Love That Mooney
by Frank L. Harvey
Tribute to an airplane by a single-seater pilot who enjoys it that way
I AM a very unconventional guy. Contrary to 10,000 sober opinions of experts, I do not think the primary and only purpose of a light airplane is to go places. I think a light airplane is also to have fun in. And by having fun I mean flying it, not to Moose Wallow, Wyoming, for 2-ft. Rainbows, or to Platinum Sands, Florida, for sun-browned babes. I mean just taking the thing up off your own grass field and flying it around and landing it. But before anyone runs off for the Flit gun, let me explain.
I fly a Mooney M-18L.
Many of the people who read FLIGHT MAGAZINE are pilots and should know all about the M-18L. But in case you don't it's a 500-lb. low-wing with a hand-retractable tricycle landing gear and a 65-hp. Lycoming engine. It climbs around 1,300 fpm., has a ceiling of 25,000 feet, scats along at 120 in high cruise, and will deliver up to 35 or 40 miles to the gallon of gas if you're good at coaxing. All this adds up, certainly, to most anyone's idea of an efficient business airplane--but it isn't the reason I'm so sold on the Mooney.
I read an article about the Mooney and the man must have written a stirring piece, because it prodded me into going to Wichita to visit Al Mooney and fly the ship. While there I met a friend of Al's, a local salesman named Ralph Almon. Ralph was the kind of salesman who could make people stand in line to buy acreage in the Dakota badlands for avocado pear farming. He had a neat way of turning phrases. He had flown a lot of airplanes in his time, he said, including a surplus P-38 he bought for pleasure after the war, but none of them did the same thing for him that the Mooney did. "Man," said Ralph, looking at us earnestly, "when you fly this little bugger, you don't feel like a pilot. You feel like a goddam bird."
That's right. That's exactly how you feel.
I like to fly a Mooney so much that I will gee out of bed in total darkness when the temperature outside is Zero, drive five miles to the airport, wrench the hanger doors out of the ice floes, crank up the Mooney, fly for twenty minutes in the early light, race back home, wolf breakfast and barely swing aboard the rear car of the 8:21 for my office In New York.
I don't know exactly how much gas the plane burns. One time I happened to check it on a flight to Harrisburg and I think I was getting around 28, but I'm not sure. I'm not trying to put the oil companies out of business. I don't really care. I suppose my plane has depreciated considerably since I bought it, but that doesn't bother me either.
There used to be a guy in a flying club I was in, a close friend, too, who always opposed our buying any new airplane on the grounds that you lost so much money due to depreciation.
"Why all you gotta do," my friend said, "is roll an airplane off the factory floor. Poom -- you've lost 30 per cent! You can't make any money that way!"
The treasurer of the club spoke' up. "John," he said, "are you by any chance a member of this club for the purpose of making money? Because if you are, let me read last year's financial report. Believe me, we are not making money. As a matter of fact I do not see much hope for a profit this year or next year either."
Outflying the Fly Boys
I can't go into flying for any reason in the world other than I like it. If you like flying the way I like it you can have more fun in an airplane than in any other type of machine made by man. Take the Sunday afternoon about a month ago when I was circling around in my Mooney at 10,000 feet, enjoying the view of the New York skyline and practicing a few wing-overs. Suddenly something big howled past me so close it tossed the Mooney up on a wing and scared me so badly I almost jerked the throttle off its hinges. It was a Marine Corsair, a Weekend Warrier out having himself a time. The F4U went down toward the earth in a screamer of a dive, pulled straight up, rose into the blue like a rocket and rolled out on top. I saw the little black shape of the inverted gullwing passing over me, 5,000 feet above, on a reverse course. I laid my head back and followed him. He wasn't through with me. He was going to make another pass.
