Mooney M20M TLS/Bravo

A definite step away from the Mooney tradition of efficiency, the TLS is designed for flat-out high-altitude performance.

How fast do you want to go? How deep are your pockets? The TLS is one answer: a go-for-broke and hang-a-bigger-mill-in-it approach to raw performance. Surrounded with quite a bit of hype during its development, the TLS sprouts a 270-HP, turbocharged, intercooled Lycoming TIO-540-AF1A from the firewall to give whiz-bang speeds and climb rates.

The aircraft was definitely a departure for the Mooney line, which from the Mite to the M-20K 252TSE had always reflected a do-more-with-less design philosophy, emphasizing efficiency long before fuel prices went out of sight. The TLS is a bit more of a brute than the 201, 231 and 252, and definitely at the top of the performance heap of contemporary turbocharged singles. It cruises about 20 knots faster than a 252 for a given altitude and power setting, though it averages five or six gallons per hour more fuel consumed to achieve that.

To a man, the owners are very happy with performance. Several have owned other Mooney models (it is interesting to note that one traded his Malibu for a TLS). One said: The TLS lacks the efficiency of the rest of the product line, but speed, rather than efficiency, is what this model is all about.

The TLS, aka M20M and now Bravo, was introduced in 1989 as part of Mooneys expansion of its model line. The PFM had come out a year before, and its stretched fuselage was mated to the big Lycoming to create the TLS. Initial reception was good for the time, with 35 being produced the first year.

It became evident that buyers were gravitating towards ultimate performance and away from the traditional Mooney efficiency, and the company decided to kill the 252TSE the following year.

Few changes have occurred in the decade since its introduction. Oxygen and speed brakes, formerly options, were made standard on 1996 models, and in 1997 the name was changed to TLS Bravo. To date, about 250 have been built.

Current prices range from $200,000 for the original M20M to more than $500,000 for a new one.

Model differences
Larger aft cabin windows are the most obvious exterior change from the 231/252 models. The rear seat and aft bulkhead have been moved back to provide more interior space but preserve basically the same baggage area.

Also, the panel was redesigned. It is higher and fills more of the windshield; the tradeoff is a bit more knee room at the base of the panel. The organization of the panel is improved, with the engine instruments happily moved from the right side to in front of the pilot. There is plenty of room for avionics and accessories.

The big, six-cylinder Lycoming is balanced by a slight increase in elevator area and a second battery located in the tail cone. The engine cowl, which sports large, un-Mooney-like air intakes-including a big NACA-type duct to supply air to the intercooler, is lighter than the 252s. (It will be interesting to see if this becomes a maintenance problem with time, due to the famous Lycoming rattle.) Electrically operated, infinitely adjustable cowl flaps are included.

The landing/taxi lights are mounted in the wing leading edge in the TLS. This is bound to be a good move, since cowl-mounted lights in other Mooneys have been prone to failure from vibration and burned wires and who knows what else.

In addition to dual batteries, the considerable electrical demand is supplied by dual, 70-amp. alternators. Available equipment includes a mechanically driven standby vacuum pump. It automatically engages if the primary system fails.

Another first on the TLS is rudder trim. Actually, it is an electrically actuated, bungee-controlled rudder bias system. While maintaining yaw trim on smaller-engined Mooneys is not a high-workload affair, it would be on the TLS.

The basic airplane comes complete with a 115 cubic-foot oxygen system and speed brakes. Aside from the avionics gear and optional electric propeller deice, it is very well equipped.

When it comes to avionics, many of the TLSs sold to date have it all. The Bendix/King electronic horizontal situation indicator (EHSI) is an option. Integrated with a navigation system, such as the KLN-88, it is a powerful, integrated display. Quite a few TLSs sport nearly $100,000 worth of avionics equipment. (So bargains are not aplenty, as yet.)

