Airplanes are compromises: Theyre never large enough, fast enough or light enough for all potential customers. And going faster is always a popular upgrade. After all, we dont fly airplanes to go slow. Of the two basic ways to increase top speed-clean up the airplanes aerodynamics or stuff in a larger engine-each has their benefits and drawbacks. But when one method has been tried, or reaches the point where further refinement isnt cost effective, designers turn to the other.
Mooneys M20 series is something of Exhibit A for this practice: The basic airframe had been cleaned up over the years and powered by different engines, resulting in
iconic models like the M20J Model 201 and its turbocharged sister, the 231. But after those models saturated their markets, going faster still meant bolting on a different, larger powerplant. After all, theres no replacement for displacement. In this instance, take a long-fuselage Mooney, trade its small Lycoming for a big-bore Continental, make a few other refinements, and the result is a comfortable190-knot speedster known as the M20R Ovation. Still in production today, the Ovation has seen its share of evolution.
After tragic teething pains-the original M20 saw several in-flight breakups, resulting in abandoning wooden wing components-the basic Mooney airframe has been essentially the same since the M20C of the early 1960s. It consists of a semi-monocoque rear fuselage, metal-skinned steel tube cabin, a long and slender tapered wing and a distinctive tail with unswept leading edges. As well, major systems have remained unchanged throughout: Trim is accomplished via a jackscrew moving the entire empennage; controls are pushrod-driven and the landing gear still uses a stone-simple trailing link design, with shock absorption handled by stacks of solid-rubber donuts.
The company, too, has been through some refinements. It changed hands more than once, encountering management and quality-control problems along the way. By the mid-1970s, the line was looking a bit dated and the company was in trouble yet again. Fortunately for Mooney, the right man for the job was in place: LeRoy LoPresti had earned legend status for his ability to get the utmost from an airplane through aerodynamic cleanups. Already famous at the time for his work at Grumman-American, he applied his talents to the M20 series, resulting in the Mooney 201, which stood for the airplanes top speed in MPH. LoPresti made a number of changes, including a new cowling and more aerodynamic windshield. The interior was redone as well, with a new panel. Gone, too, were the old Mooney naming conventions (names like “Executive” and “Statesman”).
The 201 became the pattern for all Mooneys to follow. Its first sibling was the turbocharged 231 (M20K, a designation also applied to the 252/Encore models), with its 210-hp Continental TSIO-360. In the 1986 model year, the M20K morphed into the 252, which lasted until 1990, and was resurrected with 220 hp as the Encore for 1997/98.
The short-lived Porsche-engined PFM (M20L) was the first of what today are known as the “long-body” Mooneys, even though the M20J/K models had been stretched once already when compared to their M20C/D/E forebears. Lasting only two years and for 41 copies, the PFM begat the M20M, debuting as the TLS. It was the first true “big-bore” Mooney, sporting a turbocharged Lycoming TIO-540 of 270 hp. Known as the TLS/Bravo and later, simply Bravo, it went out of production in 2006 when the company shifted all its current powerplants to Continentals 550 cubic-inch platform. In 1999, Mooney dropped the M20J/201 in favor of the M20S Eagle, also built on the longer fuselage first used for the M20L.
The Ovation series, also using the long fuselage, first appeared for the 1994 model year, rolling out the factory door at an average equipped price of $281,500. From the beginning, it was powered by Mooneys version of Teledyne Continental Motors popular IO-550, the -G, featuring a tuned induction system. The IO-550-G lacks altitude-compensating fuel metering, so the pilot must lean the mixture manually. Mooney derated the IO-550-G to 280 horsepower by limiting maximum rpm to 2500. This probably contributed to the engines official 2000-hour TBO when other IO-550s saw only 1700 hours. Whether thats a realistic number wont be known until the aircraft accumulates some history, so buyers are duly cautioned not to bank on the high TBO. That said, one owner reports his Ovation made it to TBO, albeit with a top overhaul along the way.
