Mite of the Month, January, 2004
N4177, an M-18C-55, serial number 342, is currently registered to the estate of Dave Grubert of Tacoma, WA. Since Dave died in an airplane crash in February, 2003, we have been unable to contact Mrs. Grubert to gather material for this page or determine the present status of the airplane. However, with the help of Peg Morgan of McMinnville, OR we are very pleased to have been able to put together the following article. Peg and her husband, George (now deceased), enjoyed owning N4177 from 1964 to 1988.
Mooney Mite N4177
by Peg Morgan
George Morgan’s Pilot Flight Log Book shows that on March 7, 1964 he flew Piper Tri-Pacer N8129-Charlie from McMinnville to Chehalis/Centralia Airport in Washington. I was a passenger. We were so excited to have a look at a fantastic little airplane. As George eased back on the throttle and was gliding down to the runway, we could spot the little jewel parked in the tie-down area. The sight of the turquoise and white Mooney Mite was too spectacular to miss. We had heard pilots talk about the little single place aircraft. We had read about it in Pilots’ Magazine. We saw the ad in the Oregonian. George said, "What the heck, lets go for a spin and take a look at it, just out of curiosity, nothing more than go take a look at it."
Well, we got there and the fellow was standing beside the Mite. He said right off the bat, "I don’t allow any ‘flight test’ in the plane, if you buy it, I will deliver it to you at your airport. If it isn’t all it’s supposed to be, you bring it back in the same condition it left here and I’ll refund your money."
That little airplane was so beautiful. It said to us, "Come on! Climb in! Take off into the wild blue yonder!" Who could resist that? The Mooney M-18C had a 65 horsepower Continental engine. The wingspan was a just over 26 feet, length 17 ½ feet. Empty weight was 520 pounds. Cruise speed 122 MPH. Stall speed 45 MPH - with flaps 40. Someone figured they cost a penny a mile to fly. We had to have it. George and I agreed on that! My log book shows that we switched seats to fly 8129-Charlie home to McMinnville. That was on a Saturday.
Well, that whole week we talked about the Mite - should we or shouldn’t we? We talked to our dear friend Ralph. Ralph Winebrenner was the FBO (flight base operator) at McMinnville Airport. He said, "If you really want it, you better get it. If you don’t you will always be sorry."
George’s log book shows that the next Saturday, March 15, we flew again to Chehalis Airport and back to McMinnville. All afternoon George’s and Ralph’s and my eyes were scanning the sky to the north. Finally there was a speck in the distance coming nearer and nearer. My log book shows that I had a 15 minute flight in Mooney N4177 at McMinnville Airport.
Now this is 39 years later and my memory is not perfect. But what I believe happened was that the guy delivered the Mooney Mite so late that there was only time for one flight. I do remember George insisted that I go ahead and get in the little plane. Was he being very gallant or did he want to see how I made out before he took that first flight?
When you learn to fly a Mooney Mite your flight instructor can’t go along with you. So while I sat in the plane Ralph stood beside the open canopy and pointed, "There is the stick, there is the throttle, there is the brake and there is the landing gear lever. Be sure to put the wheels down before you land!" The Mite had retractable landing gear. You can’t try it out while sitting on the ground, you have to be flying before you operate the landing gear lever. All alone, up there in the sky, you see if you have the moxie. It’s the same as in the four-seat Mooney except there the instructor can be seated beside you.
Then George spun the prop - the Mite didn’t have a self-starter. Now when I think about it, how did I ever have nerve enough to try it? But the take off was just fine, managed to retract the landing gear, and headed off over Carlton and back. The stick control was so easy to use. Rock it from side to side - WOW - it’s like a motorcycle with wings. I started to sing. Nobody could hear how out of tune I was. Coming back to Mac, saying over and over, "Put the gear down!" Probably 5 miles out the gear got put down, could surely feel the drag Letting down on final I could see that a good sized audience had gathered to see my landing. But the Mite was so easy to fly, it made a perfect three-point touch-down with very little effort on my part.
George said, "It’s getting too late, I’ll come out tomorrow." And he did. Very, very early the next morning George got out there and took his first flight in N4177 before anyone was around to see him. He flew 30 minutes on the 16th, 30 minutes on the 17th and 1 hour 45 minutes on the 18th. On the 24th he flew 2 hours, but it doesn’t say where he went. Of course Ralph got his turn to fly the little bug.
George told me I’d have to learn how to "prop" the engine so I could stop at some other airport - incase there was nobody around to help me. You had to stand with your left hip against the front of the right wing. Then left hand reaches inside to turn on key, give it a little bit of gas - not too much! Right hand on prop which has been set in high position. Don’t have thumb under prop blade. Good, steady, smooth pull down on prop and pull back hand in one motion. If the engine takes, adjust the throttle so it barely runs but doesn’t die. Your hip is still restraining the anxious little Mite from moving ahead. Then very quickly scramble up on the wing, into the cockpit, feet on rudder pedals to control direction, give it enough gas to move at the speed a human can trot, head for the taxiway, reach back with both hands and pull forward and latch the canopy.
Both of our log books show occasional flights in the Mite but more often we would go together in the Tri-Pacer. I was a news reporter for the Northwest Flyer aviation newspaper which was published at Tacoma, Washington. Jack Brown, the editor, would call us and say, "There’s a fly-in at Lebanon on Saturday, can you cover that for us?"
On June 6 George flew the Mite to Pendleton and back. Maybe that was to the Pendleton Air Races. June 9 I flew the Mite eastward and landed at Mulino From Mulino I hopped to Aurora and landed, then returned to Mac. In November George flew to Pacific City, landed and then flew back to Mac. In September of 1965 George flew the Mite to Preston, Idaho to visit his mother. He made quite a few flights to Seattle in 1966. But mostly we just flew the Mite "local". As Ralph used to say, "Boring holes in the sky."
Then in February of 1966 George’s log book was all filled up. He had 422 hours. He never bought another log book. He said, "It doesn’t matter, I just go where I want to, when I want to."
One day I was talking with a pilot friend and off in the distance we heard a light "schruuuunch". Ron said, "Somebody just landed with their gear up!" It only took three guys to go out, pick up the sorry little injured bird and carry him in to the big hanger. George said, "Gee, that was the smoothest landing I ever made."
A bystander said, "There are only two kinds of pilots who fly retractable. Those who have landed gear-up and those who are going to!"
One time George flew the Mite down to the Nut Tree Ranch Airport for a Mooney Mite Round-up. Guess they had a ball. When they got ready to fly home the weather was lousy. George and another Mite owner from Portland wanted to get headed home. Someone said , "Maybe you could fly out along the ocean under the clouds." They made it as far as Eureka and stopped overnight. Next day the sun came out and they flew happily off to Oregon.
In 1972 we bought a farm at Ballston, Oregon and George built a lovely sod airstrip 50 feet wide and 2000 feet long. We had a pole barn built to accommodate both airplanes. At first flying 4177 off of Morgan’s Airstrip was just fine. But after a year or maybe less, the moles or gophers or varmints had done a job on our fine grassy runway. The Mooney’s wheels were so small we were afraid one could be broken off when landing.
Finally, George decided to sell the Mite. It was such a sad day to see "our little darlin’" being hauled away on a trailer bed. I hope you had many more happy flying days, dear 4177, and are still flying.
Before the Morgans, N4177 was registered to West Texas Flying Service of Midland, TX in 1963.