Tired old jokes about the state bird being Lycoming powered notwithstanding, there’s a reason that fully a third of all the Super Cubs Piper built reside in Alaska. Despite its small size, the Super Cub carries heroic loads and will do so from short, rough runways and sometimes no runways at all. It’s durable and has few handling sins worth mentioning.
That’s a powerful appeal to many owners, and it explains why American Legend’s new Super Legend—essentially a Super Cub clone—appears likely to be a strong seller for the company. In late September, American Legend was tweaking the Special Light Sport Aircraft (SLSA) factory-built version of the Super Legend, and a kit variant is expected to be available in 2013.
The Super Legend is happy on pavement, but its real home is a grass runway. It’s available with tundra tires suitable for unimproved runways.
In the LSA market, American Legend has achieved what passes for strong sales these days, with about 175 SLSA airframes in the field. The company has also sold about 40 kits for what is basically an identical airplane that can be built under ELSA rules or as an Experimental/Amateur-Built, which gives a builder more options and flexibility.
Most of the airplanes have a 100-horsepower Continental O-200-D, but some are equipped with the older, 17-pound-heavier O-200-A. That makes the standard Legend a credible performer, albeit not one anyone would mistake for a Super Cub. When Lycoming introduced its 115-hp O-233 for the LSA and Experimental markets, Legend’s Darin Hart saw an opportunity to kick up the Cub’s performance with some airframe upgrades, including the addition of flaps and the Super Cub’s aerodynamic elevator design. These changes hardly reinvent the airplane, but they are transformative in terms of performance and flyability. Not for nothing is the Super Cub that inspired the Super Legend a performance leader for backcountry operations.
Understanding the Super Legend’s genetic heritage is easy because there simply isn’t much of it. Although all of the Legend airplanes incorporate shards of DNA from Walter Jamouneau’s 1936 E-2, American Legend’s history isn’t even a decade old.
American Legend got its start in 2004, when principals Darin Hart and Tim Elliott, Cub fans both, struck out for EAA AirVenture in search of Super Cub kits for personal airplanes. Despite a relatively strong aviation economy at the time, they returned from the show empty-handed. Not a single vendor could deliver a kit in less than 18 months, so Hart and Elliott decided to build their own from multi-sourced parts. After all, Wag-Aero and Univair have existed quite handily for years plying the Cub trade, selling parts that Piper stopped stocking decades ago.
The timing proved propitious. The new Light Sport Aircraft rule had just been approved, and the market was awakening to the idea of light, simple aircraft that, if not cheap, were at least less expensive than even basic certified aircraft. Hart and Elliott realized that LSA certification requirements were modest enough that it wasn’t much of a leap to evolve from personal airplane kits to LSA manufacturer, and thus was born Legend Aircraft.
A glassed-in rear cockpit gives the Super Legend an open, airy feel and provides more light in the baggage compartment.
What would become the Legend Cub had its first flight in March 2005, and by AirVenture 2005, Legend had sold 14 Cubs with a growing backlog of orders. It expanded its Sulphur Springs, Texas, factory to 100,000 square feet to meet what was, by LSA standards, blistering demand. Legend Cubs enjoyed a spot in the top five sellers for several years.
In a market dominated by composite LSAs from Europe that are lighter, faster, slicker and have—blasphemy!—nosewheels, what’s the enduring appeal of the Cub? If it has to be explained, you can’t possibly understand, but those drawn to the Cub mystique know it has to do with flight at its most elemental, where the raw sensation of exhaust fumes wafting through an open door mixing with the scent of freshly cut grass tingles the senses in a way that a hint of cured resin just doesn’t.
It worked in 1936, with the first Cubs and, as Legend has proved, it still works. In construction, Legend Cubs are true to Piper’s original ethos and, indeed, the company used Piper’s original drawings for many of the Legend components. Hart says most of Legend’s parts would be easily interchangeable with J-3s and Super Cubs.
The starting battery lives on the cold side of the firewall, above the rudder pedals. The photo shows a lead-acid battery, but lithium-ion is an option.
