Aircraft Evaluation:
Mooney M20R

by Trey Hughes
Executive Director, Mooney Aircraft Pilots Association

 

 

PILOT REPORT – M20R OVATION

By Trey Hughes – Executive Director, Mooney Aircraft Pilots Association

 

Introduced in 1994, the M20R Ovation was partly a response by Mooney Aircraft Corp. to the after-market modifiers that were putting bigger and bigger engines in the M20 airframe.  By ’94, Mooney buyers were used to the “big engine” philosophy of the engineers in Kerrville.  With the introduction of the Lycoming powered, M20M TLSBravo in 1989, Mooney had changed from seeking performance gains by tweaking the aerodynamics of the airframe to going faster with bigger and bigger engines.  However, efficiency was still important to the airplane maker, so when they looked for another normally aspirated piston engine, the IO-550 from Teledyne Continental Motors seemed like the solution.

 

With the longer fuselage of the M20L and M20M available, the big block Continental was a logical fit.  This was an improvement on what was available on the after-market as the longer airplane had better stability characteristics and CG with this engine installation as compared to the shorter body models.  The Ovation was the first of the “theatrically” named Mooneys, and was followed by the “wet-head” modification of the TLS getting the Bravo name and the remake of the M20K – 252 being called the Encore.  However, it’s the Ovation that is the subject of this report.

 

Clearly the most popular model since it’s introduction, the Ovation, and it’s follow-on version the Ovation2 (sometimes referred to as the O2) easily outsold the other production models almost 2 to 1.  Production during 1994 was limited to 21 airplanes, and the Ovation was chosen by Flying Magazine as the “Single-engine Plane of the Year”.  By 1995, the M20R production increased to 46 airplanes as more Mooney pilots discovered the smooth-running high performance Continental.  With advertised true airspeeds in the mid-180s, the Ovation was seldom passed by any single engine, piston aircraft not also built by Mooney.   Production slipped slightly in 1996 (as did all the Mooney models) to only 33 aircraft, however with the introduction of the optional TKS anti-ice, deicing system, the Ovation became the first normally aspirated single engine airplane to win “Flight In Know Icing” certification from the FAA.  This honor followed the turbocharged M20M certification the previous year.

 

In 1997, Mooney production of the M20R increased to 34 which was pretty amazing considering that during that year Mooney also produced the M20J MSE (19), the M20K Encore (8), and the M20M TLS Bravo (20).  Production of the Ovation continued to increase in 1998 with 41 ships leaving the Texas Hill Country for all parts of the world.  In 1999, Mooney decided to build one common airframe and dropped the M20J from the production list (much to the dismay of most Mooney lovers) and introduced in its place the M20S – Eagle.  This caused a slight drop in R production as only 34 aircraft rolled from the plant in ’99.  The introduction of the Eagle in 1999 caused the engineers to re-think the M20R and as a result, the Ovation2 was introduced in 2000 with a 2-blade McCauley propeller specially designed for Mooney, which increased the book true airspeed to 190 knots.  The bullet just got faster!  2000 saw 55 O2s enter the FAA registry as everyone recogni ze d the balance of airspeed and fuel efficiency that the M20R possessed.  In 2001, the last year of the Mooney Aircraft Corporation, 15 Ovation2s were completed before the factory shut-down during the summer as the company entered Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection and sought financial help.  This put the total M20R production at 279 aircraft for it’s first 8 years.  During this same time, 144 M20M and 111 M20J (followed by 62 M20S) aircraft were built.  It is easy to see that the Ovation has been the crowd favorite.  Let’s see why.

 

In late September, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to spend several days in a brand new, 2002 Ovation2.  The aircraft, N1051K S/N 29-0285, was the sixth 2002 M20R produced and the second aircraft delivery for the new Mooney Airplane Company.  My luck got better when I was asked to deliver the airplane from the factory in Kerrville to it’s new home and owner in Arizona.

 

The lucky new owner, Marc Danna, had recently sold his M20E and was stepping up in si ze and performance with the Ovation.  Since I was also staying in Tucson for a few days to fly with Marc, I got to see the airplane in a variety of flight situations.

