EAA AirVenture Oshkosh - The World's Greatest Aviation Celebration

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Cubs began arriving at Wittman Regional Airport around 6:30 a.m. Sunday.
The special Cubs parking section in the Vintage area quickly came to life Sunday morning.

The "field of yellow" is beginning to form in the Vintage area here at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2012. Over the next few days it is expected that bright yellow Piper J-3 Cubs from all over will gather into a massive display of yellow airplanes in celebration of the 75th anniversary of William Piper's most famous design.

But why yellow?

Maybe Mr. Piper took a page from Henry Ford's school of industrial production. Ford is noted for saying that one could have a Model T in any color, as long as the color is black.

Or maybe Piper just thought the airplane looked good in yellow.

Piper initially sold Cubs in a number of different colors. However, as production of the J-3 ramped up, yellow-named "Lock Haven Yellow" after the Piper factory's Pennsylvania home city-became the only choice for new Cub owners ... well, except, of course, for the obligatory olive drab on Cubs delivered to the U.S. military.

Lock Haven yellow was a nitrocellulose dope tinted with a natural yellow pigment of lead chromate and bears an uncanny resemblance to the color commonly used for school buses in the United States.

At one time Ford, too, sold Model T's in various colors. But as production sped up, the faster-drying black paint became the only choice. While yellow dope may not have dried any faster, Piper likely realized a number of production advantages from having a single color and trim scheme.

But there is more than one shade of the color throughout the "field of yellow." Cubs manufactured prior to July 1946 should be sporting the darker, more orange color. Later Cubs were painted a much brighter yellow that has come to be known as "Cub Yellow." At about that time nitrocellulose dope was becoming difficult to obtain, forcing Piper to switch to cellulose acetate butyrate dope.

Apparently it was not possible to exactly match the color, and the new yellow was born.

The color shift also coincided with the introduction of Cub production in Ponca City, Oklahoma.

Another artifact of the paint chemistry change was a shortening of the black lightning bolt trim every Cub had on its fuselage sides. The airplane's metal boot cowl now required enamel paint, and again, most likely in the interest of production efficiency, the length of the lightning bolt was adjusted to fit only on the fabric-covered surfaces.

Which shade of yellow to use is a matter of extensive discussion among Cub owners restoring vintage J-3s today. The newer, yellower shade is a popular choice, though in many cases the earlier color is historically accurate.

Fortunately modern finishing materials can accurately render either shade.

Mr. Piper's Cub had a tremendous impact on aviation all over the world. Most likely it was because of the type's flying qualities and its ability to train new pilots. Or maybe it was because they were all yellow.


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