Piper J-3 Cub

J-3 Cub
Piper J-3 Cub
Role Trainer
Manufacturer Piper Aircraft
Designer C. G. Taylor
Walter Jamouneau
First flight 1938
Produced 1938–1947
Number built 19,888 (US built)[1]
150 (Canadian-built)[1]
253 TG-8 gliders[1]
Unit cost
$995-$2,461 when new
Variants PA-11 Cub Special
PA-15 Vagabond
PA-16 Clipper
PA-18 Super Cub

The Piper J-3 Cub is an American light aircraft that was built between 1937 and 1947 by Piper Aircraft. The aircraft has a simple, lightweight design which gives it good low speed handling properties and short field performance. The Cub is one of the best known light aircraft of all time. The Cub's simplicity, affordability and popularity — as well as its large production numbers, with nearly 20,000 built in the United States — invokes comparisons to the Ford Model T automobile.

The Cub was originally intended as a trainer, and saw great popularity in this role and as a general aviation aircraft. Due to its performance, it was well suited a variety of military uses such as reconnaissance, liaison and ground control, and was produced in large numbers during the Second World War as the L-4 Grasshopper. Large numbers of Cubs are still flying today. Notably Cubs are highly prized as bush aircraft.

The Cub is a high-wing strut-braced monoplane with a large area rectangular wing. It is powered by an air-cooled piston engine driving a fixed pitch propeller. Its fuselage is a welded steel frame covered in fabric, seating two people in tandem.

The aircraft's standard chrome yellow paint has come to be known as "Cub Yellow" or "Lock Haven Yellow".[2]


The Taylor E-2 Cub first appeared in 1930, built by Taylor Aircraft in Bradford, Pennsylvania. Sponsored by William T. Piper, a Bradford industrialist and investor, the affordable E-2 was meant to encourage greater interest in aviation. Later in 1930, the company went bankrupt, with Piper buying the assets but keeping founder C. Gilbert Taylor on as president. In 1936, an earlier Cub was altered by employee Walter Jamouneau to become the J-2 while Taylor was on sick leave. (The coincidence led some to believe that the "J" stood for Jamouneau, while aviation historian Peter Bowers concluded that the letter simply followed the E, F, G, and H models, with the I omitted because it could be mistaken for the numeral one.).[3][4] When he saw the redesign, Taylor was so incensed that he fired Jamouneau. Piper, however, had encouraged Jamouneau's changes, and hired him back. Piper then bought Taylor's share in the company, paying him US$250 per month for three years. [5]

Although sales were initially slow, about 1,200 J-2s were produced before a fire in the Piper factory ended its production in 1938. After Piper moved his company from Bradford to Lock Haven, the J-3, which featured further changes by Jamouneau, replaced the J-2. The changes mostly amounted to integrating the vertical fin of the tail into the rear fuselage structure and covering it simultaneously with each of the fuselage's sides, changing the rearmost side window's shape to a smoothly curved half-oval outline, and placing a true steerable tailwheel at the rear end of the J-2's leaf spring-style tailskid, linked for its steering function to the lower end of the rudder with springs and lightweight chains to either end of a double-ended rudder control horn. Powered by a 40 hp (30 kW) engine, in 1938, it sold for just over $1,000.[6]

A number of different air-cooled engines, most of flat-four configuration, were used to power J-3 Cubs, resulting in differing model designations for each type: the J3C models used the Continental A series,[7] the J3F used the Franklin 4AC,[8] and the J3L used the Lycoming O-145.[9] A very few examples, designated J3P, were equipped with Lenape Papoose 3-cylinder radial engines.[10]

The outbreak of hostilities in Europe in 1939, along with the growing realization that the United States might soon be drawn into World War II, resulted in the formation of the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP). The Piper J-3 Cub became the primary trainer aircraft of the CPTP and played an integral role in its success, achieving legendary status. 75 percent of all new pilots in the CPTP (from a total of 435,165 graduates) were trained in Cubs. By war's end, 80 percent of all United States military pilots had received their initial flight training in Piper Cubs.[11]

The need for new pilots created an insatiable appetite for the Cub. In 1940, the year before the United States' entry into the war, 3,016 Cubs had been built; wartime demands soon increased that production rate to one Cub being built every 20 minutes.[11]


Main article: Flitfire
Flitfire, used in RAF Benevolent Fund and war bond efforts

