Last week the aviation news was awash with reports of Gulfstream’s new mighty machine, the G700. While I was not at the National Business Aviation Association convention in Las Vegas to see it in person, on paper the aircraft is impressive.
With a range of 7,500 nm and a maximum cruise speed of Mach 0.9, the G700 is a head turner. Sporting a stand-up cabin, oodles of windows for the passengers to gaze out of, and seating for up to 19 passengers, Gulfstream seems to have hit a home run with its new flagship offering.
Corporate pilots the world over are beginning to salivate at the idea of their company picking up a G700 or two. What better way to handle the corporate travel needs of an organization? I can’t blame them either. The introduction of the G700 is a big deal. It raises the bar for long haul, high comfort, executive travel. Plus, it looks really cool.
On the lower end of the general aviation scale is a far more mundane looking machine that has none of the G700’s attributes going for it. It’s small. It’s slow. It can’t carry much of a load and its range barely gets it 100 miles before it’s looking for a fresh fill-up. This is the Piper Cub. The J-3 to be specific. The original everyman’s airplane.
The J-3 is an anachronism of our times. It’s an old design that is somehow still entirely relevant.
The first example of the J-3 rolled off the assembly line 81 years ago. Everyone involved in its development and initial production of the airplane died of old age long ago. Its instrument panel is sparse at best, holding only a handful of gauges that, frankly, aren’t even necessary if you take the time to look out the window and feel the airplane in flight.
When it’s ready to fly, it will let you know. When it’s done flying, the bottom will drop out. There’s not a lot of nuance to the basics of flying a Cub.
My friend Steve states — with some considerable experience — all you need to navigate a Cub on a long cross-country flight is a compass and a calendar. Point it in the right direction and you’ll get there eventually. He’s flown them from one end of the country to the other. And if I’m not mistaken, he’s not kidding about the compass and calendar. It takes days to get very far in a Cub.
Having owned a 1940 model myself, I can tell you with absolute confidence that the Piper J-3 Cub is a nearly useless airplane. All you can do in it is have an enormous amount of fun and become a better pilot in the process. That’s it. But then, for many of us, that’s all there is.
Having fun while honing our skills might just be our highest calling, and a simple little machine like the Cub fills that bill perfectly.
Now, lest you think I’m shilling for Piper Aircraft in a bid to get the company to reintroduce the Cub to its production line, let me ease your mind. I’m not. The classics are classics for a reason. They’re from another time. But they fit well in ours.
Let’s take a big swath of the Cub-like aircraft available to us and consider how available the magic of manned, powered flight is to anyone who wants to pursue it. In addition to the venerable Cub, there is the Aeronca Champ to consider, and the Cessna 120 and 140 models. There are at least two examples of Taylorcraft flying machines that ought to make your short list, not to mention the Luscombe, and the full line of Piper short-wing fliers. And if you want a little more elbow room in the cockpit, you might add to your list the Stinson 108.
Each of these models was built in a time when the future of aviation was unknown, but one thing was obvious: Aviation was changing the world and each of these aircraft filled a role that had real validity. As they do today, decades later.
It’s been said that flying is expensive, and to a degree, it is. Personally, I see letting an entire lifespan roll by without experiencing the full breadth of what’s available to us is even more expensive.
Time is not a renewable commodity. Once yours is gone, it’s gone. Perhaps that’s why advertisers are so fond of the expression, “Act now before this offer is gone for good.”
With the exception of the $75 million G700, every other aircraft mentioned in this piece can be had for $25,000 or less. Sometimes much less. In fact, I just saw a Stinson 108, which is a model I’m seriously considering, for less than $15,000. That’s affordable aviation, y’all. Yes, it is.
Some maintenance will be required, to be sure. But I can have a whole lot of fun in a basic tube and fabric flying machine in exchange for a fairly small slice of the family financial pie. And I’ll bet you my next annual inspection costs less than the recurrent software updates to the G700 systems. I’ll burn a lot less fuel, too.
Our aeronautical future shows every indication of being just flat out amazing. Gulfstream has built a remarkable machine. At the same time, you and I can go out and live the aerial adventure of our lives for a tiny fraction of that cost.
Yep, I’m advancing in reverse, because all I’m going to do is go flying — I don’t need to get anywhere in particular along the way. Just out and back will fulfill all my dreams and more.
That’s especially true on the days I take a friend with me.