Flying - - CONTENTS - By Pia Bergqvist


Named the Ul­tra mod­els, Mooney’s mod­ern­ized Ac­claim and Ova­tion are now FAA-cer­ti­fied and rolling out of the fac­tory at an in­creas­ing rate. As a Mooney pi­lot and owner, I was ex­cited to eval­u­ate the M20U Ova­tion Ul­tra in con­junc­tion with Mooney Air­craft Pi­lots As­so­ci­a­tion’s an­nual Home­com­ing Con­ven­tion, which was held in late Septem­ber at the Inn of the Hills in Kerrville.

My Mooney gal-pal Jolie Lu­cas and I piled into my 1974 M20C at my home base in Ca­mar­illo, Cal­i­for­nia, and headed east along In­ter­state 10 to meet up with Richard Sim­ile, a Mooney sales rep­re­sen­ta­tive from Delta Avi­a­tion, at his home base in Chan­dler, Ari­zona. Af­ter a quick lunch, we trans­ferred our lug­gage from my air­plane to the stel­lar new Ova­tion Ul­tra — N197CV.

The Ova­tion, like many Mooney mod­els be­fore it, has its roots in the M20, a four-seat air­plane that was first de­vel­oped in the early 1950s with wooden em­pen­nage and wings. Af­ter suf­fer­ing from wood rot in moist cli­mates, the de­sign was met­al­ized in 1961 with the in­tro­duc­tion of the M20B. Though the metal de­sign is a few knots slower, the M20 se­ries has come to be well-re­garded for ex­cep­tional speed and ef­fi­ciency. To­day, the Ova­tion’s tur­bocharged sib­ling, the M20V Ac­claim Ul­tra, is the fastest sin­gleengine pis­ton air­plane in pro­duc­tion, ca­pa­ble of cruis­ing at 242 ktas in the flight lev­els.

Of course, it is eas­i­est for me to com­pare this new air­plane to my air­plane, which Mooney in­tro­duced in 1962. The C model orig­i­nally had the John­son bar land­ing gear re­trac­tion sys­tem — a sim­ple man­ual sys­tem that many Mooney own­ers still pre­fer. But the John­son bar was re­placed with elec­tric gear be­fore my air­plane rolled out of the fac­tory, and there has been a con­tin­u­ous evo­lu­tion through the decades. While the her­itage is still ev­i­dent, there are many let­ters be­tween C and U, and the changes and up­grades are ev­i­dent through­out.

Sim­i­lar­i­ties and dif­fer­ences be­came im­me­di­ately ap­par­ent when we be­gan to trans­fer our bags. The gen­eral shape of the air­plane, the straight tail and the land­ing gear, with gear shock disks on the main and nose gear legs, are ba­si­cally iden­ti­cal to my air­plane. The lug­gage door is still in the same lo­ca­tion and about the same size as mine. It would be nice to have a larger open­ing to load gear through. But this isn’t pos­si­ble be­cause of the air­plane’s steel safety cage, which is made of high-grade chro­moly steel sim­i­lar to that used to man­u­fac­ture ri­fles. Per­son­ally, I pre­fer safety to con­ve­nience.

While my M20C has an all-alu­minum shell, the Ova­tion Ul­tra has a hy­brid com­pos­ite and metal air­frame. Both air­planes have four seats, but the Ova­tion is 3 feet 6 inches longer, pro­vid­ing more rear-seat legroom and space for lug­gage. The en­gine cowl and cabin sec­tion of the fuse­lage are com­pos­ite, and so are the winglets and fair­ings, al­low­ing for op­ti­mized aero­dy­namic shap­ing with the light yet strong ma­te­rial. The re­main­der of the air­frame, in­clud­ing the wings, is made of steel and alu­minum. Like its pre­de­ces­sors, the Ova­tion re­tains pushrods for con­trols, mak­ing the air­plane ul­tra re­spon­sive.

There are air vents in the ceil­ing, just like on the M20C, but the Ova­tion’s are much more mod­ern and ef­fec­tive. N197CV didn’t have air con­di­tion­ing, but I didn’t miss it. The temps were typ­i­cal Ari­zona hot in Chan­dler — about 90 de­grees — but with both doors cracked there was plenty of air on the ground, and once in the air the seven air vents and two ex­haust vents kept us com­fort­able. Other than the $28,900 ad­di­tional cost, a good rea­son not to add the AC op­tion is to re­tain more use­ful load.

