Mooney airplanes are going back into production. New investors have revived the company that has been in limbo since new airplane production stopped in 2008. Mooney hopes to be delivering Ovations and Acclaims later this year.
This is great news for Mooney and for Mooney owners and any fan of the speedy piston single. But it is even better news for all of GA. Mooney is really a barometer of the overall health of GA and has been very good at predicting future sales of all piston airplanes.
I have lost track of how many times Mooney has been bought and sold, gone in and out of business, and stopped and restarted production. But it’s a lot since the first wooden wing M20 was built in 1955.
Mooneys have always been niche airplanes that are a little short on cabin space but generally the fastest and most efficient piston single available. From the beginning the Mooney could fly nearly 1 mph for every horsepower installed. And when the 201 model came along in 1976 the airplane actually bettered that goal by flying at 201 mph with a 200 hp Lycoming IO-360 engine.
Because its appeal was not broad Mooney always suffered more, and sooner, then Cessna and Piper during airplane business recessions. Mooney simply didn’t have the margins to make it through a downturn so it would stop production, be sold, and even go bankrupt. Then, when the prospects for new airplanes sales recovered, so did Mooney.
One of Mooney’s owners was Butler Manufacturing which had also acquired the Ted Smith Aerostar piston twin line. Butler installed a bullet fairing atop the vertical fin, maybe as a drag control device, but probably more of a styling feature. The company planned to combine Mooney and Aerostar production but its timing was terrible as the economy took a tumble.
It was the 1970s when conglomerate was the business buzzword and companies were busy diversifying by buying all sorts of unrelated businesses. That’s why Republic Steel bought Mooney after the Butler disaster, or at least that’s the stories I heard.
Republic’s foray into GA airplane manufacturing was odd, but the timing was perfect. Mooney engineers were busy creating the 201 by refining the “long” body Executive. A new sloped windshield, new cowling with greatly reduced inlet area, some gear door and flap seal work all added many knots of speed to the airplane.
Republic couldn’t have known this, because nobody did, but by the mid-70s GA was launching into its biggest manufacturing boom since right after the end of World War II. Mooney rode the wave with the 201, and a couple years later the turbocharged 231. Mooney didn’t exactly move out of its cult-like niche, but was suddenly selling airplanes by the hundreds instead of the dozens.
By 1981 the GA airplane building boom was over. Republic unloaded Mooney, and the steel company itself wasn’t long for this world, as it turned out. Mooney enjoyed some stable years thanks to a French investor, but that ended with the deep airplane sales slump in the 1990s. After that the company changed hands several times and production continued more or less continuously until the really big recession hit in 2008.
The great news that Mooney is restarting production thanks to new money from Chinese investors tells me we are heading into a GA recovery. Since 1981 the upticks in new airplanes sales have been small, but Mooney sales tracked with each cycle. So I say the Mooney barometer is forecasting a change for the better in the new airplane weather and that’s something we can all cheer for.