Already a member? Please login below for an enhanced experience. Not a member? Join today
Menu

Goin' Cubbin'Goin' Cubbin'

Explore the US from a couple thousand feet aboveExplore the US from a couple thousand feet above

Editor's note: See the AOPA Sweepstakes Super Cub at our kick-off fly-in of 2018 in Missoula, Montana, June 15 and 16!

Wrapped in a tube-and-fabric Piper Super Cub, window and door open, flying low and slow over the countryside is an incredibly intimate way to explore the United States by air from the Appalachian Mountains across the Great Plains to the Rocky Mountains. Cars pass by on interstates (literally, sometimes they pass the Super Cub), trains meander around mountains, farmers spray their crops, boaters enjoy a warm day on a lake, deer run free on plateaus, and cattle graze on ranches—all going about their business seemingly unaware of their observers in the air.

Super Cub flies across the country

  • Super Cub flies across the country
    AOPA's Sweepstakes Super Cub is poised and ready for a 1,732-nautical-mile flight across the country from Frederick, Maryland, to Missoula, Montana. Photo by Janet Davidson.
  • Super Cub flies across the country
    To avoid a large system of thunderstorms, we plan a westerly route before turning northwest.
  • Super Cub flies across the country
    The Monongahela River mixes with the Cheat River in an array of colors as they meet near Morgantown, West Virginia. Photo by Janet Davidson.
  • Super Cub flies across the country
    We approach the University of Illinois-Willard Airport in Champaign, Illinois, in the calm of sunset after storms and rain passed through the area. Photo by Janet Davidson.
  • Super Cub flies across the country
    We tuck the Super Cub inside a hangar with two Air Tractors at Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport in Springfield, Illinois. The 26-inch Alaskan Bushweels tundra tires on the Super Cub are almost the same size as the tires on the Air Tractor. Photo by Janet Davidson.
  • Super Cub flies across the country
    Thunderstorms dot the Midwest along our route, causing us to deviate to give them wide berth. Photo by Janet Davidson.
  • Super Cub flies across the country
    Window and door open: Now this is Super Cub flying at its best! Photo by Janet Davidson.
  • Super Cub flies across the country
    Farmers terrace their fields in Iowa. Photo by Alyssa Cobb.
  • Super Cub flies across the country
    Farm fields in the Midwest form beautiful patterns. Photo by Alyssa Cobb.
  • Super Cub flies across the country
    Lake Sharpe near Pierre, South Dakota, changes to different shades of vibrant blues. Photo by Janet Davidson.
  • Super Cub flies across the country
    The Super Cub has the ramp to itself at Mustang Aviation in Pierre, South Dakota. Photo by Janet Davidson.
  • Super Cub flies across the country
    Homes and towns are few and far between as we cross South Dakota and Montana. Photo by Janet Davidson.
  • Super Cub flies across the country
    The sun rises as we finish preflighting the Super Cub for a 6 a.m. departure from Baker, Montana, to make it to Missoula before the weather deteriorates. Photo by Janet Davidson.
  • Super Cub flies across the country
    Evergreens line these natural wonders in Montana. Photo by Alyssa Cobb.
  • Super Cub flies across the country
    The terrain across Montana changes dramatically from flat ranches to snow-capped mountains. This area is almost otherworldly. Photo by Alyssa Cobb.
  • Super Cub flies across the country
    The Super Cub gets to romp in the grass as we take off from Roundup, Montana. Photo by Janet Davidson.
  • Super Cub flies across the country
    Snow-capped mountains near Missoula, Montana, come into view. Photo by Janet Davidson.
  • Super Cub flies across the country
    After 1,732 nautical miles, we approach Missoula, Montana, our final destination on this across-the-country journey. Photo by Janet Davidson.

Coworker Janet Davidson and I are flying AOPA’s Sweepstakes Super Cub across the country from our Frederick, Maryland, headquarters to Missoula, Montana, on a journey that fills the senses. Hazy skies clear out as we cross the Appalachian Mountains so that we enjoy unlimited visibility and smooth air over Ohio’s farm fields.

Mother Nature displays its awesome power across the Midwest as we parallel a line of thunderstorms across Indiana and Illinois, and divert around more in Iowa. Although we are in a Super Cub, we are well-equipped to navigate around weather. We compare radar depictions from the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast In information displayed on the Garmin aera 660 with the weather showing on our individual ForeFlight apps, air traffic controllers’ advisories, and what we see outside. When flying VFR, even with sophisticated weather information, there’s no substitute for looking outside and deviating as necessary.

