“Prop full forward, mixture full rich, flaps set for takeoff,” I said out loud as I lined the Mooney M20J-201 on Runway 02 at Santee-Cooper Regional Airport, KMNI, on a calm cool morning just after Christmas. A low pressure system was scheduled to move in later in the afternoon, so the sky had those high stretched-out wisps of cirrus clouds. I advanced the throttle smoothly, let my eyes dance back and forth from the runway centerline to the oil pressure gauge to the RPM and manifold pressure gauges, all while keeping track of the quickly increasing airspeed. “60 knots, rotate.” It seemed like just saying the words made the plane fly. A few seconds later, “80 knots, positive rate, gear up,” I said as I lifted the gear handle and added some down trim at the same time to compensate for the striking pitch up from the airplane as it lost all the drag from the landing gear.
Maybe the Mooney isn’t the only airplane that makes me feel the way it does in those first few moments of flight. I’ve only been pilot in command of Cessna 172s and a Mooney M20J. Maybe a Bonanza would make me feel the same way; it’s undeniably a good-looking airplane, it’s fast, has a decent useful payload (though still not a 4-adult + full fuel airplane). But a good Bonanza would be a little expensive. To find one comfortably in my price range I need to exclude virtually all of those made in the last 30 years.
A Cirrus would be great, they’re fast and attractive airplanes with great avionics packages, and the whole-plane parachute is an amazing feature. But the airplane also smacks of a rich-man’s ride, even a first-gen with high time on the engine is out of reach. I’m not saying it’s bad, it seems like a great airplane, I just can’t afford one.
“What about the Cessna line of airplanes?” you might ask. Well, the 172 just isn’t fast enough for me. The 177 Cardinal (assuming an RG) is faster, and the 210 Centurion (especially a turbo version) is more my kind of speed machine. But the Cardinal just isn’t sexy, and the 210 burns too much fuel and is too expensive. The 182 seems like a good blend, but again the speed/fuel burn/cost/sexiness equation just doesn’t add up. The Cessna 400 is sexy and extremely fast, but astonishingly expensive. So too, for that matter, with the fast Piper singles like the Saratoga, Matrix, etc.
“Mooney three zero one kilo charlie contact Norfolk Approach on 125.2”
“Over to 125.2 for three zero one kilo charlie, have a good day,” I reply, reaching up to turn the knob on the Garmin 430.
I wait a second and make the call, “Norfolk Approach Mooney three zero one kilo charlie, with you level at five point five.”
“Mooney three zero one kilo charlie, Norfolk Approach, Roger, Norfolk altimeter three zero two nine.”
“There zero one kilo charlie,” I quickly reply, adjusting the altimeter setting slightly. My girlfriend is taking some pictures. The air is perfectly smooth, just over halfway home to New Jersey as we pass over Norfolk, between three or four naval installations. I look down over one and convince myself the little grey jets lined up on the ramp are F22 Raptors. “Awesome,” I think to myself, glancing up at the engine gauges, checking that everything is as it should be. I’m sure the Navy wouldn’t mind that much if I had to land on one of their fields if I had an emergency, but I really don’t want to find out. Just over an hour and we’ll be back on the ground in New Jersey, covering about 500 nautical miles in about three hours, ground speeds between 160 and 175 knots, burning 11.7 gallons of fuel per hour.
I’m choosing a Mooney because it is the best blend I can find of fuel burn, speed, stability, safety, and sheer attractiveness.