Superstol take-off

SuperstolJust Aircraft has recently installed a Titan XO-340 180-hp engine in their Super STOL (Short Take-Off & Landing) aircraft. The take-off results are spectacular – watch the on-board video clip and you’ll se what I mean! Remember – this is not a view from a helicopter, although it might ‘just’ as well be! Not only is the take-off distance short but the aircraft keeps on climbing.

Just Aircraft is not the first company to use this engine in an aircraft – Cubcrafters also use the Titan in their LSA-compliant Carbon Cub. But the Cub is a bigger, slightly heavier aircraft and does not utilise the retractable leading edge slats of the Superstol, so the Carbon Cub take-off, while still sensational is not quite in the same league.

There is a comparative video of the Carbon Cub and Superstol, although in this one, the Superstol uses a Rotax 115-hp turbo engine, not the Titan. As you can see, the two aircraft are very similar in performance, even though the Superstol is giving away 65-hp. I imagine the 180-hp Superstol would be quite a ride!

A few other key differences between the Carbon Cub and Superstol: tandem vs side-by-side seating, factory-built vs kit-built and, of course, price. However, another price you pay for such spectacularly short take-offs and landings is a relatively slow cruise speed. There’s no such thing as a free lunch!


Low and slow – 1


Lainey’s first flight

I’m aiming for this to be the first in a series about simple aircraft. The series will be about easy flying in light aircraft, sometimes with nothing but an airspeed indicator, a slip ball, a tachometer, and an oil pressure gauge. These aircraft are all about a love of flying, pure and simple, without the need to get somewhere by a certain time and without the need for all the latest digital gadgets beloved by so many of us pilots.

I’m hoping it will re-kindle that wonder of getting off the ground, maybe just after dawn on a clear winter morning, or taking off into one of those warm, still summer evenings, when the long shadows give such an amazing sense of depth and contrast.

And where else to start but with the Piper J-3 Cub…

The J-3 Cub is thought by many to be the aircraft which personifies the essence of flying: near perfect control harmonisation, the third wheel at the back (where many old-timers say is the only place it should be) and complete simplicity of operation – no flaps and an ‘armstrong’ engine starter (there’s no electrical system). Although flown solo from the rear seat due to centre of gravity requirements, nevertheless, the J-3 Cub is an easy plane to fly…everything happens very slowly. If there is such a thing, the ‘typical’ J-3 is powered by an engine of only 65hp – but remember, this is a very light aircraft, even by today’s standards, and 65hp is plenty enough for all but the heaviest of crew on the hottest of days.

The very first Piper Cub, the J-2, had its origins in 1930 in the Taylor E-2 Cub, manufactured by Taylor Aircraft in Bradford, Pennsylvania. This aircraft, sponsored by William T. Piper, a local industrialist, was intended to be an inexpensive introduction to aviation but the Taylor company went bankrupt within a year and Piper bought the assets, although retaining C. Gilbert Taylor as president and also the company name. From a slow start, Taylor/Piper eventually built about 1,200 J-2 aircraft in the 1930s before a fire at the Bradford factory halted production.

J-3 panel

J-3 instrument panel simplicity

In 1938, the company was re-established as Piper Aircraft, the factory was relocated to Lock Haven, Pennsylvania and the J-3 was born. The J-3 featured, among other changes, a more integrated design of tail fin and a steerable tailwheel. It was originally powered by a 40hp engine and cost about $1,000 – for relevance, the average cost of a new car in USA was around $675 at that time. When the second world war broke out, the J-3 became the military trainer of choice and by the end of 1940, when the USA joined the war, over 3,000 J-3s had been built, powered by a number of different engines, designated by a suffix letter: J-3C (Continental), J-3L (Lycoming), J-3F (Franklin) and so on. At one point during the war, it is estimated that a J-3 was coming off the production line every 20 minutes!

During the late 1930s and 1940s around 20,000 J-3 Cubs were built, many designated as the military ‘L-4’ version. Since then, tens of thousands of Cub variants have been designed and built by Piper, most famously the Super Cub, with  powerful 150+hp engines, which give exhilarating performance, albeit at the expense of some of the endearing flight characteristics of the original J-3.

Sadly, in 1994, Piper went into liquidation and they stopped building the Cub. However, the aircraft lives on and various versions of it are now built in the USA both as certified GA aircraft and as Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) by Cubcrafters (in Yakima, Washington state), and American Legend Aircraft (in Sulphur Springs, Texas).

Here are some links to a few of my very favourite Cub videos (click on the names to connect):

The Classic Piper Cub – a short introduction to, and history of, the Piper Cub
Lainey’s first plane ride – a magical short video about a little girl’s first flight – in a J-3 Cub, of course. Reminds me of taking my own grandson, Ollie, for his first flight in my Foxbat about a year ago
The Yellow Piper – by Kristina Olsen, about learning to fly in a boyfriend’s Cub
Golden Wings – just the J-3 taking off, flying and landing
Dreams of Flying – an excerpt from the well-known video ‘One-Six Right’ featuring a J-3 Cub

And finally, if you are thinking of acquiring a J-3 Cub, there are hundreds in the USA. Have a look at aircraft for sale – hit the search button near the top of the home page, scroll down the menu on the left and click ‘Piper’ then scroll down and hit ‘J-3 Cub’. There’s usually a reasonable range, from basket cases to newly restored.

