With a wicked winter blast aiming for Baker, Montana, Super Cub restoration experts Roger and Darin Meggers worked around the clock to complete the AOPA sweepstakes airplane so that AOPA Editor at Large Dave Hirschman and I could head south in the yellow-and-black backcountry taildragger for its debut at the Sun 'n Fun International Fly-In and Expo in Lakeland, Florida.
With the airplane’s first and second test flights occurring late in the day Friday, April 6, a frigid 18 degrees Fahrenheit with light winds and clear skies, Hirschman and I watched as our window to make it to Sun 'n Fun narrowed. But, we still had two full days—Saturday and Sunday—to make the trek, we reassured ourselves. A planned early morning departure Saturday turned to 10 a.m., then noon, then 1:25 p.m. Mountain time. Pressure mounted as Baker Air Service made the final test flight; we completed the airplane’s paperwork and started out with just a day and half to get to Florida. (Watch a video of the first test flight.)
The Super Cub’s new Lycoming O-320 160-horsepower engine had only a couple of hours on it after the test flights, so we monitored the JPI EDM-900 regularly for precise information about the engine’s health—fuel flow and consumption, oil temperature and pressure, cylinder head temperatures, and exhaust gas temperatures. The engine performed flawlessly (throughout the entire 17-hour flight, we added only one quart of oil). The CiES digital fuel gauges let us know exactly how much fuel we had on board, and we verified them at each of our fuel stops. They proved true every time, boosting our confidence in the aircraft's range.
Hirschman took the 216-nm leg to Kansas City, Missouri’s Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport, flying in after dark. The panel designed by Aerotronics lit up beautifully, and an overhead map light provided a soft white glow. The Super Cub was lit up outside as well, with lights from AeroLEDs that included wigwag landing lights to increase our visibility to others.
The five-and-a-half hours of flight time flew by thanks to the details in this Super Cub. Six USB ports from True Blue Power, a division of Mid-Continent Instrument Co., let both of us charge our electronic devices for navigation and entertainment purposes. Hirschman selected the tunes for the trip, updated our plans based on weather and winds, and experimented with different camera angles to document the Super Cub’s maiden voyage after its restoration. I had stocked up on easy pilot snacks so we didn’t need to take time to eat during our fuel stops, allowing us to do quick turns and make as much progress as possible.
Sunday morning, we thought we had broken loose of winter weather, but it was fast on our heels as another system popped up, bringing a frozen mix, and closed in on Kansas City. Mentally, we focused on balmy Florida temperatures and deliberately dressed for warmer weather, stowing the ski pants and coveralls. Temperatures were still only in the 30 degrees Fahrenheit range in Kansas City, but the Super Cub’s heater put out a lot of warmth, at least for the front-seat pilot. I felt like I was having waves of hot flashes while Hirschman was still a little on the chilly side in the back.
Looking at a full day of flying with three, three-hour legs, even the slightest headwind can be tough mentally. Hirschman and I gave each other optimistic pep talks about the journey ahead, dividing 10 hours of flying every which way to make it sound as short as possible. Thankfully, the headwinds diminished as we climbed to 4,500 feet leaving Kansas City, improving our spirits. We watched the weather—on the Garmin aera 600—that was paralleling our course and were able to keep clear without needing to deviate. I changed the map screen to remove the ground speed and time to destination, picked points far on the horizon, and just enjoyed the scenery as I flew along. That made the time go faster on both of the legs I flew. The Super Cub doesn’t have an autopilot, so it is all hand flying. The Meggers did such an amazing job with the rigging that we could trim it and fly hands off in the smooth air.
Hirschman drew the tough leg of the trip—the last one, when we were the most tired and would be landing after dark and navigating around weather. The aera 660 was a great addition. Hirschman planned alternate routes around the weather while I backed him up using ForeFlight on my iPad and provided frequencies and airport information. We flew along Florida’s west coast before deviating inland around some rain and landed at Tampa Executive Airport at 9:20 p.m. Eastern time—about 30 hours after we had taken off from Baker and just 16 nm away from Lakeland Linder Regional Airport. During that time we transitioned from below-freezing winter temperatures to humid summer heat, wide open airspace over sparsely populated areas to complex airspace over major cities.
Exhausted, we felt a sense of accomplishment, but we couldn’t celebrate just yet (or stand up straight). We still had the Lake Parker arrival to bring the sweepstakes airplane to the AOPA Campus on the Sun ‘n Fun grounds. Even though the Super Cub is extremely comfortable (the seats from Airtex are so comfortable that I didn’t start squirming until eight hours into the second day of flying, but typically squirm after two hours in other aircraft seats), well-equipped, and fun to fly, neither of us in that moment were thrilled by the thought of crawling back in for the last short leg on Monday—but that’s what 17 hours in an airplane over a day and half will do to a pilot regardless of how plush the aircraft is. However, Hirschman put our cross-country trip into perspective, noting how much longer the flight legs are for general aviation pilots who fly around the world.
The Lake Parker arrival was uneventful, and we taxied up to the display area, shut down, and maneuvered the airplane into the campus. Early arrivals have already looked over the sweepstakes airplane and given it two thumbs up. And Super Cub pilots are starting a list of modifications and additions they want for their own aircraft.
After spending so much time in the Super Cub, I give this piece of workmanship, built with pride and expertise, two thumbs up as well. But, come see it for yourself at Sun 'n Fun!