Mooney aficionados tend to be clustered in the end of the gene pool that has “I want a fast airplane” in the DNA. For years, they flocked to the marque that promised and delivered speed while sipping fuel. Starting with the single-seat Mite, they were willing to shoehorn themselves into tiny cabins in return for not having to stay in them long when going someplace, while assuming a certain look of superiority over others due to miserly demands at the gas pump.
Over the years, Mooney obliged its faithful with progressive aerodynamic clean ups, making quick airplanes steadily faster. However, Mooney eventually shocked the aviation world by tacitly admitting that they’d gone as far as was economically viable with aerodynamics, and it was time to accept that there’s no replacement for displacement when it comes to sheer speed. It dropped a big-bore Continental into the latest iteration of the M20 airframe, creating the 190-knot M20R Ovation.
Mooney M20R Ovation History
After tragic teething pains—the original Mooney 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 several cycles of good and not-so-good times, and is currently only building and supplying parts, not complete airplanes. [This article appeared in 2013, since that time Mooney is again building airplanes, Ed.] 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 person 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 airplane’s 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 Mooney 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 Continental’s 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 Mooney 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 Mooney’s 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 engine’s official 2000-hour TBO when other IO-550s saw only 1700 hours.
Prior to production ending in the 2009-2010 time frame, the Mooney lineup consisted 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.
Yes, It’s a Mooney
Compared to earlier Mooneys, the most noticeable difference on the Ovation’s exterior is a 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 Ovation’s interior belies Mooney’s 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 cabin’s 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 isn’t a dual bus system, just dual batteries. A second alternator was offered as an option; it was required for the “known-ice” option. It later became standard equipment. 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 Mooney Ovations routinely came equipped with a Bendix-King KLN-90A navigator and a KFC 150 autopilot. Beginning with the 2000 model year, the model’s 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 deicing, air conditioning and a TKS 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.
Mooney Ovation Maintenance
Owners also report few maintenance issues with the Mooney Ovation engine and airframe—aside from common ailments with TCM cylinders and valves—but can’t say the same for all the avionics goodies the factory installed. One owner noted problems with both his Garmin 530 and 430; another reports his 530’s 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. We spoke with Fred Ahles, president of Premier Aircraft Sales in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, a long-time Mooney sales and service center regarding factory support now that production of finished aircraft has ceased. Ahles indicated that there are about 10 employees at Mooney and they are providing parts support to the field. He reported that his shop has had no problem obtaining parts. He also reported that of the dozens of different types of airplanes he’s sold over the years, Mooney Ovation and Acclaim owners have been the happiest with their airplanes over time.
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 system’s 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.”
Improper installation of the pitch trim actuating system—the entire tail moves for pitch trim—led to a near loss of control accident when fasteners failed. Two ADs resulted, 2012-03-52 and 2012-05-09, requiring inspection for condition and proper placing of attachment hardware and Huck Bolts.
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.
Mooney Ovation Operating Costs
Owners report the Mooney Ovation’s operating costs are commensurate with this class of aircraft, with annual inspections falling into the $2,000-$5,000 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 for a Mooney Ovation 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 Safety Foundation, www.mapasafety.com, is heavily involved with type-specific flight and ground instruction. Flight training courses are held approximately five 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 association’s Web site.
Mooney Ovation User Groups/Mods
Perhaps more so than for any other marque, many Mooney owners can rightly be termed “maniacs.” It’s no surprise then that an excellent user group has sprung up, along with many knowledgeable maintenance and modification shops. The Mooney Aircraft Pilots Association, www.mooneypilots.com, is conveniently based near Mooney’s Kerrville factory, having recently moved from San Antonio, Texas.
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. In February 2006, Mooney began offering an upgrade of the Ovation (and M20S Eagle) to increase maximum horsepower to 310. According to Mooney, the mod resulted from work done by Midwest Mooney of Flora, Illinois, www.midwestmooney.com, and PowerLite LLC, a subsidiary of AvPower LLC, which the FAA blessed by awarding an STC. The mod is still available from Midwest Mooney.
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.
Mooney Ovation Owner Comments
I’m a great fan of the Mooney Ovation, graduating from a 1975 M20E I owned from 1996 to 2000. I’ve been flying my 2005 GX2 since it was ferried to Australia in 2006. Before that, I owned an earlier M20R that was ferried here in 2000. Having operated the M20R for over 13 years for both business and personal use, I believe the airframe and the IO-550-G engine combination is one the best in its class.
Flying here in Australia generally means long distances between refueling points—sometimes hours at a time over featureless, sparsely inhabited outback (desert). Speed, reliability and range are essential. Once away from cities, refueling stops can be problematic and prices can exceed $9.00 per gallon. Most of the time I fly at 8000 to 9000 feet, although occasionally I will operate in the flight levels to take advantage of tail winds and fuel economy or to avoid weather. The highest point in Australia is 7310 feet, so there are no imperatives to operate much above 10,000 feet.
I particularly like the normally aspirated IO-550-G because it is relatively uncomplicated and requires less maintenance than its turbocharged cousins. It will take you to FL200 when you need to be there. With almost 800 hours on my GX2, the only unscheduled maintenance has been to reseat an exhaust valve and a minor weld repair on the exhaust. The engine is comfortable to operate LOP, although my first Ovation wouldn’t operate lean of peak. I also find my GX2 a little faster, possibly because of the switch to a Hartzell prop from a McCauley.