The Bush Hawk arrives in Australia!

Bush Hawk 01My friend Steve (Australia’s Cubcrafters Agent) has bought himself a Bush Hawk aeroplane and today it arrived at Moorabbin Airport near Melbourne after its long journey in a container from Alaska.

For those of you not familiar with this aircraft type, it is, as its name suggests, a bush plane – big wheels, slow stall, taildragger etc etc. What makes this one different is that via its four door configuration, it will carry five people and their luggage into and out of pretty well most places – paved or unpaved – that you could expect to take a plane. Almost uniquely for a bush plane, it has a single, cantilever wing (no lift struts). It will cruise around 140 knots and it goes without saying that it is as rugged as they come.

What makes it even more interesting is that its gross weight falls below the 1500 kgs limit for the new Australian Recreational Pilot License (RPL). OK, Steve currently ‘only’ holds an Ultralight Pilot Certificate and an RPL so he will need a co-pilot with a PPL or higher if he wants to carry more than one friend or get a class 2 medical. But in the meantime, he can carry everyone else’s luggage when we all go off on a trip!

The Bush Hawk (or Bush Pig to its friends) has a bit of a varied history – originally designed back in the 60’s by the Found brothers of Ontario, Canada, the design was updated put into production for a while by Found Aircraft. In the late 2000’s it morphed into the Expedition Aircraft but alas, as of early 2014 Found Aircraft no longer manufactures aircraft – Steve’s Bush Hawk was was built in 2005 as a company demonstrator, then put to work in Alaska by Mountain Flying Services as an air-taxi and sight-seeing aircraft.There are some great pictures of Steve’s Bush Hawk on the Mountain Flying Services website.

Bush Hawk 02 copyHaving helped unload the aircraft from the container, the first thing that strikes you is the sheer size of the thing. Even without its wing installed, it’s impressive. On it’s 29″ bush tyres, it will look truly massive and even at 1.86m (6’2″ in old money) I will be able to walk under the wing without ducking my head. Space in the second row seats is palatial – I can sit behind the pilot and stretch my legs all the way out in front of me. Hopefully there will be room for a table for our in-flight service!

The aircraft is now being re-assembled at the CAE Aircraft Maintenance hangar at Northern Avenue, Moorabbin. For the time being it will remain on its USA N-registration. Although Steve has many hours of tailwheel experience on the Carbon and other cubs, he’s very wisely arranging some further training and familiarisation with an experienced instructor. Although by all accounts, one of the great features of the Bush Hawk is that it handles like a happy pussycat on the ground and in the air.

More news and pictures when the aircraft is ready to fly.

Foxbat as photo ship

Foxbat 7277 short strip landingWe recently set out to do some air-to-air and air-to-ground photography using my yellow Foxbat demonstrator as the photo ship. By ‘we’ I mean Mike Rudd – veteran professional videographer and photographer – in the right hand passenger seat and myself flying.

Normally, these shoots centre round the subject aircraft, on this occasion a Top Cub by Cubcrafters and another (red) Foxbat, which happened to belong to Mike. And indeed, we got some great pictures – have a look at the photo gallery to the bottom right of this blog to see some samples.

However, on this occasion Mike urged me to write something about one particular short sequence where, quite spontaneously and unplanned, we video’d his red Foxbat doing a very brief touch-and-go on a short, narrow and wet bush airstrip in the middle of nowhere. The video will appear shortly on YouTube (I’ll put up a link when it does) but meanwhile, here’s a preview of what we did.

After the air-to-air shots and some stills of the Top Cub landing and taking off, the pilot of the red Foxbat decided he’d emulate the Cub by landing on the same short strip – this impressed me because the Foxbat pilot was Stephen Buckle, Cubcrafters dealer for Australia. Who once owned a Foxbat of his own before drifting to the dark side….and Stephen’s passenger, Terry Walker, who owns a super little taildragger Kitfox, making them both familiar with the demands of short strips.

Stephen and I executed contra-direction circuits (‘patterns’ for our friends across the Pacific) and began parallel approaches to land. Except that Stephen was lined up on the runway and we were lined up about 50-60 metres to his left over some fairly tall trees. Now the Foxbat typically touches down in the high 30’s knots, so to get the footage, we had to slow down to much the same speed or we’d miss the brief touch and go-around.

Mike was busy with his camera, concentrating on his red Foxbat urging me to go ‘slower’ and ‘faster’, ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ to get the video he wanted. So there I am, sitting in the left seat, subject plane on the right, and lower than me, flying at about 35 knots….watching the tall trees coming up ahead of me.

It was during that sequence that once again it was emphasised to me what a great plane for photography the Foxbat is.

Controllable down to 30+ knots with full flap, I could see the subject plane all the time, even though it was on the opposite side to me, and Mike with his (large) camera in the passenger seat. It has an abundance of power – on the YouTube video you’ll hear the engine noise, not of the subject aircraft but of mine, so you’ll know when the power was on and off.

The only thing I regret is not having had a camera pointing straight out the front so you can see the trees and bush which close right up to the strip. When you think of all the variables and the process of shooting that short piece of video, there aren’t many aircraft short of a helicopter that could have handled it.

Look out for a future post on some thoughts about getting some good photos from your aircraft. And, of course, the link to the YouTube video of Mike’s red Foxbat and that tricky little bush strip.