Piper Flyer Association - Technical Know-how, Serious Fun read more

Keep Those Old Cubs Rolling & Stopping

Keep Those Old Cubs Rolling & Stopping



Upsizing your vintage Piper wheels and tires. 

A cub is a young bear as well as the mascot for early Piper airplanes. Today, up to 79 years from their birth, many of these once-youthful Cubs (and Cruisers, Clippers, Pacers and Vagabonds) are getting a bit grizzly. 

After decades of landings, good and bad, an old Cub’s legs may be in need of some renewal. Vintage drum brakes, which never were the best, may have lost their grip with age; wheels can become corroded and wobbly; classic fat 8.00-4 tires are increasingly hard to find and painful to afford.

Supply and demand has changed

Decades ago, when the time for a tire change came, most Cub owners just asked their local mechanic to pull a tire off the pile and put ‘er on. Tires for Cubs and Clippers were readily available, made by various manufacturers, and reasonably priced. 

But today, Goodyear is only manufacturer of 8.00-4 tires, and they cost more than $300 a tire. If you need a tube for that tire, add another $140 to $150. 

Faced with the possibility of a $900 tire change, many vintage Piper owners are spending a few extra dollars up front to upgrade the landing gear to accept more reasonably priced 6.00-6 tires. 

The upgrade doesn’t only save money on future tire changes; the installation of new tires, wheels and brakes offers owners many benefits in increased safety, durability
and reliability.

A note about tire sizes

On tires with a Type III size classification (for example, “8.00-4,” or “6.00-6,”), the first number is the tire’s section width—that’s the widest point of its outer sidewall to the widest point of its inner sidewall when mounted on a wheel. The second number is the wheel rim diameter that the tire fits. 

With Type III tires, there is no indication of the overall diameter (i.e., how “big” the tire is); you have to look that up in the specifications for your aircraft.

To complicate matters, tires and wheels use different designations. A four-inch wheel for a vintage Cub is an 800x4 wheel, while the tire is an 8.00-4. Maybe the tire and wheel manufacturers should have communicated way back when it all started?

Classic Cubs, early Super Cubs, and various vintage Piper aircraft use tires that are 8.00-4, so that means they are about eight inches wide and fit on a four-inch wheel. The precise size depends on the weight of the plane, the rim, and the inflation, and may vary by about half an inch. 

For aircraft owners who want to change from the classic 8.00-4 tire to today’s more common 6.00-6, it means you’re changing from a four-inch rim to a six-inch rim, and the tire is two inches narrower. 

Reasons to consider a change

The first Piper equipped with the 6.00-6 tires and six-inch wheels was the Piper Tri-Pacer introduced in 1951.In part due to the popularity of training aircraft with tires in this size, numerous tire manufacturers offer a selection of tires with different treads, different numbers of plies, and various prices. 

To make the switch to 6.00-6 tires, you must change to six-inch wheels—and to do that, you must change the brakes, too. That could get expensive, but considering that 8.00-4 tires cost about $360 a pair more than 6.00-6 (without tubes), it might make financial sense. 

Do you use your plane for training and need tire changes often? Are you satisfied with your airplane’s braking ability? Does the aircraft hold in place during a runup? Are your wheels corroded or cracked? Do you need to replace any other landing gear parts? Are you thinking about flying into the backcountry and might need bush tires, or even tundra tires?

Besides addressing any specific issues with your particular aircraft, changing to six-inch wheels has numerous advantages. With any type of brake, disc or drum, a larger diameter provides better braking—and modern disc brakes are certainly a far more effective design than 1950s-era drum brakes.

If you get a flat tire away from home, you’ll be lucky to find a repair station with an 8.00-4 tire when you need it. With overnight shipping, that’s not quite the problem it was decades ago; however, there’s only one tire that’s approved for a four-inch wheel. 

If your favorite aviation parts supplier is out of stock on the tire, you’ll be calling around the country to locate one. And in years to come, there’s a real possibility that 8.00-4 tires will get harder to find, not easier. So why not upgrade all your landing gear parts, brakes, wheels and tires at once?

A bolt-on kit is available

The engineers at Grove Aircraft Landing Gear Systems, a family-owned business based in El Cajon, Calif., have developed a solution to the problems of aging four-inch wheels and brakes. 

Grove Aircraft offers a bolt-on conversion for vintage aircraft to upgrade to modern six-inch wheels and disc brakes for many vintage Pipers, from J-3s up to PA-20 aircraft. 

The price for Grove’s conversion, which includes two new wheels (either aluminum or magnesium), disc brakes, mounting hardware and brake line fittings, costs $1,689. 

