My Experience with the "Mighty" Mooney Mite N3199K
by H. Harold Carter
Fresh out of college, I worked for Union Carbide Corporation, traveling ten states mostly by car, thus driving about 1,000 miles per week. The pluses were that I got to see the countryside, was paid a decent salary, and I got a new company car every year, the first being a 1966 Ford station wagon with that new fangled tailgate door that opened both ways. After three years of this, I decided I’d had enough of "living on the road" so I landed a job with the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. Gee, was this a change! It was rather dull for the most part so I told people I flew a D-7, a desk with seven drawers.
One distinct advantage of this job change is that I made friends with a former World War II B-25 pilot who now headed up the Governmental Affairs Department of the Chamber, the late Mr. James D. "Jim" King, Jr. Of course he was my senior but we hit it off well together due to our joint interest in aviation. I was a member of the Georgia Air National Guard and was building up my private pilot hours hoping for a flight school slot in the Guard. About two years into my employment with the Chamber, Jim purchased a Mooney Mite. I hardly knew what a Mite was, but when I saw it for the first time in the Epps Air Service hanger, Peachtree-DeKalb Airport (PDK) in Atlanta, parked between two steel beams because it was so small, I, like so many others, fell in love with this little "mini-fighter" looking aircraft.
My friendship grew with Jim and I must have gained a huge amount of trust with him because he eventually asked me if I would like to fly the Mite. I don't remember what I said, but it must have been something like, "Are you kidding? Would you really let me fly that aircraft? You do realize that I have no retract time, don't you?" Of course one doesn't get any dual instruction in a Mite (for any who might read this and doesn't know, the Mite is a single place aircraft). So, I was a bit dumbfounded and had sensations of being flattered, excited, amazed, unbelieving, a bit giddy, etc.
I don't remember any of the details concerning me taking Jim up on the offer since that was 44 years ago, but according to my logbook, my first flight in Mooney Mite N3199K was on December 13, 1969. I had previously logged 230 hours in the following aircraft: Cessna 150, 172, 177 Cardinal, and 182 Skylane; Cherokee 140, and 180; Maule MD-4; Piper Tri-Pacer; Aero Commander 100 (manufactured in my hometown of Albany, GA); several different sail planes; and last and least, a Benson Gyroglider.
On my first glorious, exciting, and eventful flight, having never soloed in a retractable gear aircraft, I logged two hours flying from PDK to Winder, GA to Parkaire Field in Marietta, GA (now covered with retail shopping centers). Surely Jim and I must have had an understanding that I would be gone for awhile, as otherwise he would have been as nervous as a cat in rush hour traffic. Here are some things he did discuss with me: He suggested Winder because there was low traffic, wide runways so that I could practice making a few landings, and it was not a controlled airport. I learned the GUMP check from Jim too: Gas, Undercarriage, Mixture, Prop. Of course only the first two counted in the Mite and the “U” was a really big deal (spelled out, this means to make sure the landing gear is down and locked). I really took the landing part seriously, as I made eight on that first flight.
Concerning the “U” part of GUMP, the first thing Jim said to me after landing back at home base was, "Did you ever let the gear up?" He asked me this because, after taking off at PDK, I headed east and disappeared into the Atlanta haze that day with the gear still down. Now, here is where the eventful part came in! It is definitely embarrassing to share this. With my heart beating in overtime, thinking I really needed to be very careful to let the gear down before landing, and also dealing with the control tower, Atlanta Center, etc. via a "coffee grinder" radio, I did forget something until I cleared the pattern, and that was to let the gear up. (Some planes have what is called "fixed gear" meaning that the landing gear does not retract up out of the airstream, and some have retractable gear that enables the aircraft to go faster since, after taking off, the gear is then tucked up into the wings and belly of the plane.)
Now here is where the "eventful" part started. I mentioned this flight was in December and it was cold. I don't remember if the cockpit had heat or not, but it didn't matter much, because there were plenty of little air leaks here and there to negate any cabin heat. I had on my favorite kid gloves that my late sister had given me. They had a little extra leather that sort of flopped around in the wrist area. Unless one puts an aircraft with retractable gear on jack stands, there is no way to practice letting the gear up and down besides flying it, but Jim had covered the procedure pretty well. (It is manual by the way.)
