It’s a Mooney! When most private pilots hear that, their eyes glaze over with awe and often a huge amount of envy. This is the single-engined piston aircraft that just about everyone who flies for pleasure would like to own. It’s good-looking, fun to fly, and super-fast. It’s most definitely the sports car of the skies. But sadly, Mooneys are difficult to find and also out of reach financially for most of us.
Back in my private flying days, I was no different. I would have loved to own a Mooney. But I was different from many pilots in being lucky enough to have a friend who, for many years, owned a Mooney. So I got the opportunity to fly in one fairly often and to take the controls for some of the time. This means that I know more about these gorgeous aircraft than the majority of private pilots, who can only look with longing at the type.
So are Mooneys as good as they are made out to be? I would say definitely, yes! That was definitely my experience. Are they easy to fly? Yes, but I say that with some reservations. But now let’s take a look at them in more detail.
Bottom Line Up Front
Mooney aircraft have been produced since 1929, with several different owners of the company over the years. There are many Mooney variants, but most are versions of the all-metal, single-engined M20. They do not differ all that much and are best known for being fast, slippery, and a lot of fun to fly but somewhat difficult for inexperienced pilots to manage. The company stopped producing aircraft in 2019, though it hopes to start up again sometime. It still supports Mooney owners by providing parts and maintenance. But if you want to buy a Mooney, you will need to get a pre-owned one, and you may need to be flexible in terms of which variant you can find.
History Of Mooney Aircraft
Brothers Arthur and Albert Mooney founded the Mooney Aircraft Corporation way back in 1929. At first, things went well, but the new company soon went bankrupt, caught up in the depression and stock market crash of the 1930s. It was not started up again until many years later, in 1946, when it became Mooney Aircraft.
The first Mooney aircraft to go into production was the single-seater Mite M-18. This went on to be extremely successful. Soon after this came the four-seater M-20, which Albert Mooney had been working on for several years. The first flight of this new type was in 1953. But alas, the company soon went bankrupt for the second time!
Mooney started up yet again, under new leadership, in 1954 and made a profit for the first time in 1959. Several variants of the M20, plus the upgraded M22 Mustang, were produced over the next few years. But Mooney Aircraft still struggled, and by 1970 the company had been sold yet again, and in the next few years or so, it still had difficulties, being sold several times.
Bankruptcy hit the company yet again in the early part of this century, and the recession of 2007 made things even harder for Mooney Aircraft. Having rarely made a profit, the company simply did not have the resources to continue production, and finally, in 2019, manufacturing of new aircraft was halted. This was a sad day for all those who loved Mooneys. But the company is continuing, planning to support the owners of the 7000 or so Mooneys still flying. And they are hoping to restart production in the future, so who knows?
Best Buy: Mooney M20C
Mooney Aircraft Types
There has often been a certain amount of confusion around the different Mooney aircraft types, partly because there are so many of them. Indeed, every time some change was made to the aircraft, it seemed to receive a new name and be classified as a new variant. At first glance, it is all very confusing. So I plan to try to simplify it a little.
Firstly, you need to realize that most Mooneys are versions of the Mooney M20. The Mooney M20 had many variants, although often, they did not vary that much. Indeed, some experts have even ignored the letter designations, instead preferring to divide Mooneys into those with long or short fuselages, and either 180 hp or 200 hp engines, and not bothering about much else. But despite the classification problems, let’s look at the main Mooney types produced.
Mooney M-18 Mite
This was the first Mooney to be produced, and there are still some second-hand models on the market. It was a single-seater, aimed particularly at Air Force pilots returning home from the second world war. It proved extremely popular, but there were not enough sold for Mooney to make a profit…a recurring theme for the company over the years. And Albert Mooney had always wanted to produce four-seater aircraft…
The Mooney M20 first went into production in 1955. The original version was made between 1955 and 1958 when Mooney started making new variants. So the M20 soon became a family of four-seater single piston-engined aircraft, all with low wings and tricycle landing gear but with different fuselage lengths. A number of the original M20s were sold, and they began to become very popular. But from 1958, different variants began to be manufactured.
Let’s now take a look at the different M20 variants which were produced over the years.
This first variant was manufactured from 1958 to 1960. it is unique in being the last Mooney type to be made partly of wood, with later variants all being made completely of metal. The original 150 hp engine was also upgraded to 180 hp. The M20A sold quite well and was responsible for Mooney finally making a small profit.
This was the first all-metal Mooney, being made of aluminum. It was produced in 1960.