I quickly wound back Al's Safe-trim device, which gives you flaps and trims your tail at the same time, reduced speed to about 70, and watched this joker over my shoulder. He jockeyed into position for a high-side run, dumped the nose and came smoking down. I mean, he was really winding. I waited until he got in the pursuit curve and was almost in range. Then I turned abruptly toward him. The Mooney came around on a dime. But the U was game. He tried to hold me. He kept pulling it. He got up in a vertical. He got almost over on his back. Then he got sucked away from me by centrifugal force, five miles away, still pulling it, still trying to get his sights on the Mooney. If that boy's vision didn't at least get a little gray, he was wearing a G suit.
"Nuts to you. Jack!" I yelled at him, in pure happiness. I wouldn't trade that one for a barrel of 2-foot Rainbows!
Most people like to show off, but few will admit it. I admit it. Rack up the balls, hand me a cue, I'll break them. I don't go in for flat-hatting because it's against the law, but you can show off in a Mooney just by flying it normally, taking no chances, and have the blessing of the most conservative CAA inspector. Bill Taylor, Al Mooney's test pilot and sales manager, put on a little show for me out in Wichita. The usual 40-mile wind was keening across the Kansas flats and I said to Bill, "Better wait, hadn't we?"
He said, "We have a little saying out here. We use a ball and chain down in the southern part of the state, where the wind really gets brisk, instead of a wind sock. If the ball and chain is standing out straight we know it's all right to fly. But if the ball comes off and the links start snapping away, then we put the planes in the hangar."
He taxied the Mooney to the downwind side of the field, firewalled the throttle, and went upstairs like an elevator. He stalled it cold at 500 feet. It hung there. The test figures say it will lose 40 feet in a full power stall. But to me it seemed to gain altitude, due to the wind. Bill took it on up to 1,000 feet and stalled it again. Then he turned toward us, down wind, and dropped it in like a strafing fighter. In silhouette it looked like an F-51, which it has been mistaken for many times, in the air. Bill screamed past at 180, ground speed, laid it into a vertical, cut the power and dumped his flaps. He brought the airplane up beside us, with the hatch open and hung there, scarcely moving, waving and smiling. Then he dropped it on and stopped in about 75 feet. The wind did a lot to make this show possible, I know, but I said to myself somewhere during the performance, "Harvey, that's your plane."
Do you like to fly high?
In the Mooney you can fly high without grinding around in circles for half a day. I never timed myself, but I read some place that you can go to 10,000 from the deck in 12 minutes. The highest I've ever been is 13,000 feet on a blue-and-crystal day over Morristown, New Jersey. Down below me the Cubs in the traffic pattern looked like moths fluttering on a brown quilt. I could see Manhattan to the East and the silver rim of the Atlantic rising beyond Long Island. I got above the haze line and it was clean up there. Do you know what I mean? How can you worry about the payments on the TV set, what your boss said about the Tompkins account, or the fact that your wife is holding lamb chops for dinner when you look up into that incredibly clear delicate blue sky? If you persist in muddling over lamb chops at a time like that, brother, hand in your wings. You're through.
At 13,000 feet over Morristown I did not expect to encounter anything bigger than a bot fly. It gave me quite a jolt, therefore, when I glanced through the starboard side of my canopy and saw a Lockheed Constellation there, sharp and glistening in the sunglare, and people waving at me through those bullseye windows. I don't know. I guess I'm a little bit romantic at times, but things like that appeal to me, and I do not care how many cubic centimeters of 80 octane gasoline it required to lift me up there beside the Connie.
I feel that Al Mooney, who designed the joy of my life, is a friend of mine. I know Al is plugging -- and selling -- his little single-seater for business purposes, and it's no fault of his if satisfied customers like me write it up in terms of romantics. The Mooney is a swell business plane. I don't know of any other that will get you there any faster for the same money. If you weigh 215 pounds, like I do, and stand 6 feet 3 inches in the shoes, you'll have to squeeze a little to get in. But it isn't so bad, really, once you are in. You certainly won't fall out. And your visibility is terrific. Like Ralph Almon said, you feel like a bird. I've got no kicks. I'm with it.
This article is from a reprint of the April 1952 issue of FLIGHT magazine.
August 4, 2001