 

But let’s start at the beginning.  The first thing I notice when I approach the new “Ultra-Long Body” Mooneys is how beautiful they really are.  The long sleek nose is nicely balanced by the long tapering tailcone ending in the classic Mooney tail.  The airplane sits with about a + 4 ½ degree pitch attitude (more on that later) and looks ready to leap in the air just sitting on the ramp.  The preflight is straightforward and common to every other Mooney.  However, just like in all Mooneys, I recommend sumping the wing tanks before beginning any other preflight actions.  This removes any chance of introducing water into the fuel system when the Gascolator is drained during the cockpit check.  Also, this is the time to check the standard “in-wing” fuel quantity gauges. 

New owner of N1051K

 

 

These mechanical (no electrical power needed) gauges show fuel quantity measurable between 10 and 30 gallons of useable in the respective tank.  Because of the pitch attitude on the ground, the cockpit fuel quantity indicators do not read the correct fuel values.  They will show a higher quantity than actually exists.  They are calibrated to be accurate during flight when the pitch attitude is level.  The wing gauges are calibrated to be accurate when the aircraft is on the ground, however when the Ovation is in flight, these no longer read true fuel quantity.  The fuel quantity indicators are supplemented by red “LEFT FUEL” and “RIGHT FUEL” low level warning lights in the annunciator panel that will illuminate when approximately 6 to 8 gallons of useable fuel remains in the indicated tank.

 

Once the wings are drained, we can begin in the cockpit making sure all the switches are in the correct place.  One thing I try to teach pilots is to use a checklist during shutdown.  If you do this, then all the switches are already placed correctly when the next flight occurs, and the checks then are simple.  If the airplane has been flown by someone else, or has just come out of maintenance, then certainly, use the checklist to make sure that the cockpit is set-up properly.  Once set-up, the checks prior to each flight can be done in a “flow” or logical order and are quite easy.

 

Moritz engine gauges.

Ovation cooling air inlets.

Ovation instrument panel.


Like all the other current production Mooneys, the M20R has two batteries in the tailcone.  So, after checking them both for voltage level, you should use the one with the highest potential.  If they are the same, use the one not used during the last flight.  The battery that is not selected is kept charged through a “trickle-charge” system, so that it is fully charged and ready should it be needed.  Speaking of the electrical system on the Ovation, once the engine has been started, the aircraft’s electrical needs are supplied by a huge 100-ampere, 28-volt DC engine-driven alternator.

 

After completing the preflight walkaround inspection, it’s time to climb in, strap in and get the big Continental cooking.  Engine start is very straightforward if you remember one thing.  Fuel…lots of fuel is needed to start the 550 when the OAT is low.  When it is cold (like below 40-degrees F) I use the “High Boost Pump” to prime for start fuel.  I think it’s almost impossible to flood this Continental when it is cold outside.  This is one place that I disagree with the Mooney checklist during cold weather starts.  The “Low Boost Pump” doesn’t seem to get things done and the starts take longer.  However, since this airplane had been flown prior to my departure from Kerrville, I used the “Hot Start Procedure” of:

 

1.      Throttle – Full Open

2.      Mixture – Idle Cut Off

3.      Boost Pump - High for 5 seconds or Low for 15 seconds

4.      Throttle – Idle (then two half-turns in for the proper idle RPM of 800 – 1000)

5.      Mixture – Full Forward

6.      Starter Switch – Turn and Push

 

This works every time for me, so soon the IO-550-G6 was making a throaty rumble beneath the long sleek cowling.  And the Ovation cowling is a true thing of beauty and a design marvel.  By paying close attention to airflow dynamics, the Mooney engineers have designed a cowling for the M20R that doesn’t need cowl flaps to aid engine cooling in flight.  It has small; oval openings behind the propeller that ram the cooling air into the upper deck of the engine bay.  Then, through the use of carefully designed baffles, the airflow is directed downward across the cylinder cooling fins and then is drawn out through two aerodynamically designed “blisters” around each exhaust pipe.  These blisters create an airflow pattern and a “low pressure area” that draws the cooling air through the engine bay from the top down and out through the bottom of the cowling and eliminate the need for cowl flaps with their resultant drag.  This works quite well during most segments of flight, but a word of caution here.  During hot weather operations, with extended ground time, the small openings in the front don’t seem to draw enough cooling air into the engine bay.  Oil temperatures (the same air used to cool the cylinders is used to cool the oil in the oil cooler) can approach the Red Line, especially if the airplane isn’t positioned facing into the wind.  In the summer, I work hard to reduce the amount of ground time to try to control this.

