Why a Mooney?

20140112-173749.jpg
“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.20140112-164935.jpg

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.
20140112-165101.jpg

“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.
20140112-174354.jpg
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.
20140112-175222.jpg
I’m choosing a Mooney because it is the best blend I can find of fuel burn, speed, stability, safety, and sheer attractiveness.
20140112-175700.jpg

Priorities

I used to feel envious when people would drive by in their nice, new luxury cars. Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Range Rover, Maserati, Aston Martin, Ferrari, and on and on. I have to be honest, since I decided to get my pilot’s license, the feeling has changed. Don’t get me wrong: I still love cars, and Top Gear (the British version, of course) is one of my favorite shows. But I can’t look at them the same way anymore; whenever I see a great car, I can’t help but imagine the kind of airplane I would buy with that money*. I’d drive a scooter, I’d ride a bike, if it meant I could own an airplane.

And I don’t even mean a brand new Mooney or A36 or Cirrus, though I yearn to fly those. I don’t have that kind of money yet. I’m talking about an airplane probably as old or older than I am. One that will likely require my Dad’s prodigious skills as an A&P to get into safe, working, flying, order. One that even under those circumstances I will have to scrimp and save and barter and trade to keep it well maintained and myself well trained. But it will be mine. It will be mine to climb in and fly low and slow to¬†wherever, whenever^.

Landibg by night by Guillaume tb-pict.com (Guill_aume)) on 500px.com
Landing by night by Guillaume tb-pict.com

*Except for the Nissan GTR–I really want one of those

^Weather permitting

Go do it

I am completely obsessed with flying. Hands-down, can’t stop thinking about it, praying for better weather and more money in my bank account, obsessed with flying.

I’m not even a licensed pilot yet. Yet. 35.6 hours and tantalizingly close to that checkride but I haven’t officially joined the club. That first landing and the first solo and the first cross country were intoxicating and addicting. But I’ve been obsessed for years longer than I’ve actually been flying.

Some of my earliest memories are of flying. My Dad was a mechanic in the airlines for years (New York Air/Continental/Comair/United Express) and I remember back when he could take me up to the flight deck and the pilots would let me sit in the captain’s chair as long as I didn’t touch anything. I just remember being enthralled by flying and anything to do with airplanes.

Then in the middle of his career, Dad found some entrepreneurial spirit, and opened an FBO at Dayton Wright-Brothers Airport (KMGY), called Pax Air. I was 7 or 8 at the time. It was a 10,000 square foot hangar and my parents, my sister, and I lived in a small apartment a few miles away. Suddenly, I found myself growing up on an airport, and I was in heaven. I browsed every Trade-a-Plane sitting in the lounge, built airplane models, memorized every airplane’s name, watched my Dad fixing their engines, and listened to the pilots talk about where they were headed or what they needed fixed. But most importantly, I found myself flying in many of the airplanes. My Dad had gotten his private ticket and I would go flying with him or with his customers and friends.

When it was just Dad and I he would let me think I was flying the airplane, though I could barely see over the instrument panel. Maybe he actually let me fly, despite not being able to reach the rudder pedals. I remember him teaching me that I needed to pull the yoke back a little in a turn so the airplane would hold altitude. I remember during takeoff he taught me what speed I could pull back on the yoke in order to lift off. Whether he actually let me perform the maneuvers myself I’m not sure. My memories are too saturated by the exhilaration I felt to be flying that I don’t remember if his hand was on the control. I know I couldn’t reach the pedals and I didn’t touch the throttle or mixture or anything else. But something must have sunk in.

Summer of 2012. Dad hasn’t been current in almost 15 years as he went back to the airlines. Only my little sister and her husband still live in Ohio. My parents live in Virginia. I’ve moved to New Jersey, become a biologist, and generally “grown up”. I realize that I had set a goal just out of high school, 10 years prior. The goal was that I would get my private pilot’s license by the time I was 30. God, how fast that decade went. In the summer of last year, I was 28 going on 29 in October, and it was time to fly again. I had looked at the flying school at Princeton Airport (39N) every so often since I moved to the area just out of college. But the price tag just seemed too high. “Later, after a few promotions,” I would think, unable to justify the $10,000 it would probably take. I realized that all that time I really could afford it, I just didn’t want to. I didn’t want to prioritize it. I decided it was time. I wasn’t going to over-analyze the decision, the commitment, and the cost, because it would never happen. I just had to go do it.

20130223-230920.jpg

After that 1 hr intro lesson I was pretty sure my Dad actually let me fly the airplane 20 years ago. My CFI said I was a natural, and I felt like I just had a sense of how to fly the airplane–except for the rudder pedals. Something must have sunk in.