Piper began producing one of the most iconic aircraft of all time in 1937, with the birth of the J- 3 Cub. But the Piper Cub story begins in 1927 when C. Gilbert and Gordon Taylor formed the Taylor
Brothers Aircraft Corporation and began producing the Chummy, a high-wing, two-seat monoplane.
In September 1930, the company began producing a two-seat tandem
aircraft named the Taylor E- 2. The design featured a high-wing design
with an open cockpit and was powered by a 20-hp Brownbach Tiger Kitten
engine. The weak powerplant was unable to get the airplane more than 5
feet above the ground, and the company quickly went bankrupt.
In 1931, William T. Piper purchased the assets of Taylor Aircraft
Corporation for $761, retaining Gilbert Taylor in the role of president.
Shortly after Piper’s purchase, an improved frame for the E- 2 was introduced and outfitted with a 37-hp Continental A- 40. The airplane was
rebranded the Cub and awarded a type certificate in July 1931. Twenty-two
Taylor E- 2 Cubs were sold that year.
The company produced the Taylor Cub with various engines until 1935,
putting out the Taylor F- 2, G- 2, and H- 2 before the final version under the
Taylor name, the J- 2. The J- 2 (designed by Walter Jamouneau) was a
revamped version of the E- 2 introduced in 1936. The redesign featured
rounded wingtips, a rounded fin and rudder, and wider tires, and the
changes were too much for Gilbert Taylor, who soon parted ways with
William Piper. Piper bought Taylor’s remaining interest in the company, and
Taylor went on to start Taylorcraft Aviation Company.
After a devastating factory fire in 1937, Piper moved his manufacturing
operation to Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, and later that year the J- 3 Cub was
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unveiled. The new incarnation was powered by a 40-hp Continental engine
and sold for $1,300. The new fuselage featured an integrated vertical fin into
the rear fuselage structure and ultimately changed the rearmost side window’s shape to a smooth curved half-oval. A steerable tail wheel was also
added to the J- 2’s leaf spring tailskid.
Piper built 10,000 Cubs between 1937 and 1941 before the attack on
Pearl Harbor, when the demand for civilian airplanes decreased sharply.
Many of these Cubs became primary trainers in the Civilian Pilot Training
Program (CPTP) leading up to the U.S. entry into World War II. After war
was declared, Piper repurposed the J- 3 for military use as the L- 4.
Nicknamed “Grasshoppers,” L-4s were used for reconnaissance, transporting supplies, artillery spotting, and
medical evacuation of wounded soldiers. By the end of
the war a majority of all U.S. military pilots had received
their initial training in a Cub.
The aircraft became a familiar sight with the First Lady
Eleanor Roosevelt taking a flight and posing for CPTP promotional pictures in a J- 3. Newsreels and newspapers
often featured images of Gen. Dwight Eisenhower and
Gen. George Patton flying around European battlefields in
Cubs. L- 4 models, nicknamed “Grasshoppers,” were used.
Postwar, Piper continued to produce the Cub, but production never returned to prewar levels. In the late 1940s
the J- 3 was replaced by the PA- 11 Cub Special featuring a
fully enclosed cowling, and then the PA- 18 Super Cub,
which Piper produced until the early ‘80s and later from
1988 to 1994.