An­other com­mon­al­ity be­tween the Ova­tion Ul­tra and my 42-year-old beast is the lo­ca­tion of the man­ual trim wheel be­tween the seats. Of course, the new model has elec­tric trim as well, ac­ti­vated through a switch on the yoke, but hav­ing the man­ual trim ca­pa­bil­ity

elim­i­nates any is­sues as­so­ci­ated with run­away trim. Rud­der trim is also avail­able with a switch on the panel, a lux­ury I don’t have in the C model.

Switches are de­signed to use the pi­lot’s tac­tile senses to min­i­mize con­fu­sion. The rud­der switch is a knob with a ver­ti­cal han­dle, and the flap switch, which is lo­cated right of the rud­der trim, is shaped just like a flap. Most elec­tri­cal switches are over­size rocker switches, which I really liked. The Garmin G1000 NXi avion­ics suite can be con­trolled with an al­phanu­meric key­pad lo­cated within easy reach of the right hand, so there is no need to reach up to the MFD to en­ter a flight plan, change fre­quen­cies or make other mod­i­fi­ca­tions.

One of the things I dis­like most about my air­plane is the fuel se­lec­tor. It is a small lever lo­cated un­der my right foot, mak­ing it nearly im­pos­si­ble to reach. Mooney has clearly lis­tened to cus­tomer feed­back, and now the fuel se­lec­tor is right be­hind the cen­ter sec­tion of the in­stru­ment panel, within easy reach from both the pi­lot and copi­lot seat. The Ova­tion’s fuel se­lec­tor also has a much larger and more er­gonomic han­dle. In ad­di­tion to dig­i­tal fuel gauges on the MFD, there are ana­log gauges on top of each wing.

Loaded with full fuel, N197CV weighs in at 2,907 pounds, leav­ing only 473 pounds to play with. With Richard, Jolie, me and sev­eral bags, we had to leave a few gal­lons of fuel be­hind to stay below gross weight. How­ever, with a ca­pac­ity of 100 gal­lons of fuel we could have flown for sev­eral hours even if we had to drop to half tanks. On our re­turn trip from Kerrville, we sim­u­lated a full­fuel sce­nario, which would have al­lowed the air­plane to fly non­stop all the way to Ca­mar­illo at max cruise power, burn­ing about 17 gph. The enor­mous fuel ca­pac­ity gives great flex­i­bil­ity if you want to get some­where with­out land­ing. You just can’t do it with a full load of pas­sen­gers and bags, a com­mon quandary in most light GA air­planes.

The ad­di­tion of a door on the pi­lot’s side comes as a wel­come change to Mooney en­thu­si­asts. Get­ting in with­out hav­ing to squeeze through to the left seat from the right side is fan­tas­tic. Both doors are a full 4 inches wider than the orig­i­nal sin­gle door, mak­ing for easy ingress and egress to the front seats. How­ever, the back­rests on the pi­lot and copi­lot seats don’t fold for­ward eas­ily or far enough to al­low the pas­sen­gers to grace­fully climb into the rear seats.

The seats are hand­made by ar­ti­sans in the Kerrville fac­tory, and the cabin

com­fort is out of this world. The lux­u­ri­ous leather seats have mul­ti­ple ad­just­ment ca­pa­bil­i­ties to pro­vide the op­ti­mal po­si­tion in terms of height and reach for the rud­ders and yoke. Even af­ter our long­est leg, which nib­bled on four hours, I had no pres­sure points and no pain while sit­ting or ex­it­ing the air­plane. Upon fold­ing my­self out of my C model af­ter a long flight I have to per­form sev­eral stretches to feel re­motely nor­mal.

Our ul­ti­mate des­ti­na­tion was Kerrville, but we de­cided to have some fun along the way. Richard sug­gested a stop at the White Sands Na­tional Mon­u­ment in Alam­ogordo, New Mex­ico. The area has a rich and var­ied mil­i­tary and space avi­a­tion his­tory, and the Alam­ogordo-White Sands Re­gional Air­port (KALM) sits un­der a vast net­work of re­stricted ar­eas. The only way to get to Alam­ogordo as a civil­ian pi­lot is through a cou­ple of nar­row cor­ri­dors.