 

LCD instruments.

Garmin GS

 

Now that the engine is running, I can turn-on the Radio Master Switch (used to control all the avionics) and get my GPS flight plan loaded into the Garmin GNS-530 GPS Navigator.  The panel in N1051K is representative of the standard that is today’s high performance general aviation “all weather” airplane.  Central in the avionics suite is a pair of Garmins – a GNS-530 sits atop a GNS-430.  These two radios each feature an IFR Enroute and Approach certified Global Positioning System Navigator, a VHF communications radio and a VOR receiver with Glide Slope.  Add to this the Bendix King KFC-225 2-axis Digital Flight Director Autopilot, a Garmin GTX-327 Transponder and GMA-340 Audio Panel and we have a very capable IFR traveling machine.  N1051K also has the optional Wx-500 Stormscope® and the Goodrich Skywatch® which both display on the 530 and the 430.  The other notable options consist of a JPI EDM700 Engine Monitoring System, and (very important in the hot southwest) Factory Air Conditioning.

 

With the KCS-55A Slaved HSI system, polished spinner and speed brakes as standard equipment, the 2002 Ovation2 is a functional and good looking cross-country performer.  And I get to try it out.

 

Now that the big-bore Continental is running, let’s talk a little about this new engine.  The IO-550-G6 installation in the Ovation is unlike other 550 Continental engines installed in other airframes.  In ’94 Mooney was the first OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer – another name for aircraft manufacturer) to use the all-new “balanced induction, crossflow head” IO-550 engine.  Until Mooney, all production aircraft use of the 550 was the “straight-pipe” version and the tuned induction engine was only in a handful of home-built airplanes.  Mooney also introduced the “soft isolator bedmount” system on the Ovation with tuned engine isolators.  All this makes for a smooth, quiet cockpit even during high power operations, and a very efficient engine.

 

A little information about N1051K is necessary.  With an empty weight of 2397 pounds, 51K had a useful load of 971 pounds to bring it to the maximum takeoff weight of 3368 pounds.  This means that 2 FAA Standard 170-pound individuals and full fuel (89 gallons useable) would leave room for 113 pounds of baggage (maximum baggage capacity is 120 pounds).  However, it is very seldom that a pilot will need or want all 89 gallons of avgas.  With an average fuel burn of 14 GPH (at 65% power), 89 gallons would give over six hours of endurance.  This is much more than most pilots will want, so something less than full fuel would yield an increase in payload.  Drop the fuel quantity to 60 gallons (4.2 hours @ 65%) and you still have a range in no wind of over 550 NM with an hour and 12 minutes reserve.  With this fuel load, 51K could carry 622 pound of people and bags.  That’s 3, 175-pounders and 50 pounds of bags.  Or, Mom and Dad (at 175 and 130) plus kid #1 (at 75 pounds) and kid #2 (at 75 pounds) and still have 120 pounds available for baggage.  The Ovation, even equipped with air conditioning, can carry a wide variety of loading possibilities.

 

Today, my takeoff weight is 123 pounds below maximum, so with the conditions at Kerrville (temperature 18-degrees C, DA 2500’, no wind) – my takeoff distance will be 3200’ using under 2000’ of runway for ground roll.

 

With my GPS route stored in the Garmin, and a clearance from Houston Center, after a normal run-up I’m ready to see what this bird will do.  Power is smoothly applied until I have full throttle and away we go.  Now most folks who have flown the original Ovation will notice that the O2 doesn’t accelerate quite as crisply as its older brother with the extra propeller blade.  This is the result of the two blades and a low pitch stop mandated by a disputed FAA rule interpretation during certification.  It’s funny how much static thrust one additional propeller blade adds, however this may be more a tactile perception and not really true as the takeoff distance numbers for the two models are very close.

