Cub Aircraft History

Forgotten Cub Aircraft – A Brief History – Part 1

As a native Hamiltonian, I was surprised to learn that Hamilton, Ontario once had an aircraft manufacturing plant and a flying school affiliated with Piper Aircraft Corporation.

My first airplane flight was in a Piper PA-11 float plane. While researching this aircraft, I was able to contact the pilot’s widow. She informed me that her husband and his brother went to Hamilton in 1947 to learn to fly and buy a J-3C Cub.

I tried to research information on the Cub Aircraft operation and found that precious little existed and what I did find was both sporadic and inaccurate. I decided to embark on a research project that would “write the wrong”.

In this article, I will provide a brief history of Hamilton’s Cub Aircraft that is based on my research to date. The information is gathered from newspaper articles published in the Hamilton Spectator, aviation publications, first person recollections and from a 1969 Ontario Royal Commission. My continuing research will include a comprehensive document on all 150 Cub Aircraft, that were manufactured from October 1945 until its demise in February 1949.

On August 21, 1937, ARCAN Corporation Limited, with funding from Atlantic Acceptance of Hamilton, incorporated as Cub Aircraft Corporation Limited. Initially Cub Aircraft operated a small flying school at its factory and at the Hamilton Municipal Airport, located on the eastern boundary of Hamilton.

Cub Aircraft Corp. Ltd. started to assemble various aircraft, with a handful of employees, under license from the Piper Aircraft Corporation from Lock Haven, PA. With parts shipped from the USA, Cub Aircraft assembled the following aircraft:

• Taylor J-2 Cub
• Piper J-3C-40 Cub
• Piper J-3C-50 Cub
• Piper J-3F-50 Cub
• Piper J-4A Cub Coupe
• Piper J-4E Cub Coupe
• Piper J-5A Cub Cruiser
• Piper J-3C-65 Cub

Cub Aircraft’s assembly factory was located on Adams Street and the fabric and paint shop was located on Cathcart Street, both within 6 km of the Hamilton Municipal Airport. Earlier, on May 11, 1936, a 25 year lease with the City of Hamilton for $100 per year established access to the runways.

In July 1940, Cub Aircraft moved its assembly plant and training school into a newly built and modern factory located at the Hamilton Municipal Airport. During World War 2, Cub Aircraft did various aircraft assembly and repair as well as military pilot training and employed 250 workers. Russell L. Gibson, President Cub Aircraft predicted in 1944 plans to build 300 airstrips across Canada after the war’s end. Wishful thinking.

Before October 1945, Cub Aircraft was an assembly plant for Piper aircraft, made entirely from parts imported from the U.S.A. Commencing in October 1945, the first truly Canadian Cub Aircraft was manufactured using 90% Canadian materials and components. Piper Aircraft specified that all tooling, drawings and modifications would originate from Lock Haven, so that parts on all Cubs, no matter where built, would be interchangeable. Cub Aircraft would attempt to source all parts within Canada unless it was not economically or practically feasible. Cub Aircraft continued to assemble US supplied Piper Aircraft and added newer models like the PA-12.

Forgotten Cub Aircraft – A Brief History – Part 2

On April 25, 1946 an explosion and fire at the fabric and paint factory destroyed 3 aircraft, including 160C and 161C, according to my analysis.  Continued competition with the Hamilton Aero (flying) Club and less than anticipated demand for small civilian aircraft started to take its toll. 

As well, the City of Hamilton realized that the Cub Aircraft lease commitment was costing the city much more in operating costs.  Hamilton wanted to expand its housing community onto the land occupied by the airport and there was no room for needed runway expansions.

To make matters even worse for Cub Aircraft, 1947 saw their first year of a financial deficit.  Increased demand for civilian aircraft was not to materialize, forcing Cub Aircraft to broaden its manufacturing capability to include Cub washing machines, venetian blinds and radios for imported British automobiles.

Although Cub Aircraft continued to be manufactured at Hamilton into late 1948, the decision was made around November 1946 to start using US Army surplus L4 fuselages instead of the truss welded fuselages manufactured at the Hamilton factory.  Starting with aircraft 233C (and an earlier 207C prototype) the model name was changed to the L-4B Prospector.  Without confirmed orders, many completed Cub Aircraft were used in the flying school, such as 215C until sold on May 7,1947.  One such aircraft 234C was put into storage for almost 3 years until a buyer was found in September 1949.

Desperate times meant desperate measures to try to save Cub Aircraft.  On December 16, 1948, R. L. Gibson signed a contract to acquire the manufacturing rights, tools and parts for Stinson aircraft from Consolidated Vultee Ltd. for an astounding 3 million dollars.  This might have been his last act of defiance? 

Rumours surfaced and on February 21, 1949, the Cub Aircraft Corporation Ltd. shareholders voted to change the company’s name to Transvision-Television (Canada) Ltd. when it merged with General Radionics Ltd.  In the same factory where hundreds of Cub Aircraft were expertly assembled and manufactured, it was now relegated to manufacturing black and white television sets, car radios, small washing machines and Venetian blinds.

Glenn R. White, the Piper salesman at Cub Aircraft took over all aircraft repairs, maintenance and issuance of C. of A. renewal certificates at his Trans Aircraft Company.  Due to the sudden and drastic demise of Cub Aircraft, it appears that all of its history and records were expunged.  The lack of any preserved documentation helped to inspire me to embark on this project to recognize the accomplishments of the Cub Aircraft Corporation Ltd. Company and its employees.  In 1952, the very last Cub Aircraft, C-250, a J-3C-65 was assembled from spare parts at Leavens Bros. in Toronto.

As a denouement to this story, in 1969 a voluminous report was issued by an Ontario Royal Commission into the bankruptcy and collapse of Atlantic Acceptance of Hamilton. 

Within the report, both ARCAN and Cub Aircraft boards of directors were cited with questionable business practices.  In my research, I wonder how much this suspicious activity contributed to the failure of Cub Aircraft Corporation Ltd?

About the Author:
Cameron Price is a retired IT professional who has always had a fascination with aviation since he was a youngster in Hamilton. The lack of any integrated documentation for Cub Aircraft Corporation Ltd has prompted him to embark on a research project and the production of an e-book. His primary focus will document all of the post-war manufactured Canadian Cub Aircraft.