In ad­di­tion to the di­ver­sion for the re­stricted ar­eas, the af­ter­noon flight through Ari­zona and New Mex­ico forced us to fly around some pretty nasty storm cells. Garmin’s G1000 NXi made the di­ver­sions a piece of cake. The new sys­tem fea­tures a markedly im­proved pro­ces­sor and screen res­o­lu­tion. Like the ear­lier G1000 ver­sions, the Nexrad weather data on the MFD made it easy to mod­ify the flight plan early in the flight to avoid the worst ar­eas. In ad­di­tion to the an­i­mated radar im­agery, we used the SCIT (Storm Cell Iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and Track­ing) icons — tiny yel­low boxes with ar­rows in­di­cat­ing the di­rec­tion of the most in­tense storm cells and their speed of travel — to guide us to the safest route.

Other handy weather data that helped us avoid the worst of the weather in­cluded top-of-cloud in­for­ma­tion. These weather fea­tures are avail­able through a Sir­iusXM sub­scrip­tion (free for the first year), as is satel­lite ra­dio, which we also en­joyed along the way. Two Bose A20 head­sets are in­cluded with the pur­chase of an Ova­tion Ul­tra, and they pro­vide ter­rific sound qual­ity and noise can­cel­la­tion.

An­other beau­ti­ful new fea­ture in­cor­po­rated in the NXi sys­tem is the abil­ity to dis­play the flight plan and mov­ing map right on the HSI on the PFD. This fea­ture made the tran­si­tion through the nar­row cor­ri­dor in Alam­ogordo a whole lot eas­ier to nav­i­gate. The cor­ri­dor is only about 2 miles wide, so my fo­cus was to keep the wingtips of the imag­i­nary air­plane on the screen from touch­ing the blue lines that out­lined the re­stricted ar­eas.

Af­ter three hours fly­ing from Ca­mar­illo to Chan­dler, an­other twoplus hours to Alam­ogordo, and los­ing one hour due to the time change be­tween Cal­i­for­nia and New Mex­ico, we ar­rived at KALM only about one hour be­fore sun­set. The lo­cal FBO, Ex­ile Avi­a­tion, was closed al­ready, but Richard had called ahead and the owner had been kind enough to leave his truck for us to use. There was barely enough time to take a drive out to the stun­ning white-sand dunes west of town. The seren­ity and beauty of the area took my breath away, and the ex­pe­ri­ence high­lighted the abil­ity of a fast air­plane to take you to a com­pletely dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ment in a very short amount of time.

The fol­low­ing day pre­sented per­fect con­di­tions for show­ing off the ter­rific ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the Ova­tion Ul­tra. There were mul­ti­ple cloud lay­ers be­tween New Mex­ico and Texas, so in ad­di­tion to di­vert­ing back through the re­stricted airspace cor­ri­dor, we mod­i­fied our di­rect flight plan around the heav­i­est ar­eas of pre­cip­i­ta­tion in Texas.

Af­ter fly­ing un­der VFR through the

cor­ri­dor, we stayed low un­der bro­ken to over­cast skies un­til our IFR clear­ance was is­sued. I was hand-fly­ing the air­plane and ex­pected to push the lit­tle AP switch on the ter­rific GFC 700 au­topi­lot panel to re­duce my work­load as soon as I climbed into the clouds. How­ever, the air­plane felt so com­fort­able and sta­ble that I pressed on with­out the help of the au­topi­lot.

With the pink boxes on the Garmin PFD to help keep me on the per­fect path ver­ti­cally and hor­i­zon­tally at all times, hand-fly­ing ac­cu­rately in IMC was easy. I never ac­ti­vated the au­topi­lot dur­ing the en­tire 3½-hour flight from Alam­ogordo to Kerrville. I even man­aged to make my­self a snack, with crack­ers, meat and cheese that Jolie had brought, while con­trol­ling the air­plane. The ex­pe­ri­ence really showed the sta­bil­ity of the Ova­tion’s ex­tended fuse­lage. There is no way I would at­tempt a 3½-hour flight in mostly IMC in my air­plane.

With tem­per­a­tures above 50 de­grees dur­ing our flight at 9,000 feet, there was no con­cern for the wings to ice up. How­ever, the TKS weep­ing­wing op­tion, which adds $64,990 to the fi­nal price tag, is well worth it if you plan to take your Ova­tion into the clouds. The sys­tem keeps the wind­shield, el­e­va­tor, pro­pel­ler, and lead­ing edges of the wings and hor­i­zon­tal and ver­ti­cal sta­bi­liz­ers clear of ice. Both the Ova­tion and Ac­claim Ul­tra are flight­into-known-ic­ing cer­ti­fied.

