Introduced in the second half of the 1960s, the Mooney M20F is another entry in Al Mooney’s classic M20 lineage. Designed to be flown by a single pilot and with room for three passengers, the Mooney M20F is a popular bird wherever it goes, thanks to its sleek low-rider look and instantly recognizable forward-swept vertical stabilizer.
Over the years, the Mooney M20F has vindicated its reputation as a real airplane that delivers good performance at a very appealing entry cost. Beyond that, it keeps owners happy by having predictable maintenance costs and good dispatch reliability. The M20J eventually replaced the M20F version, and the M20 family’s production ran until 2019 when the last unit was rolled out.
Mooney M20F / Specs
The Mooney M20F is a single-engine aircraft powered by an injected four-cylinder Lycoming IO-360-A1A engine outputting 200 hp. This retractable-gear aircraft can seat three passengers plus the pilot, but it is perhaps best known as the go-to IFR and commercial rating trainer thanks to its good speed, IFR equipment, and retractable gear.
The Mooney M20J has an empty weight of 1640 lbs, with a gross weight of 2740 lbs and a useful payload of 674 lbs with full tanks, or 757 lbs with tanks 75% filled. Fuel capacity is 64 gallons, distributed between two rubber bladder wing tanks. Of the 64, only 54.8 gallons are usable. This equates to around 5 hours of endurance without accounting for reserves.
A unique feature of the Mooney M20F compared to most general aviation aircraft is that it uses a throttle quadrant similar to those usually found on business jets or airliners instead of the traditional push/pull handles. The pilot opinion on this feature is divisive. Many Mooney M20F owners swear by the choice and prefer the more robust feeling the quadrant gives. On the other side, there are plenty of voices that dislike how large the quadrant is and miss the traditional handles.
Mooney M20F / Model Prices
During its production run, the Mooney M20F could be bought for as low as $17500 back in 1967. Back then, the TBO for the engine was set at 1400 hours instead of 2000 hours, and general aviation costs were incredibly low before the crisis that ravaged the niche in the 1980s. Factory options and modifications could influence this price and set it as high as $22000, however.
Costs grew as the Mooney M20F became more popular and better equipped. By 1975, on the eve of its replacement by the Mooney M20J, commonly referred to as the “201”, the Mooney M20F was priced at $32000.
Mooney M20F / Performance and Handling
Thanks to the clean design and the powerful 200 hp IO-360 engine, the Mooney M20F boasts great performance at affordable prices. With an optimal cruise speed of 156 KIAS, an M20F can reach 734 nautical miles, plus the required NBAA IFR reserves.
With the engine set to 75% of available power, consumption ranges between 10 and 12.3 gallons per hour (gph). At 5000 ft, 2400 RPM, and manifold pressure (MP) of 24”, this equates to around 156 knots. At 10000 ft, 2600 RPM, and 21” MP, 75% power gives a cruise speed of 158 knots. The Mooney M20F is not pressurized, and its engine is not turbocharged. The service ceiling for a standard version is 17900 ft, which the aircraft reaches with a best climb rate of 1055 feet per minute (fpm).
Runway performance on the Mooney M20F is on par with expectations from its class. With a stall speed of 54 KIAS with the landing gear and flaps extended, the aircraft requires 879 ft to takeoff and 785 ft to land. If accounting for avoiding a 50 ft obstacle, these minimum distances grow to 1385 ft on departure and 1786 ft on landing.
The Mooney M20F’s good cruise speed and low fuel consumption have made it a popular pick for pilots working on commercial or instrument ratings. Particularly during the era in which training in a retractable landing gear aircraft was required to obtain commercial qualifications. The two-axis autopilot can also be a godsend for long cross-country trips.
While the Mooney M20F’s performance is benign overall, new pilots must keep in mind some of its peculiarities. When not properly coordinated, the Mooney M20 family tends to drop a wing rather suddenly. The appropriate reaction is to apply opposite pedal input, but in the form of a tap on the rudder instead of the more energetic push recommended in a 172.
Airspeed is not a problem in the Mooney M20F, with the IO-360 providing great acceleration in a timely manner to bail pilots out of trouble. However, some pilots have reported it to be tricky during descents, as the clean airframe struggles to shed airspeed on the way down when clean. The most common method to rectify this is to drop the gear before initiating a descent or initiating it earlier.
Mooney M20F / Model Maintenance Schedule
The Lycoming IO-360-A1A fitted on the Mooney M20F has a generous mean time between overhaul (TBO) of 2000 flight hours, or 12 years, whichever of the two is met sooner. The IO-360 series is part of the O-360 family more famous for powering the newer Cessna 172 models introduced after the break-in production caused by the general aviation crisis in the 1980s.
As with most retractable gear aircraft, inspections in the Mooney M20F are noticeably more expensive than fixed landing gear competitors. That being said, the costs are offset by the savings in fuel and time gained by this design decision.
