Piper PA-11 Cub Special, the Missing Link

By Norm Goyer

The Piper Cub Special PA-11 first came out with a paint scheme similar to the Areonca Chanp with a blue belly band and Cub Yellow main color.
The Piper Cub Special PA-11 first came out with a paint scheme similar to the Areonca Champ with a blue belly band and Cub Yellow main color.

As many of you know I am a Cub man, soloed a Cub, owned multiple versions of Cubs ranging from 40-hp Taylor Cub to a Super Cub on floats. Loved them all but some were indeed better than others. Most Piper folks call the J-2, J-3, J-4 and the J-5s Cubs and that is pretty accurate. The J-5 Cruiser was a Cub with a wider fuselage and two seats in the rear. It had a 75 hp Continental engine, great for giving two people rides. Pilots loved it as it was flown from the front seat unlike the J-3. To complete with the Aeronca Chief Piper designed a different fuselage for their J-4 Cub Coupe so the pilot and passenger could sit side by side. It was still a Cub but a bit different. As the rush to learn to fly after World War II came to an end,  much too soon for everyone concerned, Piper and others prepared for the future. They knew the Cub needed more power plus flaps and electrics. They decided to try out their theory in two steps. This is where the PA-11 missing link comes into the picture.

The Cub Special was also released with an all over Cub yellow with a brown lightning arrow on the fuselage.

The Cub Special was also released with an all over Cub yellow with a brown lightning arrow on the fuselage.

In 1947 Piper introduced the PA-11 Cub Special in order to compete with the more modern Aeronca Champ. The engineers took the J-3 fuselage, lowered the engine mount on the firewall, redesigned a sloping full coverage cowling without the cylinder heads sticking out in the slipstream. Then they moved the seats in the cabin back a bit so the pilot could fly the new Cub from the front seat, always a complaint about Cubs. Then they removed the gas tank which was in the fuselage behind the firewall above the pilot’s feet and placed it in the left wing root. The first PA-11 Cub Specials even had a paint scheme similar to the Aeronca Champ with a light blue belly color with standard Cub yellow on remaining aircraft. The second batch which came out were all Cub yellow with a brown lightning bolt on the fuselage.

A small number of PA-11s were also produced as a liaison aircraft similar to the L4 Grasshopper.

A small number of PA-11s were also produced as a liaison aircraft similar to the L4 Grasshopper.

Piper only built 1500 of the PA-11s as the industry rather suspected that there would be a new Cub on the horizon and there was, the PA-18 Super Cub. The missing link had served its purpose. After two years of production Piper knew they needed much more horsepower, more range and flaps. The first true “Super” Cub had flaps, dual fuel tanks, and an O-235 Lycoming engine producing about 108 hp (115 hp for takeoff only). However, a 90 hp Continental without flaps and an optional second wing tank was available. Their empty weight was, on the average, 800–1000 pounds with a gross weight of 1,500 lb. These Cubs would take off in about 400 feet (at gross weight) and land in about 300 feet (thanks to the flaps). The Super Cub is renowned for its ability to take off and land in very short distances. The O-290 Lycoming powered Cubs (135 hp) followed and would take off in about 200 feet. The landing distance remained the same at about 400 feet or 300 feet using flaps. With the use of the Lycoming O-320 at 150–160 hp, the Cub’s allowable gross weight increased to 1,750 lb while retaining the capability of a mere 200 feet for takeoff. Piper continued to build the Super Cub until 1983. Another small number were built on special order from 1988 to 1994.

Way back in 1947, nobody at Piper ever realized that the short lived PA-11 Cub Special would become the darling of the LSA industry over 50 years later but that is what exactly happened. A large number of  non-Piper “Cubs” with variation in names are being built and sold in large numbers. These modern, but still vintage designs, are right on top of the best sellers. You can never count the J-3 Cub down and out. Its design is just too perfect.

Specifications for Piper PA-11 (90-hp engine) Cub Special 1947

Performance

 

 

This entry was posted in Bird of the Week. Bookmark the permalink.