Quite a few pilots have been scared away from Mooneys because of their different handling characteristics and the fact that good speed control is much more important for a satisfactory landing than with many other singles. A good transition training program should be the first order of business for any pilot new to the design.

Pilots with Mooney experience will find adjusting to the TLS fairly simple. In some respects, there are more things to attend to, including the rudder trim. These are offset by some simpler systems. Power settings are made easier by the variable density wastegate controller on the turbocharger.

Much of the fiddling and resetting with attitude, altitude and speed changes that is part of life in flying a 231, for instance, are automatically compensated for on the TLS. Rotation at takeoff and getting the attitude right for landing are a bit easier. CG is a bit further aft, and the elevator is a tad more powerful.

If you are primarily a Beech, Cessna or Piper pilot, youll find the Mooney offers several idiosyncrasies-or differences-in operation. Particularly if your flying logs do not include a wide range of makes and models, a proper checkout is essential to fly a Mooney with some grace.

The first difference is relative position. You sit almost on the floor, rather than on a chair. Eye level is low. And the Mooney is relatively low to the ground, which compounds the different picture you receive.

The shock absorption in the Mooney gear design is a low-maintenance, rubber donut system rather than oleo struts or trailing link. Its is also tough over the ground, and less yielding than other systems. It, too, takes getting used to.

While it is less pronounced in later Mooney models, there is a tendency to over-rotate on takeoff, which can be startling to many pilots. At the other end of the flight regime, Mooneys are different in landing behavior, as well. As a general statement, they are a bit nose heavy and pilots tend to land on the nose gear (the punishment shows up in service difficulty reports).

Proper speed control is essential. So is proper attitude control. Until you become practiced, it takes effort to land on the mains. If speed is just a little to high, you will be floating in ground effect. If you decide to plant the airplane on the runway, it will fight back. More punishment of the nose gear (and a possible prop strike) are all you will get. This can also lead to loss of directional control. Mooneys also are rudder limited, and all have fairly low crosswind components (13 knots listed as the highest tested for the TLS). Take turbulence, add in some crosswind, and a challenging exercise in attitude, airspeed and directional control can result.

In-flight manners are very good. The controls-particularly ailerons-feel a bit heavy. Rudder is the lightest of the three axes. Control actuation is via push-pull tubes rather than cables. It makes for a very direct connection. Properly rigged, Mooneys have good, precise handling, and are fun to fly on instruments. And they handle turbulence well.

Speed awareness is important in cruise, particularly in weather, and during descent. Inattentiveness can lead to rapid speed buildup.

Optional Precise Flight speed brakes were offered starting with the 231 and 201. They are standard on the TLS. Most pilots think they are the best addition to a Mooney (and a lot of other airplanes, as well). They greatly simplify management of power, engine temperature and speed in descent. An added benefit is that they make landings much easier. There are no restrictions on their use. Their effect is most notable in the higher end of the speed range, but there is basically no perceptible change in handling with extension or retraction.

More speed control
Another area in which Mooneys have been improved-starting with later versions of the 201-is gear speed. Both gear and flap extension speeds were woefully low, particularly when operating in high density areas with a wide mix of traffic.

Flap extension speed is still low on the TLS (110 KIAS), but gear extension speed has been increased. It is 140 KIAS on the TLS (Vlo for retraction is still 106, however). Once the gear is out, maximum speed is 165 knots. This, in combination with the speed brakes, makes penetration descents possible without any need to shock cool the engine.

One characteristic to discover with an experienced Mooney pilot is pitch force changes with flaps. And here again, speed control is important. Extending the flaps requires significant pitch-down trim.

The lower the indicated airspeed, the less obvious the trim change. However, transition from power-off or low-power approach with full flaps to a go-around or missed approach produces an immediate pitch up that requires a lot of pitch force or quick action on elevator trim to compensate for it. This can be very distracting and unsettling unless it is anticipated.