So, when I finally remembered to pull up the gear with my right hand and lock the lever in place, the uplock mechanism grabbed the slack in that leather glove and held on to it "for dear life". Surely, even though being alone (well, not really, as God is actually my Pilot; I'm just the co-pilot), I am sure my face turned red. All sorts of things went through my mind: I'll have to land gear up on my first solo retract flight. How much damage will be done to the aircraft? Where shall I land, grass or pavement, controlled airport with fire trucks, or some grass strip somewhere? Can I kill the engine with the prop horizontal so I won't ruin it? How much paper work will be involved? How much will the repair cost? Will I lose my license? This can't be happening to me!! OK now, settle down and fly the airplane. Let's see if we can figure this thing out. Although one hand was trapped, I still had another hand, so I pulled really hard. I tried and tried to get my hand out of the glove. At this point, how much I liked the gloves did not matter. I tried to tear the glove open. Of course, I was flying an aircraft with a joystick so I was holding it on course with my legs as I pulled with my left hand. I just can't let this situation ruin my day. All because of one little kid glove? Gee! I hope this nightmare ends soon because I am ready to wake up.
So I pinched myself, and it hurt. Oh dear, this is for real. Too much thinking and not enough acting! This glove just can't be that strong. I can't fly up here the rest of the day. Running out of fuel and landing dead stick plus gear up was not my cup of tea. What seemed like an eternity was probably no longer than it is taking me to put this on paper. I really can't remember exactly how I did it, but for sure I eventually landed with the gear down and locked—locked without my glove in the down lock, I might add! When I got my hand loose, I took that thing off!!
I consider things like this a good experience. Learning what not to do is as important as learning what to do. No, I didn't throw the gloves away; I sewed snaps to that cursed bit of extra leather so this wouldn't happen again—that is, if I ever flew again with them on. (I kept those gloves for many years until they finally wore too thin to do any good.)
There was little going on at Winder as I practiced my landings, but when I flew over to Parkaire, I drew a crowd. I just couldn't get over how fantastic it was to be flying this aircraft that was turning the heads instead of it being my head that was turning. I probably got out, chocked the wheels, swaggered over to the Coke machine, answered a few questions that I didn't know the answer to, and then it dawned on me that I would need to get someone to swing the prop since it did not have electric start. Perhaps I stalled a bit longer by going to the men's room. First time I saw the sign that said, "Pilots with short stacks and low manifold pressure please taxi closer to the ramp." This gave me a laugh and surely I got someone to prop for me because I eventually made it back to PDK with no scraps or scratches. Propping (hand cranking) an airplane always gave me the jitters, but no electric starter = hand cranking.
Mr. King must have been at ease about me flying his Mite, as the second flight was on January 18, 1970, the day before my 29th birthday. I flew down to Griffin, GA and over to Antique Acres airstrip where some years later I flew sail planes. I don't remember any details about this outing. Things must have gone well.
During the three days of flying to Savannah and back for my Air National Guard weekend drill, I logged 6.25 hours. And what a six-plus hours this was. Friday, the plan was to fly down to Coffee County Airport in Douglas, GA. My parents were visiting my aunt in Pearson, 11 miles south, and Dad was to pick me up at the airport at the stated time. I would spend the night in Pearson and get up early the next morning and fly over to what was called Travis Field, Savannah (now Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport). Total air miles would be about 500 round-trip. Let's see, at a penny-a-mile for fuel, that would be about $5.00 worth. Well, that was when 99K was built. Cost in 1970 would have been about $8.00, and cost now would approach $100, I suppose. Were those the good 'ole days, or what?
There were no cell phones back then, so all I could do was to give Dad a rough ETA (estimated time of arrival, for non pilots). I probably took off about 3 p.m. with an ETA of about 5 p.m. or not long before sunset. I didn't give much thought about flying at night because most of my flight instruction worked out to be at night and I was quite comfortable with that. Being on the young side, I didn't think too much about what it would be like landing a plane on a moonless night with a still prop. I knew about carburetor heat and carburetor ice, etc., but I knew little about such in a Mite with a Continental 65. Happily flying along at about 7500' MSL (mean sea level) at a heading of 165 degrees with I-75 near Macon, GA below, the engine started to run rough. I suspected a fouled plug but then noticed that the r.p.m. decline was enough that I could not maintain altitude. I assume at this point I pulled Carb Heat but couldn't tell that it was doing any good. I determined that landing the aircraft somewhere close by would be a good thing. Nothing gets a pilot's attention better than a rough running engine, other an engine that is not running at all, or a near miss. I was about five miles from Macon Municipal, now Middle Georgia Regional.
The Mite has a glide ratio of about 15:1 so making it to the airport looked to be a done deal engine running or not. Say, don't forget to let the gear down in my excitement. I didn't! Looked up the tower frequency, but didn't have the right crysta, l so I cranked in the tower frequency and probably said something like, "Macon Tower, Mooney Mite 3199K, I-75, 7,000 feet, engine running rough, losing altitude." A comforting voice came back, "99K, do you wish to declare an emergency?" Hmm, I didn't like that word emergency. It made me think FAA, paper work, etc. I thought about it for a moment. "Negative, I'll either make it or I won't, request landing instructions." "Roger 99K, priority clearance to land runway 5," and they gave me the rest of the numbers. I was so engrossed in not running out of altitude before I ran out of real estate that I ended up over the airport at about 2,000' AGL and had to do a 360 to nail the end of the runway. But alas, when I turned off at the first taxiway, the prop came to attention (the engine died). Sure got quiet in that little cockpit. But I was on the ground, whew! The tower folks were very accommodating, for which I was quite grateful. I called Unicom and summoned a tug to pull me to the FBO.