 

Back-pressure on the control wheel at 65 KIAS and up we go.  After confirming a positive rate of climb, the wheels come up followed closely by the 10-degrees of takeoff flaps.  With climb power of full throttle and 2500 RPM set, the VSI settles on 1200 FPM at VY of 105 KIAS.  Since 51K has only 8 hours on it’s hobbs meter and is still in ring seating, I reduce the pitch for a more “engine cooling friendly” 120 KIAS which is cruise climb airspeed.  This results in a VSI reading of 1000 FPM as we are quickly through 4000 feet enroute to our 8000-foot clearance limit.  The following table shows the climb rate information for this short climb to cruise altitude.  On a subsequent flight, I made an unrestricted climb from a 1000’ takeoff altitude to 11,000 feet and that table is also included.

 

Altitude

IOAT

MP/RPM

Fuel Flow

IAS

ROC

2000

18 C

FT/2500

23.4

105

1200

3000

17 C

FT/2500

23.1

120

1000

4000

15 C

FT/2500

23.1

120

1000

5000

12 C

FT/2500

23.0

120

985

6000

11 C

24.2/2500

23.0

120

960

7000

8 C

23.4/2500

22.6

120

850

 


 

Another flight, takeoff weight 3358:

 

Altitude

IOAT

MP/RPM

Fuel Flow

IAS

ROC

1000

20 C

FT/2500

24.6

120

1050

2000

19 C

FT/2500

24.3

120

1000

3000

16 C

FT/2500

24.3

120

1000

4000

14 C

FT/2500

24.1

120

975

5000

12 C

FT/2500

23.5

120

950

6000

11 C

FT/2500

23.1

120

950

7000

8 C

24.1/2500

23.0

120

920

8000

6 C

23.6/2500

22.8

120

890

9000

5 C

23.0/2500

22.1

120

860

10000

3 C

22.1/2500

21.6

120

780

 

The KFC-225 autopilot with altitude preselect, made a smooth level-off at 8000 feet just as Houston Center cleared me GPS direct to El Paso (ELP), direct to destination – Tucson’s Marana Northwest Regional.  This resulted in almost a straight line westbound.

 

Once level, I referred to the Cruise Power Chart on the Pilot’s sun visor and set full throttle (I couldn’t quite get 75% which was my desire) and 2400 RPM and figured that the big Continental was producing about 72% power.  With a fuel flow (leaned to 50-degrees rich of peak EGT) of 15.1 gallons of gas per hour, and a GPS ground speed of 189 KTS, my 89 gallons of fuel would take me to the destination 646 NM away and leave 31 gallons or more than 2 hours of reserve.

 

Checking TAS using the Garmin, we were clocking along at 187 KTAS, so the wind was not much of a factor, being almost a dead crosswind component of little velocity.  Since I was dealing with a deadline (I hate using the word “dead” in an airplane) on my arrival in Arizona, a full-out test of the airplane’s performance would have to wait until the return trip to Kerrville some 4 days from now.

 

Instead I settled back and enjoyed the flight west.  The autopilot, talking to the GPS through the HSI, kept us moving steadily toward our destination, and as the sun set, I was wondering if it could possibly get any better.  Soon, it was time to turn on some cockpit lights, and here is another area in which the newer Mooneys shine (no pun intended!).  Cockpit lighting is superb.  Flight instruments are individually lighted and there are small post lights for important switches not backlit.  In addition, there are two glareshield flood lights that can light the entire panel from harsh bright (something I’d use when in the vicinity of lightening flashes) to a soft subtle glow.  I don’t think it would be possible not to be able to find a combination of instrument and glareshield lights that wouldn’t please everyone.  Just be careful of one thing.  When the navigation lights are turned on, the annunciator panel lights automatically dim.  This is great at night, but forget to turn them off again during daylight and your heart rate will increase when you can’t see the green “Gear Down” light!