Once prized for squeezing lots of knots out of relatively small engines, Mooneys are no longer taking a back seat in the horsepower race. In the process, most of the “easy” aerodynamic tweaks seemingly have been applied, leading to more horsepower as the quickest, easiest path to greater speed. Today, the Mooney lineup consists of the M20R Ovation 2 GX (280 hp), the Ovation 3 (310 hp IO-550-G with a 2000-hour TBO), plus the Acclaim and Acclaim S, both basically turbocharged versions of the 280-hp Ovation 2 GX with 2000-hour TBOs. It would seem the IO-550s TBO “issue” in Mooney airframes-if there ever was one-has been resolved.
Not Your Fathers Mooney
Compared to earlier Mooneys, the most noticeable difference on the Ovations exterior is a new sculpted cowl sloping down to a pair of too-small-looking cooling inlets. These inlets still manage to provide adequate airflow. No cowl flaps are fitted so cooling air exits past the dual exhaust pipes.
The interior belies Mooneys reputation for cramped and uncomfortable cockpits.
The company consigned the chintzy plastic interior panels from prior models to the waste heap. All interior panels on the Ovation are a laminated composite material with very nice natural wool or synthetic coverings. This really upgrades the cabins looks, in keeping with the contemporary, upper-end tenor of the aircraft. The composite panels also reportedly attenuate sound better than the thin plastic they replace.
The seating position is classic Mooney; you sit low with your legs straight out in front. It takes some getting used to. The difference the longer fuselage makes is most obvious in the rear seats, which are considerably improved over the torture devices they simulate in the short-fuselage Mooneys.
A complement of six exterior lighting switches is on the overhead, two of them split switches. Mooney, to its credit, makes sure everyone has the best possible chance of seeing you coming. Inside are the traditional map lights under the yokes, area lighting in the glare shield and individual adjustable lights for each seat in the overhead.
A standby vacuum system was standard equipment, as was dual 24-volt batteries (located in the tailcone for balance considerations). A rocker switch toggles from one battery to the other. Either can be used for all operations and they can be switched at any time, but both cannot be used at the same time. It isnt a dual bus system, just dual batteries. A second alternator was offered as an option; it was required for the “known-ice” option. Its now standard equipment on new Mooneys. If yours is an older one without, the dual batteries at least give you ample standby reserve in case of an alternator failure.
Those first Ovations routinely came equipped with a Bendix-King KLN-90A navigator and a KFC 150 autopilot. Beginning with the 2000 model year, the models designation changed to Ovation 2; look for a pair of Garmin GNS430s, a KFC 225, a WX-950 Stormscope and a two-blade prop. Factory options included built-in oxygen, propeller de-icing, air conditioning and a TKS system certified for known icing.
For the 2003 models, Mooney brought forth the Ovation 2 DX, featuring a standard Garmin 530/430 package, data linked weather capability, a KFC 225 and a KCS 55A HSI. For 2005, a GX version was offered, which included a Garmin G1000 glass panel. In 2006, the DX version was dropped and the G1000 became standard equipment. The Ovation 3, with its 310-hp IO-550, G1000 panel, Garmin GFC 700 autopilot and $469,000 average retail price came on the market in 2007.
Owners also report few maintenance issues with the engine and airframe-aside from common ailments with TCM cylinders and valves-but cant say the same for all the avionic goodies the factory installed. One owner noted problems with both his Garmin 530 and 430; another reports his 530s screen “burned up” in flight. None of that, of course, has anything to do with the airframe and Ovations appearing on the used market likely will have all those kinks worked out. Mooney gets high marks for its customer support from current owners, however, including maintenance and improved parts availability.
But problems have arisen, some of which were targeted by Airworthiness Directives (ADs). In one instance, the factory apparently omitted a reinforcing gusset in the aileron control links. An AD, 98-24-11, addresses that shortcoming by requiring 100-hour inspections for 41 copies of the M20R. Installing improved parts terminates the AD. Another issue arose with cracked exhaust systems, as embodied in AD 95-12-16. A repetitive inspection was called for, at least until improved parts could be installed per a factory retrofit kit. Air-conditioned Ovations were required to be equipped with a placard specifying the systems use during cruise operations alone, or owners were to disable the system entirely, under AD 99-11-07. That action responded to what the FAA called “dangerous levels of carbon monoxide during taxi, climb and descent operations.”
