Saturday, May 25, 2013

Cub Dreams

The following was written by a non-pilot, a man I have known since before I started this blog. He has always wanted to fly, but hasn't had the opportunity. He attended Oshkosh last year and when he sent me this, I asked for his permission to share it.

I bought tickets for the sweepstakes giveaway airplane of the year, a 1940 Piper Cub. I've learned enough about it to enjoy it even if I don't win it, though I have a strange sense that its already been determined that I will. This is based on an odd number significance. When I was a kid, for no reason, I got the sense that the number 22 was going to be significant for me. It was going to change my life. Not a bunch of times. Just once. I should watch for it. Not that I should choose it. I should just observe it.

Tickets were $1 each. There were various bundled amounts. $20 bought 27 tickets. Pages of tickets had 30 tickets per page. While tearing off the three tickets from the page that I hadn't purchased, the ticket seller said, "for $2, I'll sell you these three." So, I bought the rest of the page, suckered in for another $2. It was maybe half an hour or more later that I realized that I'd paid $22. At that point, I got the even weirder feeling that the 29th ticket was the winner. Not that I'd be able to tell, even if I won.

So, I visited this Cub every day. One day, another fellow was there and started talking to me. He said he had "the disease". He had already bought, restored and sold several cubs. He knew them inside out. He clued me in on some details I could not have otherwise recognized, and with this recognition, I can now differentiate this Cub from the 5,500 other Cubs still registered to fly. This one has a wooden prop with metal leading edge. The engine cowling has two little dents in it that looks like some tourist poked it with fingertips a little too hard. The air filter is a rectangular box with a forward/downward slant to the front face below the engine. Sticking out of the bottom of this box is a fat tube roughly 6" long and 1" in diameter with a sharply angled cutoff, leaving a hole facing down/back. This is the bypass for the carburetor heat and cabin heat. Butterfly valves divert this air flow to the carburetor or cabin, or not. Inside the cowling, you can see the two hoses (they look like vacuum cleaner hoses) going off to the sides toward these components).

The cylinder heads stick out of the cowling with a black sheet metal cover that wraps over the top, then down over the cylinder heads, perhaps to channel air flow or to shield from rainfall. The exhaust manifold goes down from the heads, then back and inward through holes in the cowling at the seam between the top cowling and the bottom cowling. In the bottom cowling, toward the pilot's right, behind the air intake is the exhaust. It seems to actually have a muffler, or at least a spark arrester. Behind the exhaust, poking through the same hole in the cowling is a much thinner pipe about 4" long that is apparently the oil sump vent. The expert told me that if this was his airplane, he'd cut that off shorter, then run a small hose from it down to the landing gear struts so that the oil mist would not dirty up the fuselage. He warned that this would happen with the current arrangement. I've seen several other Cubs. This is the only one I've seen with that particular size, angle and placement of the bypass tube and the sump tube.

The expert didn't like the leather covers over the bungee cords that make up the suspension springs. Too bulky, they'd add too much wind resistance. In his opinion. Flying 70mph, I'm not sure it really would make that much difference. They had snow skis mounted on the landing gear instead of wheel pants. Apparently, when delivered, the Cub will have both, though both can't be mounted at the same time, and the skis are offered by a sponsor, so, of course, that's what's mounted on the airplane while on display. Also, likely, kids would stand and jump on the wheel pants denting them up, so it's probably good that they don't have them on while on display.

Most Cubs don't have the foot pegs (more of a triangle, really) mounted on the leading edge of the landing gear struts. The one on the pilot's left is to help reach the one wing tank in the left wing. Since the Cub has a sunlight, the valve for the wing tank and the clear tube used as a fuel gauge are both in that inner face of the left wing, next to the magneto switch. The wing tank's air vent in the filler cap is bent 90 degrees to face toward the leading edge of the aircraft. The header tank's filler cap has the fuel gauge wire sticking up out of it. The header tank is painted black in this one, though it has been bare metal in most Cubs I've looked at, though one Cub had no header tank at all and instead had two wing tanks so the instrument panel could include deeper instruments. This one has the basic instruments installed, from left to right, the tachometer (which turns counterclockwise as it revs up), air speed (in mph), the magnetic compass (with the compass card just below it and the N-number above it), and the oil pressure and temperature gauges. It doesn't have a turn and bank indicator. Yet.

