I'm Not Really A Cub Guy
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.