Basic construction is a welded 4130 fuselage cage—TIG, not gas welded—with components precisely cut on CNC equipment. The fit of the welded joints is as good as any we’ve seen. Dimensions are similar to the originals, but Legend made the cabin 3 inches wider, both for comfort and for improved crashworthiness. It also added a second door on the left side of the airplane, which gives an almost open cockpit feel and vastly improves ease of docking and water handling for float operations. No more high-wire acts on a walk wire, except for fueling.
To keep the weight down, American Legend came up with a clever bungee seat. It’s comfortable and can be covered with a fabric sleeve.
All of the Cubs, Super Legend and kits included, have jig-assembled aluminum spars and ribs covered in the Randolph Ceconite process.
One safety improvement over the original Cub found in the Super Cub is a robust X-brace at the wingroots in the cabin skylight area. This precludes what has proved the demise of many a Cub driver: “head-knocker” accidents caused by the cross bracing collapsing downward into the cabin during an impact sequence.
Legend has used three powerplants in the Cubs, the Continental O-200-A, the lightened O-200-D and the six-cylinder Jabiru 3300 at 120 hp. However, the latter has not proved a successful engine for Legend. During my factory visit, several aircraft were having engine transplants, replacing the Jabiru with the O-200-D. Hart said the Jabiru has had cooling and durability issues and is no longer offered.
Other than minor improvements, the Legend Cub remained unchanged until the emergence of the Lycoming O-233, a reiteration of the popular O-235 used in the Cessna 152. Although it has only 15 additional horsepower over the O-200, the O-233 gave Legend a stepping-off point to revise the Cub airframe to conform more closely to the Super Cub.
Outwardly, the most noticeable change is the greenhouse rear cabin area over the baggage compartment and a turtledeck baggage door on the right side of the airplane. The glassed-in rear area makes the airplane generally brighter inside, so you can actually see stuff hiding in the baggage bay rather than feeling for it.
Like the Super Cub, the Super Legend also has two-thirds span manual flaps and even though the USA-35B airfoil is docile and happy in high-drag slow flight, it’s even happier with 45 of flaps cranked in.
Like the Super Cub that inspired it, the Super Legend has two-thirds span flaps that greatly improve slow flight handling and performance. Flap hinges and mounts have lightening holes for weight control.
The Super Legend sports the same style tail feathers as the Super Cub, a design often called a balanced or aerodynamic elevator. Like the original Cub, the Legend Cub’s elevator is a simple surface hinged at about mid-chord, but its outer leading edge doesn’t project forward of the hinge line. The Super Legend’s elevator is just the reverse. The outer quarter of the elevator surface extends in front of the hinge line, providing an aerodynamic boost to control feel and considerably reducing the airplane’s need for re-trimming and yielding exceptionally good slow-flight manners. It has about 18% larger surface area than the Legend Cub.
The Super Legend has tail feathers similar to the Super Cub, with 18% more surface area and an aerodynamically balanced elevator.
Legend aircraft have always been at the upper end of LSA weight limits, and to accommodate the O-233’s 10-pound-higher weight over the O-200, Hart said he undertook a weight-reduction program and he’ll need to find more to make the airplane float-capable for LSA. Weight reductions include carbon fiber for the cowling, doors, interior panels, spinner and wingtip bows, plus the option of a Voltphreaks lithium-ion battery that saves 9 pounds alone. (The demo plane flown for this review had a conventional lead-acid starting battery.) Empty weight of the Super Legend LSA version is about 845 pounds, for a useful load of 475 pounds. In Experimental, the max gross would increase to 1750 pounds, for a useful load of 905 pounds, depending on engine. (You can see why the Cub is such a bush-country favorite.)
The O-233 is mounted on a centerline thrust mount that cants the engine slightly downward compared to the original Legend. This improves both performance and the view over the nose.
A New Lycoming
Given the state of the aviation economy, clean-sheet engines aren’t much in the cards, and the O-233 certainly isn’t one. As an adaptation of the O-235, Lycoming made its run at the LSA market by nibbling at the edges of a core engine design that, while not bulletproof, is nonetheless well regarded by Cessna 152 owners.