In the right corner of the dashboard is the primer. There's a smaller, black, unlabeled handle of similar shape in the left corner, which I guess must be the cabin heat. Low, on the right, in front of the door is the carburetor heat control. On the left, in a corresponding low, forward position is the header tank fuel valve. A little higher and farther back is the car-window-crank handle for the elevator trim with the rivet that moves in the slot above the handle as the position indicator. At shoulder height, each seat has a throttle handle, and each seat has a stick, rudders, and heel brakes. Different Cubs seem to have the heel brakes placed a little differently. These are somewhat inboard and closer to the seat than the rudder pedals. I think it would be challenging to both brake and work the rudders at the same time, though as I understand it, this would be pretty rare, anyway. The brakes are mostly for turning on one wheel during taxiing or for holding the position when one person is in the plane and the other is out hand propping. I think I'd prefer hand propping from behind the prop, anyway. This is common on Cubs and it just seems nicer that if the aircraft surges, it would dump me into the door toward the throttle, instead of chewing me up in the prop.

I took a workshop on hand propping. I was surprised at how little the compression resisted turning the prop. Of course, they did have a dead engine, since this was a workshop for which they had not purchased extensive insurance. This Cub has brackets on it behind the connection points for the landing gear struts, apparently for attaching something to the bottom edges of the fuselage. I have not seen another Cub with this feature and I have no idea what it's for. The leather upholstery and wood paneling floor and rear deck cover to the storage compartment are all nicely done. It's painted in the classic Cub yellow with the black lightning bolt stripe and the teddy bear Cub logo on the vertical stabilizer. It has the steerable rear wheel (not that it's very effective) spring-loaded to follow the rudder, with the click-release in case something gets hung or knocked.

I kinda know the plane now. Learning it has been fun. And though they didn't let me fly it, I did stumble on a tent with a couple of flight simulators (the machine, not just the software), and one of them was painted Cub yellow with the black lightning-bolt stripe. They even put a prop in the front of it and require you to spin the prop in order to start the engine.

Another older guy was flying it when I walked up. He was coming down to the airport rolling almost 45 degrees in each directly, alternating, fluttering his way to the ground. Once landed, he staggered out of the simulator and left it on the airport with the engine running. After asking permission, I climbed into the pilot's seat (no, they didn't have two of them, so I couldn't climb into the back one) and noted that there were no brakes and no carburetor heat. The header fuel gauge showed plenty of fuel, so I noted the compass direction and watched out the side window (since the front window showed only sky) to stay straight with the runway while smoothly, but quickly pushing to full throttle. A couple seconds later, the tail raised up and I could see in front of me. Minding the rudder to stay straight with the landing strip, I quickly pulled up to about 15' off the ground and held it there while I picked up speed. Once I passed 70, I pulled back on the stick and picked my pitch to keep the speed at 60-70mph. Keeping to less than three minutes at full throttle, I pulled back to what I guessed was 3/4 throttle. I don't know what the ideal cruising RPM should be. That's something I will learn when I win the Cub.

I leveled off, turned left and watched for the airport. Once it was beside and parallel to me, I pulled the throttle back to idle and started the downwind leg. I was a little low, so I had to bump the throttle a couple times through the pattern to stretch it out, but the turn to base and final were uneventful, and I landed straight, if a little to the right of the middle stripe on the landing strip. No noticeable cross-wind. Since I couldn't see the wheels, I couldn't judge height well enough to try a three point landing, but I kept flying the airplane until it stopped.

So, I soloed in a Cub. Sort of.

Someone else won the cub that year. I think the Winner should swing by Virginia and give my friend a ride, though.


Wayne Conrad said...

Stories of unrequited love make me tear up--if they involve airplanes. Thanks for posting your friend's story. It's a good one.

Anonymous said...

What wonderful essay! I have dreamed of owning a Cub for many years, I now know so much more about them. Thank you. What a shame he did not win it, he would have if it was fiction!

Sarah said...

A wonderful story, but it makes me sad too. I understand some peoples circumstances make it impossible to own their own airplane. I remember the story about the Chinese home-builder. But I can't help thinking there's always a way... somehow.... to fly.