A riddle for aviation fans…
Here’s a riddle for you: What was the most powerful aircraft in WW2?
It must be the Boeing B-29 Superfortress, right? It dropped both atomic weapons on Japan and made massive raids in WW2. Nope, guess again! Well then, it must surely mean powerful as in speed, in which case it is the Me-262 Schwalbe? Nope, it wasn’t that one either.
It was in fact the diminutive Piper Cub. What!? The Piper Cub? Surely not? Well, surprisingly, yes it was, because more so that any other aircraft deployed in WW2, it was used as a spotter aircraft to direct more firepower onto enemy positions than any other aircraft. Thus, its actions resulted in more damage to the enemy than any other aircraft. So alright, I admit that was more of a trick question than a riddle, but is nevertheless indicative of how important the little Cub turned out to be when it put on a uniform and went off to war.
A little legend…
The Piper J-3 Cub is known to most aviation fans, and certainly familiar to fans of Microsoft’s Flight Simulator, it being one of the default aircraft that comes with FSX. But you might not know very much about its history. So first let’s get you up to speed…
The Cub started life as a design by C Gilbert Taylor, when it was known as the Taylor E-2 ‘Cub’. That’s E for it being the fifth aircraft designed by the Taylor company, and 2 for the number of seats it had. And since it was originally powered by a 20 horsepower Tiger Kitten engine, this was what inspired the ‘Cub’ nickname.
As novel as the Tiger Cub engine was for naming the aircraft and for tales of trivia, it simply wasn’t up to the job of lifting the Cub into the air, and after a couple of trials with other engines, Taylor settled on using the then-new Continental A-40 instead which originally sported a mere 28 horsepower but later variants took the power up to 40 horses, and with that engine it was put into production in 1931. The Cub was about $1,400 to buy new at that time, and that was at the height of the Depression era in the United States, but it still managed to sell well over 300 models before production ceased in 1935.
But that wasn’t the end of the line for the Cub, although it was the end for Taylor aircraft, which went deeply into the red. However, one of the chief investors in the company bought the assets, and that man was none other than William T Piper. Piper kept C Gilbert Taylor as an employee (in fact as the company’s president).
Subsequently, the redesigned and improved J-2 version of the Cub was created by employee Walter Jamouneau, and some have suggested that is where the J in Piper J-3 Cub comes from and explains what happened next. But the truth is it was simply the lettering designation making it up to J by that time. Nevertheless, Gilbert was infuriated with Jamouneau for messing around with his design (Gilbert was on vacation when the redesign took place) and he fired Jamouneau upon his return to work!
Bill Piper saw things differently however, and gave Jamouneau his job back, buying out Taylor’s shares while he was at it. Thus the Piper aircraft company came into being, and it did so in the fortunate position of having a winning design on its hands. Jamouneau further refined it into what we now know as the J-3 Cub, which interestingly, was then only just over $1,000 to buy new. You don’t see that sort of price reduction very often in aviation!
This is where fate took a hand for Piper. With the outbreak of WW2 in Europe, the US Government was smart enough to realize that, as in WW1, they might eventually become embroiled, being that as with WW1, the US was quite openly on the Allied side even before becoming involved itself. So the US began the Civilian Pilot Training Programme in 1938 as a safeguard. By that time the Piper Cub was well established as a superb ab-initio training aircraft that was also cheap to acquire, so it was a natural choice as the aircraft to suit the CPTP scheme.
Well over three quarters of all Civilian Pilot Training Programme-trained pilots in WW2 (that being very nearly half a million men) got their first flight in a Piper Cub. That was good news for Piper, as by 1940 they had sold over 3,000 of the things, and by the end of the war production was so optimized that a new Piper Cub rolled off the production line every 20 minutes!
Inevitably, the Piper Cub found itself in the US Army with a military role too. Unlike most aircraft going from civilian to military guise, about the only difference was the fact that it was painted olive drab, although in fact the glazing in the cockpit was slightly different. The military version was designated as the O-59, the L-4, or when in the US Navy, the NE. Aside from training pilots, the aircraft became a liaison aircraft in the military, used for spotting, reconnaissance and artillery fire direction, although there were in fact armed versions of it as well which had bazookas lashed onto them to create makeshift strafing craft.
The Cub’s tiny size led to an inevitable army nickname that was the Grasshopper. But being that army liaison and artillery spotting are dangerous tasks, often involving flying low and slow over enemy positions, many were shot down. For Piper, that meant they kept on getting orders for new ones, so it was instrumental in the success of the Piper company.
