Monday, June 05, 2006

For Fathers' Day: The Grasshopper That Roared

Many of us remember the fictional 1959 comedy movie, The Mouse That Roared, starring Peter Sellers. Now there’s a true story of Piper Cubs as artillery spotter planes during World War II in a book entitled The Grasshopper That Roared.

Can you imagine going into combat at 70 miles per hour in an unarmed, unarmored, 65 horsepower fabric covered Piper Cub? Believe it or not, the Cub has been called “The Most Lethal Warplane in the World,” and its nickname was The Grasshopper.

The name “Grasshopper” originated during the 1941 Louisiana Maneuvers. William T. Piper, owner of the Piper Aircraft Company, loaned the army several Cubs and pilots as an experiment to determine if they could be employed for air observation. The name stuck.

For all the guys interested in military aviation and the Piper Cub in military use in particular, Southfarm Press ( is offering for Fathers’ Day a two books-for-the-price-of-one sale. The two books are:

The Grasshopper That Roared by Jean L. Chase (ISBN: 0-913337-54-4; 256 pages; 2005; $30), and

Janey: A Little Plane in a Big War by Alfred W. Schultz (ISBN: 0-913337-31-5; 288 pages; 1998; $30)

Both hard cover books are offered for a total of $30 together plus shipping. The publisher will gift wrap the books also, and guarantees delivery by Fathers’ Day June 18th if the paid order is received at by noon on June 14th.

The Grasshopper That Roars is about the war in the Pacific and Janey is about the war in the European Theatre. Grasshopper recounts Chase’s battles in New Guinea and the Philippines. He and his Cub were part of McArthur’s “return” to the islands. At one point, Chase emptied a Thompson machine gun from the back seat of his Piper Cub on a Japanese outpost that had had the audacity to fire on another Cub.

Janey was the longest lasting Piper Cub of World War. It was landed on the shores of North Africa in November 1942 and Schultz and Janey fought their way across North Africa into Sicily, Italy southern France and Germany. George Patton was a passenger in Janey.

Jean L. Chase, who resides in Portland, Oregon, writes affectionately about the Piper Cub as a military weapon:

"The aircraft flown in World War II (L-4s and L-5s) were the last of the old fabric and dope aircraft flown in combat. There may even have been a few still around during the first part of the Korean War.

"Flying the Piper Cubs L-4s (the military version of the J-3 Cub) and the Stinson Sentinel (L-5s) in and out of short narrow strips and farmer's fields a pilot had better know the crop being grown in the field where he intended to land. For example, a cut wheat field would probably be too soft, but an alfalfa field would be fine if the crop was not too high. A high drag followed by a low drag across the field told one if a landing could be made and then “gave it a go.” Yes, we broke a few props, cracked up a few planes, and lost some pilots. By the way, pilots had to watch those darned cows. Some would try to eat the fabric off our Cubs.

"Those old crates would burn in about two minutes if they caught on fire. There was no armor plate, nothing but a cushion and a little fabric between you and the machine gun bullets whizzing up from the ground. Like an old instructor at Fort Sill told his students, “They'll fly low and they’ll fly slow, but they’ll just barely kill ya.”

"It is hard to believe now, but the Piper Cub cost the U. S. Government only $2,600.00 a copy. It weighed 1,200 pounds and was powered by a 65 horsepower continental engine. The book said it would cruise at 75 mph.

"I never could get mine over about 65 mph at cruising speed with two people and a heavy tactical radio. I liked going 75-mph with just me and no added equipment.

"If you encountered bad weather we had no sophisticated electronic navigation or “let-down” equipment to get you out of trouble. Furthermore, in flight training, night flying was not taught. Sometimes pilots had to use their ingenuity to get out of a bad situation.

"One pilot was caught in a snowstorm while flying over the English countryside. Snow was falling so hard he had no forward visibility and he could only see the ground by looking out of the side windows. Flying at an altitude of only 30 or 40 feet he knew he had to land before he hit a house, a tree or some wires. The wind was blowing about 30 knots. He would cross a field that looked long enough to land but by the time he turned downwind he would loose sight of it in the turn.

"His solution: He turned down wind, as he crossed a field that looked long enough. He then started to count fence lines. When he had counted five fence lines he reversed his course into the wind and counted fence lines backwards, five, four, three, two, and one. At one he cut the throttle and landed hoping it was the field he had selected. We truly flew by the seat of our pants.

"I was very pleased to see Army Aviation receive some credit in the Persian Gulf War and Iraqi War. The advances in technology, equipment and firepower have been tremendous. As an old operational pilot, many of the concepts which are standard procedures today were kicked around in operations tents in the Pacific and Europe during World War II. This was before we were taught or had the equipment to fly instruments.

"The arming of Piper Cubs was considered and even tried. Charley Carpenter in North Africa killed five enemy tanks with three bazookas mounted on each of the wing struts of his Piper Cub. After that, he became famous throughout the army, at least among the pilots, as “Bazooka Charley.”

"A couple of aircraft 30 caliber machine guns were salvaged from a crashed SBD dive-bomber. An attempt was made by my crew to mount them on my Cub. We couldn’t quite figure out how to rig them without the danger of a gun coming loose and shooting down my own Cub with me in it!

"Then there is the story about dropping hand grenades from Cubs. An observer, in the rear cockpit of a Cub, pulled the pin on a grenade and accidentally dropped it on the floor. The pilot looked back and all he could see was a behind and elbows as the observer scrambled to recover the grenade and dump it overboard before it exploded.

"I preferred to destroy targets by directing artillery fire from the air. The Piper Cub could see the target from the air and therefore directed most of the observed artillery fire in the Pacific and European Theatres during World War II. Failure to develop and use air observation could have cost us more casualties and prolonged the war."

The Southfarm Press offer for the two Grasshopper and Janey books for the price of one is only available at


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