The Pacific Flyer
Story & Photos By Chuck Stewart
With young men like Darren Clarkson working their way up the ranks, it looks like the future of General Aviation may be in good hands after all. Here's a guy who's a college graduate, has earned just about every rating in the book, owns his own airplane and makes his living doing what he loves most: flying. And at the age of 23, he's just getting started.
Born in Oak Ridge, N.J., he got off the right foot when, at age 15, he learned to fly at Trinca Airport, a grass strip in the nearby town of Andover. Instead of the usual Cessna 152, he took lessons in a J-3 Cub his CFI bought brand new in 1946.
After soloing at 16, he had to switch to a 172 so he could get the experience he needed for his private. At age 17, he tacked on an instrument rating before moving to Mesa, Ariz. to attend Arizona State University.
Clarkson graduates this month with a major in Aeronautical Technology. On the way, he picked up a commercial ticket, CFI and multi-engine ratings and spent his summer vacations back in New Jersey hauling skydivers in a Cessna 182 and 206.
To help make ends meet while in school, he took a job as a CFI at Fly 'N Buy Aircraft Sales at Falcon Field in Mesa. In addition to instructing, he filled up logbooks by ferrying airplanes all over the U.S.
"I've got over 2,000 hours so far in just about everything from a Piper Cub to a Beech Baron," Clarkson said. "In fact, I've flown 84 different type aircraft, including every model of single-engine Cessna -- it's a hobby seeing how many different types I can log time in."
Although he chose a J-3 Cub as his personal plane, Clarkson has loftier goals: a career with the airlines. He's got enough time for an ATP license and will finally have the time to sit down and study for the exam after he graduates.
In the meantime, he continues to fly the 1940 clipped-wing Piper J-3C Cub he bought almost two years ago to give tailwheel instruction in.
"It's a great trainer," he said, "but it was getting beat to death doing tailwheel transition work, so now I use it just for fun flying and to take to airshows."
Flying A Legend
Clarkson's is one of 19,888 J-3 Cubs of various models manufactured by Piper Aircraft Corp. from 1937 to 1947. More specifically, it's one of 1,881 built in 1940: a J-3C-65 powered by a 65-hp Continental A-65-1 engine.
At least that's what it started out as. Like so many Cubs, N30244 has had a fascinating career, undergoing a number of modifications in its 58 years.
The first was a popular postwar upgrade to the 85-hp Continental C-85 engine. Next, with the rear windows and back seat replaced by a chemical hopper, it was converted into a cropduster and operated in the Restricted category.
In 1990, it was the subject of another popular mod designed to turn the normally docile Cub into a sprightly aerobatic mount by radically increasing its roll rate. With the Reed clipped-wing conversion, six feet was lopped off the inside end of both wings.
Shortly after that, according to Clarkson, N30244 was acquired by aerobatic superstar Patty Wagstaff, who kept it until 1995. After being damaged in a hangar collapse, it was repaired and sold to Kevin McKown of Albuquerque, N.M. Clarkson bought the plane from him in February 1997 and, except for repairs to some minor damage incurred in an off-field landing, has had nothing but fun with it.
"It's great for mild aerobatics like loops, rolls and spins, and for off-field STOL work," he said. "It stalls at 35 mph with one person aboard, 45 with two.
"Except for the faster roll rate because of the clipped wings, there's little difference between this and a standard Cub," Clarkson explained. "Even with the bigger engine, it doesn't cruise any faster because of the wood Sensenich climb prop, which I prefer here in Arizona because of the heat and elevation."
How It All Began
By 1939, the Cub series was an established success, with J-3s upgraded to 50-hp Continental, Lycoming and Franklin engines the latest in the constantly evolving line. The biggest seller, though, was the Continental A-50-powered J-3C-50.
Although Continental introduced a 65-hp version of its reliable A-50 engine in 1939 and called it the A-65, it wasn't until Piper's chief competitors, Aeronca and Taylorcraft, began using them that it jumped on the bandwagon.
Minor redesign and strengthening of the basic Cub so it could accommodate the bigger engine resulted in the J-3C-65. Franklin and Lycoming-powered versions followed but it was the Continental-powered Cub that was to become the most popular, with examples rolling off the production line in Lock Haven, Pa. in 1941 at a rate of one every 70 minutes, or eight airplanes a day.
Although production of J-3C-65s for the civil market was halted by America's entry into the war in 1942, production resumed in late-1945 for three more years, with another 8,252 aircraft being built. But by then, the much-anticipated post-war boom in personal aircraft sales had gone bust and the J-3C Cub was superseded by the 65- and later 90-hp PA-11 Cub Special.
By the way, Clarkson says he plans to keep his Cub even after he gets on with a commuter airline. Based on the terrific formation flying he did for this photo shoot, this 58-year-old classic couldn't be in better hands.