This was produced from 1962 to 1978. it had significant improvements and ended up being produced in 1961, this model had several improvements, and there ended up being more examples of this variant than any others. It was also probably the most popular type.
Mooney M20 D
This was made from 1963 to 1966. It had fixed landing gear and a fixed pitch propeller and was designed as a trainer, Primarily to compete with the Piper Cherokee. It could be upgraded to have retractable landing gear.
Mooney M20E or Super 21
This variant was produced in 1964, and, like the M20D, it was very much based on the M20 C. It had a more powerful engine than the preceding models.
Mooney M20F or Executive 21
This was produced in 1966. It offered more legroom, being the first model to have an extended fuselage.
Mooney M20G Statesman
This was produced from 1968 to 1970. It had a less powerful engine than the preceding models but a larger airframe. It was not all that successful.
First produced in 1976, this was also known as the Mooney 201 because it was capable of a top speed of 201 mph.
Mooney M20K or Mooney 231
This was the first turbocharged Mooney. It had a top speed of 231 mph, and there was a sub-variant, called the Mooney 252, with a top speed of 252 mph.
Later Mooney M20s
In later years Mooney produced the M20 R, S, and T, all with small changes. Then came the M10T and the M10J, both to be powered by Continental diesel engines. In 2016 the M20U Ovation Ultra and the M20V Acclaim Ultra came along. The M20U was based on the M20R and was the first M20 to have a pilot-side door. And finally, before Mooney closed its doors in 2019, we had the M20TN Acclaim, with similar features.
Mooney M22 Mustang
Lastly, we must mention the M22 Mustang. Developed as the top-of-the-line model in 1960, it was a pressurized high-performance aircraft with a longer and wider fuselage than any of the M20s. Production of this type continued until 1970, when the line was closed due to losses. But some Mustangs are still flying.
Mooney Main Features
Even more confused, having read all of the above? You don’t need to be. Mooney variants have much in common, as already stated. Indeed, the many versions of the M20 are quite similar. Here are the main features of almost any four-seater Mooney.
- Except for the earliest models – the M18 Mite, the M20, and the M20A – all Mooneys are constructed entirely of metal.
- All of them are low-wing, single-engined aircraft.
- They have laminar wings designed especially for decreased drag and maximum fuel efficiency.
- Early models have a hydraulic hand pump to extend the flaps, while later models have electrically operated flaps.
- Almost all models have retractable landing gear.
- The Mooney M20, in all its variants, has a unique tail fin with a vertical leading edge.
- All Mooney M20s are made with a single spar going from wing tip to wing tip. this makes for a smooth flight and increases fuel efficiency.
- They are all designed with a strong steel cage enclosing the cockpit, which makes for maximum safety.
- All M20s store fuel in two tanks located in the inboard sections of each wing. Of course, this is similar to many other low-wing light aircraft.
- The Mooney M20 series has been produced in three fuselage lengths. The M20 up to the M20E are all known as short-body, the M20F through to the M20K are medium-body, and the M20L through to the M20 V are long-body. The increased fuselage length of the medium-body and long-body models means there is more passenger legroom, which most people appreciate. But it also leads to a slight decrease in performance, which is not popular with the most speed-crazy Mooney aficionados.
- Perhaps of most importance to prospective pilots, when it comes to flying, all Mooneys are said to be fast and fun. “Make it strong, make it simple, make it fast” – these are the Mooney Airplane Company’s words. And most pilots would agree. Mooneys have quite a following, with followers describing themselves as ‘Mooniacs’.
Common Mooney Problems
Mooneys are not difficult to fly, but those who have learned on simpler aircraft like Pipers and Cessnas do need to be careful when converting to a Mooney. Landing is said to be more difficult, as the ultra-fast Mooneys do tend to float on landing. For this reason, they are not good short-field aircraft. The low seat can also be a problem, particularly for shorter pilots. But the main problem with Mooneys is that they are high-performance airplanes, and their speed can catch out the unwary. They are not suitable for inexperienced pilots. The stall speed is relatively high, and things happen at a faster speed than many low-hours pilots are used to. So if you buy a Mooney, be sure to get some extra training before flying it solo.
When it comes to maintenance, the all-metal Mooneys are fine, but there have been several issues with the earlier versions, which contain a lot of wood. So if you buy an early Mooney, do get it thoroughly checked over by someone who knows about the type, and be prepared to spend a substantial amount of money on it.
Main Similarities and Differences Between Mooney And Its Competitors
The main competitors to the Mooney are the Bonanza and the Beech aircraft. Both of these are also fast airplanes popular with private pilots, and owners of each type tend to argue incessantly as to which is best.