To chip off some weight, Lycoming shaved the engine’s cylinder fins, reworked the accessory case and spec’d a lightweight starter and alternator. When it first appeared in prototype form in 2008, the O-233 had a simple throttle-body injector, but it can also be equipped with an M4 carburetor, which is what the Super Legend has.
The Lycoming O-233 adds 15 horsepower to the airframe, improving climb without much help to the cruise speed.
The great leap forward, if it can be called that, is the O-233’s electronic ignition, developed for Lycoming by Champion. This is an automotive-type CDI dual-spark system with a pair of coil packs that operate with ship’s voltage. In the Super Legend, the packs live on the firewall immediately behind the engine. For backup power in the event of a main bus failure, the ignition system has a permanent magnet alternator that will provide ignition power with both a dead ship’s battery and a crumped alternator. This is fine as far as it goes, but it has one quirk that’s less than thrilling: At idle in the runup area, Hart had me pull the breaker for the ship’s ignition bus. The engine quit because at idle speed, the PMA lacks the voltage to run the coils. The likelihood of this presenting a real-world problem is probably acceptably low, but a builder of the belt-and-suspenders school could work around it with a small, lightweight essential bus battery backup.
The Lycoming is heavier than the Continental, so weight is trimmed at every turn, including a lightweight alternator and starter.
Weight-wise, the O-233 stretches the envelope to the breaking point. At up to 215 pounds installed, it’s as much as 45 pounds heavier than a Rotax 912, the LSA engine of choice. It’s about 10 pounds heavier than the Continental O-200-D.
Standard equipment on the Super Legend is a Sensenich carbon-fiber ground-adjustable prop. To change the pitch, all you do is loosen the spinner lock bolts and remove one cartridge, replacing it with one that will lock the blades at the desired pitch. The Super Legend demo plane was set to a flatter pitch for better climb performance.
Super Cub stalwarts like to say that their airplane will do everything but go fast. And if it’s true of the Super Cub, it’s just as true of the Super Legend. In cruise, the Super Legend is reliably a 90- to 100-mph airplane at 4000-5000 feet. The demo plane had a JPI EDM730 that indicated a fuel flow of 5.1 gph at 2500 rpm. With 32 gallons aboard in two wing tanks, 30 gallons of it usable, that gives the Super Legend more than 5 hours of endurance with generous reserves. Still-air range is a comfortable 500 miles, which isn’t bad for a ragwing taildragger competing with slicker, faster LSAs.
But if the Super Legend isn’t fast at altitude, it’s quick to get up there. Without trying very hard, and at a weight 30 pounds below the 1320-pound LSA limit with two aboard, the airplane climbs at 900 fpm initially and holds 700 fpm to a typical cruise altitude. The view over the nose is somewhat obstructed in climb, requiring S-turns to clear the path. Interestingly, however, on the ground, the view of the nose doesn’t require S-turns from the front seat, which is where the Super Legend must be soloed. If I had any complaint about the Super Legend it would be the response of the tailwheel-to-rudder input. Turns require a bit of anticipation and a coax on the brake to get the turn started and stopped. I didn’t notice this in the Legend Cub or in other LSA taildraggers, and Hart said it’s a characteristic of the Alaska Bushwheel used on the Super Legend. It can also be fitted with an Aviation Products tailwheel that’s lighter and smaller. The brakes, by the way, are heel brakes, though toe brakes are an option.
The Super Legend’s tailwheel is an Alaska Bushwheel, but buyers can order smaller wheels from Aviation Products.
The Super Legend comes into its own in slow-speed handling, where the improved tail and flaps do their stuff. Legend has gotten the flap design and placement fine-tuned enough—or maybe Piper did—that there’s little pitch change when the flaps are deployed and little need for additional trimming. One thing there is a pain, however. The flap handle is located above the pilot’s left shoulder and far enough aft that hauling in the second notch requires an awkward twist of the upper body. Legend plans to redesign the flap handle to improve the leverage.
