J-3 Flight Report, sort of…

[Haven’t been writing to this blog for a while – thought I should copy a vaguely ‘travel-related’ thing I knocked out yesterday]
Got to spend some time flying a J-3 Cub this yesterday afternoon. Makes you really appreciate all the things about aviation they’ve thought of in the last 70 years. Like putting the throttle and carb heat controls in the same place, or even on the same side of the plane. So that when you’re barreling down the runway during a touch-and go, you don’t have to shove throttle in with your left hand, then switch the stick over to your left hand so you can reach down and forward behind the passenger’s right knee to flick carb heat off for full power. Then switch back, of course, and reach under their left knee to get the trim to takeoff position. While trying to keep the damned thing going straight down the runway by leaning out the side of the open door to see where you’re going. Because, of course, the passenger is sitting in front of you, blocking not only any sight of the instrument panel (which you don’t really need to see), but also whatever is in front of you on the runway (which, I’ve been raised to believe, you really do need to see).

So, it’s a quaint experience. Once you’ve cleared the runway and are crawling forward and upward through the air at a staggeringly leisurely pace, there is more time to appreciated the finer points of the Cub. It is sedate, if noisy. You pretty much always fly it with the door flopped down all the way open (which, during 3-point landings, produces the unnerving effect of half-flopping back up and sticking out like yet another flying surface when you get just the right attitude and airspeed for touch down). It was designed back when people were smaller – not only are my knees bent at a greater than 90 degree angle to sneak into the narrow spot the rudder pedals have been placed, I can’t get the stick straight back because my elbow bangs into the rear bulkhead of the pilot’s seat. To achieve the proper stick position for holding the tail down, you’ve either got to hook it around your forearm and abdicate fine motor control, or grab the stick near the base, and rely on sheer muscle to muster the required control forces.

I’m not going to grouse about the electrical system (there isn’t one). After years of hand-propping Champs, I can appreciate the simplicity of an airplane that you have to start by placing vital limbs on the booby-trapped lever arm of sharpest surfaces available and throwing your weight into them. That’s par for the course. But for Orville’s sake, can you at least have an impulse coupling? So, for example, the odds of the prop firing in the proper direction is at least greater that its probability of kicking backwards and trying to take your hands off? No? Nah, I didn’t think so.

But still, flying the Cub is an experience to cherish. It’s like spending time with a beloved, elderly grandparent. You savor the time you spend with them. As long as you don’t have to deal with them for the entire weekend.

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