If you add together a new pair of pricey 8.00-4 tires (research shows a single new tire and tube runs between $466 and $555), plus any extra repair, such as a new four-inch wheel at $450, or a standard brake job that can cost several hundred dollars, then the upgrade to six-inch wheels and tires may make good financial sense. 

For a one-time cost of $1,689 you get the option to use less expensive tires with the benefit of better braking.

The conversion kit from Grove is simple enough for the average pilot to install, with parts that bolt on to the existing landing gear attachment points. However, all work should be supervised by a licensed A&P mechanic, and must be inspected and approved.


Other wheel conversions

Even if you already have six-inch wheels, it’s important to note that not all systems are approved to take larger tires. 

The Grove six-inch wheels have STC approval to accept many tire sizes, including 6.00-6, 7.00-6, 8.00-6, 8.50-6 and 26x10.5-6 tires—and numerous tire manufacturers make them. With these wheels you can customize your tires to your flying—or more accurately, your landing—needs.

Several other companies, such as Cleveland Wheels and Brakes (a division of Parker Hannifin Corp.), offer STC’d six-inch wheel conversions for Piper airplanes, too. 

Each manufacturer comes with an approved tire size list, so be sure that the tire size you plan to use is listed before you buy a wheel conversion system.

Ease of installation

Rick Hannemann, of Sherwood, Wis. recently used the Grove wheel and conversion brake kit on his restoration of a 1954 Piper L21-B Super Cub, a military version of the basic Super Cub.


He reports that the installation was simple to perform. “Everything was in the kit and just bolted on,” Hannemann explained. He plans to mount 8.50-6 tires on his new wheels, a good choice for landing on grass airfields, his type of flying.

“I made this change for better braking and due to the lack of parts for old drum brakes,” Hannemann continued. “I know if I did have a problem [with the conversion kit], I could call up Robbie [Robbie Grove, owner of Grove Aircraft Landing Gear Systems] directly; he cares about airplanes and his customers.”

With new tires, modern wheels and brakes, vintage Piper aircraft can keep landing and rolling reliably as long as they can fly.

Dennis K. Johnson is a writer and a New York City-based travel photographer, shooting primarily for Getty Images and select clients. He spends months each year traveling, flies sailplanes whenever possible and is the owner of N105T, a newly restored Piper Super Cub Special.
Send questions or comments to .


Wheel and brake system upgrades

Grove Aircraft Landing Gear Systems Inc.

Parker Hannifin Corp.
 – PFA supporter

Wheels, tires and brakes
– PFA supporters

Aircraft Spruce & Specialty Co.
Univair Aircraft Corp.
Place, Peel, Press & Spray

Place, Peel, Press & Spray

The pros and cons of using decals and stencils to apply aircraft graphics.

You’ve just repainted your airplane and it’s beautiful. There’s just one detail keeping you grounded: applying the required N-numbers and placards. 

According to the dictionary, a placard is a “sign for public display.” So, what’s the best method to publicly display your aircraft information? Decals or paint? 

Dried-out decals

I’ve never liked decals, particularly after seeing so many cracked and peeling from airplanes sitting in the sun on the flight line, but they do have some advantages. 

First, almost anyone with patience can apply them. If you mess up, peel it off and try again. Another benefit is that they can be easily removed. If there’s a chance you may change your N-number, decals are the way to go. 


There’s one caveat, though: the paint around decals can fade, so after a few years it may not look so great if you make a change. (Kind of like a girl with a suntan from one bikini who then wears another with a different cut. You can tell where the sun’s been, and where it hasn’t.)

Unless you have the cash to hire a professional painter, or you’re an artist yourself, you’ll want to use decals for any complex designs. Unusual or personalized images can be sent to an aviation graphics company for printing on decal material.


Soap is for the kitchen dishes

When applying a decal to an airplane, many people suggest using soapy water—often a mixture using common dish soap—to make a slippery surface for the decal to float upon. This allows for fine adjustment of the decal’s position and for air bubbles trapped underneath to be squeezed out. 

I don’t think soap is good for adhesion, and I have to wonder if the reason many decals are peeling and cracking is that they’ve been degraded by a sunbaked soap film. If you use my method, you shouldn’t have any bubble problems and you won’t need to make last-second, soapy adjustments to your decal’s position.

My method to apply decals

1. Use a small piece of masking tape to place the decal where you want it, with the backing material against the aircraft. The decal material is made of three layers, a heavy backing, the decal in the middle and a light protective paper. You’ll be able to see through the light paper side to ensure its orientation.

