The Mooney M20J is a special aircraft. The American lowrider follows the adage of “if it looks good, it flies good”, and has a well-deserved reputation as a showstopper wherever it makes a stop at.
The Mooney M20 family is instantly recognizable thanks to its unique forward-swept vertical stabilizer. Pilots familiar with it praise the aircraft for being like a sports car, and those of cross-country disposition are especially fond of its reliable equipment and high speeds.
The Mooney M20’s name comes from being the 20th project by self-taught American aircraft designer Albert W. Mooney. It was introduced in 1955 with the wooden wing Mooney M20 and M20A, but received continuous upgrades, refinements and redesigns up until the end of its long production run in 2019.
Barely two decades into its production, Mooney introduced the M20J in 1976. This variant was the result of a long improvement program aimed at bringing greater top speeds into the family. During its production run, the Mooney M20J was also called “Mooney 201” by the company, because it could fly at 201 miles per hour.
Mooney M20J / Specs
The Mooney M20J shares many design aspects with its other M20 family members. The aircraft has a fully metallic construction. The forward fuselage is a steel-tube structure covered in aluminum skin, while the rear portion is a semi-monocoque design.
In keeping with the goal to make a sleek aircraft, many of the aircraft’s rivets are flush mounted to reduce drag. The Mooney M20J variant belongs in the medium-body series of the M20 family and seats up to four people. The M20J has a maximum takeoff weight of 2740 lbs.
A staple of Mooney M20 variants including the M20J is the retractable landing gear, made of chrome-molybdenum steel. The main landing gear legs are attached to the main wing spar while the nose gear is mounted onto the steel frame in the forward part of the fuselage. The aircraft uses rubber disc shock absorbers.
The Mooney M20J uses a conventional electrically operated landing gear handle, as opposed to earlier variants that required a hand-cranked lever inspired by the Johnson Bar found in locomotives, Al Mooney’s previous area of expertise.
The low-mounted wing covered in aluminum, with 1.5 degrees of washout and 5.5 degrees of dihedral. A total of 70% of their trailing edge is comprised by slotted flaps. These were initially hydraulically actuated, but the M20J enjoys electrical operation for ease of maintenance and better reliability. The wings are fitted with stall strips to improve behavior at the edge of the envelope.
It is always easy to spot a Mooney on the ramp: the M20 has a unique forward-swept vertical stabilizer. This impression is mostly limited to it on the ground though, in flight under most trim settings the fin sits at an almost vertical position.
The Money M20J stores its fuel in two separate tanks located at the inboard section of each wing. Fuel is transferred from the wing tanks to the injector via a pump powered by the engine, with an electric boost pump available.
Propulsion on the M20J is provided by a Lycoming IO-360 four-cylinder injected engine with 200 hp. This engine runs at 2700 RPM and has a minimum fuel grade of 100 or 100LL avgas. Its compression ratio is of 8.7:1. The engine has Bendix Series impulse coupling dual magnetos and is an evolution of the IO-360-A1B6D, itself an improvement of the IO-360-A1B6 engine.
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Mooney M20J / Model Prices
At the time of its introduction in 1976, a Mooney M20J would cost around $44000 from the factory. Prices gradually rose into the 1980s, thanks in part to Mooney adding factory-based flight training programs so new owners could take the aircraft home while being familiar with its quirks.
Towards the end of the Mooney M20J production, a new aircraft plus the training program would set the owner back $120000.
Mooney M20J / Performance and Handling
The official performance specs published by the Mooney Aircraft Pilots Association lists a cruise speed of 160 KTAS, which yields a fuel burn of 11.5 gallons per hour (gph).
Pilot experience says you can bring that down to 9 gph and still get 135 KTAS, and if you are particular about fuel, setting the engine to 55% power gives a consumption as low as 8 gph. With full fuel, or 64 useable gallons, the Mooney M20J can give around 700 miles at 155 to 160 knots.
Most pilots familiar with the Mooney M20J were likely working on their commercial rating at one point or another. For many years, one of the requirements to obtain a commercial rating was that the training be conducted on retractable gear aircraft.
This eliminated plenty of competitors to the Mooney, but it did not earn its spot as the commercial training darling without merit. Additional comfort on long trips is given by the two-axis autopilot installed as standard equipment on the Mooney M20J.
The M20J’s blend of a 200 hp engine and retractable landing gear gives it great performance without skyrocketing the costs. Due to the amount of cross-country flying involved on a commercial rating, this offered pilots an aircraft that can get the job done in a timely manner and without breaking the bank – a very important requirement for aspiring professionals yet to get their first aviation paycheck.
As with many aircraft that deliver in performance, the Mooney M20J has certain vices one must be aware of. Pilots usually describe it as an aircraft that needs to be flown strictly by the numbers. As speed decreases, the M20J’s stall margin decreases significantly if the pilot does not fly coordinated.
