Yet another Mooney-low time pilot scenario

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Hi Everyone,

Philip, I enjoy your site and your blog (aviators should check it
Here's the situation: I am a 43 year old anesthesiologist and
STUDENT pilot of average piloting skill, though the course work
comes easily. The rub: I want a Mooney Ovation. My mission profile
is 1150 NM/two adults/two triathlon bikes. It is my hope (and I know
hope is no substitue for cold, hard reality) that the normally
aspirated Ovation can be safely flown by a low time pilot who is
conscientious in his preparation. Per Philip's advice conconcerning
the SR-22, I would plan a week Mooney school followed by IFR
training in type. I make a living managing risks and I am cautious
by nature. Is this possible? Wise? Ridiculous? Let me have the
unvarnished truth. Fire away...
Cheers, Mike

-- mike bruno, August 11, 2008


I would say that your mission profile is three adults, actually, because you'll want to do most of your big trips with a CFI in the right seat, especially if you're going to do a triathlon in between flights. A second pilot, even one of equivalent experience and skill, is a huge safety asset (look at the airlines). I have 3000 hours and an ATP and if I were going to fly right after some major athletic exertion (for me, "exertion" would be walking from the rental car to a 7-11 to buy a candy bar) I would want to have another pilot with me to plan the flight, deal with the FBO, preflight the airplane, etc. A young CFI would be cheap and you can make him sleep in a tent next to the airplane.

For three people and two bikes I would say that a Bonanza is a better choice than a Mooney. The Mooney is a tight squeeze even for just two people and I can't imagine how you would get bikes in there (though maybe you've already tried this? I think of the Mooney as a plane for an antisocial business guy with some luggage). The A36 Bonanza comes with a huge door in the back, by contrast, and your third adult (wife?) will be very comfortable in the club seating area.

Maybe consider separating your personal flying and training from your transportation mission. Getting to a triathlon on schedule is transportation and requires a lot of the airline infrastructure to be safe, e.g., second pilot, planning by someone with a lot of weather sense, anti-icing equipment (you don't say what region/time of year you're going to be doing your trips, but usually ice is a factor), weather RADAR or data link. Going around the pattern or doing local flights in a Mooney or a Bonanza is something that you'll probably be pretty safe at even before you get your instrument rating.

You can do both your transportation missions and your local flying/training in the same physical airplane but, at least until you've got maybe 500 hours it might be wisest to operate the airplane in a different way for those two separate kinds of flying.

-- Philip Greenspun, August 18, 2008

If you have gotten your IR I imagine that you can become proficient in type with a good factory course for operating in "normal" conditions. I would question though the practicality of your mission profile for a low-time ga pilot and ga airplane. Weather planning is tricky for even a 500 nm trip but for a 1100+ nm trip, you will probably encounter big changes in conditions and the last two hours are going to be at best educated guesses. Also, considering that you are taking competition bikes, I suppose that means you will be going to planned events, which means that you will be under pressure to depart even when the weather is, or may be, potentially dangerous at some point in the trip. The risk is that you will find yourself in conditions beyond your own or your plane's reasonable capability.

-- nicholas budd, August 14, 2008

In some ways, the Ovation is a great choice. You can easily make that trip in the Ovation, it will do it in a more fuel efficient manner than just about anything else, and you will have a huge flexibility in terms of altitude. Properly equipped, you will get a really high dispatch rate (I have a '95 with EFIS and ground radar, you can also get known ice and now even synthetic vision).

The downside on your choice is getting the bikes in (the baggage door is the issue, you can test your bikes on any mooney, I believe the doors are the same, the Ovation has tons of room once you get stuff in though).

