Airplane GEEK

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What Our Members Are Building/Restoring — Ohio Piper J-3 Cub

By Randy Brooks, EAA Lifetime 165320

This piece originally ran in the May 2021 issue of EAA Sport Aviation magazine.

Oh jeez, not another story about a Cub restoration. That’s been so overdone. The typical “man buys Cub that needs restoring, takes it apart, rebuilds and re-covers it — and it’s new again” story that you’ve heard hundreds of times before. Well, this story is about the history of this Cub, a 1940 Piper J-3 that began life on December 4, 1940, in Lock Haven as a J-3F-65, and how it found us.

After a few private owners, the Cub was purchased by the Defense Plant Corp. in 1943 and then transferred to Virginia Polytechnic Institute where it screened and taught future Army Air Corps pilots how to fly in the Civilian Pilot Training Program. Imagine the stories this Cub could tell. It survived this period of service to its country with only a few bumps and bruises. In 1951, while undergoing an annual inspection, the original Franklin 65-hp engine was removed and a Continental A65 was installed — thus magically transforming it to a J-3C-65. You see, up until the mid-’50s, a new airworthiness certificate was issued at every annual. After the 1951 annual, the airplane was certified as a J-3C-65, as it remains today.

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After a few civilian owners, the Cub ended up in Alabama in the early ’60s. In 1979, I was stationed at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, teaching school at Air University. My friend Don (a fellow instructor) and I found out about the Cub through our wives who saw the Cub in a shed hangar at a closed grass strip while horseback riding, only a mile from our houses! He drove out to see the Cub and inquired about purchasing it. Typical answer — “No way I’ll sell it.” Well, a few months later he saw the Cub flying so he decided to drive out to talk to the owner again. Lo and behold, the owner had finally decided to sell the Cub. In fact, he had a guy flying down the next day to look at it. Don called me that Saturday morning — I’ll never forget the call — and asked, “Do you want to buy a Cub?” I yelled to my wife about buying the Cub, and I was dumbfounded by her agreement. In a split second, before she came to her senses, I said sure and we bought the Cub that day.

We flew it as co-owners for about a year and a half before I received a reassignment to another base. Fortunately, we decided that Don would buy out my half-interest and keep the Cub. We ended up having two more assignments together, so I got to fly the Cub a great deal over the years. After moves to Colorado, New Hampshire, back to Alabama, and finally back to Colorado, the Cub stayed in the family, so to speak. Fast-forward to 2012 at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh where the topic came up about restoring the Cub to its former glory. I’m sure I was motivated by seeing all the beautiful airplanes that flew in for the 75th anniversary of the type. However, Don was busy working as an A&P mechanic for the U.S. Air Force Academy and running his own shop. He joked that maybe I should restore the Cub. Real funny. How was that going to happen? I lived in Ohio, and the Cub was still in Colorado. I’d restored a few cars, but never an airplane.

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Well, during our annual visit to AirVenture in 2013, the subject came up again — we both agreed the Cub needed some level of restoration. Just like that, the deal was done. The Cub was still in the family. I flew to Colorado, disassembled the Cub, and trucked it back to Ohio. The Cub would get a new lease on life. Now my work was cut out for me. The learning curve was very steep: attending Poly Fiber seminars/watching its videos, attending Clyde Smith Jr.’s restoration seminars, watching Paul Babcock’s wing rebuilding video, and reading lots of books and manuals. After all of that, you’d think I would come to my senses and declare, “What was I thinking?” The Cub was calling — it wanted to keep flying (you see, it’s the airplane’s fault, not mine). Well, here’s where the typical “man buys Cub, rips it apart, rebuilds and re-covers it — and it’s new again” story begins. After six-and-a-half years and a complete restoration, this Cub is indeed new again. It’s still in the family and brings me and everyone great joy merely seeing it in the hangar, as well as flying it again. It will be 80 years young in December. With a new lease on life, hopefully it will be around for another 80 years. And just as the fellow we bought it from in 1979 initially said, “No way I’ll sell it.” Keep ’em flying!

We need your building/restoration stories! Have you built or restored an aircraft? We would love to share your story with your fellow EAA members in the pages of EAA Sport Aviation magazine, even if it’s a project that’s been completed for a while. Learn more ->

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