Unlike most high-wing Cessna aircraft, recovery requires finer footwork – when noticing a wing drop, the pilot must give the rudder pedals a gentle tap in the opposite direction to straighten it out.
On the flip side, thanks to its clean airframe and powerful engine, the Mooney speeds up rather fast, so one does not have to worry about being on the edge of stalling for too long.
Compounding the tight stall margins is the excellent pitch authority in the Mooney M20J – some love it, others argue it to be overly sensitive. Pilots should be careful to not go chasing the vertical velocity indicator (VVI) needle due to that as it becomes a ticket straight to pilot-induced oscillations (PIO).
On top of that, trim actuation works differently on the Mooney. While the trim wheel on most Cessna or Piper aircraft controls the trim tab at the end of the elevator, on the M20J it moves the entire horizontal stabilizer. This requires a very measured approach to the trim wheel, particularly during slow speed situations like takeoffs or landings.
Extra care is required during the landing phase – if the pilot trimmed for full nose up, decides to go around, and gives it full power, it is possible to not have enough nose-down authority unless the wheel is moved accordingly.
Another quirk of the Mooney M20J that catches many unfamiliar pilots in the beginning lies in the descents. Thanks to the sleek airframe, even with the engine on idle the M20J is a hoarder as far as speed goes.
This means descending requires more room and prior planning than in most aircraft in its class. Owners and instructors with more time behind this magnificent machine have found workarounds though.
The Mooney M20J’s landing gear has generous airspeed restrictions, so pilots who want a tight descent often level out, get to the maximum extension speed, put the handle down, and then shed speed as planned on the way down.
When getting down immediately is imperative, it is also possible to decelerate further until the flap extension limits, which brings about a considerable increase in drag and aids in expediting a landing.
Mooney M20J / Model Maintenance Schedule
As a general aviation aircraft using a Lycoming engine, the Mooney M20J lives a peaceful life as far as maintenance goes. The IO-360 is part of the O-360 family that powers many aircraft including the very popular reboots of the Cessna 172 Skyhawk series, reintroduced in 1996 after a break in production.
The popularity of the engine means finding qualified personnel and parts for it is a piece of cake compared to discontinued units or ‘unicorns’ fitted to a single type.
One design feature that makes the M20J score below its competitors is the landing gear. Opting for a retractable landing gear allowed Mooney to create a hot rod aircraft without having to pick an engine that would sacrifice fuel efficiency beyond reason, but as the rule goes in aviation, the more moving parts you add, the more complexity, and the more complexity, the higher the costs. For that reason, annuals on the M20J end up being costlier than those on a 172, for example.
Mooney M20J / Modifications and Upgrades
Like most general aviation aircraft, the Mooney M20J has been target of numerous supplemental type certificate (STC) modifications that upgrade its avionics suite. The most popular options by far involve outfitting the instrument panel with a GPS navigation unit like Garmin’s GNS 430.
The Mooney M20J has also seen a considerable amount of modifications aimed at improving performance, with cruise speed making up the lion’s share of the target.
Examples of Mooney modifications include Power Flow Exhaust Systems that add 3 to 4 knots, Gami injectors that allow for operations closer to the RPM redline at lower altitudes without overheating the engine, and a Lopresti cowling that adds around 5 knots.
Mooney M20J / Where to Find Replacement Parts
Due to the aircraft’s popularity and the use of one of the most widespread engines in general aviation, sourcing parts for the Mooney M20J is generally described as a pleasant affair.
The manufacturer has held up on its promise to support the M20 family after its production ceased in 2019, and it has done so at owner-friendly prices. While not nearly as common as some of Cessna’s high wing designs, it is not hard to find maintenance personnel with Mooney experience.
Mooney M20J / Model Common Problems
One of the most common complaints from pilots about the Mooney M20J is not a design flaw per se, but an inherent challenge brought about by its performance. By general aviation standards, the M20J is a rather fast aircraft. In practical terms, the faster you fly, the faster things happen, and this significantly tightens the OODA (Observe, Orient, Design, Act) loop in the cockpit.
The consequences of a faster decision-making cycle can be wide-ranging. It can make a pilot accidentally stray into airspace they should not fly in or forget to adjust trim when going around and losing control in the process.
Most Mooney M20J owners have reported that the fuel tanks inevitably require resealing at some point during ownership. This is an expensive repair for the most part, and many that tried to save up on the procedure by picking the lowest bidder shop ended up having to repeat the procedure later with a more experienced team.
The windows have been reported to leak over time. Water entering the cabin insulation can corrode the internal steel tube cage. Depending on the extent of the damage, it may require deep and expensive work. The main wing spar is prone to corrosion issues in aircraft stored in coastal areas.
Other minor grievances of Mooney owners are landing lights that burn out easily, frequent issues and subsequent airworthiness directives (Ads) related to the Bendix magnetos, and a tight engine compartment that makes maintenance and inspections a frustrating affair.
