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Fly Me to the Mooney

Fly Me to the Mooney

Mooney has forged a reputation for producing superlative aircraft, and they’ve gathered a rabid following because of it, but the history of the company is really about triumph against the odds. A determination to endure underpinned by one of the most popular and iconic aircraft aviation has thus far been blessed with.

While the current incarnation of Mooney is defined by stability and reliability, the company has stoically ridden out a rollercoaster history of funding issues and life-or-death financial battles: the fact it’s even here today is testament to the quality of their aircraft and the determination of those who create them.

For nearly a century, Mooney has been the little company that succeeded in the face of adversity, but now the skies are clear and the future is bright. It’s a fascinating story, and one we’re more than happy to bring to you.

HUMBLE BEGINNINGS

Brothers Albert and Arthur Mooney founded the Mooney Aircraft Corporation in 1929, but with limited funding, they went bankrupt after only one year. Disheartened by their apparent failure, the Mooneys went their separate ways, with both of the boys making names for themselves in other aviation companies, designing and building planes across America. It wasn’t until 1946 that Albert decided to reform the company, and partnering with Charles Yankee created Mooney Aircraft, Inc. in Kerrville, Texas. Arthur joined them one year later, and within a short amount of time, the first Mooneys of the new generation were rolling out.

The first aircraft the new company produced was the Mooney Mite M-18. The plane was designed to appeal to pilots returning from service, and quickly took on the nickname “Texas Messerschmitt” due to its unmistakable resemblance to the Messerschmitt Bf 109. It was a single-seater with a classic design that the company used it as a base for future models for decades to come.

But the real breakthrough came in 1955, when the Texas manufacturer created the M20. Considered by some to be a beefed up version of the Mite, the M20 quickly became the company’s most popular aircraft, and launched much of the Mooney fanaticism that stalks the corridors of most aero clubs and flourishes in the open air at airshows. The M20 was so popular that it’s still in production today.

Shortly after the release of the M20, both brothers left the company to work for Lockheed, selling their stock, and leaving the business they had started 25 years earlier. It was the start of turbulent times for the Texas manufacturer, with the remainder of the 20th century seeing highs and lows, successes and financial troubles. But don’t worry, this story has a happy ending.

 

THE ORIENTAL TOUCH

In 1965, the company became the American distributor for Mitsubishi aircraft and, operating as Mooney-Mitsubishi Aircraft Inc, began selling the twin-engine Mooney MU-2. In 1967, Mooney acquired production rights to the Ercoupe monoplane from Alon Aircraft Company and produced a slightly updated version known as the Mooney M10 Cadet. But things weren’t going as well as planned.

Tragically, Mooney continued to experience cashflow issues, a common problem for those with a flair for aviation design who haven’t the time nor the passion to become bank managers. In early 1969 and was sold to American Electronics Labs, then to Butler Aviation, which ended operations in 1971. For three years, Mooney failed to produce any aircraft. In 1973, Republic Steel Corporation acquired the rights and tooling for Mooney and resumed production in 1974.

With their financial future secure, the company commenced aggressive product development, working on yet another pressurised single-engined aircraft to compete with the Cessna 210. The turboprop Mooney 301 eventually became the TBM700 and is now produced by Daher-Socata Aircraft.

Engineer Roy LoPresti was hired as chief of research and development to update the ageing M20, developing the efficient Mooney 201. LoPresti noted at the time that Mooney did not have the resources to develop radical new composite construction aircraft as did other manufacturers, and would focus on evolutionary development of conventional aircraft. This might have been a blessing in disguise.

In 1984, Mooney merged with the French distribution firm Alexander Couvelaire, bringing about a period of stability for the company. However, it wasn’t to last. In July 2001, Mooney was the victim of yet another bankruptcy and the company was acquired by Advanced Aerodynamics and Structures (AASI) in 2002. AASI resurrected Mooney under the name Mooney Aircraft Company,, a division of Mooney Aerospace Group, Ltd.

In November, 2004, Gretchen L. Jahn joined Mooney, becoming the first woman recruited to be CEO of an American aircraft manufacturer. Jahn served for two years as a turnaround specialist, rebuilding Mooney’s sales and dealer network, and after-sales service activities. She also oversaw the development and introduction of the M20TN Acclaim and the Garmin G1000-equipped Ovation2 GX and Bravo GX.

In June, 2005, Mooney added 50 new workers to boost production. For the first time in many years, things were looking up for this legendary manufacturer.

By 2006, Mooney had announced the release of the M20TN Acclaim, designed to be the fastest single-engined, piston-powered production aircraft in the world. The next year they announced the drastically improved Acclaim Type S, which was even faster. They were back on top, where they belonged, but the forecast was still rocky.

HITTING TURBULENCE

Despite being the driving force behind some of the best aircraft currently on the market, the tough economic environment hit Mooney hard, and the repercussions were devastating. On June 16, 2008, Mooney announced it would lay off 60 employees and cut production from eight aircraft per month to five.

