Aircraft Evaluation Report

Test Pilot - Flying the M20J



Ed. Note: This is our fourth in a series of real world evaluations of the airplanes owned and flown by the 5000 members of MAPA. In the past, we've looked at the M20C, M20E and M20F. Now we turn our attention to the M20J, the airplane that bridged the gap for the Mooney factory from the 1960's to the 1980's and beyond with an airplane that was a big improvement over the airplanes built prior to its introduction. The M20 series of airplanes built in Kerrville really didn't change much from 1961 to 1976. Sure, the 200 horsepower M20E came along in 1964, followed by the stretched fuselage M20F in 1967, but that's about the extent of the changes in 15 years -- a little more power and a little more cabin room. But in 1977, the company introduced the aerodynamically and aesthetically improved M20J "201" and the airplane was an instant success.

There are two interesting things about the J model. First, the J model was a relatively easy project for the factory to do -- a cowling change and a sloped windshield applied to the F model was about it. I know there was a lot of publicity and accolades given for the development of the "201" in 1977, but the fact is that most of the drawings for these changes were already in the vault at the factory when the J model idea was born. It did take a good team of engineers and mechanics to get these changes put on a test airplane and evaluated, and it took Roy Lopresti to convince Mooney's owners at the time to fund the project. But this wasn't rocket science - the M20F was an airplane just begging for some aerodynamic cleanup.

Two things distinguish the M20J from the pre-J models aerodynamically. First is the cowling. The M20J is shown on the left; a pre-J model shown on the right.

Secondly, the real world difference in cruise performance between an F model and a J model is pretty small -- about 10-12 knots. That's not a lot, but never has the marketplace made such a big deal over 10-12 knots than when the M20J model was introduced in 1977. Timing is everything in the airplane business. The market for personal airplanes was just bursting at the seams in the late 1970s and the introduction of the J model in 1977 resulted in an immediate backlog of orders that made the Mooney factory lots of money and probably saved it from extinction.

For our evaluation flight, we found a very nice 1980 model M20J right across the street from our office. All American Aircraft here in San Antonio, Texas always carries extremely clean Mooneys in its inventory. Jimmy Garrison and David McGee search the country for the best pre-owned Mooneys they can find and they and sale stock excellent airplanes. When I saw N531DD in the hangar, it caught my eye as an airplane that someone had taken very good care of. Cosmetically and mechanically, it seemed just as nice as when it left the factory some 20 years ago. Flying the airplane proved this to be true. N531DD was just a superb example of an early M20J. This airplane is proof positive that someone who takes good care of an older airplane and spends the money to make it sound will be rewarded with a safe and reliable traveling machine. So we found a superb airplane to evaluate. Let's go fly and see what it will do.

Note the cowling differences in these sideviews. The M20J is shown on the left. An M20F is shown at right. No wonder an M20J is 10 knots faster on the average than the M20F. Good cowling aerodynamics are critical for good performance with a Mooney.

For me, approaching the M20J on the ramp is like approaching an old friend. There is something about this airplane that just makes you feel good inside. I guess it's a combination of things. First of all, you know that the J model is a refined design of an airframe that has been around for almost 40 years now. If you have a special place in your hearts for Mooney airplanes (and we all do), the J model is like a hero. Here sets the ultimate definition of what Al and Art Mooney had in mind those many years ago. They believed in speed and economy, and the M20J is the best at delivering these two concepts together. Sure, the newer Mooneys are faster, but the economy part of the equation kind of got left behind in the transformation of the M20J into today's models. Secondly, you know that this is an airplane you can trust. The airframe is tough and tested. The systems are simple and reliable. If you stay on top of the maintenance in a J model, everything will work. This means piece of mind -- probably the single most important thing an airplane should deliver to its owner. There is absolutely nothing worse than flying an airplane you don't trust. You're always on the edge of your seat waiting for something to break or fail -- a terrible feeling. You don't get that feeling flying in a J model. Well-maintained M20J's are very trustworthy airplanes.

