Face Off, Piper J-3 Cub vs. Aeronca 7AC Champ

By: Norm Goyer

The Aeronca Champ was also sold to many countries including England.

The Aeronca Champ was also sold to many countries including England.

Both the J-3 and the 7AC recently got a new lease on life. They both are approved for flying with a driver’s license only. There are a few provisions that must be met however. They have to be original or have no STCs that propel the aircraft into non-acceptable performance or weight. So this article is for an original Cub or Champ with a 65hp Continental engine. I feel that I am qualified to discuss these two aircraft as I have hundreds of hours in both and I have owned both at different times of my life. Of course which one I Like better is strictly what I like and not which one is the better aircraft. I base my choice on several criteria; Which is the better primary trainer and why. Which is easier to work on or perform 100 hour inspections.(annuals) Which airplane is easier to physically get in and out of for the pilot and passenger. A most important part is the pilot’s position and ease of control application. In my opinion, the cruise and climb speed for a fun two-place trainer does’t really matter for the average fun pilot. So tighten your safety belt and climb in.

Note the pilot in rear seat. This is a difficult position to fly from.

Note the pilot in rear seat. This is a difficult position to fly from.

The first job a pilot must do is to roll it out of the hangar or untie if from its outdoor storage. Both airplanes are equal in this chore. The same for the walk-around except for the engine look over. The Cub has cylinders that protrude from the cowling and the Champ has a full cowling. During certain times of the year the engine compartment must be searched for bird’s nests. The Cub is far easier than the Champ for obvious reasons. Both airplanes have no electrics, so you have to use your Armstrong starter. Both are equally hard or equally easy to start. Of course we presume you know the safety rules for hand propping an airplane. Don’t attempt to start it by yourself unless the airplane is securely tied down. The safe way is to have someone in the pilot’s seat and someone to hand prop the engine. There are many tricks on hand propping, learn them before you tackle this most dangerous procedure. Some airports don’t permit hand propping.

The Cub had very few instruments but in reality you really don't need many for safe flight.

The Cub had very few instruments but in reality you really don’t need many for safe flight.

The engine is running and it is time to taxi out to the runway. Here the Champ is the easy winner in visibility and control application. The pilot in a Cub sits in the rear seat for solo work. The application of brakes is difficult due to the position of the heel brake between the side wall and the seat, very limited space and if you have big feet or large shoes, it is even harder. The Champ also has heel brakes but their position is easier for the front seated pilot to access. The Champ is easier to taxi as it has a sloping cowl allowing better vision in the direction you are taxing. In the Cub the pilot sitting in the lower and farther back position has to look out the sides and zig zag for better visibility. The run-up before take off is the same but make sure you check carb heat as the 65 Continental will ice up on you and you have to check to make sure you can rid the ice before engine stops.

The 7AC Champ was also available with a tri gear, not popular.

The 7AC Champ was also available with a tri gear, not popular.

When you apply full throttle for take-off both planes are the same, except for the better visibility in the Champ. Both planes climb slowly to altitude. Now we are about to see the real difference between the Champ and the Cub. Don’t bother writing nasty notes to me, I am not going to change my mind. The Cub flies like a real airplane and the Champ is mushy, the controls are squishy compared to the Cub’s solid feel. The Cub is a rudder airplane but the Champ can be flown safely with no rudder in minor turns. The Cub will slide sideways through the skies if you don’t use coordinate rudder ailerons. You can make a 360 turn in the Cub with the wings level, a bit of opposite ailerons keeps the plane level. This maneuver is great for folks on the ground, looks very weird. Some military flying schools started cadets out in a Cub, if they could not handle a cub, they were washed out if they did not improve rapidly. Like I said, a Cub flies like a real airplane and the Champ flies like a fun sport aircraft. They both spin nicely but the Cub is tighter and could spin into the ground unless you break it and recover properly.

The Cub has been copied many times and the Champ has not. Open the side entry and window while flying a Cub and you will never fly a sport airplane again that is as much fun to fly as a J-3 Cub. It will turn out a better pilot than one who learns on a Champ due to its flight characteristics. Easy flying planes do not make good pilots, planes difficult to fly, take off and land are the better trainers. The military found that out. I have not flown any of the new Cubs except the Aviat Husky which is more like a Super Cub than a J-3. I am also an R.C. hobbiest and my favorite scale model is a J-3, the models fly just like a real Cub.

 

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