Even if you've never flown one, Mooneys have a universal appeal as tough, quick-handling, economical, fast machines, often analogized as sport planes. In fact, Mooneys are often considered the fastest, most efficient singles in the sky.
Even the corporate world has taken notice of Mooney's reputation. Back in the late '60s and early '70s, there were moves afoot to bring Ted Smith's remarkable Aerostar under the Mooney banner, and there was even an attempt to merge Mooney with Mitsubishi to market the Japanese MU-2 turbine twin in the U.S. A shrinking economy prevented the mergers, but to some extent, they only heightened the Kerrville, Texas, company's reputation for speed and efficiency.
Trouble was, Mooney is/was an all-aluminum airplane competing with a widening field of composite designs in a contracting market. Cirrus, Columbia and Diamond are recent entries that have drained away some of Mooney's market share. Despite building some of the fastest, most exciting airplanes in the sky, Mooney went into hibernation in 2009. It wasn't a bankruptcy, but the company discontinued production and entered a holding pattern for the next five years.
Now, the Chinese have come to the rescue, as they have for so many aviation companies across America. They've revived Mooney and vowed to return the legacy manufacturer to the sky. The company plans to bring back the turbocharged Acclaim S and the 310 hp Ovation III, each a leader in its class.
Before you ask, there are no plans to move Mooney production overseas. The Mooney is a complex, highly labor-intensive airplane, and the Chinese owners are content to leave production in Texas for the nonce. It's certainly possible that the technologically savvy Chinese could learn to build Mooneys, but the new owners understand that the most efficient and cost-effective method of returning the M20 to production is to leave it in the hands of folks who know it best.
I caught up with Tom Bowen, Mooney's Chief Operating Officer, at the recent Oshkosh AirVenture, and he arranged for a demo flight in the Acclaim S—first of the new-generation Mooneys. Bowen is one of the most knowledgeable folks I know in the business of building private aircraft. He started with Swearingen Aircraft in 1983, moved to Mooney as VP of engineering in the early '90s, then relocated to Columbia Aircraft in Bend, Ore. When Columbia went bankrupt and was acquired by Cessna, Tom transitioned across town to Lancair International in Redmond, Ore. Now, he's back to his first love in Kerrville.
Bowen joins Dr. Jerry Chen, Mooney's President and CEO. Chen holds two master's degrees and a Ph.D. from USC in aerospace and mechanical and electrical engineering. (See P&P August 2014, X-Country Log.) Additionally, Chen may have earned his private pilot's license by the time you read this.
Mooney achieves its speed with tight gear doors on the nosewheel and main gear.
Barry Hodkin is Chief Financial Officer, and he has been holding things together at the factory since 2003. Chad Nelson is the company's Chief Manufacturing Officer, a man who's intimately familiar with the company's production line and the process of constructing a Mooney. Nelson has been with the company since the early 2000s. Dr. Neil Pfeiffer rounds out the company's new management team as Chief Technical Officer, with credentials at Cessna, Learjet, Cirrus, Piper, Boeing and Beech (where he managed advanced design for six years). Collectively, the group represents some 80 years of experience in the aircraft business.
It's no big surprise that the 2015 Mooney remains delightfully familiar. In fairness, the Acclaim's cabin is more compact than that of either the Cirrus or Corvalis, but you don't notice it much because of the airplane's high comfort quotient. The Mooney's cabin is 43 inches across—about an inch wider than a Baron or Bonanza's comparable dimension.
The Acclaim S fits like a finely made leather glove—imminently comfortable and supremely adaptable. Everything falls readily to hand, and the Garmin G1000/GFC 700 glass panel avionics package is a dream of efficiency and automation. In this age, when it seems everyone is moving to glass display (and 90% of everything is Garmin), don't expect to master the system in less than several weeks unless you take a total immersion course at MIT. If you've had experience with the company's 430/530 or its talented line of portable GPS, the learning will be easier, but you may wind up discovering new features for months.
Bowen arranged for demo pilot Richard Simile to ride right seat and make sure I didn't break anything on the Acclaim S. We lifted off from Fond du Lac, Wis., on the last day of AirVenture and headed out over Lake Winnebago for some performance checks. Our load was half fuel, two pilots up front and a lightweight passenger in back.
Simile turned on the optional air-conditioning system prior to departure and mentioned that there's no requirement to turn it off during takeoff or landing. Apparently, the power draw is minimal, so you can maintain your cool no matter what the OAT.
Climb at the airplane's 105-knot Vy yielded about 1,200 fpm, but once we cleared the Fond du Lac pattern and turned over Lake Winnebago, I dropped the nose and let the speed increase to 120-125 knots for cruise climb.
