2,600-foot Grass Strip and Piper Cub!

What an exciting day!

One of Hunter’s cousins (Jeff) is a pilot who flies a Boeing 747 to China for his day job and owns and flies a Piper Cub for fun… what a pair that makes. He lives in Concord, NC where there is an airport with a nice long paved runway in Class D airspace. He invited us to fly over and enjoy a ride in the Cub. Sounds good to me!

His Cub is located at Spencer, a private grass strip that’s outside of the Concord airport’s airspace and closer to his house. Since the Cub has no radio (actually, it has no electrical system at all), he steers clear of airspace requiring radio communications. However, Spencer is only 2,200 feet long, and our club policy requires 2,500 feet. Conveniently, there is another private grass strip just north of Spencer called Buffalo Creek that’s 2,600 feet. Perfect. Jeff was going to fly his Cub over and meet us there.

We got permission to land at the private strip via Jeff’s affiliation and got some pointers on the procedures for a safe approach and departure. There’s a 500-foot tower at the approach end of runway 33, but that’s the preferred runway since 50-foot tall trees make the other end a difficult approach. It would be a challenge, but we felt comfortable at least making an attempt, and if it wasn’t looking good, we could divert to Concord and have Jeff pick us up in a car with our tails between our legs.

The flight was simple, and with our GPSs we had no problems finding the grass field, but that tower and the other towers in the area sure made things interesting. There was plenty of room, but it sure wasn’t a place to get lazy. With Hunter flying the pattern, we made one approach that was obviously ending up too high. We decided early that we would go around, but continued the approach to get a better look at the field first. We turned a tiny one-man plane into a two-crew aircraft with a well-synchronized approach and go-around procedure. I worked the flaps and closely watch his airspeed as he eagle-eyed the altitude and kept the plane in line. I constantly “reminded” him to keep the airspeed up and notified him of the need to change flap settings. It was an interesting exchange.

I’ve read enough accident reports to see a pattern on this exact type of situation. What happens is one of two things: first, in an attempt to get slow enough for landing, the pilot gets too slow, stalls, and doesn’t have enough altitude to recover. Or, the pilot realizes they aren’t going to make it, so they go around. However, being so slow, the go-around is done improperly; not enough speed is regained before attempting to climb out and the plane stalls, again, without enough altitude to recover. Given this knowledge, I was all over Hunter about keeping his airspeed up.

The go-around was successful; no problems. We made another approach, slightly lower with full flaps and a full forward slip and a similar exchange as on the go-around, but this time with much reassurance on my part that it was looking really good… and it was. A very nice landing for Hunter with several relatives watching.

We parked, got out and ate our bag lunches outside in the cool, but beautiful weather. Present was Jeff, his 16-year-old daughter Kathryn, and one of Hunter’s aunts and uncles. I don’t think it was Jeff’s parents, but I never did find out their relationship. We chatted and talked about the approach and landing. It turns out Hunter was really nervous about the whole thing (as was I), but neither of us felt it was pushing too close to our limits.

After lunch, we headed straight for the Cub. It looked brand new, other than the fact that it was made over 60 years ago. It was clearly refurbished and had a new engine with barely 50 hours on it. I volunteered to go first. I got a pre-flight briefing, including instructions on how to get into the thing. I was in the front, and Jeff would be in the back, but not until he hand propped the engine (remember, no electrical system, which means no electric starter). With earplugs in place and my feet on the brakes, the engine started easily and sounded much nicer than I’d expect a Cub engine to sound.

Jeff and that plane got us off the ground with ease. We had about a 20 minute flight that no words can properly describe, but it was wonderful. I even got to fly it around a bit. Returning to the airport, we made a low pass for the video and picture takers on the ground, then went around for a much more elegant approach and landing than we had in our 152.

Hunter went went up next as Kathryn and I watched and took pictures. It turns out she’s in the high school band (as was I for those of you that don’t know) and her dad is active in the band boosters, giving money-raising flights in the Cub at band events.

Upon Hunter’s return, we gave our thanks and talked about the departure procedure. I would be getting us out of there. We taxied back, had a successful run-up, and started rolling out. The plane was not picking up as much speed as I’d hoped. I tried to get it off the ground into ground effect per the soft-field takeoff procedures, but ol’ 333 wasn’t happy. Hunter “encouraged” me to “Pull up!” a couple times, but we didn’t have enough airspeed. I refer you to my previous explanation of what happens when you don’t have enough airspeed at low altitudes. So… I waited patiently as we finally got the mains off the ground and quickly made it to 54 knots in ground effect, at which point I pulled up and we oh so beautifully launched into the sky over the trees.

I was only a couple seconds from pulling the plug on that, but I think Hunter was more nervous than I was about it. We had enough room and I did everything I was supposed to do, but we really need a more powerful plane if we’re going to do that again. If it were much warmer and we’d had a full load, that plane wouldn’t make it out of there.

We dodged the tower after departure and headed east for an easy-going trip back to Sanford.

Again, what an exciting day and an excellent experience.

Here are a few photos of us while landing, with the Cub, and a short video of me in the Cub fly-by. Note the tower in the background on approach.

Cub Visit Approach Cub Visit Landing Cub Visit Cub

Cub Fly By Video