Five years ago, CubCrafters introduced the most sophisticated taildragger ever, the XCub. Now they’ve followed it up with a nosewheel version of the airplane called the NXCub and although AVweb’s Paul Bertorelli is a tailwheel kinda guy, in this detailed video review he explains the not-so-obvious reason why the NX could be a better backcountry airplane.

15 COMMENTS

  1. Well Paul, God has blessed me on your behalf because I did make it through the video, but just by the skin of my chinny chin chin. Like you, I’m not a guy who says that real pilots only fly taildraggers. A nosewheel airplane pilot too, the last one I flew was a G4. I even understand why someone would buy and fly a Cirrus or Bonanza for transportation, and I understand why Cubcrafters makes a nosewheel Cub. They think they can make money with it and probably can and do.

    But! Why anyone would buy and fly a hobby airplane without a tailwheel but a nosewheel instead is beyond me. I wasn’t blessed with a sister, but if I had been, I’d compare owning and flying a nosewheel hobby airplane with kissing my sister instead of my girlfriend. You came frightening close to doing just that by doing this story. But then that’s how you make your living so you get a pass from me. God bless you too Paul.

    • I’ve been involved with USAF and USN test pilots and very high time airline Captains over most of MY 50 years and I’m here to tell you that I’ve seen the absolutely very best of ’em ground loop a tail dragger or come so close you could smell it. IF you live in an area of high winds, you’d be nuts to take one out of the hangar. Unless you’re landing on sandbars or glaciers in Alaska … fughetaboutit. I sold an airplane to a guy who then decided to resell it and buy a C140. I warned him not to but he didn’t listen. He never got to fly it at all; his high taildragger time partner nosed it over. He now wants to buy my C172 (which he ain’t gettin;). The guy who taught me to fly 50 years ago next Saturday purposely bought an RV-8A for exactly that reason; and HE has 30,000 hours now and learned to fly taildraggers before he could drive.

      I don’t disagree with the FUGLY aspect of it all, however. Somehow, a Cub w/ a nosewheel just doesn’t seem right anymore than a P-63 looks better than a P-51. But I don’t fly for photogenic reasons and I don’t need an airplane that I’m worried about ground looping every time I re-meet Mother Earth. To each, his own. It peeps me off when people say you’re not a “real” pilot if you don’t fly taildraggers. I was based at Mojave for 17 years and landed my 172 in winds SO strong I had a hard time taxiing it back to the hangar without ground helpers. I shudder to think what would have happened in a light weight taildragger.

      Jim Hanson hits the nail on the head … below.

  2. I’ve flown into many of the back country airstrips in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area that you pointed out in the video: Lower Loon, Upper Loon, Mahoney Creek, Indian Creek, Johnson Creek, Reed Ranch, Krassel, Bernard, Soldier Bar, Wilson Bar, Big Creek, Cabin Creek, Cold Meadows, Warren, Chamberlain, Dixie. I spent a week at McCall Mountain Canyon Flying Seminars in 2012 visiting those airstrips in Lori MacNichol’s Super Cub on 31″ tundra tires. Then in 2016 I flew my Maule MX-7-180 on 31″ tundra tires and spent another 3 days at the same airstrips. I was really glad to have the 31″ tundra tires and a strong Alaskan Bushwheels 3224A tail wheel and tail spring. So many people have landed at those airstrips that they are really rutted and bumpy. The volunteer Idaho Airman’s Association folks do a great job but they can’t keep up with the maintenance that they need to be smoother. I like the XCub a lot as a tail wheel aircraft but even with the great trailing link design, I don’t think I want the nose wheel of a NXCub hitting those ruts with the weight of the engine over it. I’m guessing that someone who buys a NXCub doesn’t really plan to fly into most of those airstrips. A bumpy grass airstrip like Cold Meadows or Warren would be fine but not airstrips like Soldier Bar or Cabin Creek. The market for the NXCub seems to be pilots who would like to land in the more docile back country airstrips to do some great site seeing or fishing but not in the more serious airstrips. The STOL capabilities of the NXCub are great though.

  3. Yep–it’s UGLY–but it is selling well–and for a reason. It can meet or exceed the short field capabilities of the tailwheel version–while letting more pilots fly it.

    I have almost 2000 hours in tailwheel aircraft, and I like them–MOST of the time. The fun goes away with a crosswind component of 15-20 knots for most of them.

