The Littlest Mooney
by Dan M. Green
This article was taken from PRIVATE PILOT Magazine, August 1971. It was faxed to us by Tony Allinson. Unfortunately, the photographs of N333M included in the article were not good enough to be reproduced here. Does anyone have the original they can loan to us?
A zingy little single-seater, the Mooney Mite is an airplane for flying. All wood and whistle clean, it zooms along at 130-mph, and climbs a thousand feet per minute.
THERE IS A COMMON and unexplainable mental affliction among the general public known as the Who-Got-There-First syndrome. Its symptoms are easy to spot - those afflicted tend to refer to common consumer products by the name of the produce that Got There First. Thus, all pop-up tissues become "Kleenex," all soft drinks are "Coke," gelatin desserts are "Jello." and so on.
The aviation world has not escaped the WGTF syndrome by any means. Remember when everything with high wings was called a Piper Cub? While this caused considerable wailing and gnashing of teeth from the Stinson and Cessna set, it was undoubtedly music to Bill Piper's ears. Piper "got there first" when he forsook the stereotype of the sport biplane to mass produce a high-winged monoplane, and almost every family plane built for many years was so configured. Cub became as natural a name for light airplanes as Victrola was for record players.
I was just sitting here thinking: Why aren't current low-wing retractable tri-gear Comanches, Bellancas, Cherokees, and Mooneys (oops … I mean Aerostars) referred to by the unknowing as "Mooney Mites"?
The story is the same: the Mite was ahead of its time, cheap, easy to fly, and a heck of a lot of airplanes were patterned after it. One can only look at the total seven year production run of 283 Mites and wonder - what happened? Why didn't this zingy little ship take hold and sell a million copies and become a household word?
All the usual platitudes come to mind: it was too far ahead of its time, too expensive, too small, too hard to fly; it was in the right/wrong place at the wrong/right time, it was just too good to be true …
The Mite almost was too good to be true. It was a visual airplane, whistle clean and sports car small. Compared to what was available at that time, it was right out of a Flash Gordon adventure. it definitely topped the list (and still does, in my estimation) of airplanes that look-like-they-are-moving-while-standing-still, and cleaned up for flight the impression was that of a fighter zooming along at all-out War Emergency power.
It was a super-efficient airplane. On 65 meager horsepower, it could churn along at an honest 130-mph, climb at better than a thousand feet per minute, stall at just above 40-mph.
Yet for all its redeeming qualities, the post-World War II United States needed the Mite like Mae West needed a silicone injection. Rather than say that Al Mooney went out on a limb and defied the laws of logic, and other such hogwash, I just asked him the question right out: Why the Mooney Mite?
"At that time, in 1948, there were lots of pilots leaving the service…" he recalls. "Yes, the U.S. was in a poor economic condition, but I felt that the market was definitely there for these young fellows to buy themselves an inexpensive sportplane just to keep their hand in the flying game. We initially built the Mite and marketed it for $1,875. I would sell it for nothing down, if the guy had his own engine, and finance the balance myself. He could turn around and rent it out to others for as little as five bucks an hour, and still make a profit on the deal."
So build it he did, with the little 25-hp Crosley Cobra engine. The idea was to build cheap so he could sell cheap; hence the automobile engine, the wood construction, and the small size. Mooney even located the plant in Wichita, Kansas so he could use part-time labor from the other aircraft factories in the area.
Thirteen of the Crosley-Mites were built in the first year, but due to "…quite a bit of trouble with the engines," subsequent Mites rolled off the line with 65 Lycoming or Continental engines. This drove the cost up, naturally; but you were still getting everything you paid for. The 65-hp Mite held, at one time, every F.A.I record in the book for its class of airplane.
But why speak of the Mite in the past tense? It is very much a "now" airplane, as sleek of line as any of its '71 model descendants. One young observer happened onto the ramp during our photo session with the Mite, and could not be convinced that the airplane was two years older than he.
There is something about the Mite. What immediately comes to focus, of course, is the Mite-size of the airplane. But I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the Mite isn't all that small. Sure you can't pack the wife and kids and a short ton of luggage into it; but then it's not all unusual to see a six-foot two, or even a six-three Mite owner.