“These decisions will not have an adverse effect on the quality or safety of our products, nor will they delay scheduled aircraft deliveries,” explained Mooney CEO Dennis Ferguson. “They were made to create corporate resiliency in the present economic conditions. Our plans include positioning Mooney as a strong contender in the international market. We are strengthening our business in Europe, South America and Australia, where Mooney’s high performance, efficiency and pricing are especially appealing. Our focus is to ensure the long-term viability of the company through prudent management and expansion of our market reach.”

The reasons for the cutbacks and layoffs cited by the company included the weak US economy and the high price of fuel inhibiting sales. On November 5, 2008, the company announced it was halting all production and had laid off 229 of its 320 employees, due to an excess unsold inventory of aircraft as a result of the late-2000s recession. Virtually all the laid-off employees were on the production line. The company said all other operations would continue and all customer support and existing customer orders would be filled.

In a third round of layoffs in December 2008, the company was forced to let go of an additional 40 workers, leaving only about 50 employees. The company had 25 unsold aircraft at its factory in December 2008, a sad sign of the recession, and something that almost pushed them to the wall.

It was a devastating time for the company, but they once again proved their resilience. Such problems would have ended a less-dedicated company, but Mooney had the drive and battler spirirt not to succumb to the GFC and join the ranks of countless aviation firms and projects that expired at that time. Mooney gritted its teeth and emerged bigger and better than ever before.

 

A HISTORY OF INNOVATION

• Fastest certified single-engine, piston-powered aircraft (448km/h, M20TN Acclaim Type S)

• First production aircraft to achieve 200 mph on 200 hp (M20J 201)

• First certified FADEC (Full Authority Digital Engine Control) single engine aircraft (M20L Porsche)

• First single-engine, piston-powered aircraft certified for flight into known icing conditions (M20M DX with TKS anti-icing system)

• First pressurised single-engine, piston-powered aircraft (M22 Mustang)

 

M-18 MITE

The M-18 Mite was Mooney’s first-ever aircraft, and was designed to be flown by pilots returning from the Second World War, and was built as a smaller-scale version of the Messerschmitt Bf 109.

The design goal for the M-18 was to create an aircraft with extremely low operating costs, so the Mite was constructed mainly of fabric-covered wood, with a single spruce and plywood “D” wing spar.

The aircraft featured a unique “safe-trim” system. This mechanical device links the wing flaps to the tail trim system and automatically adjusts the horizontal stabiliser angle when the flaps are deflected, reducing or eliminating pitch changes when the flaps are lowered.

The Mooney Aircraft Corporation built a total of 283 Mites in Wichita, Kansas, and Kerrville, Texas, between 1947 and 1954. The first few were powered by modified 25hp Crosley automobile engines, but production shifted to the M-18L, powered by the four-cylinder, 65hp Lycoming O-145 powerplant ,and finally the M-18C with the Continental C-65 aircraft engine.

The market for the single-seat M-18 was limited, so Mooney later developed the four-place M-20 to appeal to aircraft owners with families.

M22 MUSTANG

The Mustang was a groundbreaking aircraft that smashed records and helped cement Mooney’s reputation for innovation and excellence. It was developed to be a top-of-the-line supplement Mooney’s successful Mooney M20 high-performance light aircraft, and was the world’s first pressurised single-engine, piston-powered aircraft.

A low-winged monoplane with a retractable nosewheel undercarriage, with a similar wing to that used on Mooney’s earlier M20 Ranger, the first prototype flew on September 24, 1964, with the type being certified on September 26, 1966.

The Model 22, although produced in fairly small numbers, has been operated by private and commercial owners in many countries including the United States and Australia. Its Garrett AiResearch cabin pressurisation system gives the equivalent of 11,000 ft at the aircraft’s operational ceiling of 24,000 ft. As a demonstration of its high performance, the second production aircraft was flown non-stop from New York to the Paris Air Show in June 1967, the flight taking 13 hours 10 minutes.

While not as successful as later Mooneys, the Mustang has an important place in the company’s never-ending search for excellence.

 

M20TN Acclaim Ultra

The M20TN Acclaim Type S is unquestionably the world’s fastest single-engine, piston powered aircraft in production today with a top speed of 448km/h. Thanks to a combination of aerodynamic refinements, the latest version of the M20TN Acclaim Type S flies faster and farther than ever before.

A Continental TSIO-550-G Gold Standard Twin Turbo Charged Dual Intercooler provides the Type S with a range of 2676km, and all the reliability and power you could ever wish for.

Sitting in a Mooney is the definition of luxury. The hand-stitched leather seats are a delight to sink into, while the front seat belts include an inertia reel and an AMSAFE airbag, standard on all models. Other upgrades include a relocated gear switch, a new 3 position flap system, new oxygen system control panel, lower glareshield, jet style locking exterior doors and improved cabin door seals.