The ar­rival into Kerrville Mu­nic­i­pal Air­port (KERV) pro­vided the ul­ti­mate demon­stra­tion of the Ova­tion’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties. The clouds were thick over most of Texas, with lay­ers that ex­tended from just a few hun­dred feet agl to above 20,000 feet msl. With the MAPA con­ven­tion be­gin­ning that day, there was an­other air­plane com­ing in, and ATC is­sued us a hold at OBUCO — the ini­tial ap­proach fix for the RNAV Run­way 12 ap­proach into Kerrville. Us­ing a tiny but­ton on the left side of the yoke, I popped the speed­brakes to help slow

the air­plane down.

The NXi pro­duced the pro­ce­dure turn at OBUCO right on the MFD and on the minia­ture HSI that I had al­ready fallen in love with. If you’ve never flown a hold on a glass panel, you have to give it a try. There is no guess­work and no cal­cu­la­tions re­quired. For some­one who learned to fly on in­stru­ments with round gauges, it feels like cheat­ing.

Fly­ing an ap­proach is just as easy, and there are mul­ti­ple ways to en­sure you are on track, such as the ma­genta high­way-in-the-sky boxes, the glide­path icon next to the al­time­ter, a hor­i­zon­tal track in­di­ca­tor below the at­ti­tude in­di­ca­tor and the mov­ing map in­side the HSI — all on the PFD in front of the pi­lot’s face.

The MFD dis­plays all the legs of the ap­proach along with own-ship po­si­tion on top of a mov­ing map. I split that screen with the flight-plan page, which pro­vides the step-down al­ti­tudes for each fix so that I could ver­ify them even though I was track­ing the glide­path in­di­ca­tor on the PFD.

The RNAV Run­way 12 is an LPV ap­proach, which pro­vides pre­cise hor­i­zon­tal and ver­ti­cal guid­ance down to an al­ti­tude of 250 feet above the ground, which was a good thing since the clouds formed a lid at about 600 feet.

With the syn­thetic vi­sion on the PFD, I saw the air­port and sur­round­ing ter­rain while still in the soup. The first thing I saw when we popped out of the clouds was the Mooney fac­tory. With gear down and full flaps, I grad­u­ally added trim all the way to the nose-up stop and guided the Ova­tion to a sweet land­ing. We were home.

The Ova­tion Ul­tra has a 310 hp Con­ti­nen­tal IO-550- G en­gine. How­ever, the en­gine I flew to Kerrville had 280 horses. While at the fac­tory, the en­gine was con­verted, so there’s no need to talk about the speed on the way to Kerrville, which was still im­pres­sive to me.

While the en­gine con­ver­sion was hap­pen­ing, we checked out the MAPA con­ven­tion and en­joyed a spe­cial event honor­ing Mike Miles, who re­tired af­ter more than 41 years at Mooney pri­mar­ily as a test pi­lot. Mike con­ducted more than 1,300 first test flights and is one of many em­ploy­ees who have a Mooney ten­ure that spans decades.

We also had a chance to tour the fac­tory with Mooney’s vice pres­i­dent of pro­duc­tion op­er­a­tions, Robert Dut­ton. It had been nearly two years since I last toured the fac­tory, and the re­cent up­grades were im­pres­sive. The older equip­ment had been painted, and there were many new ma­chines on the fac­tory floors, which ex­tend over sev­eral hangars — one of which brought forth my air­plane in 1974. Though that Quon­set hut has been cov­ered, the orig­i­nal struc­ture is still there. There are traces of Mooney’s vast his­tory, in­clud­ing a con­tin­u­ous wing-shaped line where drip­pings from the glue that fused wood pieces in the orig­i­nal wing struc­tures cut through the con­crete.

Ma­jor in­vest­ments have been made in the fac­tory since the Chi­nese Mei­jing Group pur­chased Mooney in 2013, in­clud­ing $500,000 just in light­ing up­grades. Hun­dreds of thou­sands

Mooney's mod­ern­ized fac­tory in Kerrville, Texas, spans sev­eral hangars. The orig­i­nal Quon­set hut where pro­duc­tion started in the 1950s, af­ter Mooney moved from Wi­chita, Kansas, is still there, though it has been cov­ered for pro­tec­tion.

have been in­vested in CNC ma­chines to en­sure ac­cu­racy and pre­dictabil­ity in the parts. This, along with the fresh paint and new roofs, hides the fact that this is a pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity that has been in ex­is­tence for more than six decades.

