Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Grabbed a rental car from the hotel this morning, plugged in the Tom Tom, and sped 65 miles west into the Texas Hill Country. Destination? Well, that should be readily obvious:

Earlier this year, the IFR Pilot had the opportunity to spend some quality time with a couple of senior executives from Mooney Airplane Company. When they learned that Yours Faithful Narrator would be in San Antonio for a week with little to do (shhhh, don't tell The Boss), they kindly offered a factory tour and the chance to fly one of their hand-crafted masterpieces.

Arriving around 10:30 this morning, it was already 85+ degrees F, and -- smartly dressed in LONG pants and polo shirt with undershirt -- I was reminded why I do enjoy living on the shores of Lake Erie. In any event, I was given an in-depth tour by Mr. Stanley Fuller, who has been a Mooney employee for 48 years, including by his count seven different ownership groups. He took me through the machine shop, the upholstery and electronics shops, the subassembly and assembly lines, and other places I can't remember. The factory employs about 430-440 people, each of whom obviously takes great pride in their craftsmanship. Stanley also pointed out some marks on the concrete floor where Mooney used to assemble the wood wings of their original M20 and M20A models.

After the factory tour concluded, I had lunch with Tom Canavera, the Senior Director-Delivery. Tom's job involves making Mooney customers happy, and with his quick wit and amiable personality, it's easy to see why he was selected for this position. We went to a local Kerrville establishment and caught up on some business issues.

We returned to the factory, and Tom had to take another employee to San Marcos to pick up another Mooney. I quickly jumped at the offer to tag along, and so climbed into the back seat of N509RT, an Ovation2 GX. Tom and his partner in crime did their best to one-up each other with various insults and verbal taunts, making it quite clear that you'll need a thick skin to work with them!

Taxiing to the active, we had to hold short for the departing jet traffic:

I took the opportunity to capture an image of the cockpit, dominated of course by the twin screens of the Garmin G1000 electronic flight display:

Shortly thereafter, Tom blasted us off. Watch it for yourself:

I knew that we were in a speedier steed than 2MH when we hit 120 knots IN THE CLIMB! That's the same speed I use for flight planning. Upon reaching our cruise altitude of 3500, we trued out at 170+ knots, and with the push from the winds, our ground speed was nearly 180 knots. All of that on about 15 gallons. Not too shabby.

We had company for the part of the flight, an Air Force T-6A Texan II. It was flying low, maybe 500' off the deck and maneuvering. Fortunately, we had TIS overlaid on the G1000 and it was but a fool's errand to monitor the traffic at our 9:00! Fearless, we are.

All too quickly, it was time for Tom to prove his mettle and land this thing. He did it with aplomb. Don't believe me? See for yourself:

We did a quick swap, and I assumed my "rightful" position in the front seat. We taxiied for 72 miles (don't believe me? look at the airport diagram yourself!) to get to Runway 17. Tom once again handled the takeoff duties with expertise, but shortly after demonstrating some of the niceties of the Garmin GFC700 autopilot, he turned the controls over to the IFR Pilot.

Now, truth be told, I don't have all that much experience in flying from the right seat. A bit here and there, but it hasn't been a deliberate focus of my flying activity. But let's not have that stand in the way of taking control of this fine piece of aviation technology. Shut that autopilot off and let the IFR Pilot see if he can keep us straight-and-level and on course.

I did that more or less, and all too soon, we were in the Kerrville arrival area. Tom took control, and then we flew a 27-mile extended downwind to permit a Skyhawk complete its VOR-A approach. OK, it wasn't quite 27 miles, but it was without doubt the single longest downwind leg I've ever flown. Moments later, however, we were on the ground.

And that's the story of the first Mooney time that's made it's way into my log book. I'm quite a fan, although trying to cram MS and I into the cockpit would be a substantial challenge. Of course, that's a moot consideration until I win this week's lottery....

By the way, the plane's for sale, if you need a new ride. She's a beauty:

Tomorrow, we visit the polar opposite of the aviation technology spectrum: A 65-hp, all-original Piper J-3 Cub!

No comments: