The Flitfire Cub: Piper’s Little Known Pre-WWII Contribution
Piper Built Special Cubs to Aid Royal Air Force War Veterans
Photo courtesy of Amy Adams, North Carolina Aviation Museum.
By T.S. “Max” Platts, VAA Lifetime #722088
When speaking of the brave Royal Air Force (RAF) pilots who repelled the Nazi invasion of their homeland, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill said that “Never was so much, owed by so many, to so few.” The Battle of Britain was a major victory for Britain, but a costly one. In the course of the battle, the RAF and Fleet Air Arm lost 1503 aircrew killed during the Battle of Britain. An organization that worked to address this enormous human toll was the RAF Benevolent Fund, which was established in 1919 after the end of World War I. This organization took care of wounded RAF personnel and supported their families. During World War II, the people of Britain banded together to support the men who rescued them from their darkest hour, along with an aircraft manufacturer in the United States.
The people of the Piper Aircraft Corporation in Lock Haven, PA were inclined to agree with the words of Churchill. Looking for a way to give back to these brave men, William Piper and Bill Strohmeier, Piper’s Sales and Promotion Manager, decided create a raffle-type fundraiser that would involve their very popular Piper J-3 Cub. A total of fifty Cubs were donated by Piper to support his raffle, one for each state in the Union and the two territories, Alaska and Hawaii. Strohmeier enlisted the help of Piper dealers across the country to buy the fifty Cubs. Each dealership in each state would get one Cub to raffle off. The Cubs were nicknamed “Flitfires” because the bore the same markings as the famed Supermarine Spitfire.
The first Flitfire was a Franklin-powered J3F-65, serial number 6600, registered as NC1776. The registration number was chosen to reflect House Resolution 1776, which enacted the Lend Lease Act between the United States and its allies. The remaining forty-nine Cubs were fitted with a combination of Continental, Lycoming and Franklin engines. The airplanes were painted silver rather than the signature yellow of most Cubs, and given a unique British flourish. The workers at Piper painted Royal Air Force roundels on the wings and fuselage along with the red, white, and blue fin flash on the vertical stabilizer. They also emblazoned each airplane with the words “Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund” on the fuselage to the rear of the RAF roundel. The Flitfires were completed at Piper’s Lock Haven, PA factory between April 10 and 22, 1941