Mooney M20J / Insurance Options
Assuming a pilot with a private pilot’s license, an instrument rating, 500 hours in total plus at least 50 of retractable gear including 50 in the Mooney M20J, it is possible to get liability and hull coverage for $1562 to $2400 annually, according to BWIFLY.
In the case of a less experienced pilot, such as a student, the prices increase considerably. A private pilot with less than 50 hours on the make or a student for example will be looking at between $4100 and $5600 per year for the same coverage.
Mooney M20J / Model Resale Value
Prices for the Mooney M20J considerably vary, with the equipment and year of manufacture being the most influential factors. However, it is a known as an affordable aircraft overall.
According to AOPA, the average price for a Mooney M20J built around 1980 hovers around $85000 to $100000. For the younger units built after 1990, costs can reach up to $200000 if the aircraft is in good shape.
Mooney M20J / Owner Reviews
Those who have had the Mooney M20J experience say it is hard to imagine life without one. The M20J delivers brilliant cross-country speeds at rather low costs, and all that while looking good. Rather simple maintenance requirements also weigh in heavily, as owners and rental pilots alike describe it as an aircraft always ready to go wherever you want, whenever you need it.
The equipment shipped with the M20J by default helps establish its reputation as the leading IFR and commercial trainer in its class. The IFR-rated cockpit combined with the two-axis autopilot means aspiring commercial pilots can learn the ropes in comfort and in style.
Mooney M20J / Similar Aircraft
Throughout its life, the Mooney M20 family has had a fierce rivalry with another retractable-gear aircraft with a unique tail: the Beechcraft Bonanza. The enmity transcends sales and has been passed down to owners, who can often be heard having heated discussions about who does what best at FBOs around the world.
The Mooney and the Bonanza sit at the top of the high-performance, single-engine bracket. Similarities mostly end there, however. The Mooney is popular for providing high speeds at low costs while boasting straightforward maintenance that drives up reliability.
On the other hand, the Beech Bonanza brings delightful handling, arguably the best single-seater comfort experience, and packs that with high-performance – all of this at a significantly higher cost, however.
On average, a Bonanza usually costs around 50% more than a Mooney M20J manufactured in the same year. Sourcing parts directly from the manufacturer with the Bonanza is described as eye-watering, whereas the Mooney offers a pleasantly bang-average ownership experience without many hitches.
Mooney M20J / Clubs You Can Join
As a popular manufacturer offering reliable and attractive aircraft, Mooney has attracted a very loyal following over the years.
Enthusiastic owners of the M20 and other aircraft from the company have proudly adopted the moniker ‘Mooniacs’, and their loyalty to these machines is hard to question. There are enough Mooniac clubs out there to fill a book with, and most have both a strong online and physical presence.
The world’s largest type-club for Mooney owners is the Mooney Aircraft Pilots Association, commonly referred to as MAPA. This club aims to be a support group for Mooney owners to trade advice, parts, and even aircraft, all with the end goal of making Mooney ownership a more pleasant experience for both veteran and newcomer Mooniacs.
Most areas with a strong general aviation scene are bound to have a Mooney type club. Examples of that include the West Coast Mooney Club, the East Coast Mooney Fans, the Gulf Coast Mooniacs, and the Australian Mooney Pilot Association. These clubs usually organize events where owners can get together, make friends and share advice on their aircraft.
Pilots looking to better their handling of the Mooney M20 should look no further than The Mooney Summit. This all-volunteer organization was created with the purpose of improving type-specific education and safety instruction for Mooney pilots.
This foundation organizes a yearly event of FAA-endorsed safety programs aimed at Mooney owners and pilots. Former attendees describe it as a thoroughly educational experience in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.
Online directory MooneySpace.com presents itself as an umbrella for Mooney pilots from all clubs and walks of life to discuss their favorite aircraft, making it a great community for Mooney M20J owners looking to network.
Testament to the Mooney M20’s popularity is the existence of its very own magazine, The Mooney Flyer. This online publication delivers advice on ownership, presents useful tools, reviews modifications available to the aircraft, and has educational articles for Mooney owners looking to get the best out of their aircraft.
FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions
Question: How Fast is a Mooney M20J?
Answer: The Mooney M20J was famously called the Mooney 201 for its ability to reach 201 miles, or 175 knots.
Question: How Much Does a Mooney M20J Cost?
Answer: Prices for a used Mooney M20J range from $85000 all the way up to $200000 depending on the aircraft’s year and equipment installed.
Question: What is the Range of a Mooney M20J?
Answer: The Mooney M20J has a range of around 700 nautical miles plus IFR reserves.
Question: Is the Mooney M20J Pressurized?
Answer: No, the Mooney M20J is not pressurized.
Question: Are Mooney’s Hard to Fly?
Answer: No, the Mooney M20 is not hard to fly. However, due to its high speeds it inherently requires faster decision-making than slower counterparts, which can be overwhelming for inexperienced pilots.
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