Ashley and I took an impromptu cross country last week from Houston, TX to Southeastern Ohio in Ashley’s 1946 Piper J-3 Cub. For the uninitiated, here is a quick history of the infamous yellow Piper Cub:
The Piper J-3 Cub is a small, simple, light aircraft that was built between 1937 and 1947 by Piper Aircraft. With tandem (fore and aft) seating, it was intended for flight training but became one of the most popular and best-known light aircraft of all time. The Cub’s simplicity, affordability and popularity invokes comparisons to the Ford Model T automobile.
The aircraft’s standard chrome yellow paint has come to be known as “Cub Yellow”. For nearly 30 years every aviator (either civilian or military) began their training in a Piper Cub.
Ashley’s Cub is quite special to her because it was the plane she learned to fly in and soloed in. Most people think of flying as quick and convenient, this trip was anything but. A Cub is all about flying low and slow. The top speed of her cub (with calm winds) is about 65 knots (75 MPH). In essence, the only advantage we have over driving is that we can go straight from point A to point B instead of following roads. During this trip the winds were generally calm, though at times we saw as much as 82 knots and speeds as slow at 40 knots over the ground.
We left last Saturday and headed east. We flew through Louisiana and made it to Jackson, Mississippi the first night. Just as we landed in Jackson the skies opened up and we quickly had to get our bird into a hanger before it became water logged. The next morning we headed further east flying through northern Alabama eventually making it to Cleveland, Tenn. (which has one of the nicest airports we’ve ever been to). The next morning we awoke early to a frozen airplane. Overnight the temperatures fell to 25⁰ F. Before we could go anywhere we had to let the frost melt, once we were ready to go we couldn’t get the plane started! A Cub as no electrical system so the engine must be hand propped (one of us sits in the plane, hold brakes, while the other person has to spin the propeller by hand to get it started). Anyone from up north understands how hard it is to get a cold engine started… it’s even harder when having to crank it yourself! It took us an hour to finally get it started (not without flooding the engine once or twice, oops!).
Now that we were both as warm as the engine we headed to the closest airport to the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. We landed, fueled up, and quickly took off east to explore the Smokey’s. 5 minutes after taking off Ashley realized she left her wallet back at the airport… hmm. An adventure we seek, and adventure we received. We took off on 32, turned around landed on 23, taxied to where she left her wallet, taxied back out and took back off on 32. Good thing we were the only airplane using the airport!
Finally, on our way to the Smokey Mountains. It was a perfect morning for aerial sightseeing. Clear morning skies, cool weather, and beautiful fall colors. It happened this was Veterans Day; I’m not sure if anything can quite put things in perspective like aviation. Here Ashley and I were flying an antique WWII plane over one of America’s great national parks with the freedom to fly anywhere we wanted. I was hit hard that the freedom’s I was enjoying were anything but free. Being a tad closer to the man upstairs I sent a quick prayer of thanks for all our vets. We also did a low pass over an outlook called “Veterans Outlook” in the park. I hope a few vets looked up and smiled at our antique plane.
After flying all through the Smokey’s and along the Appellation Trail we headed to Gatlinburg, Tenn. for fuel. We then flew over Cumberland Gap National Park on our way to Ravenswood, WV. Ravenswood is just across the river from a longtime friend’s hometown in Ohio. He met us at the airport and we spent the next few days exploring eastern Ohio. We learned all about his families rich history, we explored the large dairy farm he grew up on, did some hunting, cleaning & dressing, civil war monument & Erie Canal sightseeing, and hiking in Hocking Hills State Park. Hocking Hills & Old Man’s Cave was definitely the highlight of the trip, who knew Ohio has such beauty (see photos).
On our first day in Ohio a cold front blew through bringing a few inches of snow and brisk temperatures. When it was time to leave Ohio and head back to TX we were faced with freezing temps. Luckily we had a hanger to keep the plane in so it was relatively warm at 6am in the morning. After heating the engine for 30 minutes it was time to depart. Ashley and I put on our 7 layers of clothes, started the engine and were off. When we took off it was 19⁰ F on the ground. At 1000 ft. above ground it was about 16⁰ F. Bear in mind that the cub isn’t a sealed cockpit. It isn’t a traditional open cockpit but there aren’t windows big enough to close all the gaps meaning wind pours into the cockpit… 16⁰ winds. It was COLD! We landed an hour later at our first fuel stop both shivering uncontrollably. I’ve been cold skiing before but never this cold! We pressed on despite being frozen from head to toe. We made it through Kentucky, through mid-Tennessee to Pontotoc, Mississippi the first night. After spending the night with great friends we headed home, making it to Texas the next evening skirting weather the entire way back.
What a trip! It was long, tiring, physically & mentally exhausting but I would go again tomorrow and so would Ashley. Far and away we learned more about aviation on this trip then any we’ve done in the past. That little Piper Cub is one hell of an airplane – low and slow is the way to go.
Trip Approx Route