By Ron Kodimer, EAA 375842
This piece originally ran in the December 2020 issue of EAA Sport Aviation magazine.
In late September 2016 my good friend Bob Mearns, EAA 224731, and I were sitting in his hangar at North Las Vegas Airport (KVGT) enjoying our coffee. We were about as bored as two old guys could be. Then one of us got a brilliant idea — why don’t we build an airplane? Well, Bob said we ought to go see what is being built in a hangar nearby. It was a Javron Super Cub under construction. We were impressed with the kit quality.
In October we made the momentous decision to purchase two Javron Super Cub PA-18 replica kits from Jay DeRosier at Javron Inc. in Brainard, Minnesota.
When our good friend Rick Martin, EAA 517699, heard of our plan he said, “You’re not going to build airplanes without me.” So, our plan proceeded with three old Stearman guys building three identical Javron Super Cubs. Rick immediately placed his order with Javron and scheduled his builder’s buyer assist a week later than ours.
All three of us owned Stearmans, which is what originally brought us together. We traveled to the Stearman gatherings in Galesburg, Illinois, three times. We were used to being together. But people questioned whether we would still be friends at the end of the build. We did have a few tense moments since we were working together in one hangar eight hours a day six days a week.
Bob was our leader and expert since he restored a J-3 Cub and a Stearman, and built a RotorWay helicopter kit. The build process went reasonably well even without any build instructions. Thank goodness for Bob’s experience. We took a little time off for the summer and holidays. As you probably know summers are extremely hot in Las Vegas.
Our Cubs incorporated extended heavy duty gear with 26-inch bush wheels and ACME shocks, tinted windshields, two 24-gallon fuel tanks, vortex generators, double-puck toe brakes, electric trim, and wig-wag and strobe lights. They’re powered by Lycoming O-360s built by Ly-Con that produce a little more than 200 hp, swinging an 82-inch ground-adjustable composite prop by Whirlwind. The panels are built around Garmin G3X touch units with two-axis autopilots. We might never put them on floats, but we have the attach points just in case.
The one-week factory build assist consisted of building the fuel system and riveting a couple of panels. Bob put all of the avionics together for all three airplanes, and they all work great without any issues. We did all the metal work and assembly ourselves but farmed out the covering and painting. Early on we decided on the Poly Fiber process since two of us had experience in its use. We heard of a capable lady in Parowan, Utah, who does a great job covering Super Cubs, which meant borrowing a trailer and making a lot of 400-mile round trips.
We hired a local guy with experience painting airplanes, but after doing a great job with the fuselages and control surfaces he went out of business. We then hired a local auto paint shop to do the wings, which turned out great.
We started the build in October 2017. We finished all three in October 2019 and received our airworthiness certificates from the FAA at KVGT. We were lucky the FAA inspector out of the local flight standards district office followed our build every week or two, which made the final certification much easier for us.
The flight testing is another story. We did all of our taxi testing and electronic calibration of the G3X and flight system at KVGT. About five years ago KVGT prohibited first flights of experimental aircraft from the airport, so we took the wings off each airplane and trucked them to Sky Ranch Airport (3L2) in Sandy Valley about 50 miles away. The good news is that there was light traffic at the airport and it has a dirt runway that helped us get used to landing and taking off on unimproved strips. It would also be easier on the bush wheels than the asphalt. The only problem was the 50-mile drive two times a day for two months.
The flight tests went well using the EAA Flight Test Manual, and we finished the 40 hours required in December 2019, just before the virus hit. The airplanes leap into the air in about four or five seconds with one notch of flaps. It was a shock on the first flight. They are a delight to fly and very light compared to a Stearman. For short-field landings we are approaching at 50 mph. We could probably approach at a lower speed, but we’re still experimenting. The only issue was slightly high CHTs, which explains the louvers on the side of Bob’s cowling. We have since investigated the Nevada backcountry with two friends who have Huskys and waited patiently for the three of us to complete the build and 40-hour flight test.
Bottom line: We three are still friends. The airplanes fly great. Would we do it again? Nope, not at our ages (76, 80, and 85).