I'm Not Really A Cub Guy

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Perhaps because many of the new airplane introductions these days are in the LSA segment and Cub-type airplanes remain popular, I find myself flying a lot of these aircraft. And before I slither into one for the demo, someone will remark, “Well, you’re a Cub guy, so it’ll be familiar.”

There are two things wrong with that statement. First, even though I own a portion of one, I don’t consider myself a “Cub guy.” Nor necessarily even a taildragger guy and definitely not an adherent to the real-men-fly-taildraggers meme. I just happen to be in a Cub because it was available, relatively cheap and I could afford it. Could just as well be an Interstate Cadet or a Funk or a Champ.

The second wrong part, or at least sort of wrong, is that if you can fly one taildragger, the experience will transfer to another. Not quite. When I was out in Yakima, Washington, flying Cub Crafter’s new XCub last month for this video, Randy Lervold and I had a discussion about this. He observed that when he flies a new tailwheel airplane, it takes 10 or a dozen landings to sort it out and get the feel of it so that three-points and wheelies are reliably bounce free and the casual observer would conclude the pilot knows what he’s doing.

That would be my experience, too. Every time I get into a new one, I try to tell myself that this time, I’ll try the direct transference trick from the J-3, as far as sight picture, speeds and so forth. It never works, nor should I expect it to. There are enough minor differences between airplanes to require learning specific quirks in the only way possible: trial and error and often more of the latter than I’d like.

The XCub has a particular quirk I’ll get to in a minute, but first, if you scrub the video to about 7:50, you’ll see a wheelie with a bounce. I had bounced the previous one, but a lot less. On the approach, I was telling myself, “yeah, I’ve got this zero’d now and won’t bounce it.” Despite all the concentration to achieve that, it didn’t work. After another five or six landings, it would. That’s just what it takes in a taildragger. In a nosegear airplane, it doesn’t matter. Even less-than-perfect touchdowns usually stay glued to the surface because in a nosegear airplane, what passes for an acceptable landing exists in a far wider band than it does in a taildragger. If there’s an attraction to flying a taildragger, perhaps that’s it.

Now the XCub’s quirk. That’s probably the wrong word, because it’s actually a feature. The XCub has aluminum rather than steel or the Cub’s traditional bungee gear. This was a revelation for me because aluminum does a nice job of absorbing surplus touchdown energy; it’s far less energetic than steel or those blasted bungees in returning misdirected touchdown energy. This results in a unique feeling on touchdown. If you know you’re a little fast and you know you’re going to bounce, it’s just a small one and not the sharp-edged twang of steel or the slingshot of the bungees, but rather a firm pushback with no lateral wiggles at all.

It’s quite confidence inducing because those small bounces don’t require the massive control inputs to arrest that a really bad spring-steel bounce would. You just ride it out with a little more back pressure rather than sucking the stick rapidly into your gut and sweating out the lateral control. Or just surrendering right away and pouring on the power for a go around. That last choice is never wrong, but it’s better to have other options. It just makes for a safer landing so in that sense, the XCub is a sophisticated refinement of the taildragger idea.

And what of the taildragger or the Cub idea? Why does it endure? Dan Johnson tracks LSA sales and some recent data he collected shows that two companies—Cub Crafters and American Legend—account for 30 percent of the 1956 light sports sold up through last year. I think it’s a combination of the Cub mystique, a design planform that’s just as practical now as it was in 1938 and that attraction to airplanes that don’t have nosewheels. And more people than some of us realize like to land on grass runways, fly floats and skis or head to outback locations. To my eye, with few exceptions, a taildragger just looks right as an airplane and while some nosegear airplanes do, too, many others don’t. If you’ve ever seen a Tri-Pacer or a nosegear Maule, you know what I mean. (Yeah, that’s not fair, I know. Those airplanes were designed as taildraggers. The Cirrus wasn’t.)

My guess is that the XCub will make the same kind of dent in the market that the Carbon Cub did simply because Cub Crafters has skillfully latched onto the upper tier in both price and quality. The company has never so much as nodded to the budget airplane idea. Despite being priced $50,000 higher than the average LSA, the Carbon Cub outsells everything but the Flight Design CTLS series. To me, it represents another datapoint in the argument that price and money aren’t the sole drivers of interest in general aviation.

The XCub will initially sell for about $300,000, provoking the usual reflexive complaints about high aircraft prices. So go ahead and complain. But having a good sense of what it takes to certify a new Part 23 airplane and what Cub Crafters spent to do it, I’m not sure how it could conceivably cost any less and still have any margin worth considering. The Aviat Husky, which competes in the same space, is priced in the same general range.

Of course, there are a lot of used Huskies out there, not to mention used Super Cubs, all selling for a fraction of the XCub’s price. Cub Crafters is hoping the XCub’s additional capabilities will draw in buyers who will find new a better value than vintage. Of such stuff are business plans made. Check out the XCub yourself at AirVenture in five weeks and decide for yourself.

Comments (14)

I agree with you in many things but not in the $300,000. Do not let me be misunderstood - I like Cub Crafters and I'm sure their intentions are good. $300k?

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | June 13, 2016 2:09 AM    Report this comment

The price tag is believable, if you look at their other products. That's the cost of the paper-pushing associated with certifying a new, simple aircraft. Given that the FAA seems to think every airplane is a heavy airliner when it comes to certification and production, this does not surprise me in the least.

