An airplane’s re-birth

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Cub takeoffApril 7th, 2012 9:40 AM – The Piper Cub lifted off Runway 22 into a nearly perfect VFR day.  This was no ordinary takeoff; this aircraft had not flown in almost 60 years.

As is common with many of the L-4 Cubs (the military version of the popular J-3 Cub), it was originally built and used for the military, sold into civilian service after the end of the war, and then left into various states of disrepair years later.   This aircraft was born as AAF 43-29332 on July 19th, 1943.  It began its service to the military the next day. This particular aircraft was used in training here in the States and never saw any front-line action.  Surprisingly enough, the aircraft has nearly complete logs which indicated that it continued flying into 1952.  Sometime thereafter, the aircraft was left to deteriorate into non-flying condition and later broken down into pieces to conserve space.  It was sold and garaged for more than 40 years before being rescued.

Having undergone years of painstaking restoration and refurbishment by my Grandfather, the Cub was ready to feel the air beneath its wings once again. As a freshly endorsed tail wheel pilot, I was nervous about flying the first flight of the newly restored Cub.  The conditions were near perfect, and after several high-speed taxi tests, the aircraft lifted effortlessly off the runway surface and began its climb to cruising altitude.  The controls were comfortably tight and with no turbulence to speak of; the aircraft felt as though it was on autopilot.  The only feeling of motion came from the over controlling inputs from the inexperience of the pilot behind the controls.  A reassuring feeling considering that the airplane was essentially a newborn.

I had no specific agenda for the Cub’s first flight other than to run it through some simple control checks and help break in the engine.  Climbing out of the traffic pattern (staying close to the runway) the plane performed exactly as it should, except for a small wake-up call to the pilot.  After passing 1,200 ft AGL, the engine took an unexpected 150 RPM drop.  All my pilot reactions were tuned for any variation in handling or engine output.  I immediately scanned the gauges and prepared to turn for the runway just as something my J-3 cub instructor told me popped into my head; the carb heat always wiggles its way out on its own.  Sure enough the knob was about 1 inch out from the stop.  I pushed it back in and the engine purred back to normal RPM. Whew…

After about 30 minutes cruising above the airport, I came back down to land and performed a perfect full stall, 3 point landing on runway 4 (that’s what I tell people what happened).  It was a beautiful day for celebration.  A full debrief with the aircraft’s owner, restorer, pilot, and mechanic (Grandpa) told of its near flawless performance.

This Cub’s 69 year old journey is just beginning anew…

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David Zitt is gold seal flight flight instructor and Airline Transport Pilot. Formerly a chief flight instructor of a Part 141 flight training academy, David is a pilot and director of safety at a Cincinnati-based corporate flight department. David is type rated in the C500 and C525 series aircraft. David owns a 1943 L-4 Cub (the military version of the popular J-3 Cub).