Flying the new Orion Cub - I want one, I need one!!!
By Juri Keyter. Photos supplied and by Willie Bodenstein
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"Let it be known, the next aircraft I build, will be an Orion Cub!!!" Juri Keyter
During a short and unplanned visit to the Jack Taylor airfield in Krugersdorp recently, my friend Dale de Klerk invited me to give the new Orion Cub a try. To be honest, I wasn't sure what the Orion Cub was, but I suspected that it was a Kevin Hopper creation and knew that it would be something I would like.
When Kevin delivered it to us at the Alpi Aviation hangar, I recognised the traditional Cub similarities, I recognised the Teddy similarities (one of Kevin's previous designs) but to me, it was distinctly different. It was certainly a lot bigger than I expected. It felt high off the ground but wide and sturdy. It has a modern mould with perfect lines from the cowl to rudder.
As I moved closer, I noticed the composite seats matching to the modern tone of the design. But the thing that impressed me the most was the space inside. Every light aircraft has a tight fit at the best of times, but I could sit in the Orion Cub without touching anything. It was comfortable, I could easily reach the rudder pedals and the view was absolutely perfect in every direction.
The panel has lots of space for all the bells and whistles you can think of, but in my view, this is a fun aeroplane and apart from the missing sandwich-compartment in the panel, it had everything it needs for safe flying and endless fun.
Ultimately, the most important part of any aircraft is its flight characteristics and it was time to put the Orion Cub to the test. My tailwheel flying was a little rusty and to make matters worse, it has a lefthand throttle / righthand stick configuration, usual for tandem style aircraft but opposite to how I regularly fly. I was conscious about this at the start, but it only took a few short minutes to get comfortable with this.
Taxiing was really easy with a full view of the taxiway ahead (unusual for a taildragger), an unobstructed view on both sides, even a view through the roof making it extremely easy to look for oncoming traffic before entering the runway. Steering on the ground was also easy with lots of rudder authority, assisted with differential toe brakes at slow speed. Another interesting feature was the location of the flap handle. It is at eye-level and therefore always in your peripheral vision. I liked this because I could tell what the flap setting was without actively looking for it. In fact, everything was in such a natural location, you could close your eyes, reach out for it and you will touch it.
Lifting the tail on the take-off roll was sharp and we effortlessly left the ground moments later. At first, I flew it gently just to make its acquaintance but I quickly realised that it would allow me to play if I wanted to. Soon I was a kid again turning the Orion Cub flat on one side and then over to the other without any effort. I could pause between the adverse transitions and never felt significant energy loss. For one hour, I was a fighter pilot without exceeding 100kts.
My first landing was not the greatest. I attempted a wheeler but I could feel that my rate of descent was too high and I anticipated the bounce. To my surprise, the undercarriage and the large wheels simply absorbed it and although I could feel the rise of the bounce, the wheels never left the ground. That rejuvenated my confidence and I made another 6 landings just for the fun of it.
I could not fault anything about the Orion Cub. I like the look; I like the feel and I love the name. Flying the Orion Cub was a super experience and exactly what I expected from a Kevin Hopper design. I absolutely loved it!!!