Mooney Mite Means Mass Fun

From the Pacific Flyer, April 1992

By Larry Terrigno

From an aviation perspective, I've been a lucky guy.

I was born into a family where I'm the son of a pilot. Having been totally surrounded by aviation for most of my life, I have the good fortune to be in "love with flying right along with my father Tony, who has been at it since the early 1940s.

What makes things even more fun is, along with fact that dad has been an active pilot all these years, he happens to be a talented craftsman. These traits lead us to the airplane we both hold dear to our hearts.

The object of our affection is a 1950 Mooney Mite, N120C, or "Two Zero Charlie" to those who are fortunate enough to know her.

Dad's Mooney Mite was lovingly restored to "show condition," and the number of trophies they have won together supports just how beautiful she really is. The sharp little single place Mooney is painted bright yellow, and trimmed in a very attractive green and black.

She is certainly not a hangar queen — dad has flown her to many of the fly-in events in the west and even to Oshkosh where she brought home a "Lucky Lindy" trophy in the Custom classic category for her class and vintage.

The "Mite," as she is known by her designers, was produced in the mid 1940s through the early 1950s. The design intent was to produce an easily affordable transportation aircraft for the businessman.

The Mites were even put on' the flight line of many FBOs. With a few dollars to spare, a renter pilot could find himself in an airplane quite different than most of the civilian pilots of the time were able to get their hands on.

As some of you can remember, most of the flyers in those days were used to J series Cubs and the Champs, Luscombes and Cessna taildraggers.

The little Mooney Mites sitting on the line were an exciting proposition with their low wing, fighter-like looks, and retractable gear.

Pretty hard to resist!

One of the benefits of having a dad that has neat airplanes like the Mooney, and being a pilot myself, is I get to fly them, too.

So... what is it like to fly the Mite?

It's like strapping on an aerial skateboard, a mini P-51, Spitfire, Corsair or whatever your imagination can come up with. The Mite is powered by the Lycoming 65 horsepower O-145-B opposed four cylinder engine used in the J-3 Cubs of the early 40s.

The prototypes were powered by the Crosley automobile engine but this arrangement proved to be underpowered. The airplane really came to life when the Mooney factory started using the Lycoming.

Due to weight and space as a consideration, no electric starter is used. We use the tried and true "armstrong method" — hand propping.

Standing behind the prop arc, with one hand inside the cockpit on the mag switch and throttle, you grab the prop blade and give a pull downward. Of course, all this while restraining the little Mite with your body positioned against the leading edge of the wing.

She usually pops to life with a couple of pulls and with the short exhaust stacks nearby she comes to life with a roar.

As she idles, the next step is to turn away from the prop carefully, lift one foot upon to the wing walk, grab the cockpit edge and pull yourself up on the wing.

The rest of the cockpit entry process is a matter of technique, but generally consists. of putting one foot inside on the seat or floor, while sup- porting your weight with both arms on the two cockpit sides. You then let yourself down in- to the seat.

You must find a position for your legs under the panel, and for your feet on the rudder pedals, which are located right behind the firewall.

She is small, but once in the diminutive cockpit, sitting on the centerline of the airplane, with stick and throttle at the ready, you really feel like you're in for an adventure.

The feeling is so like the many daydreams you've had about getting set for a mission in your favorite fighter or pursuit ship.

Dad's Mooney has all the neat goodies you need to operate in today's air traffic control environment — navcom, transponder and even loran. None of the production models ever came off the factory floor with equipment like this.

The feeling of being in a fighter is enhanced because of the sliding bubble canopy; taxiing down the ramp with your elbows over the cockpit edges, the wind blowing in your hair is really terrific.

The takeoff is fun as you reach over your head and slide closed the canopy, or leave it open if you like the wind; apply power while holding a little right rudder and she tracks right down the centerline.

Before you know it, with just a slight back pressure on the stick, she flies off. This is really flying!

Next step is to reach down up under the panel next to your right leg and grab the lever that retracts the gear. It takes a bit of technique, but, if you pull the gear up at just the right speed after rotation, the wheels hide themselves in the wells just as clean as can be.

The Mite will indicate about 112 in cruise, and burn about 3.5 to 4.0 gallons of fuel per hour. This is pretty economical flying.

She is light on the controls but not overly sensitive. The slightest pressure on the stick has her responding to your every wish.

The airplane feels like it's part of you, with your own arms outstretched instead of the Mooney's long slender wings on each side of you extending to the horizon.

The visibility is great and you're having so much fun you don't realize that so much time has passed and it's time to re- turn to the field.

Entering the traffic pattern, you reach across your chest with you right hand, to turn the trim crank located on the left cockpit wall. Remember, she is small.

Turning the crank aft produces nose up trim and when it's set far enough aft, this procedure starts the flaps down. This fully integrated system trims the entire tail assembly.

The horizontal and vertical stabilizers move in unison to trim the airplane to the desired attitude that the pilot selects. Pretty ingenious for a design that is now more than 40 years old.

Landings in the Mite are really a dream; the low wing flies into ground effect and, with a little practiced technique, you can "grease her on" almost every time.

Once on the ground, you taxi past the guys on the airport bench with the canopy back and a big smile on your face.

The Littlest Mooney is really a fun machine and we always look forward to another afternoon alone chasing clouds.

12 October, 2004