Love Affair with a Wooden Wonder, by Larry Terrigno
[Received by email]
Hi Dave.....thanks for the great work with the site over the many years. Much enjoyed for sure. I came across a little story I penned back in the early 1970's when dad was first looking to find a Mite to restore and to have some great fun flying and sharing with me and his flying buddies.
I thought I'd send it along to offer to share it with you and our fellow Mite lovers. I've included it here along with an early in-flight shot of dad taken by me flying chase with a good friend in his Ercoupe over SoCal near Chino. Lots and lots of great memories...smile.
Hope your new year is full of promise and good health. Happy Flying!
One of the most exhilarating experiences in my flying career came along with my introduction to the "Mighty" Mooney Mite.
It all began in or about 1973-74 when my father Tony came across the chance to realize a life long dream. That was to own and fly one the littlest Mooneys.
His dream began to unfold when he heard the chance of a possible Mite for sale up in the state of Idaho. The communication started and the owner replied with a photograph and some information. She was in need of some work, but indeed flyable, in fact, her owner agreed to make the trip down to Southern California to show her off! Her paint was a little faded, the N118C on her plywood fuselage a bit worn, but the owner caressed her cowling, took off and pointed the little 65 horsepower Lycoming toward California and a chance for a new home! The trip was made with basic pilotage, a chart in this lap and excellent navigation skills led our new buddy to sunny California.
The day of their arrival at Corona Municipal Airport dawned with expectations of seeing the little airplane we heard so much about. At the predetermined time, the downwind leg of the traffic pattern was suddenly filled filled with the staccato of the short stacked Lycoming. We looked skyward and saw the silhouette of the unmistakable forward sweep of the vertical fin and rudder. Dad's new adventure was about to begin!
After a smooth landing and engine shut down, we met Mike, our owner/ferry pilot and fell immediately in love with his little airplane. We discussed the flight and a problem he experienced with one of the magnetos. We then invited our friend to dinner and spent an enjoyable evening talking of flying and the fantastic little airplane created by Mr. Al Mooney.
The following day found a deal consummated and after driving our friend to the Los Angeles International Airport, he was on his way home and we were off to work on Dad's (OUR....smile) Mooney Mite!!!
Dad spent the next several days inspecting November One-One-Eight Charlie only to find that work was indeed needed and the prudent thing to accomplish. After looking into the magnetos, general engine condition and somewhat dreary state of the pretty ship, dad decided to recondition her. Alas, without the opportunity to fly his lovely new airplane.
The next twenty months, or so, were spent lovingly restoring the Mite. With the dedication and drive of a steam locomotive, yet with the finesse of diamond cutter, dad restored the airplane to a a condition described only by the word "beautiful." He reworked the retractable landing gear and fashioned wheel well doors to close over the openings, the engine was topped and new mags installed. The upholstery was redone in beautiful black with yellow piping around the edges. The Flothorp wooden prop was sent to the company and refinished to a high gloss, its beautiful laminations showing through the gleam of the new varnish. As the project neared completion, dad applied a paint scheme utilizing a spray gun like a true artist. N118 Charlie gleamed in her bright yellow and green finish. A sight to behold!
The time went by and dad's little Mooney was ready for her engine test run and everything else checked awaiting that first flight post restoration.
We rolled her out into the early evening sun, and with her tank full of fuel, dad flipped her wooden prop and brought life to the airplane. My proud dad climbed up on her shiny yellow wing and lowered himself into the cockpit. As the run-up was completed, he gave a thumbs up and taxied out to the active. We were going to fly!
The gang all gathered at the edge of the runway and saw dad's pride and joy gathering speed into the wind. He lifted off the runway in graceful arc and climbed into the sun. What a thrill! She flew circles over the airport for 40 minutes or so. A friend and I decided to fire up his Taylorcraft BC12D and chase that beautiful little bird. We both flew circuits over the airport, admiring the fantastic little Mooney off our right wing. Everything checked out and dad landed gracefully. In the next few weeks, time was flown off to validate all systems and the chance for number one son to fly was drawing near!
To explain a first flight in a Mooney Mite is akin to a first kiss. I was totally taken with the flight characteristics. She handled like a dream. The aileron response is quick and light and so smooth you imagine your flying a true fighter! I found the airplane to behave very well and so docile. She lands so easily I was amazed. She is a clean design and can really float in the landing flare.
The entire relationship with N118C lasted several years and each flight was enjoyable, yet always unique.
Dad and I will always cherish the memories and fun of N118C.