There is excess power to enable very impressive initial and continuous climb. The engine is not at all highly stressed at the 270-HP rating for the TLS since variants of the TIO-540 crank out up to 350 HP. TBO is set at a respectable (for turbos) 2,000 hours. To feed the thirsty engine, fuel capacity has been increased to 96 gallons (89 gal/534 pounds usable).

Best angle (Vx is 80 KIAS) produces a very high 703 feet/NM climb angle. It also means you have no forward visibility. Best rate (Vy is 105), results in an impressive 1,230 FPM, also making visibility in front next to nil. A more sedate cruise climb speed of from 120 to 140 KIAS should be used. The latter still produces a healthy 800 FPM, with good forward visibility.

Flight planning decisions are very important in the TLS. You can storm along at FL250 truing 223 knots-in the speed range of many turboprops. Burning 20.5 GPH, you can do this for about three hours. That does not provide much range, even if most people consider that a reasonable human endurance. It is fine for show-off time, or to acquire bragging rights at the bar. (There I was at FL 200. I passed that King Air like he was standing still.)

Setting power for best economy rather than best power costs only two or three knots at most altitudes and power settings in exchange for two or three gallons less fuel consumption. Compromising on lower power settings, particularly where winds are in your favor, can extend endurance out to as much as six hours plus reserve.

At FL 200, maximum cruise power of 2,400 RPM/34 in. MP/17.6 GPH results in 204 KTAS. Cutting power and reducing fuel flow to 16.6 GPH still gives 202 knots. At below oxygen levels, the TLS still can churn out impressive speeds: for instance, 195 KTAS at 12,000 feet.

If Mooney could figure out a way to load another two hours of fuel in the airplane, it would have range to match its speed. It is hard to get everything you want in an airplane, even where money is no object. The TLS is a compromise, just like any other design.

Mooney pilots and passengers have been better treated since the introduction of the first stretched fuselage, the Executive, in 1968. Improvements in interior design have made better use of available space. The TLS is a big improvement for both front- and rear-seat passengers. Rear-seat leg room is better, and the illusion of space created by the new, larger, windows, helps. It also improves pilot visibility to the rear.

Baggage space is adequate at just under 21 cubic feet. Maximum structural load is 130 pounds. Seats in the TLS are three-way adjustable, and the front seats include an adjustable (inflatable) lumbar support. A nice touch is the way the rear seat backs fold down to provide a cargo compartment in back. The rear seat cushions can be yanked out to allow this.

Payload, as mentioned earlier, is adequate, even with full fuel. The TLS is not the load hauler that planes like the 210 or Bonanza are, but it is in the ball park: two people and some peanuts, or two big and one or two small people with full fuel. Owners who did not equip their TLS with maximum avionics can probably enjoy a four-person with full fuel payload. So if payload and range are key to your operation, check the equipment list and basic operating weights carefully.

Engine care
As you wring out your TLS, enjoying all 270 horses, think ahead. Average overhaul price currently is $26,000. If you treat the engine with respect, and it treats you well, that works out to $13 per flying hour that ought to be banked towards the fateful day when the clock hits 2,000 hours.

The good thing is that Lycoming has churned out a lot of its 540 series engines. But there is not a lot of experience yet on how well that big, rumbling mill and the TLS airframe are getting along. One owner reports …some expensive problems for a low-time engine. (At the time he wrote, the airplane had 280 hours total time.) The turbocharger density controller leaked oil, probably from a porous casting.

At 205 hours, it had to be replaced. Worse, it was beyond the one year warranty limit. Cost: $1,700. At 260 hours, the left magneto failed. No warranty, and it happened away from home base, raising to cost to repair. At 275 hours, a low oil pressure problem developed. After more than 100 hours of trouble shooting, the problem was not identified.

Another owner is troubled by hot starts. This problem frequently-not always-is the result of operator technique. Some engines are particularly prone to this if they are quickly shut down, then a relight is attempted before the powerplant cools completely. Fuel vaporizes in the lines and must be purged.