2. Step back and look at the position carefully. Compare what you see in front of you to your photos or design plan. Is the decal straight? Does it match the “line” of your plane? It might look better if it matches the airplane’s lines versus being dead-straight.

3. Adjust the decal until you are absolutely sure that’s where you want it, then completely tape down the top edge.

4. Flip the decal up, making a hinge of the tape. Crease the tape so it moves easily.

5. Have a soft, clean cloth within reach and start peeling the backing off the decal from the top, next to the tape hinge. Press down that topmost edge of the decal and use the cloth to smooth the decal as you slowly peel the backing material off. The cloth will help it go down smoothly without any bubbles. Work slowly, and pull the backing material off in a straight line.

6. When the decal is fully applied, remove the protective paper and masking tape, and rub the decal gently with the cloth.

A second pair of hands helps during any decal application, and is essential for large decals—one person pulls off the backing, while the other smoothes the decal. 

For really large decals—such as 12-inch N-numbers, which could be five or six feet long—it’s best to cut the decal into manageable pieces. After taping down the top edge (step three, above), cut vertically between the numbers. The decal will look like a row of teeth. Then apply one number at a time.

Placarded information

Aviation graphics companies sell sets of decals for all the placarded information needed inside and outside your particular aircraft, such as “No Step,” “Avgas Only” and “Fasten Seat Belts.” Do I really need a “No Smoking” decal on my instrument panel? Evidently, it’s required. 

Use the same tape-hinge method described earlier for these small decals.

Stencils and paint

Painted graphics look better, especially after years under the sun, but painting also takes far more effort (or money, if you want someone else to make the effort). 

First, you must apply stencils and protect nearby areas of the aircraft from overspray, then mix up and spray toxic paints, remove the stencils and protective materials, and clean the spray equipment. The stencils, paint and rental of a spray gun cost far more than decals. 

Painted markings are also almost impossible to change—you’d have to repaint the background color first—so be sure before you start spraying. 


If it’s so much effort, why paint? 

It looks really good and stands up to the elements when done right.

Large stencils can cost hundreds of dollars—quite a bit more than masking tape—but modern stencil materials give a much sharper edge and don’t allow paint to bleed underneath. 

I think it’s worth the cost. This is especially true when painting on fabric covered aircraft with ribs and stitches to cover. The difference between figures sprayed through computer-cut stencils and those done using masking tape is obvious, at least to me.

Some painters still prefer to use tape to mask out N-numbers and insignias for painting, citing the cost and difficulty of handling large stencils. But, in my opinion, that’s a tradeoff of quality for cost. You have to be a real artist to create straight, properly aligned letters with a roll of masking tape, and there’s inevitably a few spots where the paint bleeds.


If you do use masking tape, run your thumbnail over the edges to make sure they are pressed down completely. And, no matter how well you think the tape is adhering, paint will bleed under it every time if you apply the paint too heavily at first. A very light, almost dry coat will seal the edges and prevent bleeding when you apply a heavy coat to finish the job.

My method for applying stencils is the same as it is for decals. The only difference is the additional step of removing the middle layer—the one cut in the shape you want to paint—so the paint can reach the surface.

Really large stencils might take three people to apply: two to pull off the backing material and one to smooth the stencil.

Take a second look

I ordered two identical stencils for my aircraft. You would think the company would set up the type (in this case, a large N-number), hit “print 2,” and they’d be spit from the stencil-cutting machine exactly alike. Well, they weren’t. 

The painter placed the stencils on my aircraft according to my instructions and sprayed. Only after he peeled them off did we see that the spacing of the letters was incorrect on one. The letters were too close together.

My pilot friends say, “no one will ever notice,” and maybe that’s true—but I noticed it immediately. I could have fixed it by increasing the spacing myself, if only I’d seen it earlier. The lesson here is: stand back and take a long look before slinging paint. 

I’m sure there are decal people, stencil people, masking tape people… and everyone has their own opinion. You can make your own choice. That’s part of the fun of having your own plane, isn’t it?

What methods have you found work best on your airplane? Visit the forums at PiperFlyer.org to share your successes, upload your photos, and get more ideas.

Dennis K. Johnson is a writer and a New York City-based travel photographer. He flies sailplanes whenever possible and is the owner of N105T, a newly restored Piper Super Cub Special. Send questions or comments to .