The Super Legend likes to fly slow, real slow. We nudged the speed back to an indicated 30 mph and noticed no sign of an impending stall and adequate if not crisp control response in roll and pitch. Slowing to an indicated 20 mph yielded noticeable buffeting that Hart said was actually the tail stalling, not the wings. The Super Legend retains mushy control throughout this regime, and, if aggravated, it tends to hold a benign parachute mode with no tendency to break to either side. And it doesn’t take heroic rudder effort to achieve this. Like the Super Cub, the Super Legend is simply a well-balanced, easy-to-fly airplane with no obvious bad habits. Roll and pitch stability are what you expect from a Cub; it can be trimmed hands-off and left to its own devices for minutes on end.
For a taildragger, it’s also easy to land, as a consequence of the flaps and improved tail section. With full flaps out 45, the airplane just naturally seeks 50 mph unless you aggressively trim something faster or slower. But it’s not a trim-hungry airplane. Flying a few circuits and bumps to the grass patch at Sulphur Springs, I didn’t bother re-trimming, but just used the throttle to find the trimmed airspeed. The airplane is quite comfortable crossing the fence at 45 mph in a low-energy state, with full flaps. It’s thus less likely to bounce much on a wheelie or a three-pointer, making it among the most satisfying taildraggers to land that I’ve flown. With some aggressive braking, the Super Legend will get stopped in less than 500 feet. But watch it. Even with heel brakes, the binders are perfectly capable of locking the wheels and pitchpoling the airplane.
American Legend estimated that half of new orders would be for the Super Legend, which is built in its Sulphur Springs, Texas, factory. Just like the venerable Cub before it, Legend airframes are welded 4130 tubing.
As is usually the case, the circle has inevitably closed, and just as Hart and Elliott wanted a kit Cub, so did other buyers. With the SLSA line well established, Legend in 2008 turned to the challenge of kitting what was by then a refined factory airplane. Hart says they’ll do the same with the Super Legend sometime in 2013.
Challenge is the right word. Although Legend has a proven factory process, getting that to work for a builder requires a detailed construction manual, accurate packaging of all the kit parts and someone to answer the phone to handle the inevitable builder questions from the field. Having reduced staff following the 2008 downturn, Hart does most of the builder support himself.
The O-233 swings a Sensenich ground-adjustable prop. The cartridges are inserted into the prop hub to reset blades to the desired pitch.
In Experimental/Amateur-Built form, the kit will offer some interesting options to builders. Hart says that like the Super Cub, the Super Legend is engineered to carry as much as 180 hp, which would yield pin-your-eyeballs performance for takeoff.
It can also use the same 150-hp Lycoming O-320 used in the original Super Cub, an airplane that’s probably routinely overloaded more than any other, with backcountry pilots whiffing at its official 1750-pound gross. Hart says in Experimental/Amateur-Built form, the airplane is good for 1750 pounds. Whatever engine is used, it’s hung on a centerline engine mount that angles the thrust vector down slightly, improving the view over the nose and adding a knot or two of cruise speed.
The ELSA version, of course, is stuck with the 1320-pound ASTM limit. That doesn’t hobble it much, but how fun would it be to have a 150-hp version and 300 more pounds of useful load?
The base price for the SLSA version of the Super Legend is $146,800, but a typical invoice is closer to $160,000-$170,000. If that sounds high, keep in mind that this airplane is aimed at the premium market where buyers want high performance and are willing to pay for it. Final prices haven’t been set yet on the ELSA version, but Hart estimates it will be 15-20% higher than the standard Legend Cub, in which builders typically invest about $100,000. The Experimental/Amateur-Built model will sell for a similar price, but variable with builder avionics and engine choices.
Considering how well regarded (and high priced) genuine Super Cubs are, the Super Legend is a lot of airplane for the money. Its robust structure and honest handling characteristics are, like the design itself, timeless.
For more information, call 903/885-7000, or visit www.legend.aero.