I soloed (a Cub)! by Mark Burnham

This morning, after about 30 hours dual, I soloed a J3 Cub. Quite an interesting experience!

I knew I was close to soloing, and today after 2 decent landings, my instructor climbed out. This was something that I had been looking forward to, and honestly I was getting a bit itchy, but when it happened, it felt pretty surreal. I taxied off by myself, did a quick check (FUEL, AIR, TRIM, TRAFFIC), taxied onto the grass runway, and shoved the throttle forward. The tail came up quite quickly, and I was off the ground much more quickly w/o all the extra weight! šŸ™‚ Normally, with neutral trim, a bit of back pressure is needed to bring the speed down to Vy (55mph), but the nose really wanted to come up now that I was solo. For some reason, this kind of threw me off, and when the airspeed went below 55, I let the nose keep coming up until the airspeed went to about 45 mph. This was quite stupid, since the Cub stalls ~38. Just a brain fart, basically. 1000′ MSL came up quite quickly, and I wasn’t sure when to turn cross-wind. Since there was no one to ask, I waited a bit longer, and then turned, and contemplated the idea of stalling the plane 20 seconds into my first solo! I didn’t start praying or anything, but I was definitely rattled.

I turned a rather sloppy downwind, and 3/4 of the way down I pulled the carb heat and the abeam the numbers, pulled the throttle down the 1500 rpm. I think I was too close, laterally, on my downwind leg, so I turned outward a bit after cutting the throttle. Normally, when the throttle is cut, a fair bit of back pressure is required to keep the speed down to 55 mph. W/o instructor, the nose really didn’t want to drop, and it felt like I wasn’t getting the feedback from the stick that I had experienced in the 3000 landings I’d done with someone else sitting in front of me!

At any rate, my first landing was the absolute worst landing I’ve ever done. Ever! I think I bounced 3 times. I was just thrown by the unexpected behavior of that damn stick! I taxied back to the ramp to face my instructor. I’m sure he was more nervous than I was! We had a little talk, and the mechanics of flying a Cub solo started to dawn on me. I don’t know exactly where the CG of the Cub is, but it’s definitely BEHIND the front seat! I felt pretty embarrassed, and nervous, but I knew I had to give it another shot. I knew I was capable of good landings! My instructor asked if I wanted to try again, and although I didn’t feel 100% about it, I knew I had to. I taxied back down, did the FATT check, and rolled out onto the runway. I had figured out the stick problem, intellectually, so I shoved the throttle open again, and off I went.

My turns in the pattern were pretty sloppy since the plane felt much more responsive (twitchy?), but I made it around without spinning, and did a fine landing. I noticed that after cutting the power, I had to ADD a significant amount of forward stick to keep the nose down for a normal glide. OK, if that’s what’s required, that’s what I’m going to do!

The next landing was fine too. I realized later that changing the trim would have helped the nosing up phenomenon. Pretty basic, I guess, but with a passenger, I never really felt it was required. Now I know.

So, now I feel OK about the whole thing. I’m actually pretty itchy to do it again! I learned something about CG, that’s for sure. I’ll be flying again on Thursday, and then at some point, I’m going to transition into a Citabria (which actually has an electrical system!) for the rest of the training. The Cub doesn’t even have a radio!

I’m psyched to keep on going, and I’ll never forget today.

Happy flying!

Mark Burnham