Piper J3 Cub

Piper J3 Cub

The prototype of Piper J3 Cub was built in 1937, and a year later, it was sold on the market until 1947. Meanwhile, this light aircraft has a high rectangular wing, a conventional landing gear, a 40 hp (30 kW) flat-4 piston engine, and a fuselage with a welded steel frame wrapped in fabric. 

The monoplane is also equipped with a fixed-pitch propeller and has a lightweight design that makes it ideal for low-speed and short-distance performance. As a result, it is Piper Aircraft’s most produced plane, with around 20,000 built in the U.S. 

The Cub’s popularity has been mainly attributed to its affordability, with some people even comparing it to Ford Model T-automobile and calling it a monoplane for a “common man.”


Design and Specs 

The Cub is certificated in the utility and normal category and approved for night and day operations, provided it can meet the F.A.R. 91 or F.A.R. 135 requirements. 

The light aircraft has a fuselage made of seamless steel tubing welded at the joints, creating a rigid framework covered in fabric. In addition, at its rear is a vertical fin of the tail covered with each of the fuselage’s sides and a steerable tailwheel.

In the first few years of production, the Piper J3 was fitted with a 40 hp (30 kW) engine; however, several alterations (engines with higher hp) were made throughout the years, such as the horizontally opposed-four engines, Lycoming O-145, Continental A series, Franklin 4AC, and three-cylinder radial engines. 

Meanwhile, behind the fuselage’s firewall is a fuel tank with a 12-gallon capacity. 



The Piper J3 is the scion of Taylor E-2 Cub, a monoplane built by Taylor Aircraft in Bradford, Pennsylvania in 1930. The company designed the E-2 Cub to make aviation more accessible to the “common man,” a plan that didn’t push through as it went bankrupt and sold to William T. Piper, an oil industry businessman.

Although Piper bought the aircraft manufacturer, he initially kept Gilbert Taylor as a president. But in 1936, while Taylor was on sick leave, an employee named Walter Jamouneau altered an earlier Cub (which became the J2), a move that got him fired by the president. 

But Piper saw the redesign as a viable product, prompting him to rehire Jamouneau while at the same time offering Taylor to buy his shares in the company. The president agreed to step down in exchange for a $250 per month settlement that lasted for three years. 

The J2s’ sales were initially slow until the company halted its production after a fire razed its Bradford factory in 1938, forcing Piper to move his business to Lock Haven, Pennsylvania.

While still in their new aircraft factory, Jamouneau further made changes to the J2, which gave birth to the J3 known for its iconic little yellow taildragger. Other notable alterations were the curved half-oval shape of the rearmost side window and the addition of a steerable tailwheel at the spring-style tail skid. 


War and Post-War Service

Piper Aircraft benefited from World War II, producing around 20,000 Piper J3 to supply the growing interest for civilian-owned planes to join the war effort. (Civilians were encouraged to patrol the Eastern Seaboard and Gulf Coast to search for German U-boats and the Allied crews who survived their attacks.)

The Piper J3 was not only popular as a trainer for military pilots, but it was also perfect for transporting supplies, evacuating wounded soldiers, and performing reconnaissance, thanks to its low-level maneuverability. 

To “militarize” thousands of J3 planes, these were fitted with plexiglass skylight and rear windows for improved visibility and had undergone equipment changes. These military airplanes–like the L-4 Grasshopper, O-59, and N.E.–were mechanically the same with J3. 


Final Word

With around 20,000 Piper J3 produced in the U.S., it’s surprising to learn that 25% were still flying–an amazing feat for an 80-year old monoplane built for general aviation, flight training, and bush flying.