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Cooke’s classic Cub

ken armstrong has a mystical experience – first published summer 2001

Piper Cub C-FNFK

For Ron and Carol Cooke of North Bay, Ontario, nothing can equal the pleasure of flying their 1946 Piper J‑3 Cub on a crisp fall evening. Added vortex generators on the wing leading edges provide shortened takeoff runs and lower stall speed. (All photos courtesy Ron and Carol Cooke.)

As the last glimmers of daylight were surrendering to Venus’s approach, COPA director Ron Cooke beckoned me toward his boat shed on lovely Lake Nosbonsing. Autumnal splendor enveloped us as Linda and I continued living the delights of our fall visit to my birthplace on the pre-Cambrian Shield of Northern Ontario.

The lures this time were the opportunity to sample the newest iteration of the venerable and very competent flying Found, to visit relatives in Kirkland Lake and to get to know the Cookes. After they put together the extremely successful North Bay COPA convention in 1999, I realized those diminutive bodies housed super humans. Moreover, I had been impressed with this couple’s dedication to aviation, their high ideals and the fact they owned a fleet of vintage aircraft. (Secretly, I hoped some of their magic would rub off on me and rejuvenate my recreational aviation energy–and it worked!)

Wavelets lapped the dock with enticing whispers and my imagination raced as the open front of the building disclosed a propeller blade. This glimpse was followed with the barest of a cowling that was incapable of hiding the Continental’s protruding cylinders. Each anticipatory step revealed more and more of a bantam floatplane and it was well into the dim light before I recognized this boat for what it truly was–a Piper Cub. Much has been written about this classic and more than 20,000 of them were produced. Quite frankly, as a young military jet pilot, I only had to look at the performance data once to realize it wasn’t much of an airplane and paid little attention to the Cub for the next 40 years of my life.

But knowledge seems to grow with age and all at once you realize you aren’t quite as smart or worldly as you thought. Learning and enjoying the Cub was to become somewhat of a personal emotional enlightenment.

As I revelled at the opportunity to fly a paragon in aviation advances and history, my mentor was teaching me how to fold myself into the smallest common denominator to reach the back seat. What was I getting into? As daylight was quickly evaporating, Ron invested what seemed like an inordinate amount of time getting me squared away in the rounded cabin and providing a briefing on the ancient airframe and engine controls. We donned our PFDs and Ron reminded me of emergency egress procedures–just in case. He invested only 1/10th of a second to swing the prop and sprightly jump aboard–all in one effortless motion. While he strapped in, I negotiated the narrow confines of our exit from the “boat shed” and dock as the placid Piper confidently led us toward open water.

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