Plane & Pilot
Monday, October 1, 2007

Ovation3: Reaching For 200

Mooney’s new Ovation3 pushes the cruise-speed battle closer to 200 knots—without a turbocharger

ovationOn the face of it, retractable gear seems almost an ideal solution to the problem of making an airplane fly faster. The whole idea is to reduce drag and increase cruise; cleaning up the underwing accomplishes that mission, though with varying levels of success.
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Fortunately, my flight with Uecker didn’t involve a 110-gallon tank in the rear seat or a 2,200 nm ferry flight. Instead, we spent a pleasant afternoon driving the plane down the California coast to San Diego for Mexican food and we took a circuitous course back to Long Beach in time for dinner.

The standard Ovation was an excellent climber, but with 30 additional horsepower under the bonnet, the new Ovation3 offers even better ascent. As you might expect, climb performance is nearly always the first beneficiary of more power. With two folks aboard and three-quarters fuel in the tanks, a typical load, Uecker and I leaped out of Long Beach at an initial 1,200 fpm, all the more impressive considering that density altitude at sea level was 2,300 feet. Service ceiling is a tall 20,000 feet, so you should see good climb even at density altitudes above 10,000 feet.

It’s unlikely I’ll ever need to fly an Ovation across an ocean at 900 pounds over gross again, but I’ll bet the new airplane would climb away with even greater ease than the Ovation2s I delivered in the ’90s.

Of course, the overriding question remains—how fast is it? Turbocharged airplanes punched through the 200-knot barrier long ago, but normally aspirated models have been challenged to fly much quicker than 185 knots. The original 1994 Ovation boosted cruise to the neighborhood of 190 knots, and the later Cirrus SR22 and Columbia 350 scored close to those numbers six years later.

Without benefit of thin air in the flight levels, however, the 200-knot ideal remains a major aerodynamic challenge. (Even the Comanche 400 with, you guessed it, 400 hp on the nose, could manage only about 185 knots.) Now, Mooney has upped the ante a step closer to that ideal.

We had a hot day with a typical Los Angeles inversion on the day of the test flight, so temperatures were well above standard for the bottom two vertical miles. I high-jumped to 9,500 feet over the Catalina Channel and let the airplane accelerate for several minutes. After speed had stabilized, TAS worked out to 188 knots at a density altitude of 12,300 feet. That was obviously far above optimum height, equal to about 55% power, so we began reducing the cruise altitude 1,000 feet at a time in search of the magic max cruise height.

Seventy-five percent altitude worked out to an unusually low 5,500 feet where the temperature was still a surprising 30 degrees C. That generated a density altitude of 8,400 feet and a max true airspeed of 194 knots. Mooney’s spec is 197 knots under ideal conditions, which we most definitely didn’t have on the day of my flight.


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