A long time ago in an airspace far far away, I was a low time pilot. You know, back when the planet was still cooling and dinosaurs roamed the earth. “Hold short of runway 27, Pterodactyl on final.” And like any other low time pilot I was obsessed with one thing, getting hours. A pilot’s total time in an aircraft is important in a number of ways. First off it’s how he or she can qualify for ratings, 50 hours of cross country time for an instrument rating, 250 hours for commercial, and a whopping 1500 hours for an airline transport pilot rating! Next, when a pilot is finally legal to work hours are the number one thing employers look at when looking at prospective pilots. The more hours you have the more experienced you are, simple. And finally, the number of hours a pilot has is his rank in the world of aviation unless he has a particularly cool job like fighter pilot, fire bomber, or international ferry pilot. 🙂
After I got my private pilot’s license I did anything I could to get time at the controls of an airplane. The first option was pay for it. Of course way back then I could rent a Cessna 152 for about $29 an hour wet but even that cheap rate got expensive as the hours slowly racked up. I also got my non-pilot friends to chip in when I took them for rides. That got me about 3 hours, not much help. It was then that my good friend Geno offered me a possible solution. Geno was a fellow skydiver who also had dreams of becoming a commercial pilot. But unlike me he had a plane. Well, his father had a plane, sort of. Geno’s dad had a J-3 Cub in his garage that needed a lot of work. He said we could use to build up flight time if we got it back into flying condition. It would take a few thousand dollars to make it airworthy but if it worked out we could fly the crap out of it for next to nothing after that. So after a little more than a few thousand dollars (with airplanes it’s always a little more) Geno and I had and airplane to fly the crap out of.
And fly the crap out of it I did. My log book has about 500 hours of Cub time and a thousand stories in it. I spent the better part of two years flying all over Wisconsin and Minnesota, rarely higher than 500 feet and never faster than 80 miles per hour. Because that’s as fast as it would go, in a dive, at full power. I would often put a 5 gallon plastic gas can in the front seat (you fly the J-3 Cub from the back seat if you’re alone for weight and balance) and after flying for a few hours land on a gravel road of farm field and refuel from the can. One time after landing on a remote dirt road in northern Minnesota I decided to take a break from flying and have lunch. I pulled the Cub off the road under some trees, sat down with my back against one of the tires and proceeded to read a book while munching happily on a sandwich. I was in heaven. Not long after sitting down a car came along and stopped. Out popped two old ladies who asked if I was in trouble. Did I crash? Out of Gas? Lost? “Nope” I told them, “Just enjoying my lunch on a beautiful sunny day!” I’ll never forget the look on their faces as they climbed back into their and drove off. I’m sure it was the damnedest thing they’d seen in a long time.
More Cub stories to come….