Prior to the United States entering World War II, J-3s were part of a fund-raising program to support the United Kingdom. Billed as a Flitfire, a Piper Cub J3 bearing Royal Air Force insignia was donated by W. T. Piper and Franklin Motors to the RAF Benevolent Fund to be raffled off. Piper distributors nationwide were encouraged to do the same. On April 29, 1941 all 48 Flitfire aircraft, one for each of the 48 states that made up the country at that time, flew into La Guardia Field for a dedication and fundraising event which included Royal Navy officers from the battleship HMS Malaya, in New York for repairs, as honored guests.[12][13] At least three of the original Flitfires have been restored to their original silver-doped finish; one, powered with a Franklin 65 engine, is on display at the North Carolina Aviation Museum in Asheboro, North Carolina. This Flitfire was flown by Orville Wright in a war bond promotion campaign.[14]

World War II service

L-4A painted and marked to represent an aircraft that flew in support of the Allied invasion of North Africa in November 1942
A Piper Cub of the 1st Marine Division’s improvised air force snags a message from a patrol on New Britain's north coast.

The Piper Cub quickly became a familiar sight. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt took a flight in a J-3 Cub, posing for a series of publicity photos to help promote the CPTP. Newsreels and newspapers of the era often featured images of wartime leaders, such as Generals Dwight Eisenhower, George Patton and George Marshall, flying around European battlefields in Piper Cubs. Civilian-owned Cubs joined the war effort as part of the newly formed Civil Air Patrol (CAP), patrolling the Eastern Seaboard and Gulf Coast in a constant search for German U-boats and survivors of U-boat attacks.[15]

Piper developed a military variant ("All we had to do," Bill Jr. is quoted as saying, "was paint the Cub olive drab to produce a military airplane"),[5] variously designated as the O-59 (1941), L-4 (after April 1942), and NE (U.S. Navy). The L-4 Grasshopper was mechanically identical to the J-3 civilian Cub, but was distinguishable by the use of a Plexiglas greenhouse skylight and rear windows for improved visibility, much like the Taylorcraft L-2 and Aeronca L-3 also in use with the US armed forces. Carrying a single pilot and no passenger, the L-4 had a top speed of 85 mph (137 km/h), a cruise speed of 75 mph (121 km/h), a service ceiling of 12,000 ft (3,658 m), a stall speed of 38 mph (61 km/h), an endurance of three hours,[16] and a range of 225 mi (362 km).[17] 5,413 L-4s were produced for U.S. forces, including 250 built for the U.S. Navy under contract as the NE-1 and NE-2.[18][19]

All L-4 models, as well as similar, tandem-cockpit accommodation aircraft from Aeronca and Taylorcraft, were collectively nicknamed "Grasshoppers", though the L-4 was almost universally referred to by its civilian designation of Cub. The L-4 was used extensively in World War II for reconnaissance, transporting supplies, artillery spotting duties, and medical evacuation of wounded soldiers.[11] During the Allied invasion of France in June 1944, the L-4's slow cruising speed and low-level maneuverability — alongside examples of the Auster AOP aircraft occasionally used by the British Army and other Commonwealth forces for the same purposes — made it an ideal observation platform for spotting hidden German tanks, anti-tank gun emplacements, and Sturmgeschütz and Jagdpanzer tank destroyers waiting in ambush in the hedgerowed bocage country south of the invasion beaches. For these operations the pilot generally carried both an observer/radio operator and a 25-pound communications radio, a load that often exceeded the plane's specified weight capacity.[16] After the Allied breakout in France, L-4s were also sometimes equipped with improvised racks, usually in pairs or quartets, of infantry bazookas for ground attack against German armored units. The most famous of these L-4 ground attack planes was Rosie the Rocketer, piloted by Maj. Charles "Bazooka Charlie" Carpenter, whose six bazooka rocket launchers were credited with eliminating six enemy tanks and several armored cars during its wartime service,[20][21] especially during the Battle of Arracourt.

After the war, many L-4s were sold as surplus, but a considerable number were retained in service.[22] L-4s sold as surplus in the U.S. were redesignated as J-3s, but often retained their wartime glazing and paint.[23]


A taxiing Piper J-3 Cub, shown in "Cub Yellow" hue

An icon of the era, and of American general aviation in general, the J-3 Cub has long been loved by pilots and non-pilots alike, with thousands still in use today. Piper sold 19,073 J-3s between 1938 and 1947, the majority of them L-4s and other military variants. Postwar, thousands of Grasshoppers were civilian-registered under the designation J-3. Hundreds of Cubs were assembled from parts in Canada (by Cub Aircraft as the Cub Prospector), Denmark and Argentina, and by a licensee in Oklahoma.