Mooney M20F / Modifications and Upgrades
The Mooney M20F lends itself well to modifications, with a spacious panel that is practically begging for more avionics. Many if not most Mooneys in the market today are fitted with newer navigation suites such as the Garmin GNS 430 or upgraded transponders compatible with ADS-B Out requirements. However, owners who prefer to keep their M20F closer to its original configuration have found the classic combo of Foreflight and an Apple iPad to be more than enough.
Beyond the usual avionics improvements common to most popular general aviation aircraft, the Mooney M20F has also been a target of aerodynamic improvements that improve speed or fuel consumption performance. Some of the more popular supplemental type certificate (STC) items for the M20F include the ARI cowling enclosure, aimed at reducing drag and improving ease of maintenance, and the 231 wingtips and wing root fairings retrofitted from newer Mooney M20 units.
Another popular option among Mooney M20F owners is retrofitting the so-called “201 Windshield”, made for the Mooney M20J, on their aircraft. There are pros and cons to this modification. Visibility is slightly improved with it installed, and there is a gentle increase in cruise speed. The reason why some M20F owners and operators recommend against it lies in the maintenance drawbacks. The installation of the 201 windshield severely diminishes the size of the access to the avionics, making otherwise trivial tasks take much longer.
Mooney M20F / Where to Find Replacement Parts
The Mooney M20F is a popular aircraft, lauded by some as the world’s leading commercial and instrument flight rating trainer. This popularity has led to its widespread use by clubs, which in turn made Mooney-friendly shops and technicians a common sight around the world.
Production of spare parts for the Mooney M20 series is still ongoing despite the last Mooney leaving the line in 2019. Prices and availability are reported to be stable, making the Mooney a very owner-friendly aircraft as far as maintenance goes. The use of a Lycoming O-360 series engine is a big help in this regard, given its commonality in the general aviation industry.
Mooney M20F / Model Common Problems
The main gripe about the Mooney M20F over the years is the amount of airworthiness directives (ADs) published for the type. This rings particularly true for the earlier units in the production run. For late-model M20F aircraft built in the 1970s, these issues were largely rectified during the design and production, so owners do not need to invest in addressing them. A late Mooney M20F comes very close to the newer Mooney M20J as far as performance and maintenance go.
The speed of decision-making required for the Mooney M20F and other M20 family members is decidedly higher than most trainers like the Cessna 152, and this has caught many unaware pilots by surprise. With a shorter OODA loop (Observe, Orient, Design, Act), the pilot becomes more prone to make mistakes like breaking into airspace without clearance in tight scenarios.
The rubber fuel tanks on the Mooney M20F are known to require work after a certain number of years, with many owners describing this as an unavoidable process. Water leaks from the windshield have also been reported, leading to serious corrosion issues in the forward part of the fuselage if left unchecked for too long. Mooney M20F units that have had the M20J windshield fitted have complained that avionics access is severely reduced, increasing the time and expense of repairs.
Mooney M20F / Insurance Options
Due to the somewhat demanding handling compared to Cessna high-wings, Mooney owners usually have their insurance quote vary wildly depending on their experience level. A pilot with 500 hours, including 50 on the type, can get both liability and hull insurance from $1500 to $2400 annually for a Mooney M20F. On the other hand, a student pilot with the same aircraft will have to dish out anywhere between $4100 and $5600 per year for a similar policy. The jump in insurance costs has led many pilots to rent initially until they meet the required threshold to be considered experienced, safe pilots in the eyes of insurance companies.
Mooney M20F / Model Resale Value
The Mooney M20F has developed a reputation for being a very cost-effective aircraft even when compared directly to its successor, the Mooney M20J. While the M20J incorporates some modifications as default items and is factually a faster, lighter aircraft, the M20F delivers consistently inferior performance but is still largely similar.
Depending on the year of make, equipment fitted, and time remaining before an overhaul, it is possible to sell a Mooney M20F for anywhere between $40000 and $100000. Many owners in the market for a fast IFR-capable aircraft are opting for the Mooney M20F instead of the M20J because the difference in price for a similarly equipped aircraft allows them to invest the savings on upgrades to the M20F, leading to an objectively more advanced aircraft by the end of the process.
Mooney M20F / Owner Reviews
The Mooney M20F is loved by most of its pilots. If you ask around clubs and FBOs, you will find most feel ecstatic that they get the performance of an M20J or equivalent while keeping costs lower. A common joke around Mooney M20F owners is that when you cannot decide between the M20F and M20J, pick the M20F and buy a sports car with what you have left – you will get just about the same aircraft and the joy of a speedster on the ground too. While the humorous connotations are obvious, the sentiment is true. The Mooney M20F offers a great ownership experience without demanding significant investment from the buyer.