Posted by: Robert Gatlin-Martin | June 13, 2016 4:32 AM    Report this comment

You've got to put the Xcub in the context of FAA part 23 certification:
Xcub/CC19 received full FAA Part 23 Type Certification on June 2, 2016
10 Nobel Peace Prizes have been awarded since the FAA issued the last TC to a single-engine piston powered aircraft
Last aircraft in Xcub's class to earn Part 23 certification was 12 years ago - it was CubCrafters' Top Cub/CC18 (Cirrus & Columbia came before then)
6 years in development
Certified to the latest most rigorous version of Part 23 Standards, Amendment 62
Xcub has shown compliance to over 1500 FAA Regulations
Over 2000 ground test conditions were satisfied
Over 900 flight test conditions were satisfied
Over 1200 new Design Drawings released
Over 45,000 pages of compliance documentation generated
Over 100,000 hours of labor to engineer, test, validate and show compliance
FAA certified before public launch
Millions spent, organically funded, no pre-introduction deposits
New production tooling designed & implemented during certification phase
Xcub Production commenced BEFORE TC Issuance and BEFORE public introduction

This is a highly refined Cub-type aircraft and It's amazing CubCrafters can offer it for $300k, and make it available immediately.

Posted by: John Hodges | June 13, 2016 10:56 AM    Report this comment

Thanks for the reality check re: certification. How a company can do it any cheaper is beyond me. The cost problem is not the greedy manufacturer, it is the bureaucratic FAA. I just hope that I get to fly one some day.

Posted by: Leo LeBoeuf | June 13, 2016 9:22 PM    Report this comment

And that's just for certifying the *design*. Do we know if they went for a production certificate, too? Or do the volumes not justify that?

Posted by: Robert Gatlin-Martin | June 14, 2016 5:28 AM    Report this comment

Has anyone ever sat down and calculated, on a percentage basis, what the cost of certification adds to the price of a new airplane? Yes, I know that it depends on the volume of sales for the plane, but figuring say 50 or 100 planes sold per year, what is the paperwork component?

What I don't get is why it seems the price never comes down after that up-front cost is amortized. I understand why a new plane is so blasted expensive, but what about those like a 172 or 182? They have been in production without much modification (except for updated avionics) for 50+ years and yet the price keeps climbing, even after adjusting for inflation.

Posted by: John McNamee | June 14, 2016 10:09 AM    Report this comment

Paul, we all know you are really a TBM 900 guy masquerading as a Cub guy...:-)

Posted by: A Richie | June 14, 2016 10:36 AM    Report this comment

He keeps that bright yellow TBM hidden behind the Cub in his hanger.

Posted by: Leo LeBoeuf | June 14, 2016 5:30 PM    Report this comment

Leo, that's just the Cub's yellow reflecting off the TBM's mirror finish...

You know, Paul is such a Cub guy he had heel brakes installed in the TBM!

Posted by: A Richie | June 14, 2016 10:02 PM    Report this comment

Paul is such a Cub guy he hand starts his TBM.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | June 14, 2016 11:26 PM    Report this comment

Paul is such a Cub guy he flies his TBM with the window open

Posted by: Richard Montague | June 15, 2016 7:30 AM    Report this comment

John Hodges--thanks for the reality check--and for highlighting just how inefficient and costly the FAA certification process is in bringing new aircraft to market. Yes, there are "new" innovations in the new Cubs--but the basic design is over 80 years old--even the "innovations" (carbon, aluminum landing gear, better cooling) have been around for decades and are well proven. Why the need for the big certification hassle?

I'd like to know--what IS a "Cub Guy"? There are E-2s and J-2s, J-3s, L-21s, (even a "Cub coupe")--PA-11s, PA-18s, Top Cubs, Carbon Cubs, and now the X-Cub--with horsepower ranging from 37 to 200--and with or without an electrical system. If you fly ANY of these, are you not a "Cub Guy"? Yes--there are differences between ANY of the Cubs that come before and the X-Cub--but those differences are comparatively minor--something to take into consideration, but most pilots can adapt in a few hours. I enjoy reading about the differences from commenters like Paul--but they are still "Cubs" at heart. I don't think that Paul would have a problem flying any of them with a verbal description of the differences before the flight--but I enjoy reading about his take on the differences.

As for me, I've flown 330 unique models of airplanes, but I group Cubs into just 3 groups--"non-electric Cubs" (J-3s), "Super Cubs" (PA-11s and 18s), and "new Cubs" the Top Cub, "Chubby Cubby", and Carbon Cub.

The Champ to Decathalon, 172s, or Bonanza's have probably gone through as many changes during their long lives as the Cub--yet drivers of those airplanes are still "172 guys" or "Bonanza guys" or "Champ Guys"--no matter how much the product has evolved. Same for venerable airliners--an old "dash 10 DC-9 up to a "Super 80" can be flown with only ground differences training once you have the type rating--same for all models of the 747. It could be argued that there are far more differences in those aircraft than there are in Cubs.

Being a "Cub Guy" has more to do with appreciating the experience than it does about flying each and every model. Paul--your point about flying Champs, Funks, and Interstates is well taken--but I believe you ARE a "Cub Guy"--willing to fly most anything to get into the air. We're all the richer because you share those observations and thoughts so eloquently.

Posted by: jim hanson | June 15, 2016 10:42 AM    Report this comment

Paul is such a Cub guy, he makes Chuck Norris prop his engine with a roundhouse kick :-)

Posted by: A Richie | June 15, 2016 11:12 AM    Report this comment

Has anyone bought a new pickup lately? If you go crew cab, four-wheel drive and all the trimmings you are closing in on $70,000.
I wouldn't call a new Cub a steal, but given the scale at which Cubs are produced I wouldn't call the price outrageous.
Regrettable, yes.

Posted by: Jerry Fraser | June 23, 2016 3:00 PM    Report this comment

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