In the late 1940s, the J-3 was replaced by the Piper PA-11 Cub Special (1,500 produced), the first Piper Cub version to have a fully enclosed cowling for its powerplant, and then the Piper PA-18 Super Cub, which Piper produced until 1981 when it sold the rights to WTA Inc. In all, Piper produced 2,650 Super Cubs. The Super Cub had a 150 hp (110 kW) engine which increased its top speed to 130 mph (210 km/h); its range was 460 miles (740 km).

Korean War Service

The L-4 was used extensively by both U.S. and South Korean Air Forces in the early 1950s.[22] During the Korean War, the L-4 saw service in many of the same roles it had performed during World War II, such as artillery spotting, forward air control, and reconnaissance.[22] Some L-4s were fitted with a high-back canopy in order to carry a single stretcher for medical evacuation of wounded soldiers.[22]

Modern production

Cubs gather for their 75th anniversary at AirVenture 2012

Modernized and up-engined versions are produced today by Cub Crafters of Washington and by American Legend Aircraft in Texas, as the Cub continues to be sought after by bush pilots for its STOL (Short Takeoff and Landing) capabilities, as well as by recreational pilots for its nostalgia appeal. The new aircraft are actually modeled on the PA-11, though the Legend company does sell an open-cowl version with the cylinder heads exposed, like the J-3 Cub. An electrical system is standard from both manufacturers.

A Piper J-3C-65 nose-on with "eyebrow" air scoops on its engine cylinders

The J-3 is distinguished from its successors by having a cowl that exposes its engine's cylinder heads — the exposed cylinders of any J-3's engine were usually fitted with sheet metal "eyebrow" air scoops to direct air over the cylinder's fins for more effective engine cooling in flight. There are very few other examples of "flat" aircraft engine installations (as opposed to radial engines) in which the cylinder heads are exposed. From the PA-11 on through the present Super Cub models, the cowling surrounds the cylinder heads.[24]

A curiosity of the J-3 is that when it is flown solo, the lone pilot normally occupies the rear seat for proper balance, to balance the fuel tank located at the firewall. Starting with the PA-11, and some L-4s, fuel was carried in wing tanks, allowing the pilot to fly solo from the front seat.[24]

A "clipped-wing" Piper J3C-65 of O’Briens Flying Circus Aerobatic Stunt Team lands on a moving trailer at Cotswold Airport.