John Haston of Mineral Wells, Texas is a Mite owner, and he's six-foot four. His airplane (N333M) is said by those in a position to know to be one of the slickest Mooney Mites in the world. John knows his machine intimately, and he is quite adept at dispelling the fairy tails which invariably surround such an odd-ball airplane.
Like, since the Mite is so small and slick, it must be squirrelly as hell, right?
Wrong. The Mooney Mite is not hard to fly. In fact, it's not only not hard to fly, it's downright easy to fly. So hop aboard for a vicarious glimpse into the world of sport flying, Mooney Mite style.
Once you've squeezed yourself into the cockpit, you'll notice right away that the instrument panel wouldn't exactly send an astronaut reeling. But you've got everything you need, and it goes without saying that everything is easy to get at. Push the mixture to rich, crack the throttle, flip on the two (two?) mag switches and you're ready to light up the engine. By hand-propping John's non-standard Beech Roby prop, you're in business.
The Mite taxis just like a real .. er … large airplane: push the right pedal and the airplane turns right, and so on. It even has toe brakes you can use to assist the nosewheel steering. in this respect, by the way, the Mite's small size is deceptive. You'd think it would really turn sharp and quick, but it's actually more like the big Mooneys in this department.
Taxi into position in the run-up area, perform the checklist ritual in accordance with the embosso-tapes on the panel, wheel onto the active, and you're ready to launch.
The takeoff run is … well … exciting. You're sitting so close to the ground that by the time the 70-mph rotation speed comes up, you feel like you're moving at Mach 1. A slight back pressure on the stick, and you literally squirt off the ground clocking better than a thousand feet per minute at 80 indicated. Slap the gear up, pull the nose back a little more (if you like) and the rate of climb goes from Sheer Excitement to Outright Shock. You are definitely going upwards in a hurry; in fact, it may be too much of a hurry for you if you're used to flying the old reliable Spam Can. The micro size of the Mite has a sneaky way of making everything look like it's happening faster than it really is, and you have to pinch yourself once or twice as a reminder that you're doing all of this on 65 horsepower.
The controls are light. Not jittery, just light. In level flight, you can put the Mite into almost any attitude you can think of about as fast as you can put the stick there: but hands-off, it's nice and stable.
Stalls eloquently tell part of the story of how far ahead of its time the Mite actually was. It stalls like a modern lightplane, meaning that the inboard part of the wing goes in a good bit before the outboard does, giving you good control into and beyond the stall. But the airplane never really quits flying. There is a recognizable (if you know what you're looking for) burble just before, and the break is straight ahead with no wing drop. The airspeed goes right off the clock during the entire stall series, with the average stall speed in any configuration around 43-mph.
If you're now cocked and ready for the aerobatic part of the pirep, you may as well let your breath out now: the Mite looks aerobatic, and it darn sure feels aerobatic. But the standard category certificated, meaning that (in the category of certification department) it is the same as a Cessna 150 or a Tri-Pacer or any other standard category job. Akro is forbidden. Not impossible, just illegal. But all is not lost. The Mite's long suit is that it is one of the few airplanes you can actually have fun in without pivoting the horizon; just zooming around, wheeling and banking, fast climbs … It's sure not looping and rolling, that's for sure, but you can shoot down lots of enemy fighters if you go for that sort of thing.
Entering the pattern for landing, reduce the airspeed to 95 so you can lower the gear. if you forget (to lower the gear, that is), there is a little red flag on the panel that begins to wave madly. I don't know how effective it is as an attention getter, but I do know that the first Mooney Mite I ever saw was in the process of landing gear up. And I know further that I've heard one heck of a bunch of stories of Mites being landed gear up.
The red flag, by the way, is actually an automobile windshield wiper motor and arm. It's a unique idea, but I believe with everything that ultimately went in to make it work properly as a gear warning system, they could have put in a bell or a horn.
Flaps come out at 85, and they work in kind of a novel way: as the wheels come down, you get a little nose-heavy so you roll in nose up trim. After you roll it so far, you are also cranking the flaps down via an interconnect. This is known as the "Simpli-fly," and believe it or not, it works pretty good. You can trim up for any configuration you like and the airplane remains stable.
