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Super Cub reawakened

There’s lots of aeroplanes out there that are hangar-queens, just waiting to be reawakened. Our own Ed Hicks found one and contemplates the early days of his new project

There’s no denying it, I do like a project. Whether big or small, I enjoy the challenges they bring, particularly when there’s an opportunity to make some improvements, and maybe leave my own personal stamp on something. 

My last project, the import of a Van’s RV-3B from the US, has been done and dusted for a few months now, with just the flying to enjoy. It was a good one too – the logistics of the shipping, reassembly and an instrument panel upgrade, as well as the process of getting it an LAA Permit had plenty to keep me busy.

So when I heard there was a hangar-queen Super Cub not too far from me, that needed some love (as well as a new top end and some paperwork sorting out), I decided I would take a look. 

Ed's new Super Cub project, as found

Sitting in the back of a hangar on a small grass strip – and when I first opened its cabin doors and looked inside – I found myself thinking back to when I learned to fly on its bigger brother, the PA18-150 (30 years ago this year, in fact…). A Piper L18C – the US Army version of the PA18-95 Super Cub, here was an aeroplane that was definitely whispering to me, ‘come on, this will be fun’.

Owned, flown and loved for many years by one owner, it was involved in a small incident at its home strip, and while the repairs were all well carried out, it never quite crossed the finish line to completion. So it sat for a number of years in its hangar… luckily protected by its set of Cambrai Covers. When the elderly owner decided to sell, it was my real honour to take on an aeroplane that clearly held a lot of memories for the chap whose hand I shook to agree a sale.

Most of the top-end of the Continental O-200 engine… inactivity had led to corrosion on the cylinder bores

While some thought was given to trying to get it sorted enough to fly out of it’s original home, it soon became clear that the most efficient use of time would be to take it apart and transport it back to my hangar at Wadswick in Wiltshire.

So, calling on the brilliant transport expertise of Tim Wakeman from Recovair, and with the help of my LAA Inspector Toby, and friends Jonathan and Nye, we were able to get the aeroplane dismantled, securely loaded and safely transported to its new home. 

I have to say that paying a professional to load and move an aeroplane was money well spent. I’ve done it myself in the past, and while successful, the fragile nature of aeroplanes just makes something like that pretty stressful.

Having someone with a purpose-built trailer, and a first-rate plan for securing everything meant the aeroplane arrived in the hangar with no fuss, and critically no damage.

Ed definitely not making engine noises…

Since then, I’ve been busy going through the fuselage and dismantling further, inspecting, and doing some thinking.

Some of those thoughts have to do with weight… my Inspector has a similar Super Cub, and his is over 50lb lighter than mine, if the 1,053lb empty weight I found recorded in the paperwork for a 1996 weighing is accurate.

So one of the first goals I decided on was to try and get the aeroplane below 1,000lb empty by the time we’re reapplying for a new Permit. Now I know this aeroplane has had a couple of repairs in it’s life, and the engine is now a Continental O-200, replacing the original but lighter C90, but there’s surely some accumulated heft to trim back.

Video: Ed’s new project!

A new set of Millennium Cylinders for the O-200 from Superior Air Parts

On the engine front, having sat for more than a dozen years, the O-200’s cylinders – the aircraft had an engine change in 1991 – had some corrosion on their bores, so I decided to bite the bullet and buy a new set of Millennium cylinders from Superior Air Parts, which arrived before the aeroplane came home, thanks to quick work from Adams Aviation.

Further inspection has shown that the bottom end looks sound, with a healthy looking camshaft and followers, so for now it will come off, get cleaned up, while the carburettor and magnetos go off for overhaul.

I figured reliable fuel and sparks would be a good starting point in future, given the long period of inactivity. I’ve also got my eye on a lightweight generator from a US company called Monkworkz, which could really save some pounds over the huge original item that’s hung on the back of the engine. 

Video: Engine talk

Inside, the cockpit was very red, thanks to swathes of vinyl fitted during a 1988 restoration (it was blown on it’s back at Old Sarum in the 1987 storms).

Now, red is an authentic Super Cub cockpit colour, but the vinyl was beginning to show its age, and starting to unpeel in places. Looking at bits where it was loose made me think, “That looks quite thick and heavy.”

Before I knew it, the interior panels were out, and after stripping off the vinyl, I’d created an impressively full and heavy bin bag. More on that in future, as it will be interesting to see just how much weight has been saved.

Pulling the vinyl off left me with panels covered in sticky contact adhesive… the fix for that was a litre-and-a-half of acetone and several days of scrubbing.

To refinish the panels, I found a fire resistant dark grey vinyl film that is smart – and 20 per cent of the weight of the previous covering (and fire resistant).

Video: Going on a diet

Having pulled obsolete vacuum gyros out of the panel as well as an electric turn and slip, plus removed a Garmin transponder that was mounted on the bottom of the panel exactly where my right knee wanted to be, I figured I was just toying with a panel that was looking increasingly ugly… so that came out too, along with a few layers of redundant wiring from previous generations of nav and comm units. While it looked a bit bare, it felt a lot better for being fully stripped. 

Video: Panel thoughts.

I’ve now got a clear plan for the new panel I want to refit, including a uAvionix AV30 – I put two in the RV-3 and they have been tremendous units to fly with, and a Trig TT21 compact transponder to match the Trig radio that was already fitted.

I’ve even allocated a bit of discretionary spend to replace an ASI and Altimeter that while old, I could have reused. I really like Winter instruments, especially their expanded 510º sweep ASI that gives a lovely big speed scale  below 80kts, so that’s what I’ve bought.

Now it’s just a case of turning all the plans into action…


Time for a new, simpler panel. Plastic board and masking tape instruments are a very low tech, but effective solution!

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