Civil variants

Equipped with a Continental A-40, A-40-2 or A-40-3 engine of 37 hp (28 kW), or A-40-4 engine of 40 hp (30 kW)[25]
Certified 14 July 1938 and equipped with a Continental A-40-4 or A-40-5 of 40 hp (30 kW)[7]
Certified 14 July 1938 and equipped with a Continental A-50-1 or A-50-2 to -9 (inclusive) of 50 hp (37 kW)[7]
Certified 14 July 1938 and equipped with a Continental A-50-1 or A-50-2 to -9 (inclusive) of 50 hp (37 kW). Equipped with optional float kit.[7]
Certified 6 July 1939 and equipped with a Continental A-65-1 or A-65-3, 6, 7, 8, 8F, 9 or 14 of 65 hp (48 kW) or an A-65-14, Continental A-75-8, A-75-8-9 or A-75-12 of 75 hp (56 kW) or Continental A-85-8 or C-85-12 of 85 hp (63 kW) or Continental A-90-8F of 90 hp (67 kW)[7]
Certified 27 May 1940 and equipped with a Continental A-65-1 or A-65-3, 6, 7, 8, 8F, 9 or 14 of 65 hp (48 kW) or an A-65-14, Continental A-75-8, A-75-8-9 or A-75-12 of 75 hp (56 kW) or Continental A-85-8 or C-85-12 of 85 hp (63 kW) or Continental A-90-8F of 90 hp (67 kW). Equipped with optional float kit.[7]
Certified 14 July 1938 and equipped with a Franklin 4AC-150 Series 50 of 50 hp (37 kW)[8]
Certified 14 July 1938 and equipped with a Franklin 4AC-150 Series 50 of 50 hp (37 kW). Equipped with optional float kit.[8]
Certified 13 April 1940 and equipped with a Franklin 4AC-150 Series A of 65 hp (48 kW) or a Franklin 4AC-171 of 60 hp (45 kW).[8]
Certified 31 May 1940 and equipped with a Franklin 4AC-150 Series A of 65 hp (48 kW) or a Franklin 4AC-171 of 60 hp (45 kW). Equipped with optional float kit.[8]
Certified 7 August 1940 and equipped with a Franklin 4AC-176-B2 or a Franklin 4AC-176-BA2 of 65 hp (48 kW).[8]
Certified 4 January 1943 and equipped with a Franklin 4AC-176-B2 or a Franklin 4AC-176-BA2 of 65 hp (48 kW). Equipped with optional float kit.[8]
Certified 17 September 1938 and equipped with a Lycoming O-145-A1 of 50 hp (37 kW) or a Lycoming O-145-A2 or A3 of 55 hp (41 kW)[9]
Certified 2 May 1939 and equipped with a Lycoming O-145-A1 of 50 hp (37 kW) or a Lycoming O-145-A2 or A3 of 55 hp (41 kW). Equipped with optional float kit.[9]
Certified 27 May 1940 and equipped with a Lycoming O-145-B1, B2 or B3 of 65 hp (48 kW)[9]
Certified 27 May 1940 and equipped with a Lycoming O-145-B1, B2 or B3 of 65 hp (48 kW). Equipped with optional float kit.[9]
Piper J-3P
Variant powered by a 50 hp (37 kW) Lenape LM-3-50 or Lenape AR-3-160 three-cylinder radial engine.[1][10]
Variant with slotted flaps powered by a 65 hp (48 kW) Lenape LM-3-65 engine.[1]
1944 variant with cantilever wing powered by a 65 hp (48 kW) Continental A-65-8 engine.[1]
Cammandre 1
A French conversion of J-3 Cub/L-4 aircraft.[26]
Poullin J.5A
Five L-4 Cubs converted by Jean Poullin for specialist tasks.[27]
Poullin J.5B
A single L-4 Cub converted by Jean Poullin for specialist tasks.[27]
Wagner Twin Cub
A twin fuselage conversion of the J-3.

Military designations and variants

Four US Army Air Corps test and evaluation J3C-65.[28]
Production version for the USAAC; 140 built later re-designated L-4.[28]
Improved version, powered by a 65-hp (48-kW) Continental O-170-3 piston engine; 948 built, later re-designated L-4A.[28]
Redesignated YO-59 and O-59.[29]
Redesignated O-59A.[29]
As per L-4A, but without radio equipment; 980 built.[29]
Eight impressed J3L-65s, first two originally designated UC-83A.[29]
Five impressed J3F-65s.[29]
As per L-4B but with improved equipment and fixed-pitch propeller, 1801 built.[29]
L-4H with controllable-pitch propeller, 1680 built.[29]
Two impressed J3L-65s, later re-designated L-4C.[30]
Three-seat training glider variant, 250 built.[31]
United States Navy designation for three TG-8s received.[31]
Piper NE-1
United States Navy designation for dual control version of J3C-65, 230 built.[32]
As per NE-1 with minor equipment changes, 20 built.[32]


Civil operators

The aircraft has been popular with flying schools — especially from the pre-World War II existence of the Civilian Pilot Training Program using them in the United States — and remains so with private individuals, into the 21st century.

Military operators

 Republic of Korea
 United Kingdom
 United States

Specifications (J3C-65 Cub)

Inside the cockpit of a Piper Cub. The aircraft has far fewer instruments than most modern aircraft.

Data from The Piper Cub Story[36]

General characteristics


See also

Related development
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
Related lists