Here is your challenge. No one in their right mind will insure you to fly it alone unless you have an instrument rating, and a good amount of hours dual (like 25 dual, 200 total). Sometimes I think the insurers are wrong, but in this case they are not. Even assuming you have the judgement to avoid IFR conditions and not catch "get-there-itis" (which is challenging when you have all that airplane sitting there), the IFR rating is STILL mandatory. Why? There is just a lot to do quickly in the Mooney. Once you get the hang of it, it's easy, but the IFR rating is the best proof you have that you can follow all the procedures and keep track of all the different things you need to do without getting "behind the plane". While the insurers are certainly worried about gear up landings, this is not a real worry in usual flight because you will find that the Ovation will tell you several times something is wrong if the gear are up. It won't slow down, the angle will be wrong, and the gear horn will sound. You have to fly a slow, full pattern and ignore the horn to do a gear up, and they are rare in the Ovation (last I checked Ovations were cheaper to insure than Cirrus!).

Here is the other thing, the Ovation is not a plane you will really want to go out and hop into for a quick trip around the pattern or just for practice flying because the weather is nice. Some guys still do, but I find the lighter simpler planes appeal more to lower time pilots who feel really confident in them. Also, simpler planes are a lot easier to get out of the hangar, preflight, fly around, and then put away.

Once you move up to a 550 powered airplane, you will find that things add up in such a way that you want to make more weekend trips, but won't squeeze in as much work day practice. It's only natural. Unfortunately, you need more pattern work and approaches and stall practice and other stuff. Many instructors (including the school in San Antonio that teaches the factory course) do not recommend touch and go's in the long bodied Mooneys. There is too much that can go wrong trying to reconfigure from landing to take off. Also, planes in this class are usually only stalled until first indication (horn or small mush) rather than pushing them to the brink which you should be getting more experience in.

I feel exactly the same way about the fixed gear competition. The way around your problem is best fixed with time or money. If you are still reading all this, here is my recommendation:

Either, double down on training and get it done ASAP. Get your IFR and your HP/complex. Start building hours on a retractable or high performance rental while shopping for your Ovation. I have stopped consulting on purchases, but given the market, I highly recommend used at this time.

OR, get started on your IFR and then finish it in the Ovation knowing that you can't fly your plane alone until you meet insurance req's. You will want to find an excellent instructor who is Mooney experienced and who you really like. Make sure his schedule is relatively open (no charter like side jobs, aircraft delivery duties etc.) This person may not exist in your area. If you compromise on the instructor, this route really doesn't work well. It can take longer to get done, and will certainly cost more.

OR, if you want your own plane now, buy a Diamond Star (or other lower perfoirmance plane) equipped like your future Mooney will be (standard or glass panel). This will not be a plane you want to take 1150 NM very often, but you can take it to closer events while you build time. (get one with the steel prop). I owned a Diamond Star, loved it, and would like to trade back down as I am changing jobs and no longer need the plane for travel. You will learn a lot quicker in a Star than an Ovation until you get a couple hundred hours.

That may be more than you wanted to know, but there it is.

-- Eric Warren, August 16, 2008

Excellent question Mike, i'm not an instructor but i'll add my 2 cents as a 20+ year pilot with comm and instrument ratings. I'll assume you know well the tales about "doctors and airplanes" and how well they mix ...

the keys points IMHO are that, just like a 16-year old driver, it takes many years and much experience (and sometimes a little luck) to become safe. i came very close to killing myself several times in my first 500 hours, so it takes time.

Once you get your IR, that's only the first step. i contend that your IFR rating is only half of it--the second half is getting and then maintaining the confidence to use it safely, and the third half is knowing your limits. Unlike the PP license, there's no solo'ing without the rating, and then once you have it, you're on your own!

Experience keeps you from getting behind the airplane. You will have power, mixture and prop to manage along with gear, flaps, speed brakes and avionics to manage, all in a fairly slippery, fast airplane which is reluctant to come down/slow down. It just takes time and experience to master.

I would follow Eric's advice of simpler and slower at first. YOu can always trade up. I would, however, buy. With your own airplane, you can better control the condition it's in because, as a busy Dr., you're not going to have the time to do as thorough pre-flights as you might like, and the airplane will always be available to you.

