Cub Aircraft Corp. Ltd. - A Brief History

Forgotten Cub Aircraft – A Brief History

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:

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. From June 1936 until November 1941, Cub Aircraft assembled 34 J-2 Cubs and 37 J-3 Cubs. Their serial number contained the letter “C” prefixed to the Piper Aircraft fuselage number, The oldest surviving J-3 Cub Aircraft is C-1126, CF-BIP. It was assembled in March 1938 with the notation “SUPPLIED AS A KIT TO CUB ACFT, CANADA EXPORT CERT. E3452, DATED 14/03/38”.

Cub Aircraft also imported fully assembled Piper J-4 Cub Coupe and J-5 Cub Cruiser models for sale to Canadian customers from 1939 until 1942. Combined, 30 J-4 and J-5 Cubs are currently registered with Transport Canada, 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 II, Cub Aircraft did various aircraft assembly and repair as well as military pilot training, employing 250 workers. Russell L. Gibson, President Cub Aircraft predicted in 1944 plans to build 300 airstrips across Canada and distributors spread across Canada after the war's end. Wishful thinking.

Before October 1945, Cub Aircraft was an assembly plant for Piper aircraft, made entirely from part kits imported from the U.S.A. In October 1945, the first post war Canadian civilian aircraft was manufactured by Cub Aircraft Corp. Ltd. 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 a few US supplied Piper J-3 kits and sold newer US pre-assembled models like the Piper PA-11 and PA-12.

On April 25, 1946 an explosion and fire at the fabric and paint factory destroyed 3 aircraft, including 160C and 161C. According to an eye-witness account by an employee, Al Cooper, nobody was injured, but he felt Cub Aircraft did not have adequate insurance to cover the damages. A second fire at the re-built paint shop occurred on October 9, 1946. No aircraft were lost during the second fire; just several wings and other parts. The early morning blaze was blamed on spontaneous combustion.

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 capabilities. This consisted of manufacturing apartment size portable washing machines, built under license from Cinderella Mfg. Co. Jackson Michigan, venetian blinds and car radios built under license from Wingard (M.A.) Ltd. Chichester England 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. 234C, a Cub Aircraft L-4B Prospector 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, owner of Peninsula Air Service and the Hamilton Municipal Airport manager, purchased the Trans Aircraft subsidiary. Glenn took over all aircraft repairs, maintenance and issuance of C. of A. renewal certificates at Trans Aircraft. Before the closure of the Hamilton Municipal Airport in 1952, Glenn moved Trans Aircraft Co. to nearby Mt. Hope, became the Canadian Piper Aircraft distributor and formed Glenair Distributors. 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-85 was assembled from spare parts at Leavens Bros. in Toronto.

As a denouement to this story, in 1969 a volumus 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 practises. I wonder how much of this suspicious activity contributed to the failure of Cub Aircraft Corporation Ltd.?

Cameron Price
Cub Aircraft Corp. Ltd. Historian/historien
(613) 482-9823

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