What Color is Your Cub?

Ask anybody what shade a Piper Cub is, and also you’re most likely to obtain some unusual appearances. Every person understands that it’s yellow, or, to be certain, some will certainly claim it’s Cub yellow or “Lock Haven Yellow.” Or is it? The famous Piper J-3 Cub is possibly among one of the most recognizable airplane basic aeronautics airplane. From a first instructor for World War II pilots to a common– as well as timeless– system for modern pilots to find the delights of tailwheel flying, the Cub has actually made an unique area in the hearts of pilots for greater than 80 years.

When you shut your eyes and also visualize a common taildragger, chances are that you visualize the pert little Cub, adorned in a joyful yellow with the trademark black lightning screw on either side. As it ends up, not all Cubs coincide shade. The J-3’s appeal exists not simply in the eye of the observer yet additionally in the background of the aircraft’s covering and also ending up. Right here’s the straight dope on Cub yellow.

Why Yellow?

Prior to the manufacturing of the J-3 Cub, the Piper Aircraft Corporation repainted a lot of its airplane silver with black or red trim. Yellow was picked due to the fact that the agreement amongst pilots was that it was one of the most noticeable shade, which would certainly make the J-3 Cub much easier to find. There was no study at the time, William T. Piper’s instinct was on the mark.

As it ends up, modern research study shows that fluorescent yellow eco-friendly is the shade most noticeable to the human eye. Those pigments weren’t offered in the ’40s as well as 1930s, so yellow would certainly be the most effective selection at the time. The raised presence, from a production factor of sight, the coating of the yellow pigment was exceptional to that of the silver pigment made use of at the time.

What is Yellow?

Piper Aircraft produced the J-3 Cub from 1938 to 1947. The earliest versions were repainted with chrome yellow, so called due to the fact that the yellow pigment originated from chromium, stemmed from lead chromate. Like the majority of little airplane of the moment, the Cub was covered with Grade A cotton material. The airplane skin acquired its stamina from several layers of tautening nitrate dope, and also yellow pigment included in the dope provided the airplane its shade. Piper completed the initial J-3 Cubs with nitrate dope tinted with “Lock Haven Yellow” pigment (#M -9521 by Randolph Paint Products, currently component of Consolidated Aircraft Coatings), which was a darker color of yellow with a somewhat orangish color.


The nitrate dope, which had actually been utilized because World War I, had numerous benefits; it was simple to use and also given stamina and also an enduring surface. There was one significant downside: It is extremely combustible.

Throughout World War II, a brand-new, less-flammable formula was created: butyrate dope. Butyrate dope had most of the benefits of nitrate dope, however it did not stick also to airplane frameworks as well as cotton material, as did its even more combustible equivalent. Butyrate did stick well to nitrate dope. Airplane producers established a brand-new covering procedure, using nitrate dope for the base layers, complied with by numerous layers of the butyrate dope. This option lowered flammability yet produced a brand-new issue for Piper. None of the business had the ability to produce a pigment suitable with butyrate dope that flawlessly matched “Lock Haven Yellow.”

The closest challenger was a brighter, purer color of yellow, which designer Randolph Paint Products described as “Piper Cub J-3 Yellow” (#F -6285). Although Piper remained to call it “Lock Haven Yellow,” all Cubs (as well as follower versions, consisting of the Vagabond, Pacer and also Tri-Pacer) produced after the adjustment to butyrate in 1946 would certainly be “Piper Cub J-3 Yellow.”

A Cub that looks pretty darned close to how the original Cubs looked.
According to specialists, this is rather darned near to exactly how the initial Cubs looked. Picture by Flickr User Alan Wilson Reconstruction as well as Modern Cubs You have a number of shade choices if you’re recovering a Cub today. Reactionaries concentrating on historic precision still select butyrate over nitrate dope (albeit on polyester instead of cotton textile). Randolph Paint Products still supplies an option of “Loch Haven Yellow” and also “J3 Cub Yellow.” For those going with various other finishings, PTI gives a variety of 7 yellows to pick for a polyurethane coating. Poly-Fiber Aircraft Coatings provides 3 Cub-specific yellows in its range of plastic finishes: “143 Cub Yellow,” “145 Lockhaven Yellow” as well as “146 J3 OEM Yellow.”


Modern paint coatings, such as polyurethane or plastic, generate a streamlined, high-gloss surface. These brand-new paint innovations develop aesthetically sensational appearances, real, yet the truth is, there were no high-gloss Cubs in the past. Dope, whether nitrate or butyrate, generates a duller satin coating. Conservators that favor modern-day paint solutions usually include flattener to the overcoat to boring the surface of modern-day paint and also offer it even more of a satin surface, like conventional Cubs.


While it is still feasible that there are some J-3 Cubs with the initial shade as well as covering from the Piper manufacturing facility, 8 years of damage and also the susceptability of cotton to wear and tear because of mold and mildew as well as UV direct exposure indicate that the majority of Cubs have actually been recouped, the majority of a number of times. Numerous Cubs have actually been adoringly recovered and also remain to tempt brand-new generations to fall for tailwheel flying. The chances of finding a J-3 Cub at your neighborhood flight terminal are great, yet it’s rather not likely you’ll see several Cubs in the initial nitrate dope “Lock Haven Yellow” livery flying today.

Exactly How Can You Tell?

For those airplane watchmans wishing to find a J-3 Cub in real, initial nitrate “Lock Haven Yellow,” expect a darker color of orange yellow with a flatter surface. And also, there is another telltale indicator. It was not appropriate for covering the boot cowl of the airplane since butyrate dope does not stick to surface areas as well as nitrate dope. It switched over to enamel for the boot cowl when Piper made the change to butyrate dope in 1946. This required it to modify the outlining to suit the various layers. The trademark black lightning screw was reduced to ensure that it would certainly fit entirely on the boot cowling.

Find out more Mysteries of Flight posts with “The Phoenix Lights” right here.


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