Wednesday, January 13, 2016

First flight in the Mooney M20E

I have finally been able to log some time in a Mooney M20 and I am impressed. The plane I flew is a 1964 M20E with original paint, interior and instrument arrangement.

The E model was the first in the M20 line to offer fuel injection and an extra 20 horse power over previous models. I will freely admit that I was nervous about sitting left seat on this flight as I couldn't even imagine how to retract the gear with the manual "Johnson" bar while managing more speed than I'm used to, dealing with cowl flaps and flying from a busy field under the Sea-Tac Bravo.

It was easy to look past the non six pack instrument layout and I quickly realized that the Mooney wouldn't be drastically different than the Piper Arrow that I've been flying for the last 25 or so hours.

My first indication that my initial evaluation might be incorrect presented itself during the run up. Every bit of the run up was as it had been in every other plane that I've flown except the part about checking that the controls are free and clear.

I discovered that the controls only moved a fraction of what they did in the Cessna and Piper planes I was used to. At this point I began to worry about over controlling, under controlling and just looking like an idiot in front of the plane's owner. The takeoff was smooth as silk and retracting the gear was much easier than I would have thought. Unlock the gear handle, pull back, rotate hand to push the bar to the floor, push the nose over briefly and "thunk", the gear is up and locked.

The climb rate was a beautiful 1000 feet per minute from sea level to our level off altitude of 3000. This is when I began to really like this airplane. The controls were smooth and responsive with a sports car feel. I found little difficulty flying with relative precision except when transitioning to straight and level flight. I constantly failed to let the plane stabilize at it's cruise speed before trying to trim. It just seemed to keep accelerating. 110, 130, in to the yellow arc, 160 mph..... Holy Cow!


The plan was to fly to a small strip (W10) and grab some coffee. What I didn't know was that this strip is 2,500 feet long and 25 feet wide. That makes it a little challenging for a first landing in a plane that is known to require the kind of speed control that I hadn't developed yet.

I struggled a little getting into slow down to pattern speed and had to go around twice. The second go around was about 5 feet before the wheels touched but I had floated about half way down the runway due to some excess speed. When we departed W10 I was a little worried about the short field and tall trees but the plane handled it beautifully. I decided to try some steep turns and was quickly impressed with the roll rate and pitch stability.

We had to get back to Renton (KRNT) and I experienced another first... I was actually over taking a plane in the pattern! A quick left 360 provided the spacing needed but put me back on the downwind even with the approach end of the runway. I figured that if my landing was going to be messed up, this is where it was going to start going wrong. Dropping the gear was quick and easy, add two pumps on the flaps and I'm turning base on speed. Add two more pumps for full flaps, pull a little power and turn final both configured for landing and on speed. I'm beginning to really feel comfortable now.

 I've heard that Mooneys can be difficult to land because of how low they sit to the ground but I don't think that it caused me any issue. I crossed the numbers at 80 mph and leveled off a few feet above the ground. It only required a squeeze of the fingers to make the required adjustments and I made one of the smoothest landings ever. To be honest, I wasn't sure that we'd touched the ground at all. I really think that the plane made me look good.

 This plane feels solid, handles like a dream, is fast and efficient and is now on a very short list of airplanes that we will be considering for our dedicated rescue plane.