And another TLS owner is annoyed by his airplanes oil-soaked belly, noting that the engine breathes more oil than the Mooney air/oil separator can handle.

On the subject of starts, especially in cold weather, it should be noted that battery condition and available juice is very important. If there is not enough voltage, an engine start with battery should not even be attempted. Find an APU.

Two owners reported recurring problems with landing gear retraction. One noted: Fortunately, the problem was getting the gear up rather than…down. It happened three times to this owner. The limit switch was replaced each time. That it happened once would be troublesome. That it happened three times is inexcusable, he said. Having to fly in excess of 10 hours with the gear down certainly defeated my purpose in acquiring such a plane. The other owner said it occurred three times. Retraction tests did not uncover the problem until the third event. It was traced to a faulty micro switch.

Another owner said his service facility does not think the landing gear biscuits will last 300 hours under the heavier weight of the TLS.

Reaction to Mooney support varies. Some term it good, particularly during the early teething pains of the first production airplanes. Others are not so sanguine. New owners no longer get preferential treatment when they experience problems and seek remedial action (warranty or otherwise) at their local service center. While the factory is generally supportive, it is (impossible) to instill genuine concern or a sense of urgency at the local level, one owner wrote.

Airworthiness Directives
Aside from a couple of shotgun ADs (like the Lycoming wrist pin directive) there has been only one Airworthiness Directive that applies to the TLS. Emergency AD 91-03-15 was effective February 19, 1991. It requires replacement of the tailpipe coupling with an improved version within 25 hours of operation. It results from an in-flight fire that occurred in October 1990 to a TLS shortly after takeoff. The pilot successfully returned to the airport and made a wheels-up landing. There was no serious injury to the pilot or passenger.

The coupling between the turbocharger and exhaust pipe separated, allowing exhaust gases to hit the firewall. The heat ignited material on the cabin side of the firewall near the rudder pedals. A Mooney service letter, Number 90-06 of November 1, 1990 also covers this problem. The danger of exhaust leaks, particularly with turbocharged engines, should be of great concern. Inspections should be done as a matter of course, since similar events have occurred with a number of aircraft. It is not peculiar to the TLS.

Owner Comments
I purchased the TLS from Mooney in late 1989, the first year of production. The aircraft now has a total of 280 hours and is great to fly. Performance is a real plus and meets the book values very closely. I normally fly in the mid teens and get true airspeeds of 200 to 205 knots at 32 inches MP and 2,400 RPM. Fuel burn at these conditions is 16.5 to 17 GPH. For a 600- to 700-NM trip with a cruise altitude of 15,000 to 17,000 feet, I plan on a fuel burn rate 20 GPH for the first hour and 17 GPH for the rest of the trip.

I fly the aircraft on business trips on the west coast and have been coast to coast a couple of times; I can really recommend the TLS for cross-country travel. Depending on wind and weather, I will fly 600 to 750 NM legs, or about 3 to 3.5 hours. This is my personal endurance limit.

I took delivery of the TLS shortly after it was certified in 1989, so have experienced a lot of the expected teething problems of a new model. Mooney has provided excellent customer support during this period.

One of the major problems was the landing gear intermittently failing to retract. Naturally, when we took it to the Mooney service center and jacked it up, it worked. Then a couple of flights later it would not retract after takeoff. Finally, about the third time on jacks it failed, and we isolated the faulty microswitch and replaced it.

On the powerplant, there have been some expensive problems for a low-time engine. First, the density controller leaked oil, could not be fixed (possible porous castings), and had to be replaced at 205 hours. It was no longer under warranty and cost $1,700. At 260 hours the left magneto failed and had to be replaced, again not under warranty since it is an engine part and is covered for only one year.

This cost more than normal because it happened out of state. Presently the engine is down with a low oil pressure problem which happened at 275 hours. Under Lycomings direction a Mooney service center has spent close to 100 man-hours troubleshooting the problem without any results. Presently Lycoming has sent a factory representative to California to work with the service center to find and cure the problem without tearing the engine down. The results will be forthcoming. And yes, Im just a little concerned.