There are some reports that the last European dogfight of WW2 involved a Piper Cub. The story being that an L-4 fought a Fieseler Storch (The German army’s equivalent of the Cub); with the L-4 crew firing their .45 side arms at the Storch and forcing it to land! Whether that is true or not is open to debate but it is, if nothing else, indicative of the legendary status the little Cub achieved in WW2 and beyond, for it also served in Korea and indeed in Vietnam.
After WW2, many ex-military Cubs found their way back into civilian hands and to this day it remains a popular training aircraft, and rightly so. You can, even today, do your pilot training on a Piper Cub and if you care to travel to Lake Como in Italy, you can even do your PPL on the floatplane version of it as the flying club has one for hire. Not bad for a design that is almost 80 years old.
And so to the virtual version. Always a somewhat risky move to add an aircraft to your sales catalogue which is also one of the default FSX craft, this is slightly offset by the water-borne nature of this L-4 Grasshopper offering from Flight Replicas we are examining here, and its low price ($12.92 USD) is a further inducement to give it a shot.
So for VFR fans and those who like to explore sceneries with stretches of water, the L-4 has an obvious market regardless of being a variant of one of the default aircraft. Thus, there is a definite place for it in your virtual hangar, despite it initially appearing to be ‘one you’ve already got’.
It is worth noting that the L-4 Grasshopper variant we are looking at here is intended to supplement the land-based L-4 package from Flight Replicas, but having said that, it is of itself a complete standalone package and does not actually require the other land based version. Keep in mind that this one is a floatplane and not an amphibian, so you will have to land and take off from water. Anyhow, let’s give it a look…
Installation and documentation
Available as a digital download, which weighs in at a creditable 97.7Mb, we can see that for a small aircraft it’s got something up its sleeve, especially when we notice that the sub-one hundred meg file size expands to 183Mb when installed (approximately 75Mb of that comprises the included paint kit PSD files).
Installation is as simple as expanding the zip file and double clicking on the resulting .exe file. So it could not be any easier, although you will need to have FSX Service Pack 2 or the cumulative Acceleration version thereof installed to ensure it all unpacks okay. The installation process places two different liveried L-4 Grasshoppers in your FSX folder, both are the same aircraft type and both on floats; these being a straight up Army version and a Civil Patrol version. Even so, if you want more than that, the package also includes a paint kit, so if you are artistic you are good to go for other paint jobs.
Despite the simplicity of the aircraft depicted in this package, Flight Replicas have not used that as an excuse to skimp on the documentation. It includes an MS Word document guide to the aircraft as well as a 16-page PDF manual that is very nicely produced, with a vast quantity of good screengrabs which label all the controls in the cabin.
Granted, on a Piper Cub there are not that many controls but their location is sometimes less than obvious, so it is a thoughtful feature of the documentation all the same. You won’t find a shortcut to the documents via your Windows Start Menu, which merely offers the option to uninstall the package, but you will find them in the FS aircraft folder for the L-4 so they are nevertheless easy to locate.
Notwithstanding the simple nature of the L-4, the comprehensive notes on how to fly the thing are actually quite useful. They not only include all the regulation Ts and Ps and flight speeds for getting on and off the water, but it also contains useful cruise and climb speeds, which given the fact that the L-4 is no hot rod, are certainly going to find a use.
We don’t need no stinkin’ runway…
The Cub, or L-4 Grasshopper if you prefer, is much the same in either water or land-borne guise as far as flight characteristics go, and when inside the thing there really is very little difference at all. But of course the technique for flying it is somewhat different, at least when it comes to getting up and down. Nevertheless, it is not so different that you can’t simply leap in it and give it a go. After all, we are talking about a simple design that was created to be cheap, basic and something that relatively inexperienced pilots could solo in fairly rapidly. So there’s not much to confuse you if you are familiar with even the basic craft in FSX. But…
Unlike the land-based Cub variants, the floatplane ones can catch you out a bit. The floats, being big, induce more drag in the air and affect acceleration somewhat which is why more modern float-equipped Cubs tend to be ‘Supercubs’, i.e. with a more powerful modern 180 hp engine fitted. However, contrary to what most people imagine, the floats on a Cub do not add a tremendous amount of weight to the thing, so they don’t create an especially noticeable ‘pendulum effect’ as many might suspect with only the drag having to be considered. I am pleased to report all of this is correctly emulated on the Flight Replicas L-4 Grasshopper.
