires — were built and painted in RAF colors in just 12 days. All 49 landed at Allentown airport in 12 minutes.
6. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt supported the CPTP
The Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP) trained U.S. pilots in the run-up to America’s entry into World War II. In total, the CPTP graduated 435,165 graduates. Roughly 75% were trained in Cubs.
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt supported the CPTP and the War Training Service. Roosevelt (backseat) is pictured here in a Piper J-3 Cub trainer with C. Alfred “Chief” Anderson, a pioneer black aviator and respected instructor at Tuskegee Institute.
7. The J-3 and L-4 are mechanically identical
The only way to tell a J-3 Cub from an L-4 Grasshopper — aside from the olive drab paint — is the greenhouse skylight and rear window. Aside from that, the J-3 and L-4 were mechanically identical. The L-4 was used in the 1950s in Korean War by both the U.S. and South Korean Air Forces.
8. L-4 could land on ships
The L-4, when outfitted with a Brodie Landing System, could land in normally unsuitable terrain, such as the jungle or in mountains and on ships. The hook on the plane caught a sling that was attached to a cable. A video on YouTube (forward to 9 minute mark) demonstrates the system.