-R.E. Sheets
Anaheim, Calif.

I acquired my TLS (ser. no 27-088) a few years ago, having previously owned a 201 and a Ranger (obviously I like the products from Kerrville). It is everything that its claimed to be. The operative word is fast. At sub-nosebag levels, I consistently see 190 knots, and burn 17 gallons per hour.

My overall experience with the TLS has been favorable, but all has not been sweetness and light. On three separate occasions, the landing gear would not retract, and the limit switch was replaced each time. Having to fly in excess of 10 hours with the gear down certainly defeated my purpose in acquiring such an airplane. That it happened once would be troublesome. That it happened three times is inexcusable. Fortunately, the problem was getting the gear up rather than getting it down.

The new panel layout is a delight, but forward visibility is somewhat restrictive, especially at the high rates of climb of which this airplane is capable. Moderate rates of climb not only improve visibility, but also promote cooler operation. Temperatures near redline are not uncommon while climbing out of the desert.

The stretched fuselage improves rear seat legroom, and greatly increases the baggage area (although weight limitations remain as before). The enlarged side windows improve rear seat visibility and give the cabin a lighter, more open feeling. One has to be careful not to rotate too aggressively on takeoff, however, since it is much easier to drag the rear tie-down with the elongated fuselage. Graceful entries into, and exits from the cabin are skills yet to be mastered by myself and my passengers.

Other minor irritants include the tendency toward difficult hot starts (thankfully the airplane has a backup battery), a maximum useful load which is less than the current MSE (201) model, and a flight hour recorder location useful only to those sitting in the right seat with an eyeball on their left ankle.

The Mooney factory-direct sales program undoubtedly has its merits. Some of the Mooney Service Centers (many of whom were previously dealers) remain unconvinced, however. New owners no longer get preferential treatment when they experience problems and seek remedial action (warranty or otherwise) at their local Service Center. While the factory is generally supportive, it is difficult (impossible) to instill genuine concern or a sense of urgency at the local level.

With each new Mooney comes a three-day Flight Safety indoctrination course. Regardless of ones previous experience, this is a worthwhile program in general, and for the TLS owner in particular, it is a prudent transition into such a high-performance aircraft.

-Alan Timmerman
Phoenix, Ariz.

The aircraft has been virtually trouble-free (the main reason I switched from my 85 Malibu). Speeds are as published, and the gross weight mod didnt extract the expected four-knot speed penalty. (Original TLSs were limited to 3,200 lbs. takeoff weight; the factory provided a free upgrade to the 3,368-lb. takeoff weight, which consisted of a lower flap-gap-seal removal, new main gear trusses and updated documentation.) The mod also reduced landing speed to 75 knots from the original 80.

The TLS is easier to land than a 201. The noise level is somewhat higher than a 201. Aileron forces are heavier at cruise (the wing is essentially unchanged from other Mooneys and cruise IAS is about 30 knots higher). I like to refer to the TLS as a 201 with an attitude. Engine management tends to be as easy as on a 252, certainly easier than either a 231 or Continental-powered Malibu.

The few model upgrades I can think of are (in 1990) a dimmer to separate the map light from the glareshield dimmer (I simply installed 14v bulbs). For 1991, theres a timer to shut off the courtesy lights, as well as double-puck brakes.

A minor annoyance is the dirty belly caused by the engine breathing more oil than Mooneys separator can handle. My service center expects the standard landing-gear biscuits wont last 300 hours due to the higher weight of the TLS. Theyve suggested stiffer ones to Mooney. The Airborne vacuum pump is subject to the repeated 200-hour loose-shaft inspection.

-Rick Auricchio
Los Gatos, Calif.

Also With This Article
Click here to view charts for Resale Values, Payload Compared and Prices Compared.
Click here to view the Mooney M20M TLS features guide.