All three are known as high-performance single-engined aircraft, fast, cheap to operate, and with good handling. All are relatively comfortable as small aircraft go. But don’t expect airliner-type comfort, as they are ultimately small planes. All have good range. They are similar in terms of load carrying, none being that good. And all three are fairly easy to land, at least for experienced pilots.
The Bonanza is more expensive than the Mooney. The Beech fuselage is significantly larger and heavier, and it is likely to be more comfortable. Beech parts are expensive, so maintenance is likely to cost more. The Mooney is cheaper to run n terms of fuel. And most pilots think Bonanzas are better in terms of handling.
In summary, there is not that much to choose between the three types of aircraft. Which one you choose will depend to a large extent on what aspects are most important to you.
Since Mooneys are no longer produced, it is not possible to decide which Mooney model you want and then just go out and buy it. A lot will depend on what is available at the time, how long you can wait, and how far you are prepared to travel to get the model you want. And an internet search reveals that while pre-owned Mooneys can be found, there are not that many of them. Mooney owners, on the whole, like their planes and tend to hang on to them.
The best way of finding a good secondhand Mooney might be to get together with other owners. Mooney owners tend to meet each other through the Mooney Aircraft Pilots Association and enjoy networking with other Mooniacs. This could be a good way of finding out what aircraft are available and whether or not they would suit you.
Having said that, it is possible to find used Mooneys online, with the M20C being the commonest, partly due to its higher production numbers. They are likely to cost between $30,000 and $50,000. The latest models, the M20U and M20V, were available through Mooney until 2019. Some of these can still be found, usually at slightly below the original retail prices of around $700,000.
Ultimately, the most important thing when buying a Mooney is to treat it as you would any other second-hand purchase. Never mind the year or model – condition is the most important thing. Look for careful maintenance and complete flying and maintenance records. These things will be more important than the variant or the size of the fuselage since, as I have said many times now, there is not that much difference between the variants.
With the scarcity of particular Mooney models, it is very difficult to recommend any particular Mooney model. And indeed, it is hardly necessary since the differences between all the metal Mooneys are minimal.
However, if you should have a choice when it comes to buying your Mooney, here are some of my recommendations:
- M20C – this will be the easiest to find and probably the best value.
- M20F Executive – this model is more comfortable than any of the short-body Mooneys due to its extra legroom.
- M20K – this is the fastest Mooney if speed is your thing, and it often is for those pilots attracted to Mooneys.
Best Buy: Mooney M20C – for ease of purchase, choice, and price. You don’t need to look any further for a very satisfactory Mooney model. This is the type most Mooney owners have, and they can’t all be wrong!
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: Are Mooney planes still being made?
Answer: Mooneys have not been produced since 2019. However, the Mooney company is still in existence, producing and supplying spares for existing Mooneys. There are estimated to be about 7000 of these, so Mooneys are not likely to disappear any time soon. And hopefully, Mooneys will be made again in the future; some people seem to think this will happen.
Question: Is a Mooney the fastest single-engine piston aircraft around?
Answer: It probably is, though not everyone agrees, particularly Bonanza owners! It is certainly very fast for a single-engined aircraft. But whether it is the fastest of all is debatable. However, the fastest Mooney is undoubtedly the M20TN Acclaim Type S, which can reputedly achieve a top speed of 242 knots.
Question: Can you learn to fly in a Mooney?
Answer: You can learn to fly in a Mooney, but it might not be recommended. It is fast and slippery, so it will take you considerably longer to solo than in a more forgiving aircraft type, which could be somewhat demoralizing for a new pilot. However, the choice is yours. But do make sure you find an instructor who is accustomed to Mooneys and has instructed on them.
All Mooney types are fun airplanes to fly, no matter which one you choose or manage to find. They are a pilot’s plane, being very fast and enjoyable to handle. But since they are no longer produced, you may find it difficult to find one which suits you, and you will need to hunt around carefully, treating it as you would any other secondhand purchase. But you are most unlikely to regret buying a Mooney. So good luck with getting one, and enjoy flying it!
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- Mooney. https://www.mooney.com/
- Aviation Consumer. https://www.aviationconsumer.com/aircraftreviews/mooney-versus-bonanza/
- Inflight Pilot training. https://inflightpilottraining.com/2021/03/history-of-mooney-aircraft/
- Lasar https://lasar.com/buyers-guide
- Pilot Mall. https://www.pilotmall.com/blogs/news/mooney-m20-everything-to-know-on-the-low-wing-speedster