Luck and surely my Pilot (the Lord) were with me that evening for several reasons. One being that I was safely on the ground and off the active runway and another being that there was a Mooney Mite and Cont. 65 expert at the FBO. He said, "Son, all that is is carb ice. Carb heat on that Mite will prevent ice if it is used soon enough, but once you get ice, it doesn't have enough heat to melt it. Let it sit awhile, then we'll crank it, pull the heat and see if it's gonna run right." We did and it did!
Now it was an hour later and about the time my dad would be looking for a very small, red-and-white, low wing aircraft at an airport he'd never been to before. Dad had recently been in the hospital with heart problems so I didn't want him to be worrying about me. No cell phones back then, and I had no idea where to call anyone at the small airport. If there was an FBO, they most likely would be closed by now. What to do? I decided to call the Coffee County Sherriff's office and see if I could get a deputy to drive over to the airport, look for a gray Pontiac Grand Ville, and, if found, "gently" tell the driver that his son was ok and was just leaving the airport in Macon. Also, to drive on back to his sister's house and wait for another call, as it was cold and I didn't want Dad to sit in the car for an hour waiting on me. Besides, I might have engine trouble again. But I did arrive in about an hour, found a pay phone, called my aunt's house, told Dad I was at the airport and please come pick me up. He didn't like making the two 22 mile round trips, but was glad I made it in okay. So I left the little Mite alone to spend the night outside in the cold darkness (it was always in a hanger in Atlanta).
After a quick breakfast the next morning, I went back to the airport, and then had a delightful early morning, uneventful flight to Savannah. I had seen other private aircraft parked on the ANG ramp, so, with no way to get permission at that point, I taxied over to the Guard facility and parked the Mighty "little" Mooney Mite under the wing of a "giant" double decker C-124 Douglas Globemaster (nicknamed "Old Shaky"), doing so as to get to roll call just in time.
The parking spot seemed to be okay until about lunchtime on Sunday. "Will the owner of N3199K please move the aircraft? The aircraft you are parked next to will be departing shortly" came over the loudspeaker. I only wished I was the owner, but they didn't know the difference. I didn't want the 124 to blow the little Mite away, so I quickly obliged and decided to head across the field to the FBO in order to fuel up for the return trip home. When returning, after getting clearance to cross the active runway, the engine quit with no warning. I was quite embarrassed as I advised ground control and got out and pushed the plane off the taxiway and into the grass.
Somewhere I had heard or read that the Mite had motorcycle brakes. That may be so, but they seemed more like "Mo-ped" brakes (a small scooter sold at that time) because they didn't work very well. I had no choice but to hand prop the plane, which I did and got it running again with a bit of carb heat. Before continuing to taxi, I had to roll at least one wheel to a clump of grass to help hold the craft while I did a good run up, crossing my fingers that there would be enough power to run over the clump so I could get rolling again. I did get a good run up and mag check, so it was on to the Guard Ramp. Oh, the joy!
Drill weekend was over at 4 p.m., so I planned to blast outa' there and hopefully be home in a little over two hours. My logbook reads on February 7-8, 1970, "Carb ice & radio failure on taxi-way - SAV, lost fabric over Portal, GA." I thanked God for being alive and being able to write that in my logbook later that day! Perhaps you have heard the saying that God protects drunks and fools. I wasn't a drunk, but I could certainly be branded a fool. Although the logbook says Portal, I think it was more like Statesboro but I was clipping along and I heard a strange and alarming noise that I could not identify and then a flap or two. Strange noises get a pilot's attention.
Looking out the left side I noticed that the fabric had apparently separated and peeled off only over the fuel tank, and it looked to be gone. I looked to the right and determined that yes, that side looked different, There was nothing moving on the wing. The flight characteristics had not changed, and I was not positive about what really happened. My mind started racing ahead, wondering if I should land at Statesboro. Duh! Then, how would I get home, how would the plane get home, how would the owner react? Just the kind of thoughts that surely have cost many a pilot their lives over the years. Thoughts like when an engine quits a couple or three hundred feet AGL after take off and one thinks I don't want to land in that field, it might bend my aircraft, so I'll just do a 180 and get back to the runway. Curtains! Thus I made the foolish decision to press on. However, like I already mentioned, the Lord protected me and I did safely arrive back at PDK on schedule. I share all this to admit that I made a mistake, but perhaps by sharing it I might influence the reader to do otherwise under such conditions.