So what defines a J model over an F model? The difference can be summarized in one word -- aerodynamics. The F model was the same basic airplane as the J, but without the refined aerodynamics. Two items on the F model were glaring in their aerodynamic inefficiency -- the really poor cowling and a windshield with very little sweep-back angle. A new cowling and a sloped windshield were developed, installed and flight-tested on an F model. And just like that, Mooney's best seller of all time, the M20J, was born and transformed into a 160 KTAS cruising airplane

To be sure, there were other aerodynamic improvements made to the airframe as part of the J model package. Such items as flap and aileron gap seals, flap track fairings and landing gear door improvements were added. These certainly helped the airplane's performance -- perhaps a few knots. But in reality, the major improvements were the cowling and the windshield. Everything else was mainly for cosmetics and to give Mooney's marketing department something to talk about.

The second big aerodynamic improvement that made the J model so much better is the installation of a sloped windshield. Note the M20J on the left and its predecessor, the M20F, on the right. The cowling and the windshield are the heart and soul of the M20J's performance gains.

Our test airplane for this report was a 1980 model M20J, N531DD, serial number 24-0948. The airplane was in excellent condition. The paint was a 9+ and the interior was a 9. The engine was strong (only 354 hours since factory new) and the airframe had only 1960 hours since new. Avionics were excellent -- all Bendix/King digital with a II Morrow panel mounted VFR GPS. The airplane also had an S-Tec System 50 autopilot with altitude hold -- an excellent aftermarket autopilot for all Mooneys. Rounding out the special features of this airplane was a JPI EDM-700 graphic engine monitor giving all four CHT and EGT readings as well as OAT and voltage. New style wingtips from LASAR were also installed (mainly for looks, don't expect any performance gain here). Other than that, the exterior was stock 1980 model vintage.

Our test M20J was stock 1980 except for the installation of later style wingtips (L). Compare those with the squared-off tips of the M20F(R). Don't expect any performance gains with the newer tips, however. They're for looks only.

Open the cabin door, look inside and hooray! -- the panel layout is drastically improved compared to all Mooneys built in the 60s and early 70s. We finally are flying behind a panel with the basic-T configuration for the flight instruments, the avionics stacked in the center section and the power instruments on the right hand side. This is the way we are supposed to fly -- behind an instrument panel with some ergonomic and organizational thought put into it. If there's one area where our beloved pre-J models are showing their age, it's in the panel configuration. Until you get used to the non-standard layout of the instruments and avionics in pre-J model Mooneys, flying IFR in them can be a real challenge as your scan searches for instruments and avionics haphazardly installed from the far left to the far right sides of the panel. I consider this one of the major drawbacks of owning and flying the older Mooneys -- the nonstandard instrument locations in the panel. It's okay for VFR. But for IFR, it's not good. With the J model, you get the latest instrument panel configuration with much better logic applied to switch and control locations. This is a huge consideration in favor of the J model if you fly lots of IFR.

The panel is also a little bit farther from your face than in the earlier pre-J model Mooneys. I need reading glasses in the early Mooneys to clearly see the panel right under my nose. In the J model, I can see the panel fine without them, although I still wear my reading glasses to fly (it's awful to get older). As we have discussed in the previous articles, shoulder harnesses should be considered required equipment in all Mooney airplanes. That panel isn't far away from your face in any Mooney. A sudden stop and your face will hit it if you're not wearing a shoulder harness. Most J models have shoulder harnesses in them as standard equipment from the factory. It's my opinion that this is the single most important safety item you can have in a Mooney. If you're looking at buying any Mooney without shoulder harnesses, demand that they be retrofitted or have it done yourself right after you buy the airplane. Shoulder harness retrofit kits (both fixed and inertia reel) are available from Lake Aero Styling in California (1-800-954-5619).

The M20J's instrument panel. Finally, we have a well thought out and pilot-friendly instrument panel to fly behind. This is a huge advantage with the M20J compared to the pre-J models, especially if you fly lots of IFR.