With a fo­cus on qual­ity and safety, the fac­tory is gear­ing up for a pro­duc­tion rate of one air­plane ev­ery two weeks. The air­planes are moved through eight as­sem­bly-line po­si­tions. Most parts and pro­duc­tion is done in­house. Cur­rently, work for the Ul­tra mod­els’ ex­te­rior paint and com­pos­ite fuse­lage shell is out­sourced. Robert said the com­pany plans to bring this work in-house with in­vest­ments and up­grades to the ex­ist­ing car­bon and glass com­pos­ite ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

Un­for­tu­nately, all good things must come to an end, and the three of us once again strapped our­selves into the airbag seat belts in the Ova­tion, this time be­hind 30 ad­di­tional horses. De­spite our heavy load, we were off the ground be­fore the 1,000-foot mark­ers on Run­way 12. The run­way has a 687-foot-long dis­placed thresh­old, so the ground roll was no more than about 1,500 feet.

With fewer airspace and weather is­sues to worry about as we headed west, we only made a cou­ple of slight di­ver­sions around heav­ier bands of pre­cip­i­ta­tion. At a power set­ting of 22.6 mp and 2,600 rpm, our TAS was about 190 knots at 8,000 feet, burn­ing 17 gph. We re­mained at 8,000 feet dur­ing most of the flight to avoid hy­poxia — the Ova­tion does not have a built-in oxy­gen sys­tem. But with­out the abil­ity to climb to thin­ner air, as the tur­bocharged Ac­claim can, the Ova­tion tops out at 197 ktas. Our flight time from KERV to KCHD was about three hours and 45 min­utes for the ap­prox­i­mately 700 nm leg. By com­par­i­son, the flight Jolie and I flew from KCHD to KCMA, a dis­tance of 370 nm, was nearly three hours — about three-quar­ters of the time to travel a lit­tle more than half the dis­tance. How­ever, we had a slight head­wind on our way to Ca­mar­illo, whereas the winds were in our fa­vor from Texas to Ari­zona.

While the weather was the typ­i­cal Ari­zona se­vere clear, we de­cided to try an­other ap­proach, this time with the au­topi­lot. Com­ing in from the east, there was no log­i­cal ap­proach into Chan­dler. Richard sug­gested an ap­proach into Phoenix-Mesa Gate­way Air­port (KIWA). I loaded the RNAV Y Run­way 30C into the G1000 NXi and, while manag­ing power and rud­der trim, I let the au­topi­lot fly the en­tire ap­proach, ter­mi­nat­ing above the de­ci­sion al­ti­tude by adding power and push­ing the go-around but­ton above the throt­tle, which puts the flight di­rec­tor in a 6-de­gree climb at­ti­tude and se­quences the avion­ics to the missed ap­proach. We didn’t fly the missed ap­proach pro­ce­dure, but in­stead turned the Ova­tion straight to­ward Run­way 22R at Chan­dler.

While I love my air­plane, it was a tad de­press­ing go­ing from the brand-new Ova­tion back to what is essen­tially its grand­fa­ther. The speed, the com­fort, the avion­ics and the ease of fly­ing add up to an ex­cep­tional pack­age. No mat­ter how much time I spent in the left seat of the Ova­tion, I felt I could have spent more. At a base price of $689,000, the Ova­tion Ul­tra is nearly 10 times the value of my Mooney. Is it 10 times bet­ter? Un­ques­tion­ably, yes!


While the her­itage is ev­i­dent in the shape of the air­frames, there are many dif­fer­ences be­tween the M20C and M20U.

4 5. Vernier-style throt­tle, pro­pel­ler and mix­ture con­trols al­low for small, pre­cise power and fu­elmix­ture ad­just­ments. 3 6 5 6. The G1000 NXi can be ma­nip­u­lated through an al­phanu­meric key­pad mounted below the in­stru­ment panel. 7. A mov­ing map, with airspace, weather, traf­fic and more, can be over­laid on the HSI on the pri­mary flight dis­play.


1. Ma­jor in­vest­ments have been made in re­cent years to mod­ern­ize the workspace at the fac­tory in Kerrville. 2. The straight tail con­tin­ues the legacy of the Mooney prod­uct line and makes the air­planes easy to iden­tify. 3. Strong steel tub­ing forms a safety cage around the cabin to pro­tect the pi­lot and pas­sen­gers.

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