From the Cockpit Part 39: Piper L-4 Grasshopper

Ryan Flies


Editor’s Note: This is part 39 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.

Settling into the cockpit of the Piper L-4 Grasshopper, there’s a comforting sense of familiarity for Rankin. Extremely similar to the Piper J-3 Cub that he’s flown before, even the manufacturers joke that the greatest change is in the paint job. But at least one important change is evident—extended windows reaching aft across the cockpit, where observers with binoculars and cameras can sit and scrutinize the goings-on below. That one change made the Grasshopper a valuable asset in World War II, where the modified Cub was produced in large numbers as an observation deck for recon, and the one Rankin’s in likely saw combat.

During WWII, the Grasshopper was intended for recon, artillery spotting and medevac (thanks to the bush skills inherent in the Cub), but some also saw a fair bit of action, with bazookas strapped to the wings for some makeshift missile-type action. One famous Grasshopper, Rosie the Rocketeer, was flown by “Bazooka Charlie” Carpenter and credited with destroying six enemy tanks and a number of other armored vehicles. And after flying the Grasshopper, Rankin’s even more amazed. Not just that it could happen, but that pilots would have the courage to take on the war machine in an old, slow, largely weaponless fabric aircraft. “When you’re going around at 70 knots, you’re a sitting duck for ground fire,” he says.

Taking off with Eric Buckelew, a civilian WWII buff, they talk history. There is no official record of this particular Grasshopper seeing action in WWII, but there’s no doubt that it was in the Pacific theater for several months before the war ended. Buckelew strongly believes it did, and between old records and the chaos of war, Rankin admits the strong possibility. Either way, the plane was flown by pilots in war, and sharing that seat, even across decades, has weight. And it’s more than nostalgia. “The feeling is very somber, in a way, but also an honor,” says Rankin. “It never gets old and it never wears off.”

For more about the flight in Rankin's own words and a video of the flight, follow the link below.

Pictured: Ryan Rankin and Eric Buckelew in the Piper L-4 Grasshopper. Photo courtesy of Ryan Rankin.

Ryan Flies

« View The Thursday Sep 28, 2017 SRQ Daily Edition
« Back To SRQ Daily Archive

Other Articles in Ryan Flies

May 20, 2019Jacob Ogles

Mote Taps Willis Smith For SEA Project

Mar 1, 2019Phil Lederer

The Real Lion King

Feb 19, 2019Brittany Mattie

Phoning Home