Almost predictably, the Mooney settled on roughly the same vertical speed, a characteristic of many airplanes with relatively high-speed airfoils. Aerostars manifest similar good climb at high forward speed. We elected to level at 9,500 feet and still saw nearly 1,000 fpm before pushing over.
While it's true that turbocharged airplanes do their best work at high altitude, the reality is that most unpressurized singles and twins are rarely operated at altitudes that demand supplemental oxygen. I'm perhaps typical of pilots who fly turbos at medium heights. I owned a turbocharged single for eight years and also was entrusted with a new Piper Seneca II company airplane for three years in the late '70s.
I was a lot younger back then, and hypoxia was less of a concern, but I typically cruised at 12,000 to 14,000 feet on a regular basis without the need for oxygen. If the cloud or terrain was tall and I needed to climb high to clear either the cumulonimbus or the cumulogranite, I'd strap on the feedbag and ascend to the flight levels, but I rarely had occasion to climb much above 18,000 feet.
Today, the newer-generation cannulas with oxygen dispensers built into the headset microphone stalk are a nearly transparent method of dispensing O2, but most of those systems are limited by regulation from operating higher than FL180. Above that height, you'll need a full mask that covers the nose and mouth—least comfortable of the oxygen alternatives.
Speed has always been Mooney's defining characteristic, and the Acclaim will run away from pretty much any production airplane with pistons at any altitude. Even confined to the bottom two miles of sky, the Acclaim S acquits itself admirably. Flying Mooney's first new production airplane in five years, I saw 205 knots TAS at 9,500 feet. Drift on up to 14,500 feet, and you can add 10 knots to that speed. In other words, you can score as much as 215 knots below 15,000 feet. Try that in any other new, production single or piston-engine airplane.
If circumstances do dictate cruise at FL250, you can expect to see an easy 225-230 knots at reasonable power settings. Back in 2009, I flew one of the last of the first-generation Acclaim S and witnessed 239 knots, so the 242-knot spec Mooney quotes is probably within easy reach. That's providing your airplane's engine and airframe are in perfect tune and rig, you close all the vents, have the CG at the aft limit, fly in perfectly smooth air and optimum temperature, etc. You have about three chances of duplicating those conditions: slim, fat and none.
Also, remember that the 242-knot number is a max speed, not a cruise speed. In order to achieve that velocity, you'll be burning something on the order of 26-28 gph. Unless you own a refinery, however, you might want to operate the airplane more conservatively, save fuel and be kind to your engine. With a max fuel capacity of 100 gallons, you'd burn through full tanks in three hours plus reserve.
Even 230 knots puts the Acclaim S well out in front of everything else in the piston class. In fact, it's on the edge of the turboprop segment. If you're willing to climb to optimum altitude and reduce power to long-range cruise, you can easily cover 1,200 nm between fuel stops. Flying eastbound, that makes it possible to span the U.S. in one day with one stop. Just pretend you're in a jet.
year's end in 2014, then build two a month
through the end of 2015.
No matter the stage length, Mooneys manifest control response uncommon among the competition. That's partially because Mooneys use push/pull control rods rather than cables. Straight-tail Bonanzas offer a better roll and pitch rate, but there's something about the smooth, positive response of a Mooney that puts most other airplanes to shame.
Of course, the big question is always price and, these days, that's perhaps a more important consideration than it used to be. With the Corvalis TTx at nearly $800,000 and a reasonably equipped SR-22T probably over $700,000, the Mooney's base is $699,000, and that includes practically everything most sane people want except air-conditioning and TKS.
Both systems add considerable weight: air-conditioning about 65 pounds, and a fully serviced TKS system (six gallon capacity) another 95 pounds. Indeed, payload is the Mooney's Achilles' wing. The airplane only starts off with 400 paying pounds with the 100-gallon tanks topped, and that means you'll be left with something like 240 pounds for people and things with both options. For that reason, Mooney won't sell an Acclaim S with both TKS and A/C. You'll have to choose one or the other.
(I once ferried a TKS-equipped Mooney Bravo, predecessor to the Acclaim S, from Boston to Sydney, Australia, and before the FAA would grant the special airworthiness certificate, they insisted the TKS tank be emptied, placarded and left that way for the trip. TKS fluid is very dense and weighs nine pounds/gallon, plus the tank is located behind the baggage compartment, so it could be a major contributor to an aft CG problem. Fortunately, I was flying the Pacific in spring, so the problem was moot.)
Mooney hopes to produce three airplanes by year's end in 2014, then build two a month through the end of 2015. If demand is sufficient, Mooney will produce one airplane a week in 2016.
As we go to press, GAMA reports that delivery of general aviation singles is on the rise. We can only hope that's a trend that Mooney can help perpetuate. Competition is good for everyone, and it's especially good news to see America's premier high-performance retractable back in the running.