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Peperell 1987, pp. 22–34
  2. Lord, Magnus (April 2008). "The story of Cub Yellow". Retrieved 2008-09-15.
  3. "Piper J-3". Aircraft of the Smithsonian. Retrieved 2006-04-02.
  4. Peter M. Bowers, Piper Cubs (Tab Books 1993)
  5. 1 2 Spence, Charles (23 September 1997). "They're not all Piper Cubs". Aviation History. Retrieved 2011-09-06.
  6. Piper J-3 Cub Film Series (TM Technologies, footage from 1937-1948 shows step-by-step construction. 110 minutes.)
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Federal Aviation Administration (August 2006). "AIRCRAFT SPECIFICATION NO. A-691" (PDF). Retrieved 2010-02-15.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Federal Aviation Administration (August 2006). "AIRCRAFT SPECIFICATION NO. A-692" (PDF). Retrieved 2010-02-15.
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 Federal Aviation Administration (August 2006). "AIRCRAFT SPECIFICATION A-698" (PDF). Retrieved 2010-02-15.
  10. 1 2 Federal Aviation Administration (October 1942). "Approved Type Certificate 695" (PDF). Retrieved 2010-02-18.
  11. 1 2 3 Guillemette, Roger. "The Piper Cub". US Centennial of Flight Commission. Retrieved 2006-04-02.
  12. "Shindig at N.Y. Airport Opens Fund Drive for R.A.F.". Life. 12 May 1941.
  13. "Alamo Liaison Squadron".
  14. "Museum Guide". North Carolina Aviation Museum.
  15. Campbell, Douglas E., "Volume III: U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Coast Guard Aircraft Lost During World War II Listed by Aircraft Type", Lulu.com, ISBN 978-1-257-90689-5 (2011), p. 374
  16. 1 2 Fountain, Paul, The Maytag Messerschmitts, Flying Magazine, March 1945, p. 90: With one pilot aboard, the L-4 had a maximum endurance of three hours' flight time (no reserve) at a reduced cruising speed of 65 mph.
  17. Gunston, Bill, and Bridgman, Leonard, Jane's Fighting Aircraft of World War II, Studio Editions, ISBN 978-1-85170-199-5 (1989), p. 253
  18. Frédriksen, John C., Warbirds: An Illustrated guide to U.S. Military Aircraft, 1915-2000, ABC-CLIO, ISBN 978-1-57607-131-1 (1999), p. 270
  19. Bishop, Chris, The Encyclopedia of Weapons of World War II, Sterling Publishing Company, Inc., ISBN 978-1-58663-762-0 (2002), p. 431
  20. What's New in Aviation: Piper Cub Tank Buster, Popular Science, Vol. 146 No. 2 (February 1945) p. 84
  21. Kerns, Raymond C., Above the Thunder: Reminiscences of a Field Artillery Pilot in World War II, Kent State University Press, ISBN 978-0-87338-980-8 (2009), pp. 23–24, 293-294
  22. 1 2 3 4 Edwards, Paul M., Korean War Almanac, Infobase Publishing, ISBN 978-0-8160-6037-5 (2006), p. 502
  23. Nicholas Aircraft Sales, Flying Magazine, April 1946, Vol. 38, No. 4, ISSN 0015-4806, p. 106
  24. 1 2 Clark, Anders. (21 November 2014) "Piper J-3 Cub: The World’s Most Iconic Airplane". Disciples of Flight. Retrieved 21 August 2014.
  25. Federal Aviation Administration (October 1939). "Approved Type Certificate 660" (PDF). Retrieved 2010-02-15.
  26. "Cammandre 1". Retrieved 2011-02-07.
  27. 1 2 Gaillard, Pierre (1990). Les Avions Francais de 1944 a 1964 (in French). Paris: Editions EPA. ISBN 2 85120 350 9.
  28. 1 2 3 Andrade 1979, p. 140
  29. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Andrade 1979, p. 129
  30. Andrade 1979, p. 81
  31. 1 2 Andrade 1979, p. 170
  32. 1 2 Andrade 1979, p. 201
  33. 1 2 3 Triggs, James M.: The Piper Cub Story, pages 13-19. The Sports Car Press, 1963. SBN 87112-006-2
  34. Krivinyi, Nikolaus: World Military Aviation, page 181. Arco Publishing Company, 1977. ISBN 0-668-04348-2
  35. Andrade 1979, p. 239
  36. Triggs, James M.: The Piper Cub Story, page 31. The Sports Car Press, 1963. SBN 87112-006-2
  • Andrade, John (1979). U.S.Military Aircraft Designations and Serials since 1909. Midland Counties Publications. ISBN 0-904597-22-9. 
  • Bowers, Peter M. (1993). Piper Cubs. McGraw Hill. ISBN 0-8306-2170-9. 
  • Peperell, Roger W; Smith, Colin M (1987). Piper Aircraft and their Forerunners. Tonbridge, Kent, England: Air-Britain. ISBN 0-85130-149-5. 
  • Gaillard, Pierre (1990). Les Avions Francais de 1944 a 1964 (in French). Paris: Editions EPA. ISBN 2 85120 350 9. 
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