One of the advantages of the Super Cub is its slow speed—about 100 mph cruise. A solid wall of precipitation between us and our planned fuel stop in Champaign, Illinois, dissipates in the nearly three hours it takes to get there, allowing us to land in the calm just before sunset to refuel. While en route, the aera 660 proves useful not only in monitoring radar but in getting weather updates at individual airports along the route in case we need to deviate or land early.

The blade of a wind turbine can be anywhere from five to eight times the length of a Super Cub! Photo by Janet Davidson.

Giant wind farms dot the route across the Midwest. The wind turbines are an impressive sight from the air, but their massive size really comes into perspective as we watch a semitruck haul one blade along the interstate in Iowa. Blades can range from 116 feet to more than 180 feet—five to eight Super Cubs could line up on the blade nose to tail!

After flying over flat farmland for hours, Lake Red Rock just southeast of Des Moines, Iowa, looks like an oasis. On a warm summer day in Maryland, the lakes would be teeming with jet skis, sailboats, and speedboats, but Lake Red Rock is deserted on this beautiful mid-morning Friday. Everyone must be at work, I surmise, reminding myself how fortunate I am to be at work in the Super Cub.

As the temperatures climb and cumulus clouds fill in, the Midwest’s humidity permeates the cockpit. It doesn’t take long for Davidson and me to open the Super Cub’s window and doors, letting in the rushing wind that feels like a breath of fresh air as it rustles my clothes like riding on a motorcycle. This is what flying low and slow in a Super Cub is all about!

Farmlands turn into wide open fields as we cross over reservations and ranches in South Dakota; houses and towns are nearly nonexistent. Rocky hillsides line the west side of Lake Sharpe, its waters ranging from turquoise to brilliant blue, as it snakes up to Pierre Regional Airport. A few sailboats and speedboats take advantage of the hot day to be out on the water. The Super Cub looks right at home on Mustang Aviation’s ramp, green grass beyond it and cloudless blue sky above. The only aircraft perhaps more fitting on the ramp would be a North American P–51 Mustang. Inside the fixed-base operation, a collection of paintings depict Mustangs running, one of which includes a P–51 flying behind the stallions as if to circle them up. The winds gust from 11 to 17 knots while we are at Pierre, a calm day according to a Mustang Aviation receptionist who explains that winds can howl at 60 miles an hour over these flat lands. The next leg to Montana will be just as sparse, the attendant says, noting that in this part of the country, one’s nearest neighbor might be 15 miles away.

A rancher stops for fuel at Roundup, Montana, after surveying part of his 27,000-acre ranch. Photo by Janet Davidson.

This remote but beautiful land gives way to numerous oil rigs in southeastern Montana before turning once again to ranches. Herds of cattle and even a couple of flocks of what appear to be sheep graze the land. In Roundup, Montana, the smell of pine fills the Super Cub on approach and landing. We chat with a rancher who also stopped in to refuel after surveying his property from a blue-and-white Citabria. The 27,000-acre ranch has been in his family since his great-grandfather began ranching in the early 1900s, and the airplane saves time while he checks on his herds over 42 square miles of land.

After covering more than 1,000 nautical miles of mostly flat land across the United States, Montana features dramatic terrain changes—from flat ranches to buttes and badlands to snow-capped Rocky Mountains reaching more than 8,000 feet msl, prompting Davidson to recall the film, A River Runs Through It. It’s truly a feast for the eyes as we fly along mesmerized by the sights, pointing out small lakes shaped like sharks, deer running, or a train winding around a mountain.

After two-and-a-half days of flying over 1,732 nm (1,993 statute miles) of this great country, from the East Coast to the Mountain west, I feel more connected to this great land, more appreciative of the various industries that it supports and the impressive air, rail, highway, and water systems that connect it all. America truly is beautiful.

A 6 a.m. departure from Baker Municipal Airport in Montana is worth it for these spectacular early morning views. Photo by Alyssa Cobb.
Alyssa J. Miller

Alyssa J. Cobb

AOPA Director of eMedia and Online Managing Editor
AOPA Director of eMedia and Online Managing Editor Alyssa J. Cobb has worked at AOPA since 2004 and is an active flight instructor.
Topics: Taildragger, Cross Country, Travel

Related Articles