Just remember not to apply the same achievement orientation that has gotten you so far in life to go-no-go flight decisions!! Better to be down here wishing you were up there than the opposite.

Be safe and best of luck!!

-- Ahmed Reza, August 17, 2008

I want to thank everyone for their thoughtful and insightful responses. To add some detail, my timeline would be to acquire the plane (used) in October, Mooney school/IFR over the next 2-3 months, a years worth of short, managed trips before attempting any solo significant cross-country. An interesting mission wrinkle is that at some point I would like to utilize the plane to travel to locum tenums anesthesia assignments. I live in rural Wisconsin on what is essentially an island/peninsula, a geographic feature which adds significant travel time by car. The risk of "get there itis" is certainly significant with this mission, as failure to show up for an assignment costs the hospital nearly $39 per MINUTE in lost operating room revenue/expenses/patient inconvience and safety issues. From your comments, it appears the Ovation is likely not the most appropriate plane of the moment for me, but I am trying to look down the road 2-3 years to the time when I am a more proficient pilot while avoiding the frictional costs of acquisition, sales,trades etc. I wish an easier to manage plane such as the Diamond was faster and more robust(I've seen carbon fiber bike frames crack from mere pedaling stress-hate to have that happen at 10k AGL feet rather than 1 foot AGL). I would appreciate it if someone could shed some light on whether a plane like the Bonanza 36 would be easier to manage than the Ovation(less slippery, less fast perhaps)or is it that once one gets into HP/complex planes its essentially that a threshhold has been crossed and they are all of equal management difficulty. Reviewing the Bonanza, although I would wish it was somewhat more fuel efficient, faster, and had greater range...I think I could be quite happy with that as well. I'm sure my passangers would enjoy the plusher environs more too. I better slow down a bit. I get the sense I may be biting off more than I can safely chew. Its hard, however, not to be enthusiastic about the world opened by aviation

Thanks again, Mike

-- mike bruno, August 19, 2008

As a recent recipient of the PPL, triathlete, and Diamond DA40 owner, I feel uniquely qualified to offer an opinion. Firstly, I love the Mooney, but to suggest it is more robust than a DA40 is silly. My time trial bike is a Carbon Fiber Kestrel, and I too have seen bike crack under stress. A Diamond is no a bicycle, it will not crack or break apart if flown appropriately. The U.S. Air Force has chosen the Diamond DA20 as its primary trainer. If they were worried about robustness, they likely would have picked another airplane.

I have 80 hours, 20 simulated IMC, and 5 actual IMC. There is no avionics package superior to the g1000 system available for GA aircraft. It is extraordinary platform in which there is much more for me to learn. Even though the plane is slower than a Mooney, flying an approach in true IMC conditions as novice will feel as though you are strapped to a missile. Things happen much faster than VFR, and it is easy to get behind the plane - even a Diamond.

Read what pilots say about the Diamond. Resale, performance, avionics, training characteristics, operating costs, safety, etc. I challenge you to find a better first plane. With regard to my own vision, I gunning for 250 hours, and then hopefully the DA50. The bottom line: with 250 hours in a g1000 Diamond and an IFR rating, the general aviation fleet will be wide open, and I will be able to choose any plane I want provided the financial where with all exists.

By the way, with seats folded forward, 2 bikes, gear, and duffles fit comfortably in my plane.

-- Scott Zodin, August 19, 2008


You told us your likely longest mission. How about a little more break down on how you plan to use the plane? I suspect most of your work trips will be in Wisconsin? Are you getting stuck in the trap of only looking at the ultimate solution? Unless you fly 100 plus per year, it will be a couple years until your ready for the Ovation. A lower performance plane may really be a better idea. As much as it stinks, the airline tickets are always going to be competitive for the longest trips.