About 75-mph is a good speed on the approach, but keep in mind that you are going to be close to the ground when you actually touch down, and I mean close. The actual landing is easy and smooth, and you track the center stripe with no great problem. To sum it up in a word, the Mite is a …well, I guess you can't sum it up in one word. It is not a fighter plane or a racing plane, it's just a mere scaled-down normal airplane. Yet, you have that definite feeling of being watched (enviously) every second you're in it.
Among the 200-odd Mites still flying is Mooney Mite Number One, the first Mite ever built. The prototype. It was factory converted from a Crosley to a Continental, and its current owner is Ray Campbell of Deland, Florida.
Ray, like most Mite owners, gets a little choked up when you ask questions about his airplane. Like, "What's it like to fly, Ray?"
"Well …" he starts; then his voice trails off. You know good and well he'd like to jump out with something ultra-poetic, such as …
"…. the sensation of being one with such a deliciously responsive and nimble little airplane is unmatched by any form of recreation every conceived in the mind of man…" or something like that. But, like most pilots, Ray is given to understatement. So he simply says…
"… it's a fine little ship…" or "… boy, I really like it…"
Ray is a retired postal worker, with lots of time on his hands to spend with the Mite. N3199K has a total airframe time of only 861 hours, partly due to the fact that it was in storage for sixteen years. Al Mooney himself put many of those hours on it (while it was Crosley powered), and he remembers.
"Yeah, I put around 200 hours on it, then installed a 65 Continental, It went to a flying club after that: they wanted to put an 85 in it, but that cost them a restriction on the airworthiness certificate. It went into storage in '52 and stayed there until 1968…"
At this point, we could end this article, or go on with some more history, or whatever, and you would close the magazine and say…"OK, it's a great little airplane and I love it and all that. But why build me up for a plane I couldn't possibly have? With so few of them left, I'd never be able to buy one."
Well, true. A Mite is pretty hard to come by, but take heart. If you really want one, you can have one - with one catch: you'll have to roll your own.
MOONEY M-18C MITE
Price as tested ...................................... $3,000
Wingspan ........................................26ft 10.5 in
Weights & Loadings:
Empty weight ...................................... 520-lbs
Max level speed, SL .......................... 135-mph
Fred Quarles is the President of the newly-formed Mooney Mite Aircraft Corporation. He owns the type-certificate to the Mooney Mite. He also owns the complete engineering package for the airplane, including over 1,800 square feet of blueprints. You can rent all of this (about 25 pounds of paper) just like they are if you're really hot to trot on having a Mite. However, Fred is in the process of distilling the factory drawings down into something the ordinary homebuilder can use, and he expects to put the "new" plans on the market for around a hundred dollars.
Quarles has been working on the project, believe it or not, for ten years. During this time, he has convinced himself that the average homebuilder can build a Mite - with engine, mind you, for less than $1,500. I asked Al Mooney about this figure, and he said:
"When I quit making the Mite in 1955, I was selling it for $3,780, and still losing money. Of course, a homebuilder wouldn't be paying the same for labor and production costs. Maybe, just maybe…"
Due to the relative scarcity of the 65 Lycomings and Continentals, Quarles is presently doing research into the possibilities of Volkswagen or Franklin Sport installations in the Mite. He is optimistic about both of these engines. And… with everything else he's doing, Fred Quarles is also the president of the Mooney Mite Owners Association (Box 3999, Charlottesville, Virginia 22903), and he can give the prospective owner/builder/buyer/enthusiast any information he might need about the Mite.
A Mooney Mite is an airplane for flying. Not that you can't go cross-country in it - you can go cross-country in anything, really. But it's hard to think of the Mite just as a lowly air transport vehicle. And it's even harder to describe it in anything but cliché terms - Little Fighter, Magic Carpet, Passport to Adventure… Who can tell. This "new" airplane may suddenly take hold and capture the public fancy. I can see it all now: a Mooney Mite-blackened sky, a plane in every garage … maybe the time is right for the Mite. You'll know for sure it is if your non-pilot friend every shakes his head at your gleaming new Cherokee Arrow and says, "… you'll never get me up in one of them Mooney Mites …"
October 26, 2001