Piper J-3 Cub / L4B Grasshopper / PA-18 Super Cub


The Piper Cub has its origins with the work of C.Gilbert Taylor, an Englishman who had moved to the US. William Piperhad acquired Taylor's company, but kept him on as President and Chief Engineer until they parted company in 1935. The J-2 Cub of 1936 was a modified Taylor design using a 40hp Continental A-40-4. In 1938 the J-3 appeared which was a refined (noticeably the cowlings and windscreen) up-powered (50hp Continental, Franklin, or Lycoming) version of the J-2. In 1940, the J-3C-65 utilising a 65hp Continental engine was developed. This model gave rise to the L-4, of which 5,673 were built on military contract.

An alternate military development was the HE-1 version of the J-5. The J-5A Cruiser was a 3 seat development of the J-3 utilising a 75hp engine. First built in 1939, 495 were produced. This was followed in February 1941 by the J-5B using a 75hp geared Lycoming engine, and then the 100hp Lycoming powered J-5C. About 35 of the J-5C had been sold privately when production was altered to the HE-1 miltary variant for the USN. One aircraft of this type, an ex-USN AE-1 Air Ambulance was imported to New Zealand in 1986. I have no further details on this aircraft.

In 1947 with civil production resumed, Piper released the PA-11 Cub Special. This was externally similar to the J-3, but incorporated a variety of refinements, and a 90hp engine. In 1949 Piper followed with the PA-18 Super Cub. The PA-18 was produced up until 1982, with a variety of engines ranging from 90-180hp. Military variant are the L-18 and L-21. An agricultural version, the PA-18-A with fittings for top-dressing and spraying has also been produced. Production of the Super Cub resumed in 1988. Late model Cubs are distinguished by an increased wingspan (with downturned tips), larger squared off tail surfaces, and fuller instrumentation. They also come with larger fuel capacity and toe brakes.

Although not operated by the RNZAF, military cubs operated in New Zealand during WWII under the auspices of the USAAF. One Grasshopper (see below) with combat experience resides locally, having made its way from Europe and down the Pacific. Stan & Gilly Smith also operate an L-4 (c/n 9024 ex 42-38455, N62052), ZK-AIR. David Marwick at Omaka has imported an ex-French Army L-18 (PA-18-90 c/n 18-1628 ex 51-15628, OO-SPL, G-BKEZ), now operated as ZK-KEZ.

In addition there are a considerable number of Cubs and Super Cubs (as shown below) which have found their way to New Zealand. The aircraft have found roles in aeroclub, agricultural, deer-recovery, and tug work, as well as private use. As at July 1, 1998 seven J-3 or J-3 variants, and fifty-nine PA-18's appeared on the active register in New Zealand. Interestingly, three of the J-3 aircraft are pre-WWII models imported by then Piper representative Barnard Owen. These are ZK-AHC (c/n 2709), ZK-AHD (c/n 2707), and ZK-AHE (c/n 2708).

Last Text Update:- 27 October, 2000
Last Picture Update:- 2 December, 2002

Technical Data


L-4B taxying - airshow 1993 hanger wreck cub & auster taxying - flyin 1997 taxying - flyin 1997 front view - flyin 1997 take off - flyin 1997 L-4B take off - flyin 1997 taxying - Matamata 1998 L-18 parked PA-18 Landing post crash - Ardmore post crash - Ardmore post crash - Ardmore post crash - Ardmore

On May 11, 1997 I was invited by Bryan Bell-Syer, one of the owners of Piper L4 ZK-ATU (along with Wally Tarr of Pauanui) to take a look at his aircraft. The Grasshopper is based at Hamilton (Rukuhia) with the New Zealand Vintage Aero Club. Appropriately, the aircraft is stored in the oldest hanger on the field, which dates from 1934. The aircraft was built in 1942 (c/n 9707 ex 43-8467), and served in Britain during 1943 and 1944 when it was withdrawn from service. No record is available until the aircraft next appeared in what were then known as the Gilbert & Ellice Islands (Kiribati) in the employ of the Colonial Service. It was then purchased privately, shipped to Fiji (VQ-FAG), and then to New Zealand in 1949. Wally has been an owner of the aircraft since 1947. Bryan purchased his share in the aircraft in 1960.

At that time the aircraft was in J-3 configuration. When the aircraft was overhauled in 1983 the decision was taken to return ZK-ATU to a more original state. Some concessions have been made - the aircraft still carries the more powerful Continental C90 which was installed instead of an original C65 (although this may change). Ceconite has been used for durability rather than linen, and some of the fasteners have been replaced by more modern options for safety. Externally, the position of the pitot tube has been moved for convenience. Otherwise, with the return of the wide expanse of plexiglass, and USAAF markings, the aircraft looks the part. Internally the control panel has not been returned to the original (again for convenience), and the sheepskin seat covers are a change from the original leather.

My thanks to Bryan for allowing me to get really close to one of the 'members of his family'!

port front quarter starboard  front quarter starboard  rear quarter port rear quarter Bryan and his L-4

Close Up

Remember to let me know if you have a request for an image of a particular part of the aircraft!

tail aileron nose (from side) nose (from front) step Cockpit cockpit & wing root rear of cockpit (from starboard) rear of cockpit (from port) cockpit doors undercarriage undercarriage bungees
tail wheel starboard main gear cockpit roof glazing

Aviation Homepage © 1997-2000 Phillip Treweek, all rights reserved