Also, If I were in a Russian Gulag, and was told I could crash a Mooney or a Diamond for my freedom, I would choose the Diamond. (It sounds like a silly story, but in WWII they made a similar offer to study air dropped infantry by offering this deal to prisoners many of whom were dropped off low and slow without chutes). It's just as stout as the Mooney, and it has a much lower stall speed. I would stay in the Gulag rather than crash a traditional aluminum plane.

I met a guy who walked away from a mid air in a Diamond Star. They could have made it lighter, instead, they made it stronger. With composites you can make that choice. Call for a demo. You won't regret it. Demo the Ovation as well. You may decide to wait and rent if you like it that much better.

-- Eric Warren, August 20, 2008

Strangely, I just got notified, and therefore noticed Phil's comments.

I have to disagree strongly with the roominess comments about the Ovation. For two people, it is by far the most comfortable plane in or near it's class. Nothing comes close.

Now I will tell you the whole truth. Nothing comes close for me, and that's the way planes are. As much as I respect Phil's opinions, this is a highly subjective area. You will have to look for yourself. I find the BO's rather tight in width (the new Mooneys have wider interiors than the Bo's or the old Mooneys). And I don't like the seating position as much as my Mooney. I will say that if you have to sit behind an extremely tall pilot then it can be tight as a coach seat on leg room, but the back seat reclines better than most coach seats. Also, with luggage and balance issues, as well as tail wag issues, the back of a Bo is not always as much better as it would look without trying it.

There is also cavernous luggage space in an Ovation, even without the rear seats out (and they do come out quickly).

-- Eric Warren, August 22, 2008

My First Hand Experience with a Mooney as an Initial Plane Purchase

I was a 37-year old doctor when I received a PPL. I bought my Mooney Bravo just before receiving the PPL, and after hiring a Bravo-specific instructor for a week, was comfortable enough to fly a couple of 1400-mile cross-country trips in 3 legs (one leg per day). I received my IFR training in the plane and received the IFR rating at around 150 hours. I self-insured.

Before buying the Bravo, I asked many people the same question you pose. Mostly they told me I was overreaching by making the Bravo my first plane (although I met a couple of people whose first plane was a long body Mooney). However, having a plane that fits my mission (800-mile each way weekend trips) has allowed me to want to make use of it (I average 30 hours per month) and become intimately familiar with it. For example, I flew from Alabama to the Bahamas today-- practical in a Bravo, but not so practical in some other aircraft.

For your mission, consider known-ice certification (you rarely turn it on, but it improves dispatch rates substantially), turbo (you can sometimes get a smooth ride, get over some weather, and sometimes obtain a 50-knot tailwind in the flight levels), a G1000 (great situational awareness), and long-range tanks.

-- Vik G, December 10, 2008

Hello every body,

Just an update. I got my private pilot's licence last week. Plane shopping in earnest now. I've moved away from the idea of a mooney secondary to weight and balance issues. While my mission will typically be for just two, often enough I would like to bring my two sons along or perhaps another couple. I have decided that a Cirrus sr-22 is probably my top choice, though "Mooney Pilots's" recent submission gets me pining away for a Bravo or Rocket again. A cirrus just seems a bit more manageable. I definately have a case of unease buying in these unsettled economic times. I'm planning on financing. I'll look like a star if our nation experiences inflation (that's my guess), but if we continue along a deflationary path that loan is going to be painful.

Any further thoughts or considerations? (Being contrarian is good to a point...there are some seemingly great deals out there.)

Regards, Mike

-- mike bruno, December 20, 2008

Hey Mike,what did you finally end up buying???Also since its been easily 2 you regret your the way I am the owner of a late model Mooney Bravo...for the mountainous west where I do most of my flying,being able to flight plan for the flight levels to either get on top or above summer turbulence has proven the turbos worth.Also the a/s per altitude is the exact opposite of the nonturbo version.Oh and for the biking , I carry 2 18 lb Dahon folders...they fit in the back fine...I leave them there all the time..

-- kelly couch, March 17, 2010