PIPER J3 Cub took-off as fabulous Phoenix
My dear aviation and military friends. I would like to tell you a story about my little aircraft, the legendary Piper J3 Cub, which I have privately named “a little yellow baby” and my wife choose to name Dandelion.
It all began such a long time ago that it does not seem real any more. It was at a small local Slovakian airport, Očová, in Central Slovakia, near the cities Banská Bystrica and Zvolen. It was the year 1956. We were very young military cadets, students of the Military Cadet School, and we proudly added to the name of the school the words “of the Air Force.” Our life dreams were airplanes, flying, and everything that belongs to this man’s dream and passion.
Skydiving training brought us to Očová Airport and there for the first time in my life I saw my three little silver planes standing in line. They were Piper L-4 planes, remainders from the U.S. Army. After WWII, General Patton donated these planes to Czechoslovakia as support for the new, after the war, aviation. They served in the new Czechoslovakian Air Force as courier aircraft and in aero clubs as basic general aviation airplanes.
After 1948 (this was the year the Communist regime took over power in Czechoslovakia), they had a very bad fate. They were from “another side of the barricade” and were now considered an expression of the Cold War, and so, with few exceptions, they were totally scraped. In spite of it, my seed of admiration for this small little aircraft was planted and began to grow. A lot of water under bridges passed before I met this aircraft again.
It happened in 1973, when I was designated as a Czechoslovakian Air Force Attaché at the Czech Embassy in Washington D.C., USA. From my professional and personal point of view I was interested in planes, military and civilian as well.
In the summer of 1973 I visited one of the local general aviation airports, the legendary College Park Airport. It was established in 1909, making it the world’s oldest continuously operated airport. Brothers Wright and Mr. Curtiss flew their wonderful flying machines from this airport. This is a very famous place in the world’s aviation history. There were several Piper J3 Cubs, which were part of the Brinckerhoff Flying School, and they were available for rent. I had in my pocket a Czech PPL (international issue) and a new U.S. temporary PPL certificate (pending a permanent U.S. PPL). I was a little bit nervous entering the school lobby and asking to rent a J3 aircraft. After inspecting my licenses and personal documents, the girl in the lobby answered, “Yes,” (to my surprise) and the Piper J3 Cub was rented, in my name, for a 30 minute flight.
“Please, wait for an instructor; he will test your flying skills….”
A tall, slender, sunburned guy appeared in the lobby, in jeans, cowboy boots, and a T-shirt, heading towards me. More cowboy-like than flight instructor….
I shook his hand and proudly said, “I am a pilot from Czechoslovakia…” He answered with a poker face and in a little bit of a theatrical manner, “And I am a pilot from the United States of America…”
We looked at each other for a minute and then suddenly broke-out laughing. After completing the formalities, we went directly out to planes.
Near the Piper J3 Cub I asked the instructor, “Can you tell me something about this airplane?”
From my home drill I was used to ground preparation, cockpit introduction, basic aircraft data, etc. It usually took some time, back at home, before the first take-off in any airplane.
I was ready to listen at least to some information about speed settings.
The tall guy bent over the cockpit, found the fuel selector under fuel tank, turned it down to the open position and said, “That’s it... you can fly this baby.”
To me it was “No-More-Questions” and I entered the student seat in the cockpit and expected more things to come.
Soon we were airborne and two flight patterns followed with touch-and-go procedures, then taxi to the tarmac. Then the instructor left the cockpit and asked, “Are you ready to solo?” Yes, yes, yes!
Beautiful American KIS – Keep It Simple. Yipee!
And so I was flying the famous Piper J3 Cub. Solo flights from the rear seat only. Back in 1973 the price of water was maybe higher like the price of avgas and the cost of my 30-minute flight was only $3.50 U.S. dollars, wet. These days no one in America believes that.
The years kept going and going and going on….
In December 1990 I landed in the U.S. as a fresh immigrant with political refugee status. Any immigration from your mother country is tough and pretty hard, believe me. All-in. It took a long time before I could afford to buy my own aircraft and it was a standard Cessna 172, something like flying a Volkswagen. In spite of it, I was still drawn to my old love, the classic yellow baby Piper J3 Cub. More and more it was clear that this was a dream and I could not afford to have two airplanes. The Piper J3 Cub became a veteran aircraft that was very popular in a new sport category and prices kept going higher and higher. Today, a J3 in good shape and well-maintained costs about $35,000 to $50,000 (U.S.). After I returned from the Czech Republic in September 2011, I started looking around, checked the Internet, and finally found 3 possible candidates in my budget-range. My plan was to buy a “project” aircraft that needed restoration and a general overhaul. My qualification for this plan was my A&P License with IA ticket. Finally, the N28189 was chosen. It was an aircraft located in Massachusetts, in project condition, with 171 engine-hours SMOH only (85 HP), with its last flight in 2007. The only way to move the aircraft from Massachusetts to Maryland was by ground transportation. After negotiating, the price came down to $15K, with the condition that the money would be transferred to the owner’s bank before the plane was transported.
