Aircraft Spotlight

It’s Yellow. It’s Iconic. The Piper J-3 Cub

Insurability (4 stars)
Penn Yan has been flying its Cub for 70 years, so it hasn’t had any trouble getting insurance for the aircraft. The cost to insure the aircraft is about $1,100 each year. Although it’s a taildragger, the insurance company doesn’t require any special currency requirements. The club does require an annual check flight in which the pilot essentially demonstrates the requirements for a tailwheel endorsement including three-point and wheel landings.

Training (4 stars)
Penn Yan no longer does its primary instruction in the Cub, but it has many longtime members who actually learned to fly in the airplane. The J-3 trained a generation of aviators prior to and during WWII, and there are some flight schools that still use Cubs as primary trainers before transitioning to modern aircraft for radio work and navigation. Today a Cub is more likely to be used for tailwheel endorsements for those pilots who are looking to improve their stick and rudder skills.

Jim is quick to point out that just because it’s a simple airplane, doesn’t mean it can’t get away from you if you’re not careful. “It’s challenging,” Jim said. “You have to use your feet, unlike a lot of the planes now. You have to be on your game, you have to be right on the stick and paying attention to things because it can get away from you.”

One drawback is the plane doesn’t have a starter or electrical system. That means a pilot needs to be trained in safely hand propping the plane. Without an electrical system, there is no radio, which means you are limited to what airspace you fly in, or you’ll need a handheld radio.

Piper J3 CubCross Country Travel (2 stars)
With only a 12-gallon header tank, cruising speed of 75 mph, and a useful load of 540 pounds, the Cub isn’t designed for long distance flights. “If you’re going to take someone with you, you need to be on your game with weight and balance,” Jim said.

Pilots with lots of Cub time always share stories of flying over a highway and cars passing them if there is even a slight headwind. That said, Penn Yan does have a member that will fly the Cub as far as 100 miles away and there are plenty of Cub pilots who have embarked on a low and slow odyssey across the United States and documented their adventures.

Fun Factor (4 stars)
Many members absolutely love the romance of the old time flying from a bygone era, Jim said. Other pilots love flying a plane with a stick rather than a yoke. “I like the simplicity of it,” Jim said. “You don’t fly it at 8,000 feet. I love it because it’s low and slow and you can fly with the window open on a warm day. It’s an entirely different kind of flying.”

Overall (3.8 stars)
“It’s a valuable aircraft to have,” Jim said. It’s a versatile plane that can be used for many missions in a club. It can be flown as an LSA, attracting sport pilots. It can be used for primary training or tailwheel endorsements. It’s cost efficient to operate. And you can put it on skis in the winter or floats and use the Cub for a completely different type of flying. If your club is just looking for a plane that is inexpensive to operate and can be used for training or just solely for the joy of being in the air without a destination or a care in the world, a J-3 Cub might be exactly what your club is looking for.

Piper J3 Cub

The Aircraft Spotlight feature looks at an airplane type and evaluates it across six areas of particular interest to flying clubs and their members: Operating Cost, Maintenance, Insurability, Training, Cross-Country, and Fun Factor.

To people outside of the aviation world, any general aviation aircraft is a Piper Cub. The little yellow taildragger that Penn Yan Flying Club operates is more than just an iconic aircraft – it’s also part of the Club’s legacy. The club bought it’s J-3 Cub new 70 years ago in 1946 and has been operating it ever since. Club President Jim Alexander talks about the benefits of operating a Piper Cub in a club environment.


Operating Cost 5
Maintenance 4
Insurability 4
Training 4
Cross Country 2
Fun Factor 4
Overall 3.8


Operating Cost (5 stars)
“This airplane doesn’t cost us a lot of money,” Jim said. Nearly 20,000 Piper Cubs were built between 1938 and 1947, making the J-3 one of the most popular planes of its time. Many are still flying today and can be purchased for anywhere between $25,000 and $45,000. With engines ranging from the original 65-hp Continental to 85 or 90-hp engines, a Cub will burn about 5 gph, making it one of the most economical aircraft to fly. Penn Yan Flying Club rents it’s J-3 for $49 an hour, Tach time wet. “You’ve seen the rate,” Jim said. “Where else on God’s green earth are you going to fly a tailwheel for that?”

Maintenance (4 stars)
One of the beautiful things about older, simpler aircraft is maintenance tends to be easier because there are fewer things that can break or need servicing. With no electrical system, no starter, no avionics, and just a handful of basic instruments, a typical annual for a Cub runs between $500 and $700 each year, Jim said. Parts are easy to find because there were so many Cubs built, Piper made several variations of the design over the years, and there are a plethora of modern Cub copycats.

Of course, any tube and fabric airplane will need to be recovered every 20 years or so, depending on the type of fabric on the aircraft, the climate the plane is in, and how much it has been exposed to the elements.

Topics: Flying Club

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