Hunting for a Home: Experiences Searching for a Hangar

Hunting for a Home: Experiences Searching for a Hangar

“It’s impossible to find a hangar anywhere,” was the refrain every pilot around me sang, but within a month my new plane had a roof over its wings. Was it just luck? No matter how I acquired my hangar, it seems they are in short supply around here. “Here” being northern New Jersey, a modest drive west of New York City, but pilots from around the country seem to sing the same song.

There are many airports around here, from Newark Liberty International Airport (KEWR), which would be a preposterous base for an aircraft unless you own a Fortune 500 company and your aircraft is a multimillion-dollar jet, to grassy airstrips visited only by the taildragger crowd. 

Fortunately, New Jersey really is the Garden State, just like it says on the license plates. Once you get a few miles from the I-95 corridor there are abundant, small and friendly airports west of NYC and north of, let’s say, Princeton. Even Charles Lindbergh built an airfield on his New Jersey estate. Many of these small airports are set amid rolling farmland and some of the most idyllic scenery in the country.

After visiting a number of these airports, I found the hangar facilities fell into three categories.

1. Common hangars

One airport offered only a single common hangar that housed about 20 airplanes and helicopters, from Cessna 172s to a Learjet. With so many different types and sizes, a pilot really needs to rely on the airport staff to pull out his plane, which might not be possible outside of working hours. Or your plane could be waiting for you on the tarmac if you call ahead—and fueled up, too. 

Most of my friends shuddered at the prospect of serious “hangar rash” with so many aircraft being moved around. Also, there may be little security. I’d never leave my headsets or portable GPS in that sort of hangar. 

I doubt if an owner could do much maintenance either, maybe just a simple oil change. You might be allowed to keep a small tool box along a wall, but the airport management would certainly not be responsible for any loss of that either. 

Common hangars usually have some space available and are often the cheapest roof over your plane.

2. Shared hangars

Another airport had a couple hangars to share, big enough for three or four airplanes, but with no space available. This situation is better than a giant common hangar, as a tenant would get to know the other aircraft and how to move them if needed. 

There’s still a risk of hangar rash, not just from moving aircraft. I can see even the most careful pilot twanging a wing with a broom handle while cleaning up. 

Shared hangars are more expensive than a common hangar, but are more secure, with only the aircraft owners having access. It could be a social environment, too, which is good if the other pilots are responsible and fun people—or a nightmare if your hangar partners are a bunch of slobs.

3. Private hangar

This is the way to go if you can afford it, and these are the ones impossible to find. Of course, the owner(s) of a single aircraft have to pay all the rent, but at least they can control the use of their hangar.

Private hangars have many advantages:

• Security—Keys to the hangar and access to the plane are limited. You can lock up your headsets, flying and maintenance gear, including tools.

• Storage—Although the FAA is cracking down on “non-aviation uses” of hangars, especially at airports that receive federal funds, there’s room to store some stuff. An FAA investigation found hangars that held cars and boats, with nothing related to aviation, and they believe this takes space from people who actually want to house a flyable aircraft. Items stored in a private hangar should have some association to aviation, such as tools, aircraft skis or floats, covers, oil and other aircraft maintenance items.

• Workplace—For homebuilders, a hangar may be primarily a construction site. The FAA is not completely on board with the idea of a hangar being used to build a plane, when so many people need space to store flyable aircraft. Using a hangar  (sometimes for years) for a plane that doesn’t need the access to runways is a real issue.

• Maintenance—I’ve seen workshops of varying complexity in hangars, from a small box of tools to a full machine shop. Having a private hangar allows owners to pull apart their plane and leave the parts spread across the floor, whether for an oil change or an annual inspection.

• Social—Hangars can be a simple slab of concrete surrounded by tin to protect your airplane from the worst of nature’s elements, or it can be the ultimate recreational space. All pilots know that the coolness of an individual’s personal space is increased exponentially when an aircraft is parked within. (“You’ve got a pool table in your man cave? Bah! I have a P-51.”) Hangars are places where pilots can gather to relax, drink and talk flying.

Other cost factors

Besides the cost differential of common versus private hangars, I found prices were driven by a few other factors.

1. Location—With proximity to a large city, or a suburban town where big-city big shots live, the greater the price of hangars. No surprise there, especially if half the airport is used by business jets. 

2. Amenities and upkeep—Hangars are as scarce as hen’s teeth at those beautiful, almost park-like airports, with neatly cut grass, a restaurant and a thriving community of pilots. Other airports only offer ancient, drafty, tin hangars with rusty doors, potholed runways and muddy taxiways. You get what you pay for.

3. Subsidies—One of the airports I considered was a state property, and the rental rates were the lowest around; your tax dollars at work. But, of course, they had no space available.