    Specific to short-field capabilities, I built and flew a Kitfox IV with a Rotax 503. I equipped it with big tires, and in winter time, put on 6:00X6s so I could use wheel penetration skis–a great off-airport aircraft. The reason I sold it–while there is enough control to LAND the aircraft in a crosswind–with a stall speed of 25 mph, I sometimes couldn’t TAXI it after landing, as it was sitting at a high angle of attack. I had to have people help me get the aircraft to the hangar. Like the NX aircraft, the Kitfox was “convertible” from tailwheel to nosewheel–my plan was to put the nosewheel on in the summer and the tailwheel in the winter–but I still had the problem of the aircraft sitting at a high deck angle while taxiing.

    Reluctantly, I sold it, and bought a Zenith 750 with a 115 hp Lycoming. Yes, it is tri gear, and yes, it is STOL. Winter time–it has wheel-skis, and they work just fine. Stick all the way back for takeoff, and like the NX, the nose wheel is off the ground by the time the power comes up–never a problem–AND, I can taxi it in strong winds because it has zero Angle of Attack. Far too many people ignore the high AOA for ground operations in STOL airplanes–even the comparatively heavy Helio Courier had the same problem. By all means–buy a tailwheel if you don’t have a wind problem where you live, but don’t denigrate the nosewheel (or better yet, CONVERTIBLE option Paul brings up). As he mentions, you can have it BOTH ways! (thumbs up!)

    • Jim I respect your experience and well written opinion, though my opinion varies slightly from yours based on my own tailwheel experience of which 2500 hours was professional flying in the central African unimproved landing strip environment.

      You say, and so does the factory that “it can meet or exceed the short field capabilities of the tailwheel version while letting more pilots fly it.” (By the way, the need for the bigger engine on the NX immediately injects doubt as to its credibility as a “meets or exceeds” performer.) In my experience, short field capability, crosswind or not, depends entirely on technique and pilot ability. Given equal pilot ability and as equal aircraft as possible, the tailwheel airplane should be able to win that contest every time simply because of technique afforded a taildragger which is not afforded the nosewheel aircraft. Planting a tailwheel aircraft close to stall speed on its mains followed by heavy braking coupled with nose up elevator and a touch of power across the elevators should make for a shorter landing than what I saw on Paul’s video. The closest I came to experiencing this difference was flying a Robertson STOL Turbo Cessna 206 versus a normally aspirated non-Robertson Cessna 185 in the African bush environment. I’ll take the normally aspirated, aerodynamically unmodified 185 over the Robertson Turbo 206 with the exact same payload on the shortest and roughest of airstrips any day in any wind and weather condition. And there is so much more to unimproved airstrip flying than just field length. Overall maneuverability such as the ability to negotiate sharp doglegs and ride bumps which will throw a noswheel airplane back into the air is important to this kind of flying. With the demise of the Cessna 185, some of our old airstrips are simply no longer used.

      What we do agree on Jim is that the nosewheel airplane theoretically makes backcountry more accessible to more of the pilot population. But just listen to how that sounds. It immediately signals pilot ability issues. Andrew Meranda above says it well that the more docile backcountry strips are for both the NX and the less skilled or attentive to precision. So let’s give the NX that much, but I’m not even close to believing that it can “meet or exceed” the STOL perfomance of the tailwheel version, larger engine or not.

      • “Planting a tailwheel aircraft close to stall speed on its mains followed by heavy braking coupled with nose up elevator and a touch of power across the elevators should make for a shorter landing than what I saw on Paul’s video.”

        I’ll take that bet. Heavy braking the taildragger risks a nose over, which isn’t a worry in the NX. You won’t need the power pulse–which is counter productive to shortest possible rollout–because if you do it right, you go instantly from decreasing aerodynamic drag to tire traction. I predict you’re going to see the NX start winning STOL events.

        • Paul, you are much more versed on almost all things aviation than am I. But I’ll just say that I made my living in Cessna 185s planting those mains sometimes 15 times a day for years. The slight power application is all part of the technique, adds to the stopping ability if done right, and robs absolutely nothing. I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but on this one and only one thing I know what I am talking about because I lived it professionally.

  4. I’ve seen reports from others that make the same point about the noseover being unlikely–and Paul alluded to it in the video as well. Since they say it “only takes 2 men 4 hours to make the changeover”, I guess Paul will have to make the sacrifice to fly it BOTH WAYS to tell the difference! Poor Paul! “WORK,WORK, Work!” (laugh)

    That IS the great thing about the NX, you can have it “as you like it.” Paul, for your next pilot report, it would be interesting to see how the NX compares with the Carbon Cub on those Wipline Floats you mentioned.