 

Because of MEA requirements, ATC step-climbed me to 11,000 as we approached Tucson.  Still, the Ovation clicked-off 178 knot TAS numbers even though the power was down around 60%.  As we crossed the mountains east of Tucson, still at 11, I could see the beacon at Marana at 12 o’clock and only 30 NM ahead.  Time to start down and here’s where those standard speed brakes really come in handy.  Power back to 20”/2500 RPM, roll the nose down to peg the airspeed at the top of the Green Arc (174 KIAS) and with the brakes out, the VSI settles on 1000 FPM down.  This helps keep the engine temperatures comfortably in the Green (I did watch the JPI – it will show rate of cooling) and very soon we were on the downwind.  As the autopilot levels off, power continues back to about 16" and at 140 the gear comes down.  With another slight reduction in power, we are soon at 110 which is flap speed, and once the gear and flaps (takeoff position) are set, we can again reduce the power slightly and begin to descend toward the blackness that surrounds Marana.  One of my least favorite things to do at night, especially in mountainous terrain, is to land at a strange airport.  Thank goodness for all the lights Mooney puts on the Ovation.  With a landing light on each wing, a taxi light on each wing, white recognition lights on each wing, we light up the sky like a Boeing.

 

Normally, I like to fly between 90 and 100 on base while descending at 500 FPM, and then turn final and put the rest of the landing flaps (the Ovation has flap preselect set at TO = 10-degrees and LDG = 33-degrees) down.  Then slowing to a normal landing Vref of 1.3 VSO or about 75 KIAS on short final, I will cross the fence at 1.2 Vref before entering the flare.  Trimming with the standard electric trim, and I make a smooth touchdown.  How come my best landings come when I’m alone?

 

When we talk about landings in the Ovation or any of the new generation long body Mooneys (M20M, M20R or M20S) we must talk about the landing attitude.  As I mentioned earlier, the long bodies sit with about a positive 4.5 degrees pitch attitude on the ground.  Pilots moving into the newer aircraft from one of the shorter length Mooneys (M20K or earlier) will immediately notice this difference when they first sit in the cockpit.  Now thinking about sight picture and pitch attitude during the flare for landing, most aircraft will need about + 5-degrees during the round out to keep the nose wheel off the runway until the mains are on.  This works quite well for all the Mooneys except the Ovation, Eagle or Bravo.  With an almost 5-degree nose up attitude sitting level, the pitch attitude is going to need to be higher during landing in order to land on the main wheels before the nose.  One of the biggest transition problems I have found for pilots moving into these long Mooneys is the landing – more specifically, landing on the nose first or all three simultaneously.  Either action can quickly lead to a porpoise and the outcome of this isn't very pretty.  Pilot must develop a different sight picture when landing these new Mooneys.  Where 5-degrees worked before, 8-degrees is necessary now.  This just takes practice and the help of a competent instructor familiar with long-body Mooneys.

  As with all Mooneys, airspeed control during the final approach is key.  Fly too fast and the airplane will float on a cushion of air forever. 

No cowl flaps needed.

 

Fly the correct approach speed (1.3 V Stall for the weight and flap configuration) on short final, have the airplane configured for landing and trimmed and the touchdown is normal.  If we use a target altitude of 50 feet above the runway to achieve this, then the last 50 feet is very easy.  If we are still chasing the airspeed or trim at 50 feet AGL, then a go around might be advised in order to set it up again.  Seldom do good landings come from bad approaches!

 

Also, since these longer Mooneys have larger (and heavier) engines up front, I recommend liberal use of the electric trim to relieve the control wheel force during the flare.  With just two people in these airplanes, the CG during landing is well to the front of the envelop and the rotational forces are quite high (it’s an inertia issue not control effectiveness).  I’ve noticed the after my best landings, the elevator trim is almost completely nose-up under these situations.  One area that seems to be a concern to some when they think about landing a Mooney with full flaps (the recommended configuration) and a bunch of nose-up trim is the go around.  This is just not an issue.  The go around procedure in the Ovation (as well as all other Mooneys) is:

El Paso slides under the nose.

 

 

 

1.      Pitch to 8-degrees nose up while simultaneously smoothly applying full takeoff power to climb at VX.

2.      Retract the flaps to the takeoff position (if they are full down).

3.      Verify on the VSI and Altimeter that there is a positive rate of climb.

4.      Retract the landing gear.

5.      Retract the remaining flaps.

6.      Target VY if clear of obstacles.

7.      Throughout this procedure, use electric and manual trim as necessary to reduce the pressure on the control wheel.