The Garmin G1000 glass cockpit was initially a challenge after round gauges, but now I would have difficulty with anything else. The S-Tec autopilot is okay, but nowhere nearly as smooth and accurate as the King in my earlier M20R.
From a service point of view, I’ve had little need to call Mooney, but when I have, they’ve been nothing but helpful and responsive. If I could convince them to start building airplanes again, I’d be first in the queue.
Gary McKernan, Via email
I have based my Ovation 2GX here in Denmark since I purchased it new in 2007. It is equipped with the G1000 panel and GFC 700 autopilot.
I’ve been extremely happy with the airplane because of its speed, range, high-altitude capability, known icing system and built-in oxygen—which make it the perfect airplane for long, high-altitude trips in Europe. It replaces an F33A Bonanza. I was happy with the Bonanza, but the Mooney Ovation is better for my needs as I can fly above most clouds in all seasons, which was not possible in the Bonanza.
Klaus Ostenfeld, Via email
We purchased an Ovation 2 for our company in August of 2011. We’re the second owner. We fly the airplane between 250 and 350 hours per year, all over the U.S., in all types of weather, from our home base in eastern Texas. It has been an excellent long-haul airplane for us.
Bottom line, with the Ovation you can expect to cruise at a minimum of 170 knots between 7000 and 10,000 feet at 65 to 70 percent power. It is consistently 15-20 knots faster than the Cessna 210 we owned previously and 25 to 30 knots faster than the Turbo Lance we owned before the 210. Offsetting the speed advantage is the need to watch weight in the Ovation—there’s lots of baggage space, but not the load-carrying ability. It’s a two- to three-place airplane when carrying any kind of fuel.
With full tanks (90 gallons), the Ovation is a legitimate six-hour endurance machine—we normally see under 15 GPH fuel burns. A neat feature we frequently use are the wing fuel gauges that allow partial fueling to 60 gallons for four-hour endurance and a heavier cabin load.
You have to pay attention to line personnel fueling the airplane as they tend to overfill the tanks. The book calls for stopping at the base of a one-inch neck rather than up to the cap. If fueled above the base of the neck the result is a distinct fuel odor in the cabin until fuel is burned down to the proper level.
The Ovation likes to climb—it goes up nicely in a cruise climb—something our 210 and Turbo Lance didn’t do. You can easily see 700 FPM at 140 knots indicated to over 10,000 feet. You do have to watch things when it’s time to descend. The Mooney has speed brakes for a reason. With the KFC 225 and proper planning though, you can dial in a 200- or 300-FPM descent and pick up extra speed over the last 80 miles or so.
We felt the Mooney gave us more value for the money than a Piper, Cirrus or Bonanza. The only downside is the smaller cabin—the fewer inches in width and headroom are certainly noticeable. There are no good places for the charts in easy reach of the pilot.
You need to be limber to get in and out as compared to the 210 or even the Lance—but once in, it is generally comfortable. Anyone considering a Mooney certainly needs to fly one to see if the cabin is suitable. Both of our pilots are small, so it’s not a problem for us.
Maintenance has been very good—plus Mooney did a good job in design in many areas such as the landing gear which is superior to Cessna or Piper. However, it’s not perfect—replacing one circuit breaker requires removal of rivets in the airframe skin. Replacing a wire to the dimmer switch, where there is hardly any room to maneuver, takes over an hour. Those sorts of things should have been caught prior to production.
Everything you have heard about a Mooney in flight is true. It is solid in roll, stable when trimmed and holding proper speed on final is important. It is difficult to scrub off additional speed and it will float.
The airplane gets a bum rap because it has a more abrupt stall break than a Cessna, so pilots tend to fly final too fast because they’re worried about stalling and then use up a lot of pavement. It can use short fields, but it takes practice and finesse to land well. If you need to use short or grass fields regularly, a 210 is a better choice, however.
The Mooney has proven to be the best airplane for us as compared to our earlier 210 and Turbo Lance—and boy, does it get places in a hurry. With the speed, be ready for a high workload and the need for fast thinking on arrival. Controllers don’t seem to recognize this, and it often takes some negotiating to get a descent in time to set up outside the marker.
Ted Gribble, Via email
Having purchased one of the first two glass-panel Ovations and 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 MAPA’s 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.
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.
Gary Gongola, Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin
In my M20R, I figure on 180 knots true on 11.7 GPH. I fly lean of peak almost all the time. The engine still has compressions of 72-76 over 80 PSI, and it is down about two quarts of oil by 30 to 35 hours.
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. Controls are on the heavy side, especially in roll, but pitch is somewhat sensitive.
The biggest drawback, other than useful load, is headroom. On the older Ovations, the panel is high and difficult for a shorter person to see over—on the newer models, it was lowered about 1.7 inches, which made a big difference. It’s awkward to get in and out, but once in, it’s comfortable.
Compared with the 201s, the Ovation is harder to land well consistently. I strongly recommend the MAPA proficiency course for anyone buying one for the first time.
The Ovation is a fast, comfortable, good-looking hot rod. It is extremely efficient, a nice feature in this time of sky-high fuel prices. I sometimes have been asked if I wouldn’t 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.
Ken Summer, Avon Lake, Ohio
This article originally appeared in the July 2013 issue of Aviation Consumer magazine.