    Regarding landing a tailwheel with heavy braking without a noseover, that DOES happen–and far too often–watch the STOL competition–any number of competitors start rocking the aircraft up on the the mains. Helio dealt with that decades ago with their STOL aircraft–the mains are FAR forward to preclude noseovers–they used to demo the aircraft with an X painted on the main gear wheel covers to show that the wheels didn’t move–and in a bit of “showmanship”, would even bolt the wheels so they couldn’t move. The negative was a tail wheel affixed to the long fuselage–combined with the tall vertical stabilizer, it could be “challenging” in a crosswind–one pilot report acknowledged that trait, but then opined “If there is THAT much crosswind, just land across the runway!

    Nosewheel vs. Tailwheel has been fought over since the 172 challenged “conventional” (tailwheel) gear. Yes, being able to handle a tailwheel airplane well is a skill that SHOULD be acknowledged–but Cessna 206s and Caravans and Kodiaks serve remote areas well. Perhaps the best “apples to apples” comparison might be the Wren conversion on the 182–it featured double-slotted flaps, recontoured leading edge on the wing, “Wren’s Teeth” spoilers on the wing for roll control, Heavy duty landing gear and nose wheel, bigger engines and prop reverse as an option, a canard on the nose for getting the nose gear off the ground, and a moveable synch horizontal stabilizer and trim system that deployed with the flap extension for STOL operations. The aircraft was advertised as “being able to operate from a regulation-sized heliport” (and they had a video of them doing that from a TV station in San Antonio), as well a a video of the aircraft landing on a football field–then taking off from a dead stop and spiraling up without leaving the confines of the field. I owned one for a little over a year–sold it about 5 years ago, and STILL get calls from the magazine article I wrote about it. It had a stall speed of 26 mph–and the STOL mods cost about 10 mph in cruise speeds. A derivative today is the KING KATMAI from Peterson–has the canard and STOL system, as well as a larger engine–but left out the rest of the mods–he says “too expensive to build–the larger engine makes up nearly all the difference in takeoff and landing distance.” Paul–if you want to settle this controversy (or perhaps throw more fuel on the fire!–laugh) contact Peterson in El Dorado, KS. I loved the Wren, and would be interested in your take on the Katmai–I liked it–it was “good enough” (I’d say 90%) for most STOL work, without all of the airspeed-robbing mods.

  5. Just to add to the controversy on STOL operations for UNMODIFIED aircraft–The Cessna 180 and early 182s were also virtually the same. I recall the argument at the time that “the conventional gear is better at short field operations than the nose wheel.” I owned both early models, so went back and looked up Cessna’s figures:

    The early model Cessna 180s had a gross weight of 2550 pounds, as did the earliest 182s. Takeoff distance for the Cessna 180 was listed as 610 feet vs. 620 feet for the 182–virtually the same, BUT the distance over 50′ is listed as 1095′ for the 180 vs. 1020 for the early 182s (75 feet shorter). Landing ground roll for the early 180s was listed as 450′ vs 610 feet for the 182 (advantage of 160′ for the 180)–and landing over 50′ was 1310′ for the 180 vs. 1290′ for the 182 (20 feet SHORTER for the 182)–all in all, very little difference between the two.

    Airplanes–like people–tend to gain weight. A comparison of the Cessna 180s (A through F model) shows a gross weight of 2650#. The 180 shows a takeoff run of 615 feet vs 620 for the 182–all of 5 feet difference. Over 50 50′ trees, it lists 1080 for the 180 AND the 182 through the early swept-tail D models–a tie. Landing ground roll of 460 feet for the 180, vs 610 for the 182 (150′–advantage–180). Over the trees on landing, it’s 1330 for the 180 and 1310 for the 182–virtually the same–and it SHOULD, considering they share the same engine, wing, flaps, and gross weights. My guess is that the difference was on the certification pilot performance–not the landing gear configuration.

    A check of 185s and 206s (I chose the E model Skywagon and the 206A) as they had viirtually the same gross weights of 3300# for the the 185 vs 3350 for the 206 (later raised to 3600#) for comparison. The 185 got the 300 h.p upgrade, while the early 206 had 285 hp. The big difference were the flaps–long span for the 206, vs. standard Cessna flaps. Performance: Takeoff run 725 for the 185 vs 675 for the 206–a 50′ advantage. Over 50′ obstacle1290 for the 185 vs 1260 for the 206. On landing, a 625′ roll for the 185 vs. 735 for the 206–advantage 185. Over 50′–1400 for the 185 vs. 1265 for the 206–probably due to the bigger flaps.