 

This is easily accomplished even without electric trim, and during the process, the control forces needed to fly the correct pitch attitude or airspeed are well within those even the smallest and lightest pilots posses.

 

Three hours and fifty minutes after departing Kerrville, N1051K had arrived at it’s new home and the proud owner was carefully putting her to bed in her new hanger…what an airplane!

 

Four days later, after accomplishing more than 12 trouble-free hours of flight training, I am once again in 51K ready to depart back to Kerrville to return the airplane to the factory for it’s first oil change.  During the almost 16 hours of cross-country and rugged flight training, we only used 1 ½ quarts of oil, so the rings should be seating correctly.

 

On the return (Marana to San Antonio – 678 NM - 3 hours, 25 minutes, 49 gallons of fuel) I did get the chance to do some speed runs at 11,000 feet to check the true airspeed.

 

Altitude

IOAT

MP/RPM

Fuel Flow

Direction

KIAS

GPS GS

11,000

3 C

19.2/2500

14.7

N

156

195

11,000

3 C

19.2/2500

14.7

E

156

218

11,000

3 C

19.2/2500

14.7

S

156

181

11,000

3 C

19.2/2500

14.7

W

156

153

 

 

 

 

 

TAS

186.75

 

Just a note, the Garmin calculated a TAS of 188, so the planner in the GPS box is pretty accurate.  Also, the weather was very cooperative, and during one segment, I actually saw a ground speed on the GPS of 228 knots.  This is not bad for a normally aspirated engine up high and producing only about 65% power.  Long distance, eastbound trips can be made quite easily with the high true airspeed, a little push from a friendly wind and very low fuel burns.

 

Too soon it was necessary to give this machine back to Mooney, so I said “farewell” to a true cross-country performer.  I had made the round-trip from San Antonio/Kerrville to Tucson and back with ease and comfort.  Had these been business trips (well I guess they were), I was able to leave home in the late afternoon (4:30 PM Texas time) fly more than 650 miles away and arrive in time for a late dinner.  Then, after a regular day of business meetings, I departed after 4 PM, and made the return trip to be home and in my own bed.  This is just not possible via the airlines.  And I didn’t have to take my shoes off for anyone.

 

So, If you are looking for a superb cross-country performer, with great fuel economy, state-of-the-art avionics with fantastic comfort for pilot and passengers, consider the “other long body” Mooney – the M20R Ovation2.


 

Ovation Statistics:

 

Engine                                                                       Teledyne Continental Motors (TCM)

Model                                                                                                                IO-550-G (6)

Recommended TBO                                                                                         2000 hours

Type                                                                      Reciprocating, air cooled, fuel injected

Number of cylinders                                                                      6, horizontally opposed

Displacement                                                                                                      550 Cu. In.

Compression Ratio                                                                                                    8.5 : 1

Rating – Maximum Takeoff Sea Level BHP/RPM                                       280 @ 2500

Propeller                                                                                                               McCauley

Model Number                                                                                  2A34C241/82PGC-6

Number of blades                                                                                                               2

Diameter                                                                                                            MAX. 76 In.

                                                                                                                           MIN. 75.5 In.

Type                                                                                                           Constant Speed

Governor (McCauley)                                             Hydraulically controlled by engine oil

Fuel – Minimum Grade                                         100 LL (Blue) or 100 Octane (Green)

Useable Capacity                                                                                           89.0 US Gal.

Oil Capacity                                                                                                                 8 Qts.

Oil Filter                                                                                                                  Full Flow

Maximum Gross Takeoff Weight                                                                 3368 Pounds

Maximum Landing Weight                                                                            3200 Pounds

Maximum Baggage Area                                                                                120 Pounds

Rear Storage Area (No air conditioning installed)                                         10 Pounds

Cargo (Rear seats folded down)                                                                    340 Pounds

Wing Span                                                                                                                   36’ 1”

Length                                                                                                                          26’ 9”

Height                                                                                                                             8’ 4”

Track                                                                                                                               9’ 2”