Setting out means finding a seaplane base in FSX, slewing it into the air or slewing to the sea in order to set off, so it is no more difficult than taxiing your Cessna to the runway in practice. However since water-born behavior has never been a particularly strong point in FS, it is reassuring to know that for the most part, taking off and landing in a float version of the Cub is not especially hard.
On the real aircraft, the technique is to shove the throttle wide open and keep the stick fairly well back so that the aircraft rides up onto the ‘step’ as amphibian pilots call it, where the aircraft is effectively traversing the water in the manner of a hydrofoil. Thus relieved of most of the drag caused when plowing through the water, the aircraft can accelerate up to flying speed as it skims over the water, during which you can ease off on the stick back pressure and let the plane fly itself off the surface.
The real Piper Cub will fly itself off the water at about 55 knots, and I’m pleased to report that the Flight Replicas one does the same. FS does not really allow a very convincing version of getting a seaplane or flying boat up onto the step, so in lieu of that, you can simply open the throttle on the Flight Replicas version, keep the stick neutral and then it will pretty much unstick itself from the water at the requisite 55 knots, although you can haul it off sooner if space is tight.
Once up in the air, you’ll find it handles as a Cub/L-4 should, although a point worth noting here is that when flown solo, a Cub should be piloted from the rear seat, unfortunately upon starting your flight you get plonked in the front. This may be a concession to being able to see the cockpit instruments better, but to be honest, you can see them okay from the back seat and from there you get a wider field of view. If you do choose to do that, it is also worth doing it from a technical standpoint too, by going to the FS payload menu and sticking your weight in the rear seat. You will find the L-4 flies a lot better that way, since the shift in Centre of Gravity will improve the way it flies.
I found it worthwhile to add a bit of baggage weight too, but this is something you can experiment with to find the handling characteristics you prefer. Shifting your view back to the rear cockpit requires a bit of fiddling around if you use Track-IR, which seems to prefer the front cockpit, but with some effort you can get it to do what you want.
Flying around in the Flight Replicas L-4 Grasshopper is a pleasant and sedate affair, and it emulates the real thing well by offering the same panoramic visibility of the real thing which made it so useful as an army spotter aircraft. But worth noting here is that this is not an aircraft for those in a hurry, since it is by no means fast. So while it is excellent for VFR exploration of places with plenty of lakes, if you are in a hurry this is not the bird for you. On the other hand, with a very low stall speed, it is perfect for getting into tight spots so even relatively small lakes and reservoirs are not off limits.
Landing is a similarly simple affair, and you can pretty much let the aircraft coast down to the water’s surface at 50 knots or so, but it is worth bearing in mind that to do so requires a bit of throttle, since those floats induce a lot of drag. As with most floatplanes, you have to flare quite a lot to avoid ‘submarining’ the floats.
When you do get the thing back to earth, if not back to dry land, then you will find it handles much like the real thing when taxiing too, notwithstanding the concessions developers have to make for FSX. So if you like to casually gun the motor and then chop it as you coast up to the jetty for a swift martini, or to deliver some vital piece of virtual reconnaissance info, then you will find yourself able to do so in this aircraft.
It is hard to go to town on looks with a simple aircraft that is to be found in simple paint schemes, but in spite of that, Flight Replicas have made something which is nice to look at. Eschewing over the top weathering, since you can do that yourself with the paint kit if you like, the included paint jobs keep wear and tear to a subtle minimum. I daresay the real things in time of war were not quite so pristine either outside or in, but as it stands, you’ve got yourself a factory fresh one.
As for myself, I’d batter the thing up a bit for my own preference, but it was wise of the developers to leave this as a choice for repainters rather than the other way around, forcing people to indulge in repairing the thing to get a new-looking one, so full marks there as I think that was the smart move on the developer’s part.
The sounds are nothing to write home about, but given that this is in fact a fairly simple aeroplane, that’s not a criticism; more a case of being just the way it is. I would have preferred some more attention to the noise a Cub makes when getting going on the water (which in reality is something to behold) but I can live without this as much of that can be achieved by tweaking sound levels in the sim itself
This is an FSX add-on which does what it says on the tin. Like the real aircraft, it is not fancy, but eminently good at what it was designed to do. For those who have the Flight Replicas L-4 in land-based form, this completes the set as it were, and for those who don’t have the land based one but would like a nice inexpensive aircraft to nip around some lakes for a bit of VFR water-based bush flying, it is a good choice.
Thus its simplicity belies its utility and the fun that can be had with it, which is just like the real Piper Cub in fact.
What I Like About The L-4 Grasshopper Floatplane
What I Don't Like About The L-4 Grasshopper Floatplane
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