With my son, Adam, and his pick-up truck we travelled 8.5 hours to Massachusetts, and I had three questions in my head:
- What pig in a poke I have bought?
- Can I rent a car trailer for transporting an aircraft without problems?
- How many times will I be stopped by the police from Massachusetts to Maryland?
For the money, the aircraft was in satisfactory condition. In the local U-Haul office, it was a little bit critical, with so many questions (and no opportunity to mention that an aircraft would be transported),
And the best answer to the third question: NO police stops during the trip back home.
The trip home lasted 11.5 hours because the trailer had a limited speed of 55 mph. Finally, we got there. It was October 15, 2011 at 10.30 pm and my Piper J3 Cub was in my hangar at Suburban Airport, near Laurel, Maryland.
I do not want to describe in detail the 3.5 months of hard work it took for my J3 project. Everything was taken apart, cleaned, inspected, repaired, and replaced if necessary. There was endless work with new Ceconite fabric. Everything is documented in pictures. The weather cooperated; the winter was mild and the heater in the hangar was very effective. My friends at the airport did not believe that the work, which is usually done in years, I did in three and a-half months. Long story short: in March 2012 the overhauled aircraft was loaded into a sea container and transported to the Czech Republic. After it was assembled, inspected, engine-tuned, etc., the first test flight took place on June 16, 2012 in the Czech Republic.
Before the first test flight everything was meticulously inspected: I taxied the aircraft up and down, checking directional control, brakes, flight controls, and trim operation. Nothing was overlooked. We added fuel, my last concentration before taking flight, and then full throttle, control stick forward, I am gaining speed and I am airborne ! Fields under my plane optically slowed. It was a beautiful sunny day and the Czech countryside under my wings was marvelous. Turning first turn, second one, downwind leg and my soul is happy….my J3 Cub is flying over my mother country. The engine is running smoothly, speed, trim, RPM, everything is green. Base leg, final approach, and I decided to do a fly-by with full power and a climbing turn at the end of the runway. Then a standard flight pattern was flown with a stabilized approach and a gentle landing that ended the first test flight. I was a happy guy…..
The aircraft was inspected after the flight and moved to the hangar before the hangar door was closed and I had time to slowly digest what happened. Ending good, all good. My dreams have come true.
This is what I like to share with you, my friends…
My Piper J3 Cub will carry the name of my doggie friend Ben. He was put to sleep last year….
Do you know what will be name of our new puppy? It will be Piper…..
From Old Vestec Airport
PIPER J3 Cub Test Flight # 2.
It was Saturday, June 23, 2012 when the second test flight of N28149 was done. I asked the most qualified person, my friend Lt. Colonel (retired) Vit Nohel, a former MiG-21 and Mig-23 pilot, and later a Czech Air Force Test Pilot. He logged over 6000 flying hours in various types of military and civilian aircraft. He is still flying as an instructor in a private flying school in Prague.
The hangar was open in the Old Vestec airport. The aircraft was rolled out, some pictures of the aircraft and pilots were taken, and Vit entered the cockpit for an engine test and run. “Ground school” for him was minimal. I silently asked my Piper J3 Cub to be good; we have a special visitor here baby, please, be fair.
The J3 was understanding; the engine started after the first touch of the prop, running smoothly, magnetos check, idle, max. RPM OK and we are taxiing to the runway. There is a gentle crosswind from the right, full throttle, smooth take-off, and the aircraft and pilot are airborne. Vit is doing several 360 turns, some pattern work, and business as usual before finally he lands. Everything is working OK, as advertised….a good aircraft.
Now it is my turn, and I am flying a little bit, with everything going much more smoothly. I feel more confident with this plane. Finally we are flying together Vit and me, some small changes in trim, RPM and speed. We landed. No big deal…..
Mission accomplished. Months of hard work is giving its fruits.
From Old Vestec