(Text: Jason Beamish and Guy Leitch Images: Shane Doyle) The Savage Bobber must be the ultimate Piper Cub in that it has been stripped down to the absolute bare essentials for flight. This unique aircraft with its uncovered fuselage is like nothing else on the market.
THE BIG IDEA IS THAT BEING stripped down to basics gives the owner the opportunity to customise their plane to their heart’s desire. Those familiar with motorcycle customisation will understand the idea of a bobber motorcycle, which is basically a minimalist custom bike. With the Bobber, over 90 modifications can be made to the base aircraft.
Czech plane builder Zlin looked at the many Piper Cub reincarnations and reckoned they could build a better Cub. Zlin started with a standard Savage and took off everything that wasn’t entirely necessary. Taking stuff off made it 25 kg lighter, which makes it more agile, and the absence of covering on the fuselage makes it more resistant to lateral gusts.
Excellent visibility and functional design, together with a robust, resistant structure, combine to render the Bobber particularly suitable for flights into the bush.
Jason Beamish writes: On my arrival at Flying Frontiers’ base at Eva’s Field, Craig introduced me to the unique looking plane. The first thing that strikes you is the uncovered bare tube fuselage with the unique Harley Davidson style saddle bags behind the rear seat.
The engine cowling is also minimalist – the same as the classic J3 Cub, with the cylinders exposed for cooling. Large ‘tundra’ tyres are mounted on the very effective rims and brakes from Beringer.
Craig did the walk-around with me, pointing out key pre-flight items, as well as uniquely positioned essentials such as the fuel drain, which is on the underside of the fuselage at the lowest point of the fuel system behind the back seat, instead of at the base of both wing tanks.
The Bobber’s Rotax 912ULS is happy on both Mogas and Avgas, which makes her much easier to operate knowing you can get fuel almost anywhere. The engine draws fuel from two 46 litre tanks – one in each wing.
The wing and steel tube fuselage structure is reassuringly strong, despite having been built to the 600 kg Light Sport Aircraft weight limit. In the design testing, Zlin subjected the Bobber’s frame to more than 1,600 pounds of load at 6G for over two minutes without deformation.
A close look at the airframe reveals some surprising details – the ailerons and elevators have gap seals – favoured by gliders for high speed and minimal drag, and so an unlikely item to have on a slow speed design. Out on the end of the left wing, to minimise position error, is an unheated pitot tube – beyond the reach of over-reading created by prop wash. Along the front of the wing are vortex generators to keep the airflow attached to the wing and reduce the stall speed to give good STOL performance.
Like the Super Cub, the pilot sits in the front, so a rear seater changes the CofG significantly. To cater for this, the pitch trim wheel next to the throttle adjusts a trim tab on the left elevator.
The rear fuselage has manoeuvring handles on both sides and the tail is easy to lift. This is a function of the absence of a rear fuselage skin.
The tailwheel in connected to rudder pedals but beyond 30 degrees of travel it uncouples and becomes free-castering. The tailwheel assembly looks strong and there is a large easy to inspect shock absorber.
‘I loved how she handled and her unique minimalist appearance’
Getting into the Bobber requires some agility, especially if you want to get into the back seat. You stand on a step on the landing gear leg and then hold onto the frame inside the cockpit roof and swing yourself up and in. It gets smoother with practice. The control cables are exposed, so it’s best not to snag them.
The instrument panel on the black Bobber we flew is properly minimalist – with just three big round gauges and smaller ones for the engine. Avionics are limited to just a small round VHF Comm and a transponder. EFIS is however an option and a MGL EFIS is fitted in the red Bobber.
Neither of the seats is adjustable, so short pilots may want to bring a cushion. There is no baggage bay as you put your stuff in the saddle bags bolted onto a fuselage tube. Simple but effective – and it keeps the bags away from the long elevator push rod.
Unlike the original Cub or the more radical Shock Cub, the Bobber has toe brakes. To aid instruction, the rear seater also gets brakes, but they are squeezed between the side of the front seat and the fuselage wall, so narrow shoes are recommended.
Prominent in the cockpit is the flap lever mounted at the pilot’s left knee. So like all proper planes – you fly it with your right hand on the control stick and use your left for power and other gross motor skill functions.
Sticking faithfully to the Cub’s simple heritage, the fuel tank gauges are clear sight tubes in the wing roots, albeit buried a little further into the wing structure than optimal.
FLYING THE BOBBER
Craig set me free to go make friends with the Bobber before launching on our cross country safari to some very interesting places.
I strapped the machine on, a snug fit, settled into the immaculate blanket stitched leather seats and fired up the 100hp Rotax. With a bit of choke for a cold start, she burst to life.
Taxiing is very easy. There is great tail wheel ground control and powerful brakes if needed. I lined up on the runway at Eva’s Field, waited for the temperatures to get into the green, did the run up and vital actions, set first flap and she was all set to take to the sky.
Opening the throttle, she leaped into the air. We used very little runway and the climb-out was great. In all aspects of flight I found she has responsive and well-balanced flight controls.
In slow flight she flew dead straight, and stalling was a non-event in any configuration. Throwing her around is a delight – the Bobber is just an all-round sweet aeroplane.
Once the upper air work was done, I set myself up for some circuits to see how she handles the landing, and to prepare for what was to come along our trip. You can really fly her tight on downwind, base and final and have an almost illegal amount of fun.
‘the machine was rewarding in all conditions’
Final is set up with full flap and you fly her into a gentle touch down. She really is just such an easy plane to fly. Open power to set sail again and off we went. I did anther two touch and goes and was really impressed at how she handled, especially that day as we had a stiff crosswind at Eva’s.
For our safari I got to put around 30 to 40 hours’ worth of adventure into the Bobber. The big tyres made landing on the beaches and remote places safe, and the great handling of the machine was rewarding in all conditions.
In conclusion, the Bobber really impressed me. I wanted to hightail it with her back to our hangar at Coves but could see Craig reading my mind, so he kept a close eye on me!
What an awesome machine. I loved how she handled and her unique minimalist appearance. I reckon everyone needs one.
The Bobber is designed for fun, with tandem seating and an open cockpit, it provides unsurpassed visibility, making an ideal platform for anti-poaching patrols, game counts and aerial surveillance.
The sensation of freedom becomes an unforgettable experience. For cold weather, cabin heating and a kit for enclosing the entire cabin section are available.
Thank you to the Flying Frontiers team and family. If anyone wants a proper adventure, make sure to give Craig a call on 082-459-0760.
|ENGINE||ROTAX 912 ULS 100hp 5800 rpm|
|FUEL TANK CAPACITY||92 litres (24 Gallons)|
|PROPELLER||2M Meglin composite|
|WING SPAN||935 cm (368 in)|
|LENGTH||640 cm (252 in)|
|HEIGHT||223 cm (87.8 in)|
|WING AREA||14,2 m2 (152.85 sq ft)|
|WING CHORD||156 cm (61.4 in)|
|CABIN WIDTH||60 cm (23.6 in)|