From the Cockpit Part 7: Piper J-3S

Ryan Flies


Editor’s Note: This is part seven of an ongoing series documenting the flights of active-duty US Navy Pilot Ryan Rankin on his journey to fly 52 planes in 52 weeks through the year 2017.

The flight almost didn’t happen. With a few hours to kill before an appointment in Lakeland, Rankin starts calling flight schools in the Orlando area to “hustle” a flight. Jake Brown’s Seaplane Base, a renowned school over in Winter Haven, responds and Rankin hits the road. But upon his arrival, a heavy fog has descended and visibility is poor and takeoff seems unlikely. Wait and see is the only approach and Rankin has little time to spare, but with the sun clearing the haze just in time, he takes to the skies in a Piper J-3S seaplane.

A simple but effective aircraft, Rankin refers to the Piper J-3S as a “workhorse,” though its more affectionate moniker is simply The Cub. Painted bright yellow (“Cub yellow,” Rankin adds), the single-propeller seaplane brings no frills, but a reliability, ease of use and pure aviation experience that Rankin appreciates. That dependability and versatility even caught the eye of the military, who adapted the model for use in World War II and the Korean War, though not too much needed to be changed. “They painted them green, called them the L4 Grasshopper and did recon,” says Rankin. “Flying low and slow and getting the lay of the land.”

Rankin didn’t exactly conduct recon missions on his flight, but on his 45-minute trip with Jake Brown’s Flight Instructor Eric Inglis, he did get the lay of the land a bit. Flying out of Winter Haven, the pair hit a series of four lakes to practice water takeoffs and landings. Flying a seaplane is much the same as flying any other plane, says Rankin, it’s the landings that really set the experience apart, with pilots having many more safety measures and obstacles and techniques to consider on a regular basis. “Things I’m not used to having in my thought process,” he says. Inglis demonstrated “step taxiing”—how to taxi a plane when the runway is water instead of asphalt—and they cruised around the lake just below takeoff speed.

Not Rankin’s first time in a Cub, the plane was his first seaplane and first tailwheel craft, so it holds a certain nostalgia. But the aspect he enjoyed most this time around was rather simple: flying with the doors open. “You feel in it and have that sense of flight when you’re exposed,” he says. Bigger jets may have more toys to play with, but some of the direct connection to the air surrounding is lost. “I’m growing to appreciate and like doors on planes less and less.”

Pictured: Ryan Rankin (left) and Eric Inglis fly the Piper J-3S. Photo courtesy of Ryan Rankin.

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