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 yellow paint has come to be known as “Cub Yellow” or "Lock Haven Yellow".
The Taylor E-2 Cub first appeared in 1930, built by Taylor Aircraft in Bradford, Pennsylvania. Sponsored by William T. Piper, a Bradford industrialist who had invested in the company, the E-2 was meant to be an affordable aircraft that would encourage 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 Jamonoueau, 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.). 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.
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. Powered by a 40 hp (30 kW) engine, in 1938, it sold for just over $1,000.
The outbreak of hostilities in Europe in 1939, coupled 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 would play an integral role in the success of the CPTP, achieving legendary status.
A number of different engines, air-cooled flat-4 boxer engine configuration and three cylinder Lenape engines were used to power J-3 Cubs, and resulted in differing model designations for each type: the J-3C model used the Continental A-65, the J-3F used the Franklin 4AC engine, and the J-3L used the Lycoming O-145.
The Piper J-3 Cub became the primary trainer aircraft of the CPTP — 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 received their initial flight training in Piper Cubs. 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 were built; soon, wartime demands would increase that production rate to one Piper J-3 Cub being built every 20 minutes.
World War II service
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.
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"),variously designated as the O-59 (1941), L-4 (after April 1942), and NE (U.S. Navy). The variety of models, as well as similar, tandem-cockpit accommodation aircraft from Aeronca and Taylorcraft, were collectively nicknamed “Grasshoppers” and used extensively in World War II for reconnaissance, transporting supplies and medical evacuation. L-4s were also sometimes equipped with lashed-on infantry bazookas for ground attack. Mechanically identical to the J-3, the military versions were equipped with large Plexiglas windows extending over the top of the wing and behind the rear-seat passenger, and the side windows were enlarged. Nearly 5,700 L-4s were produced for the U.S. Army and 250 for the U.S. Navy as "elementary trainers".
In Europe, the final dogfight of WWII occurred between an L-4 and a German Fieseler Fi 156 Storch. The pilot and co-pilot of the L-4, Lts. Duane Francis and Bill Martin, opened fire on the Storch with their .45 caliber pistols, forcing the German air crew to land and surrender.
After the war, most L-4s were destroyed or sold as surplus, but a few saw service in the Korean War. The Grasshoppers sold as surplus in the U.S. were redesignated as J-3s, but often retained their wartime glazing and paint.