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Grasshopper Pilot: A Memoir

by Julian W. Cummings with Gwendolyn K. Cummings, Kent State University Press, Ohio, $19.95.

Julian Cummings, a Piper Cub “Grasshopper” pilot, was one of a small cadre who flew hair-raising reconnaissance and attack missions in the flimsiest of aircraft at treetop level to support U.S. Army ground troops during World War II. His memoir provides an excellent example of a small part of the air war that would be virtually unknown today if Cummings and a few others had not documented their personal experiences.

When the Army needed to observe enemy ground troops close up and then direct fire toward them, fabric-covered single-engine lightplanes were seen as the answer. Several different manufacturers answered the call. Most numerous were Piper Cubs, designated as L-4s. They were capable of taking off and landing in tight spaces, could use the same roads and gas as armored vehicles, and were easily maintainable in the field.

Cummings flew 485 patrol and combat missions during the invasion of Italy. Transferred Stateside, he participated in experiments using televised images to identify targets.

Cummings’ summary of the Cubs’ contributions bears quoting: “[They] evacuated the wounded, transported generals, ferried supplies, and bombed and knocked out naval and artillery gunfire. This little aircraft operated out of very small fields, off beaches, and off roadways, most of the time right at the front line or just behind it. The enemy often sent squadrons to eradicate the Cub. But its speed of 65-75 mph and its maneuverability always confused them.”


Originally published in the March 2008 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here