    These figures were created using Cessna’s BEST TEST PILOTS–with multiple approaches and landing–with airplanes tuned by Cessna to the best performance–as they say, “your performance may be different.” To summarize, the position of the landing gear makes little difference. All in all, if the field is THAT TIGHT, find a way to lighten the load! (smile) I’d hate to bet the airplane or my life on either one!

  6. “Perfect practice makes perfect”. Bad practice makes bad. It really doesn’t matter whether your preference is tail or nose dragger. What matters is getting perfect, not “qualified”, instruction in the aircraft that you are flying. For example, A CFI with thousands of hours in a Cessna 185, a DC-3, a Globe Swift is “qualified” by regs AND THE FAA to give dual flight instruction in a Husky without ever having been in a Husky……without ever having read the Husky AFM. If your instructor is a highly qualified Husky instructor don’t assume the instructor is qualified to teach in your Cessna 185 unless the CFI has first been been trained in the Cessna 185. One shoe size does not fit all, one tailwheel is not the same as another tailwheel, and it is this lose regulation allowing a “qualified” CFI to teach tailwheel transitions (in anything with a tailwheel) that is the primary cause of the tailwheel-ground loop reputation. There has been a lot of bad instruction given in taildraggers. Just when you think the FAA is here to help you, you will find that this reg has killed pilots and passengers.

    A thorough checkout, or tailwheel endorsement, should be more like a type rating. Complete with weight and balance, performance and AFM instruction. If the training were such, the insurance wouldn’t be so much!

    God bless.

  7. There is a reason the officer measured 270 feet of skid mark left by my high school buddy before he smacked the house at the end of the street (luckily he came out fine with only a well used helmet and bruises). My friend had the misfortune of forgetting the importance of braking on the front wheel of the crotch rocket. He relied on the rear brake, the wheel that unweights during deceleration, locks easily, and offers perhaps 25% of what one would get from proper application of the the front brake. Airplanes are subject to the same laws of physics. Until our tricycle geared airplanes have braking on the front wheel, they won’t compete well with an aircraft that has braking on the wheels where the weight shifts during deceleration.

  8. Good discussion. There are always pros and cons of nose wheel vs. tail wheel. I have a bit over 2,000 hours tail wheel PIC time, most of it in my Maule MX-7-180 and a 1985 Cessna A185F that I flew for 7 years for the Forest Service. I have a fair amount of time in nose wheels as well. The benefit of the tail wheel aircraft in off-airport landings is that the main gear is stronger and can take more punishment than a nose wheel. There are two wheels bearing the main weight of the aircraft over the main wheels rather than a nose wheel with the weight of the engine directly over it. The aircraft’s weight is distributed between the main wheels and the tail wheel, which is light and has a big leaf spring that allows it to bounce rather than absorb all of the shocks. The disadvantages of a tail wheel are that it is more prone to ground loops if mishandled and you risk a nose-over if you jam on the brakes too hard. You can jam the brakes on a NXCub and not worry about a nose-over, which is why it may be able to slightly out-perform the STOL landing characteristics of a tail wheel aircraft on a smoother hard surface airstrip. However, if your goal is to fly in rough off-airport landing strips, I’d take a tail wheel every time. On a grass, gravel, packed dirt, weedy, sandy or tundra surface heavy braking will only make you skid so I doubt that the NXCub will outperform a well-handled tail wheel aircraft in those conditions.

  9. Sometimes, it helps to have a “reality check.” The question here seems to be “Can a nose-gear aircraft REALLY deliver STOL performance–in a field traditionally dominated by tailwheels?” The answer seems to be YES–we just need to wrap our minds around what we “KNOW to be true.” I have been a subscriber to Aviation Consumer for decades, and I recalled that they had an article on the Wren and it’s successor, the Katmai. I Googled it, and found it–written in 2013 for Aviation Consumer by Ric Durden. https://www.avweb.com/ownership/king-katmai-mod-safe-stol/

    Durden was a fan–and confirmed that the stall speed was indeed 27 mph–about the same as the NX. He also confirmed the performance (though it is a little different to follow between the stock 230 hp engine, 260 Continental, IO-520 Continental, and the IO-550) He tested it both light and heavy. Where the main gear is located is not a big factor in STOL performance for a professional STOL pilot–but it does allow “weekend wannabes” to enjoy STOL operations. Unlike the Cub clones, it also allows a bigger cabin, bigger useful load, and better climb and cruise. Best yet, you can have one of these for about the same money as a new NX.

    Thanks again for Aviation Consumer/AvWeb for providing real-world performance.