One of the on-going debates in general aviation pertains to the merits of two of the most classic airplanes that flew in the formative years of aviation. The airplanes are the Piper Cub and the Aeronca Champ. I have written about the airplanes in the past (see The Perfect Flying Machine, The Aeronca Champ, and The Citabria). What I have not written about are the differences between the two airplanes from a pilot’s and a passenger’s perspective. Oh, and let’s not forget the standpoint of the owner of both types.
When it comes to the Cubs and Champs, each airplane has their own dedicated followers. They both have their own merits and shortcomings.
SPEED/FUEL EFFICIENCY: A shortcoming for both aircraft is that they are slow. The Aeronca 7AC Champ is slightly faster than the Cub, but not by much. The Piper Cub cruises at a blazing speed of 75 mph and the Champ has an advantage of 12 mph. Regarding fuel efficiency, the Champ naturally has a slight edge over the Cub because both airplanes use the same types of engines. The most popular engines for both airplanes were the 65 hp or 85 hp Continental engines. Fuel flow for the smaller engine is a miserly 4.2 gph, while the larger engine burns slightly more at 4.5, to almost 5 gallons an hour at higher power settings. Advantage – Champ.
CLIMB PERFORMANCE: Both airplanes are dogs in the sky because of the drag created by the large wings. The size of the wings is required, in order to carry the planes aloft, along with about 60 pounds of fuel and a couple of humans. Neither airplane climbs with any amount of great performance; on a warm day, it was anyone’s guess as to which airplane will reach pattern altitude first. Advantage – NEITHER.
GROUND HADLING: The Champ is one of the rare taildraggers in which you can see over the nose while the airplane was sitting on all three of its tires. Additionally, the Champ owner can sit in the front seat of his airplane, while the Cub pilot has to sit in the back seat of the Cub due to weight and balance limitations. This requires the Cub pilot to “S-turn” during taxi. Consequently, he or she has to be extremely careful about clearing the path down the taxiway. Advantage – Champ.
COCKPIT VENTILATION: The attraction the Cub has for many pilots is that it is a well-ventilated cockpit, an especially important consideration for summertime flying, particularly down in the south and out west. The Cub pilot can slide the left window all the way down and fold up the right window to clip it to the bottom of the right wing. Then she or he can open the door and let it flop down against the fuselage.
This allows the Cub driver to fly with the cockpit wide open, providing the aviator with an extremely open sensual experience.
The Champ pilot, on the other hand, has a fairly enclosed cockpit, which can become, on occasion, a little stuffy—compared to the Cub cockpit. Advantage – Cub in the summer; Champ in the winter.
COCKPIT ACCOMODATIONS: I once saw a cartoon depicting a Cub pilot sitting in the backseat of a Cub. He was hunched over, bent in the middle, this being caused by the design of the seat. The next illustration, titled “Cub pilot standing,” had the pilot standing with the exact same posture. The next, “Cub pilot sleeping,” showed the Cub pilot in the same bent position with a sheet over him, his head on a pillow. The next? Well, you get the picture.
Climbing into and out of a Cub can be a challenge at the very least. It should be reserved for the more youthful, athletic, and sinewy humans.
For the Champ pilot, however, entry and exit is more traditional. The Camp has a wonderfully large door and once inside the airplane, the seats, headroom, legroom, and cabin width are such that the Champ pilot is very comfortable. The same cannot be said of a Cub pilot.
So, which of the two airplanes is best? I don’t know. Add up all the advantages for each, think about it, and throw away the numbers. Then go with your gut.
It really is about six of one, and a half dozen of the other.
The important thing, though, is getting the experience in the airplane, regardless of whether it is a Champ or Cub. Why?
©2012 J. Clark
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