We were getting a leisurely start to our Wednesday, as I trimmed up the plane and settled back in my seat, watching the surf-sandy central California coastline slide by to our right and the Channel Islands, hazy blue in the morning Pacific haze, 20 miles out across the sound, drift behind us on the left. It seemed fitting, as I ran through the cruise checklist, to dial up a Sirius XM channel, which, like many others that day, was featuring the music of the late, great California kid Tom Petty, who’d died just the day before. The song “Learning to Fly” came on. Perfect.
I was traveling with my new real-life and longtime Facebook friend Richard Simile, of Mooney, whose tough job it was to keep an eye on me while we went flying in the new, very fast piston single around early autumn California. For months I’d made no secret that I wanted to fly the Ovation, and to fly it early and often. I’m like that with most airplanes. And the fact that Mooney is in Kerrville, Texas, just a Skylane hop across hill country from my home in Austin, might make it seem as though that would have been easy. But when I finally got the chance to fly the plane, it wasn’t in Texas at all but in southern California, where the newly certificated model was about to embark on a two-week sales tour to show prospects just what kind of plane it is. The sales trip made sense to me, because no one really knows what the Ovation Ultra is like because it’s the very first one. It is in a very real sense a 197-knot unicorn.