The Mooney Barometer

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.

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19 Responses to The Mooney Barometer

  1. DEL says:

    I don’t understand. This is supposed to be a sport aviation place. Am I wrong?

    • Mac says:

      Hi Del,
      This is about flying anything you want for your own reasons, whatever those reasons may be. I don’t try to define why people fly, or what they fly, we’re all in this together because we enjoy the challenge.
      Mac Mc

    • Tim says:

      A lot of us are EAA members and fly certified airplanes because we’re interested in all things aviation. We all benefit when the health of aviation improves. I fly a Mooney 201.

      • DEL says:

        There’s a lot in common to EAA-ers and GA-ers, and I’ve never complained about Mac’s posts—I read them all, gaining a lot, and have at times even defended them as they came under attack from purist EAA-ers. This article, however, seemed to go to the other extreme: pure GA, and pure GA-business at that.

        But to ameliorate the impression my comment has obviously created let me just add that the problem must have been with me, with too-devotedly reading them all.

    • Thomas Boyle says:

      A Mooney can readily be used as a sport aircraft. But, Mac’s point is that when Mooney does well, it’s a good sign for little airplanes generally. Totally appropriate observation for the sport aircraft afficionado.

  2. Jeff Welch says:

    Certainly hope your barometer is accurate! GA needs a boost. Great airplane. Hope they pull it off.

  3. Boyd says:

    I owned [and flew] a 1968 Mooney Ranger for several years. Manual gear—-manual everything. For over 700 hours in that machine I never had a moment’s difficulty! One of the best airplanes I’ve ever owned.

  4. Dan says:

    Please explain how Chinese money is an indicator of a GA recovery in this country.

    • Thomas Boyle says:

      Any basic econ course should cover that, but it’s probably a bit too much for Mac to address in a short article.

  5. Brian says:

    Great article until the last paragraph and mention that Chinese money is involved. aka Cirrus, Continental, etc. – what a drag! Was hoping you would have mentioned Mooney’s involvement in the design of the Socata TBM, the fastest single engine turboprop made! Wish it could match the 1 MPH for each of the 700 or 850 HP version, but it is a great plane and I am glad to own one and it has helped my business growth immensely.

    • Thomas Boyle says:

      Sadly, the 1 mph/hp “rule of thumb” is a coincidence, not a usable rule. Power required theoretically goes like the cube of the speed (and only as long as you stay well below Mach 1). In practice, for reasons I’ve never been able to identify, propeller-driven aircraft seem to follow a rule closer to a power of 2.5 rather than a power of 3, but it’s still a very rapid increase. If a 200mph airplane needs 200hp, it would take 1,100hp to go 400mph. At 850hp, the TBM goes 365 mph (allegedly), which is not far off that rule: 200hp x (365/200)^2.5 = 900 hp. The thinner air at altitude no doubt helps a lot, but then again the TBM is also a much bigger airplane.

    • Mac says:

      Hi Brian,
      Yes, Mooney and Socata began joint development of the TBM in the late 1980s. Shortly after preliminary work began Mooney went through another economic bust and Socata completed design, certification and production. The only lasting Mooney input to the TBM is the “M” in the airplane name. Socata uses “TB” to designate its other light airplanes such as the TB-21 Trinidad piston single. The “700″ in the TBM 700 name is for the shaft horsepower of the PT6 turboprop engine. The power went up and the airplane is now the TBM 850. Of course, those numbers are the power output limit. The PT6 installed in the airplane is capable of producing much more SHP at lower altitudes.
      Mac Mc

  6. Jim Heidish says:

    Thanks Mac. Hope this pans out! I question Chinese investors, will the aircraft windup being built in China. Not that they could not build them (almost every thing we buy is made their). But with the Cessna Sky Catcher problems and it’s end of production what does this say for American designs built in China?

  7. Rae says:

    Having been flying Mooney Aircraft for some 30 years, I am glad to see the prospect of revived Mooney production. My experience (M20G, F, J & Missile) makes me a bit biased toward the make, but I make no apologies. The Mooney is a great airplane that can be made even better with the proper innovation and management. Good luck to Jerry Chen and MIC. Mooniacs, like me, are watching and hoping.

  8. brett hawkins says:

    For obvious reasons, the state of recreational flying during the current administration has not been reassuring. Between FAA resistance to extending the shelf life of older private pilots, pressures on local airfields, the advent of commercial drones which will compete for lower level airspace and so on, it has been disheartening. Thank God I got in 20 years of flying while the getting was good. If I can get another 10, so much the better.

    Much as I hope Chinese money could somehow rejuvenate recreational flying in the US, I have heard rumors about Chinese entrepreneurs planning to put a small aircraft in every Chinese driveway. As a former M&A lawyer, I would suspect that said Chinese entrepreneurs are hoping to leverage the last 100 years of American flying technology (including but not limited to FAA certifications, which would be shoved down the throats of Chinese bureaucrats lubricated by copious amounts of cash and other perks) by purchasing it on the cheap. Glasair, Continental, and now Mooney are prime examples but I am sure there are many more.

    By purchasing intellectual property rights instead of taking licenses, those entrepreneurs will be well positioned to export Chinese-manufactured small aircraft to the US (assuming a revival of demand here) without having to pay royalties to, or otherwise deal with, the original owners of those IP rights.

    One may expect to see a temporary influx of Chinese engineers entering the US on various study and work visas for the purpose of training by American techs at Mooney’s US facilities. Some new aircraft may be sold in the US, but as many have pointed out, there is a limited market for $300,000 toys here, no matter who makes them. Expect to see Chinese production commence within, say, five years.

    In the meantime, let’s continue to strive for the driver’s license medical, which will allow a lot of American pilots to climb back into used but serviceable American airplanes at a reasonable cost.

  9. Warren says:

    Hi Mac,

    You write great articles and I read every one when posted. I am also dedicated to EAA for life, and anything fly-able including the recent Ultra-light led migration of the endangered Whooping Crane.

    I soloed many years ago in Champs, J-3′s and a Pa-22. Eventually I could not continue.

    However, now I fly a Pitts S-2, a Stinson Voyager, a Decathlon and several other experimental aircraft. They all fly as advertised and are Radio Control models.

    When I need a flight into higher than I can jump I hire a pilot. I have rode in the Bell-47 at Oshkosh last summer. A C-182 as a birthday gift in 2012 and a hot air balloon also as a birthday gift in 2009.

    Thanks for your uplifting writing!

  10. Mac says:

    Thanks for the kind words, Warren. Like I have said, that we fly not what we fly is the important thing.
    Mac Mc

  11. Chuck W says:

    Always said if I could design and build a dream plane, it would have ended up like a M20J with its 160 kt cruise. Now if I find the time I can build a fun plane for the local aviating…

  12. BTR Notary says:

    I am regular reader, how are you everybody? This piece of writing posted at this site is truly nice.|

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