All occupants have excellent visibility and will appreciate the individual lighting and air controls and cup holders, while Mooney also offers heating and optional air conditioning. Better yet, the upgraded Acclaim Ultra, ensures that that every scrap of the plane has been scrutinised and improved. But don’t take our word for it – check out the speedster’s cloud-busting specs below:

M20 ACCLAIM ULTRA SPECS

Base price $769,000
Engine: Continental TSIO-550-G, producing 280 hp. TBO: 2,200 hrs
Typical Useful Load: 1,000 lb
Maximum Ramp Weight: 3,380 lb
Maximum Take-off Weight: 3,368 lb
Fuel capacity: 89 gal standard / 100 gal long range
Take-off distance: 2,100 ft
Landing distance: 2,650 ft
Maximum Rate of Climb: 1,375 fpm
Maximum Operating Altitude: 25,000ft
Maximum Cruising Speed: 242 ktas
Range: 700 nm (standard fuel 89 gal), 830 nm (long range fuel 100 gal)
Long Range Cruising Speed: 175 ktas
Range: 1,100 nm (standard fuel 89 gal), 1,275 nm (long range fuel 100 gal)

 

M10T and M10J

The M10T provides a modern training experience for beginners and student pilots by incorporating a high-visibility cabin, easy access through two large doors, and an ergonomically comfortable sidestick design. This design provides excellent aerodynamic feedback from the flight controls.

The M10T is powered by an advanced CD-135 jet A fuel engine that is state of the art in reliability, performance, and safety. With a top speed of 241km/h and a range of 1667km, it’s a serious aircraft suitable for a range of pilots.

The Garmin G1000 incorporates all primary flight navigation and engine sensor data for quick and easy access. The fixed landing gear design is designed to withstand a harsh training environment. A third seat is incorporated to provide additional student training or observing opportunities.

And if the M10T leaves you wanting more, the higher performance of the M10J will provide all the grunt you could ever ask for. It can hit a top speed of 296km/ha and a range of 1852km, thanks to a Continental CD-155 engine.

These new two/three seaters take Mooney’s current range to four respectable models, including the existing M20R Ovation.

 

CLEAR BLUE SKIES

In April of 2010, after 18 long months without producing a single aircraft, the backlog of unsold planes was cleared and the company announced it intended to resume aircraft production in the near future. That didn’t quite work out the way they wanted it to and, after another round of lay-offs later that year, the company was in dire straights. And then something magical happened.

On October 8, 2013, it was announced that the company had been purchased by Soaring America Corporation, a new California-based company headed by President Cheng Yuan of Taiwan, for an undisclosed amount. Yuan indicated his priorities included resuming production of the Acclaim and the Ovation, while continuing to supply parts for the existing fleet. Chen stated the company would remain in Kerrville, and concentrate on supplying new aircraft for the Chinese market. The company was saved and, finally, restored to the position it deserved.

With the injection of capital from its new visionary Chinese owners, the company restarted production in February 2014, starting with the completion of five previously incomplete airframes already on the assembly line. In April of that year, the company announced a $50m investment in infrastructure, including the construction of a Mooney museum in Kerrville to be run by a new non-profit organisation. In January 2015 the first of the new aircraft, a Mooney M20TN, was delivered to a very happy customer in China.

Two new Mooney models were announced on 11 November 2014. The Mooney M10T and the M10J are fixed gear composite aircraft powered by Continental’s CD-135 and CD-155 Diesel engines. The M10 series certification and deliveries are expected to begin in 2017.

ULTRA STEADY

And then came the Ultra. As we reported a couple of months ago, the new ship-shape Mooney Inc took the market by surprise when they rolled out the new M20V Acclaim Ultra in February. The latest generation of their perennially popular four-seater saw the most radical upgrade in decades. Clocking in at 242 kts, the speed demon seats the aviation rocket man in a plush new interior and enables far easier access than before with the introduction of a new door for the pilot on the left hand side of the fuselage. The sensational refit and re-engineering of the Mooney flagship showed the world that the company was lean, mean and ready to take on all-comers.

 

UP, UP AND AWAY

After decades of instability and uncertainty, Mooney are finally back to doing what they do best – building the best little planes on the planet. And best of all, it looks like they’re set up to keep doing it for many years to come.

Despite Mooney’s past struggles, the love and nostalgia for their aircraft has continued to grow over the years. Owners love their aircraft and Mooneys have become synonymous with style, speed, and adventure – a legacy that is set to continue. In the GA community, they’re an essential presence at air shows, aviation summits, and clubs. The reputation and glowing adoration for the planes are what make them unique to their dedicated owners. You won’t find a more passionate bunch of flyers than our very own Australian Mooney Owners Club. And with significant new investment already injected into their production line combined with the recent refinements on an already iconic speed machine, it appears as though a fresh generation will be rapidly indoctrinated into the Mooney phenomenon.

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