Four Ovations were singled out by serial number for inspection of the main landing gear leg bracket and replacement, if necessary, after laser pattern cutting during manufacture resulted in minor cracks developing at the bends. The most recent AD of which were aware, AD 2007-05-04, was issued to prevent the upper engine mounting hardware from losing torque, which could lead to engine mount failure.
The AD responds to firewall insulation and upholstery being compressed between the fuselage tubular frame and the firewall at the upper left and upper right engine mount attach points.
Additional ADs issued against aftermarket cylinders from ECI, Hartzell propeller hubs and Bendix-King autopilots came up in our research.
Owners report the Ovations operating costs are commensurate with this class of aircraft, with annual inspections falling into the $2000-$5000 range. Of course, surprises can always crop up and Mooneys are not immune. The aforementioned cylinders are one possibility; accessories like starter adapters are another.
Insurance is available and seems to be priced in line with other high-performance single-engine retractables. As always, some of the best deals can be had through type clubs. Training, also, is easy to obtain: The Mooney Aircraft Pilots Association Safety Foundation, www.mapasafety.com, is heavily involved with type-specific flight and ground instruction. Flight training courses are held approximately six times per year at various locations throughout the United States, using instructors with many years and thousands of hours of Mooney experience, according to the associations Web site.
Perhaps more so than for any other marque still in production, many Mooney owners can rightly be termed “maniacs.” Its no surprise then that two excellent user groups have sprung up, along with many knowledgeable maintenance and modification shops. The Mooney Aircraft Pilots Association, www.mooneypilots.com, conveniently based near Mooneys Kerrville factory in San Antonio, Texas, is one choice. Mooney Owners of America, in Nokomis, Fla., www.mooneyowners.com, is another. Either group covers the full range of Mooney models.
Modifications are available from a wide variety of sources for all models. Some, however, may not be approved for the Ovation since earlier models are more numerous and the Ovation may already incorporate many items-a low-drag windshield, for example. Because of the relatively close relationship between manufacturer and mod shops, other mods may be available from the factory. For example, Mooney in February 2006 began offering an upgrade of the Ovation (and M20S Eagle) to increase maximum horsepower to 310. According to Mooney, the mod results from work done by Midwest M20 Mooney of Flora, Ill., www.midwestmooney.com, and PowerLite LLC, a subsidiary of AvPower LLC, which the FAA blessed by awarding an STC.
In addition to Midwest Mooney, other mod shops include The Mooney Mart, www.mooneymart.com, and Lake Aero Styling and Repair, www.lasar.com. Precise Flight, www.preciseflight.com, offers its wing-mounted speed brakes for the Ovation to help slow it down. Meanwhile, LoPresti Speed Merchants, www.speedmods.com, will sell you its popular Boom Beam landing and recognition light system.
Having purchased one of the first two glass-panel Ovations and most recently having it upgraded to include the GFC Garmin 700 auto interface, as well as the Ovation 3 modification, I feel I am in a good position to comment.
Insuring a high-performance retractable with no experience can be difficult. Using Falcon Insurance and working closely with MAPAs Safety Foundation, I had no problem obtaining full insurance. I immediately took intensive training. Insurance was always reasonable, but I might have had problems had I purchased a competitive aircraft.
The Mooney factory is doing everything it can to overcome a parts shortage dating back a decade or more. Their service organization is on par with the best that can be expected. When you taxi up to the facility in Kerrville, you are greeted by a knowledgeable person ready to take action. Mooney recently established a service organization within 20 minutes of my home base.
My first annual was $1500, the second was $2500 and the last one was $4000, but it involved replacing a cylinder (burned valve) covered under warranty as well as some discretionary improvements. A reasonable estimate would be between $2000 and $2500.
Approaching 700 hours since taking delivery in January 2006, Im unable to express any disappointment with the aircraft.
Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin
I bought an Ovation 2 new in May 2001, my fourth Mooney in 15 years. Ive had a 75 F model and two J models; an 82 and a 91. Al Mooney would roll over in his grave if he could see what succeeding generations of “management” and ownership have done to his company. When I took delivery of the Ovation, I had a two-year warranty that was good for three months-Mooney went bankrupt. That said, there have been some neat things done to improve the performance and looks to this point.
First, the bad news: My annuals average about $3000, and in the past 6.5 years and 950 hours, I have spent over $6000 in extra parts and labor for repairs. Starter adapter: $2000; manifold pressure transducer $1265; the infamous landing gear no-back spring $500, plus an additional inspection shortly after installation; the ASI and turn coordinator also went south.
Truthfully, though, almost all my problems for the first three or four years were with the avionics. The Skywatch crapped out after two weeks; both the Garmin 430 and the 530 went bad very quickly. In fact the 530 scared the hell out of me when the screen burned up at 8,500 feet over the Berkshires. The Stormscope gave me trouble and the King KFC-225 autopilot did as well. When all that is considered, I guess the airframe was not all that bad.
Compared with the 201s, the Ovation is harder to land well consistently. Most of the time, though, I get to walk away. For a pilot buying a used long body, I strongly recommend MAPAs Pilot Proficiency Course. Buyers of a new Mooney get a transition course as part of the deal. It will probably take a new owner a lot more time to learn how to use the avionics than to fly the airplane safely. MAPA also has a one-day introduction to Mooney maintenance course that should be very helpful for most newbies.
Insurance now is about $4100 for $300,000 hull and $100,000 per seat liability coverage, with a $1,000,000 cap. Pretty short on the liability side, but I cant get smooth limits at anything short of extortion prices. The insurance companies discriminate against older pilots-I am 74, but in great health and hold a second class medical with a clean record.
Now the good news: The Ovation looks great on the ground and in the air but, better than that, the performance is outstanding. The ride is solid and comfortable. The seats are three-way adjustable, plus they have lumbar supports. Controls are on the heavy side, especially in roll, but pitch is somewhat sensitive. The biggest drawback, other than useful load, is a lack of headroom. On the older Ovations, the panel is high and difficult for a short person to see over. The panel on the new models is about 1.7 inches lower-a big difference. Useful load is 965 with built-in oxygen, Skywatch and a three-blade prop. One can squeeze about 98 gallons of gas into the “89-gallon” tanks and go a long, long way. In fact, much farther than I can.
Its awkward to enter and exit for someone not used to the Mooney, but once in, it is quite comfortable. Takeoff and climb with the Hartzell three-blade TopProp is much better than with the original two-blade, shortening the takeoff roll about 200 feet. In climb, I often see 1500 to 1800 FPM for a short time unless ambient temp is high. I usually climb at 7 to 800 FPM at 130 to 140 knots for better cooling. Cruise speeds are excellent. I have done 192 knots at 18 gph at 7000 feet; normal 65-percent cruise at altitude is about 12 GPH and 175 to 180 knots. Much of my flying requires speeds of 120 to 140 knots at 1500 to 2000 MSL, so fuel burn there is as low as 8 to 9 GPH-Skyhawk consumption at almost-Skylane speeds.
When the airplane was still fairly new, at 9000 feet, I did 180 knots true on 11.7 GPH. I fly lean of peak almost all the time. The Continental IO-550 still has compressions of 72-76 over 80 PSI and it is down about two quarts of oil by 30 to 35 hours. I normally use AeroShell single-weight oils unless I will be seeing rapid temperature changes, as in going from the Cleveland area to Florida in winter.
This is a fast, comfortable, good looking hot rod. It is ex tremely efficient, a nice feature in this time of sky-high fuel prices. I sometimes have been asked if I wouldnt really like to have a twin. No, thank you. I already have the performance at much lower cost in fuel, maintenance, and insurance. If I needed a twin, I would be out of aviation in a heartbeat.
Avon Lake, Ohio