Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Beware The Fickle Winds

Winds almost never play fair

It was 1998, and my ride was one of the last of the Mooney MSEs, better known as the 201. The destination was Dubbo, Australia, about 8,500 nm from the Mooney factory in Kerrville, Texas.

The ferry business had been good to me in the 1990s, and I had delivered several dozen airplanes: Pipers, Cessnas, Aerostars, Beechcrafts, Maules, plus about 15 Mooneys, the latter all Down Under. (Do the Australians call the rest of the world "Up Over?") This was to be one of the last Mooneys I'd deliver, since the Texas manufacturer was about to eliminate the middle man and go factory direct.

Since I own a LoPresti Mooney, an older Executive fitted with an impressive (and expensive) collection of speed mods, the smaller MSE has always been my favorite. The Ovation and Bravo are wonderful, high-performance machines with some of the best cruise numbers in the industry, but back then, the MSE/201 was probably the most efficient production single you could buy. It turned in a consistent 160-165 knots on 10.5-11.0 gallons an hour. Efficiency was key in those days, as avgas was becoming expensive all over the world, especially in Australia.

For this trip, "my" assigned MSE was a well-equipped example of the type. The bad news was the airplane was a little heavy. Full fuel payload was only about 530 pounds, and I was to make this crossing in winter, when winds are often wailing out of the west. I knew I'd need 15 hours of fuel for the 2,160 nm leg from Santa Barbara to Honolulu. Throw in a two-hour reserve, and that translated to a total of 187 gallons aboard on takeoff from Santa Barbara.

Accordingly, I'd need the right seat and yoke removed and a 30-gallon tank installed in their place, plus a 100-gallon ferry tank where the back seat should be. In other words, I'd need to climb aboard over the right ferry tank and fly at about 1,000 pounds over gross for the long haul across the Pacific.

As much as I love Mooneys, that was perhaps a little too much togetherness for me. While it's true Mooneys' cabins are 11⁄2-inch wider than those of the 36 Bonanza or 58 Baron, cabin height is also several inches shorter. It would be a tight trip.


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