Pilots who first came across the Mooney M20F for their training also sing praises to this hot rod. The aircraft’s throttle quadrant makes the transition to larger commercial aircraft a much smoother affair, and its’ fly by the numbers’ approach is perfect for getting used to the tighter tolerances of commercial professional flying. Pilot comfort in the M20 is unmatched for its class, thanks to the good IFR equipment and a two-axis autopilot that makes long trips a lot less physically demanding.
Mooney M20F / Similar Aircraft
Much like cats and dogs are commonly referred to as enemies, a similar atmosphere has developed between the Mooney and Beechcraft Bonanza camps. The M20F is no exception to this war of opinions. While peculiarities of performance and pricing have factually put the M20 and the Bonanza at different market segments, this has not stopped pilots from constantly arguing about which is the best single-engine, high-performance, retractable-gear aircraft with a unique tail design.
When comparing the Bonanza and the Mooney directly, the differences become clear. The Mooney M20F lags most Bonanza models as far as performance goes, but it covers the slight gap in speed and range by offering a much more wallet-friendly package. The M20F is cheaper to fly, maintain and operate, all while retaining hot-rod performance.
The Bonanza family has its merits, however. Handling in the air is a lot more docile than the Mooney, particularly in terms of stalls; the cabin is far more comfortable for passengers, and it does all this while beating the Mooney in range and top speeds.
A cost comparison between them shows that a Bonanza can cost almost twice as much as a contemporary Mooney, and it is guaranteed to have higher maintenance costs due to the expensive price tag on parts shipped from the factory.
Mooney M20F / Clubs You Can Join
Mooney fans brand themselves ‘Mooniacs’, testament to their love for Al Mooney’s wondrous machines. This loyal following has helped establish a number of clubs, forums, events, and even publications dedicated exclusively to the love of the Mooney, including the M20F model.
The forum MooneySpace.com is quite likely the largest and most active gathering of Mooney owners, pilots, and enthusiasts around the globe. This online platform has a very active member base that engages in daily discussions about the ins and outs of Mooney ownership. Current or aspiring Mooney M20F owners should use MooneySpace.com to find answers to all the questions they may have about being in control of one of these wonderful machines.
As far as physical groups go, the Mooney Aircraft Pilots Association takes the title of larges type-club dedicated to Mooney owners. The association, most commonly referred to as MAPA, is a support group where it is possible to trade anything from a good laugh to advice or an aircraft. Authoritative information about STCs, maintenance procedures, the practical differences between models – if you want to know something, the MAPA members are likely to have what you need.
The popularity of the Mooney and its high performance has come to the attention of a safety-minded group of pilots, and these volunteers came together to set up the Mooney Summit. An unique event, the Mooney Summit is a yearly meeting of Mooney pilots and instructors where they are able to share their experiences behind the controls and listen to FAA-approved training and safety briefings devised by some of the most qualified Mooney pilots in the world. The combination of serious learning and a very relaxed experience have made the Mooney Summit a must-see event for owners.
Smaller clubs dedicated to the Mooney M20 have sprung up across the world too, with groups such as the American East Coast Mooney fans, the Gulf Coast Mooniacs, or the Australian Mooney Pilot Association representing M20 enthusiasts from down under. Joining a type-club near you is a perfect opportunity for pilots to learn from others’ experiences and ultimately make their Mooney flying and ownership journey more pleasant and rewarding.
Beyond personal interactions, Mooney fans also have access to The Mooney Flyer. This is a magazine published monthly entirely dedicated to the ins and outs of Al Mooney’s inventions. Topics discussed vary wildly between months but include reviews of safety incidents, in-depth looks at modifications made available for Mooney aircraft, and testimonies from owners, test pilots, or instructors who used certain models in specific circumstances. Subscription to The Mooney Flyer is free and can be done at their website.
FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions
Question: How fast is a Mooney M20F?
Answer: The Mooney M20F can reliably meet or exceed 150 knots at 75% cruise.
Question: How much does a Mooney M20F cost?
Answer: During its production run, costs for a Mooney M20F ranged from $17500 to $32000. Today, it is possible to buy a Mooney M20F for anywhere from $40000 to $100000, with the average sale price hovering at the $55000 mark.
Question: What is the range of a Mooney M20F?
Answer: The range on the Mooney M20F, when flying at economical cruise settings, is 734 nautical miles, not including NBAA IFR reserves. The aircraft’s endurance is of around 5 hours in these parameters.
Question: Is the Mooney M20F pressurized?
Answer: No, the Mooney M20F is not pressurized, which limits its service ceiling to 17900 ft.
Question: Are Mooney’s hard to fly?
Answer: No. The Mooney M20 family has pleasant and safe handling, but its high speeds can make it challenging for new pilots unused to such a demand for quick decision-making.
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Wikimedia By Tomás Del Coro from Las Vegas, Nevada, USA – N201HH 2001 Mooney M20J C/N 24-0053
Wikimedia By Bidgee – Own work
Wikimedia By Bidgee – Own work
Wikimedia By Bill Larkins – Aerostar M20F