The next logbook entry concerning N3199K was March 25, 1970. By this time, the owner had had the fabric replaced. The logbook stated, “Last LCL (local) flight in Mite, 30 minutes.” I don't know how I knew this would be my last local flight. Perhaps I filled in this line at a later date.
After flying this delightful machine a few times, I began noticing the Mooney Mite Owner's Club ads in various aviation magazines and the Mite pictured in the background of the ad was 3199K. I suppose I basically thought, "cool" and although I wondered about it, I did nothing to research why this aircraft was used in the ad. Al Gore had not yet invented the Internet (LOL) so a computer was not at my fingertips as it is today. Several years ago, I googled Mooney Mite N3199K and that opened up the door to several hours of entertainment.
I have found the mooneymite.com website to be so very well done and entertaining and I have gleaned a good amount of information about 99K from this site. I wish to compliment the webmaster, Dave Rutherford for the fine work he does. If anyone reading this finds this site of interest, you might make a donation to help defray his expenses. I did note that the late Al Mooney, who was indeed living when I flew this aircraft, had signed off on items in the 99K logbook, but at the time I thought little about this. Recently, through information on the Mite website, I learned that not only was he alive during the time I flew 99K, but he worked at Lockheed Georgia in nearby Marietta, GA. Oh how I wish I had been inspired to look up this gifted gentleman, as I greatly admire what he was able to accomplish in his lifetime. I have also learned, through this website and other links, that 99K was indeed originally serial number ONE.
The first twelve or so Mites had a Crosley Cobra automobile engine in it and after a couple of years trying to perfect this engine, Mr. Mooney recalled the aircraft and replaced the Crosleys with Lycoming 65 HP engines at no charge! You don't hear things like that these days. Because of a subsequent change to a Continental 65 HP engine, the serial number was changed to 201, which was what it was when I flew 99K. So, I have had the distinct privilege to not only enjoy flying what some refer to as a "midget Mustang" 14 hours and 55 minutes but also flying the very first Mooney Mite that is now hanging in the National Air and Space Museum's (NASM) Udvar-Hazy hanger at Dulles International Airport.
My relationship with that fantastic little aircraft ended shortly after Jim King asked me if I would like to ferry it to its new owner in Deland, FL. No way was I going to turn that offer down. There were repairs done on the aircraft and a ferry permit was issued, so I felt comfortable to do this. Either Jim was too busy, or he knew how much I loved flying 99K, maybe both. So I departed Fulton County/Charlie Brown Airport for a 1:40 flight to Albany to spend the night with my folks on May 15, 1970. The next morning, I departed on the bittersweet 3-hour flight to Deland, FL, stopping at Keystone Airpark for fuel enroute. The new owner was Mr. Ray Campbell. Part of the deal was that Ray was to pay for my commercial flight back to Atlanta from Daytona Beach. For some reason, he had not purchased a ticke,t and when we got to the airport, the only seats available were in First Class. So I ended this wonderful flying adventure as a passenger flying First Class for the first time in my life. How N3199K made its way from Deland to NASM is covered in the Mooney Mite website.
(Footnote: This account was not written for pilots, but as a chapter in my biography, which I am working on for my seven wonderful grandchildren. Thus I have explained a few things that a pilot would already know. I hope that one day I can take my two grandsons up to NASM, point up to that beautifully restored Mooney Mite, N3199K, and tell them that their grandpop used to fly that plane! It now just seems like a dream. This chapter will be dedicated to the memory of James D. King, Jr. who so graciously allowed a young pilot to fly this unique little aircraft, and for $10.00 per hour, wet (this means fuel included!!!).
As just a few more points of interest, I left the Chamber of Commerce April 15, 1973 to start a hot air balloon business. My partner and I built the first FAA certified (Experimental) hot air balloon in Georgia and I went on to become the first person in Georgia to obtain a Commercial Hot Air Balloon Certificate. I later founded Balloons, Inc., which offered balloon sales, flight training, commercial promotions, consulting, and pleasure flights. I have logged around 2000 hours in aircraft, 1500 of which have been in hot air balloons flown in 34 states and four countries. I am retired and live in Snellville, GA with my wife Janet of 47 years who never complained about my flying interests. I turned a hobby of flying balloons into a full time business. Therefore I did not have a hobby for several years. Flying hovercraft became my hobby in the mid 90s. I built my first one and purchased two more. I have flown hovercraft in 14 states including Alaska, and I cherish the friends I have made over the years in the ballooning and hovercraft communities. I thank God for being my Pilot and protecting me during all my adventures.