Closing the Loop on a J-3 Cub

Scott Knowlton, pilot, and Dave White, photographer

It started with a simple text from my boss at Air Canada Rouge: “As luck would have it, the guy who owns my dad’s old Cub called me up and finally wants to sell.” Geoff is an airline pilot, husband, and father of two young adults both in aviation. The Cub he referred to in his text had formerly belonged to his dad. Forty years ago, Geoff had not only flown the Cub but also helped in its restoration alongside his father, also an airline pilot. Shortly after the restoration Geoff went off to pursue his own aviation career and the Cub was sold.

Being a bit of a romantic at heart, I felt it my duty to do everything possible to help Geoff see the incredible opportunity for him to “close the loop” on ownership of a classic that had at one time been a member of his family. As a passionate aviator, I also saw an opportunity to seize the moment and get one more flying day in my open cockpit Pietenpol even though it was the 10th of November. The next day promised to be 18 C with somewhat windy conditions. The field the little J-3 was kept at was a 62-mile flight north of me and it was a work day. So I made the pitch, “Geoff, why don’t I fly the Piet up tomorrow and meet you at the owner’s field?” Geoff responded, “That would be great Scott!” Now if that isn’t a glowing endorsement to take the afternoon off for a flight, I can’t seem to think of a better example. My boss not only knew I was going flying, he supported the mission!

I packed a full day of work into my morning and just before heading to the field to get things ready for my flight another text appeared from my friend Dave White, a professional photographer and father of a young mentee of mine: “Scott, I hope you get a chance to go flying on this beautiful fall day.” I shared my plan with him and in a flash saw a huge opportunity to make this flight even more special. “My front seat is empty, Dave, you’re welcome to join me.” “I’ll be there shortly,” was his enthusiastic response.

Scott with the J3 Cub Geoff grew up with

In short order we were headed north from Flamborough with a lovely fall light catching the remnants of the leaves still hanging on to the trees. A typical haze of crop harvest and dust from the westerly winds provided Dave with some terrific en-route shots. We bounced along for about forty minutes in the unstable air with Dave alternating between taking pictures of interesting fields and terrain and cross checking our track with the iPad I gave him in the front seat to navigate for us. We progressed to within five miles of the field and I spotted the landmark golf course the owner had mentioned just west of his little runway. It was a short 800-foot field but directly into wind which made our choppy arrival and landing quite doable. I taxied up to his Spartan hangar with Ted the owner, and Geoff standing there smiling at us as we bumped along to a stop and shut down.

The hangar door was open and inside sat a pretty yellow Cub with iconic Lockhaven yellow paint and a signature black lightning bolt down its side. We spent the next 20 minutes chatting about airplanes, engines, paint, brakes, fuel tanks, and a laundry list of other topics that make time pass like the wind and endear little airplane aviators to one another. I immediately liked Ted. He’s my kind of airplane owner and restorer. With a gleam in his eye he spoke proudly of the bigger 90-hp Continental he installed in the Cub and also shared his first painting experience on the restoration he did where the aircraft developed a finish blush after a few days from returning from the paint shop and Ted had to spend days with a fine sander and compound bringing the finish back to silver for another try. He clearly was a fussy owner and it showed in his airplane with all fasteners, screws, nuts, and bolts sporting a gleam of newness and pride of ownership.

I enjoyed watching Geoff circle the airplane taking in its great condition, classic simplicity, and charm. I am sure just standing beside the Cub touched his younger self and enthusiasm when his father was its custodian and I could see the wheels turning in his mind as he moved the control surfaces, peered into the cockpit, and ran his hand down the prop. While this whole exchange was taking place, photographer Dave did what Dave does and found unique angles and perspectives for some great shots.

With the wind even a little more energetic than when we had arrived and the sun beginning to lower in the west, I decided we had enjoyed enough of a visit and announced to Dave that we should probably be thinking of heading home. Ted looked me in the eye and said, “Well I sure enjoyed talking airplanes with you, Scott.” I felt exactly the same way. Dave and I strapped in and after getting the Pietenpol fired up, I manoeuvred the machine to Ted’s runway, making sure to position it at the farthest point possible into the oncoming wind. With at least 20 knots on the nose the tail came up and we were airborne in less than 200 feet. After a rocky climb-out, I found comparatively smoother air at about 700 feet and put the nose on a southerly course for home.

Again Dave and I repeated the pattern of me keeping the ship upright in the frequent gusts and wind shifts while he gave me periodic heading changes and snapped pictures with the longer shadows of the lowering sun. We touched down at my home field and taxied up to my open hangar door. After turning off my magnetos, we both sat for a moment in the welcome silence, simply taking in the moment and enjoying the warm fall air that replaced the rushing open cockpit blast of the last 50 minutes we had endured in a stiff headwind.

Nice profile as we land back home

With the airplane tucked away in the hangar, Dave and I sat at the picnic table enjoying a beer and chatting about the day. What a terrific little adventure with like-minded folks. Flying needn’t be a 1,000-mile cross country, nor does it need to happen in a high-performance, six-figure airplane. Both the understated Piet we flew to this little private farm strip and the charming Cub waiting for us when we arrived are incredibly fun and economical machines to commit aviation in. Meeting Ted and watching Geoff travel down memory lane were only part of our adventure. Watching tilled fields and corn being cut from rolling pastures as we putted along smelling the fall air was a very soul restoring day. I’m hoping my friend Geoff sees what I do in the day we had and chooses to close a deal with Ted. Time will tell.

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