There is a lot of buzz about Uber-type apps being developed nowadays to allow passengers to hitch rides on aircraft, but Piper Aircraft beat everybody to the punch with their Taxicub service back in 1947. Piper intended to link airports together with the service, but it did not last long.
As the name implies, Piper built the program around the Cub family. Ads from 1947 show a PA-12 Super Cruiser, an upgraded and redesignated version of the J-5 Cub.
Although the pricing varied across the life of the program, Max Karant became the first-ever Taxicub rider in the Chicago area when he rode a three-seat Piper from Elmhurst airport to Chicago’s Municipal Airport in 1947. Karant paid $3 for the ride, or 12 cents per mile for the 25-mile excursion. An earlier Taxicub flier listed a price of 6 cents per mile, although the addition of a third passenger would add 50 percent to the total. Corrected for inflation, Karant’s ride would cost about $34 today.
An interesting wrinkle of the Taxicub program was that it was fairly fluid. An ad from ’47 lets potential customers know their dealer “will fly you from his airport to your destination quickly, safely, and at reasonable cost. If you have a pilot’s license, he will rent you a Piper Taxicub to fly yourself.”
Apparently, the Taxicubs were to be available at any of Piper’s 1,500 dealers across the country during the program’s run. According to Flying magazine, the idea for Taxicub came from M.S. Hutchins, a partner in a Rochester, New York, advertising firm who worked with Piper. Hutchins proposed the idea to Piper representatives, who liked it enough to institute it across the then-48-state nation.
The end of the Taxicub program might have had more to do with company-wide hardship than its own faults. Piper’s production dropped sharply in 1947, the first year of the program, and the company lost $563,000 that year. Because of those losses, two-thirds of Piper employees were laid off. The latest Taxicub reference online is from May 15, 1948. It’s unclear how much longer afterwards the Piper Taxicub service was available to consumers.
The idea of an Uber for airplanes has been floating around again more recently, although FAA regulations are strict regarding ride-sharing and don’t really allow for an Uber-type model to legally exist. Air taxis are a legal alternative to get from airport to airport, although the price can be prohibitive.
Using drone technology to arrange for unpiloted rides is being looked at now as well, although even if the technology is prepared for that possibility, the regulations are not. The idea of hopping into a drone and flying directly to a destination is an interesting one, although it might be a while before something of that nature becomes available to consumers.
Sample Taxicub Fairs for Orlando Round Trips*
St. Pete: $24
Palm Beach: $37.20
*-To approximate these prices in 2017 dollars, multiply the amount by 11.3.