“Are you one of us?”

Does social politics play a role in who gets a hangar? Do taildragger airport managers scoff at nosewheelers? I wondered, as pilots at a particular airport would say, “Yeah, the manager told me there were spaces available,” but when speaking to that manager, “Unfortunately, there aren’t.” 

Then, an instructor would say, “Yup, he told me yesterday there was space available,” but when asked again, “Sorry, we’ve got no space.” 

Is it the pilot or the plane? I kept hearing, “We’d love to have your airplane here.” Is he more interested in the airplane than the pilot? Do the managers want only the coolest aircraft at their field? I suppose anything’s possible.

No doubt, if a pilot’s reputation as a troublemaker precedes him, I’d want the manager to claim there’s no room, too. I hope I’m not that guy.

No room at the inn

When all options fail, you may have to tie down your aircraft outside. If your airplane is worth any amount greater than the average car, it really deserves protection. 

But, without a roof over your plane you should invest in a full set of wing and fuselage covers, engine plugs and pitot tube covers. Reflective shields will protect the interior from the summer sun, helping to slow the inevitable cracking of plastic and vinyl, and perhaps extending the life of your avionics, too.

The only advantage of a tiedown over a hangar is cost—as little as $50 per month—but you get what you pay for. Usually, that’s just a square of grass (if you’re lucky) or mud, and perhaps a concrete anchor to tie down your plane. 

Place some metal grid or industrial rubber matting on your tiedown spot if you don’t want to wear a muddy hole in the ground where you climb in. Most pilots buy a locker to hold a small ladder, cleaning supplies and oil, and place it alongside their plot. (You’ll want the locker to store your covers while you’re out flying, too.)

If you tie down, be prepared to shovel snow or be grounded. Most airports can’t remove snow from grassy tiedown areas, and when the snow melts you still may not be able to taxi over the soft ground. A heavy rainstorm might also keep you mired in mud.

For more cash you could get a tiedown on tarmac, which is better than a muddy spot and will usually be plowed after snowstorms. You’ll still have to deal with rain-soaked aircraft covers, bird droppings, frosty wings and muddy feet in your cockpit. You’ll also worry when there’s a forecast for hail in the area, and need to be wary of birds and bugs building nests in any available nook of your plane. 

As in a common hangar, tied-down aircraft are not very secure. Any theft from a plane that I’ve heard of, usually a headset or GPS, was from a tied-down plane.

Tied-down aircraft cost a little more for insurance, too. Avemco, for example, gives a 10 percent discount on the hull coverage premium if you hangar your aircraft. That’s due to the number of claims from on-the-ground weather incidents, such as hail damage. All in all, hangars are better.
Beggars can’t be choosers

If you have few options, you’ll have to take the best you can get, as-is. I’m very happy with the airport I found, and feel lucky to have found a hangar there. It’s a beautiful spot, with a friendly group of pilots, a wide variety of aircraft, an EAA chapter and a pretty good restaurant. 

I think my good fortune was just the luck of timing. It was autumn when I needed my space, so I think some pilots had sold airplanes and moved out during the summer.

However, there are a few items that my hangar lacks, which could be worth keeping in mind during your hangar search.

1. No running water, not even a hose faucet anywhere along the row of hangars. I can’t hose out the hangar or wash my plane, or even fill a bucket to do some cleaning.

2. My hangar has only one electrical outlet. I need to run a 40-foot extension cord to get power anywhere else in the space. A few more outlets would have been convenient.

3. The hangar has a small lip from the concrete floor to the tarmac. This seems really minor, but it can be a struggle to push my plane over that by myself. I did install a couple metal ramps, but it’s still a pain.

4. If I had my choice, I would have picked a south-facing hangar. Mine is in the shade all winter, and significantly colder than the ones across the taxiway. On a chilly but sunny winter day, those hangars get almost toasty.

Finding a hangar for your airplane can be more difficult, with fewer choices, than finding a home for yourself. And there are no realtors to help. If you’re thinking of buying an aircraft, start early to explore the airports in the area where you’d like to fly. 

Talk to pilots hanging around the airports, look over the facilities and let people know you’re in the market. A guy who knows a guy who’s thinking of moving out of his hangar could put you in the right place at the right time to find the right home for your plane.

Dennis K. Johnson is a writer and a New York City-based travel photographer, shooting primarily for Getty Images and select clients. He spends months each year traveling, flies sailplanes whenever possible and is the owner of N105T, a newly restored Piper Super Cub Special. Send questions or comments to .

Subscribe to this RSS feed
  • 1
  • 2