Buckled in with the shoulder harness securely on, it's time to start the engine. In my opinion, J models are the second easiest airplanes to start in the Mooney fleet, second only to the carbureted M20C. The J model's induction system allows the engine to breath easy, which really helps when starting the engine. Cold, open the throttle an inch, mixture full rich, boost pump on for 5 seconds then off, then pull the mixture to idle/cutoff. Engage the starter and smoothly increase the mixture to full rich when the engine fires. When hot, don't touch anything except open the throttle an inch prior to engaging the starter. Engage the starter, then increase the mixture smoothly to full rich after the engine fires. If flooded, push everything full forward, engage the starter, then quickly pull the throttle to idle when the engine fires followed quickly by the mixture control to full rich.

As with any Mooney, once the engine has settled down and is idling, aggressively lean the mixture for all ground operations -- sometimes as much as having the mixture control out one-half to three-quarters travel. This includes the taxi to the runway for takeoff and the taxi back to the hangar after landing. If you're fouling the plugs often in your Mooney, chances are the idle mixture is set too rich (most are). So aggressively leaning for all ground operations will really help keep those spark plugs clean.

With the J model, we're getting into a heavier airframe and the extra weight shows itself on the ground as a little smoother taxi ride to and from the runway. Pre-J model Mooneys ride stiff on the ground. Every bump on the ground is transmitted throughout the airframe on the lighter Mooneys due to the combination of the stiff landing gear design and light airframe weight. With the J model, airframe weights are getting high enough that the ride quality on the ground isn't so harsh and jarring.

The gear is easy to maintain, but the ride on the ground will be a stiff one.

Pre-takeoff checks are routine. Engine runup is done at a fairly high 1900-2000 RPM, high enough that the passengers get a little bit uneasy with all the noise and commotion. The earlier Mooneys had a recommended engine runup RPM of a much more sedate 1700. Don't ask me why this changed in the J model. Setting flaps for takeoff is your decision and option. The book recommends 15 degrees (the takeoff setting), but if the runway is longer than 3000 feet, consider not using flaps for takeoff. The takeoff distance might be a few hundred feet longer without flaps, but I think you'll find the airplane has much better liftoff and initial climb characteristics without flaps. My personal technique is not to use them if the runway length isn't critical.

On the runway now for takeoff. Don't forget to increase the mixture to full rich for takeoff if the departure airport has a density altitude below 5000 feet or so. If the density altitude is greater than 5000 feet, it will pay big dividends in takeoff and climb performance to do a full power runup prior to departure, lean the mixture control to find a peak EGT reference, then enrichen to 100 degrees rich of peak EGT prior to takeoff.

Full throttle for takeoff and as you accelerate down the runway, try a slight pull aft (about 5 pounds) on the control wheel. In all makes and models of Mooneys, this slight aft pull on the control wheel during the takeoff run seems to put more weight on the main gear instead of the nose gear. This assures that the airplane will not "get up" on the nose gear during the takeoff roll with the possibility of swerving into the weeds. Experienced Mooney pilots always have a little aft pull on the control wheel during the takeoff. Try it; you'll like the results.

After takeoff, it's gear and flaps (if used) up and time to set the power and fly the best speed profile for the most efficient climb to cruise altitude. First, let's talk an engine power setting in the J model for the most efficient climb profile. It's 1) full throttle, where the induction system operates the most efficiently 2) 2700 RPM, where the propeller delivers the most thrust for climb, 3) lean the mixture to find your peak EGT (exhaust gas temperature) reference, then enrichen to 100 degrees rich of that peak EGT reference for best power needed for the climb and 4) cowl flaps either full open or in the trail (1/2 open position). The J model has tremendous engine cooling margins in the climb. You'll get nowhere close to peak cylinder head or oil temperature readings in the climb in any J model. So, no sense in keeping those draggy cowl flaps fully open if you don't need to, and in the J model you don't. Trail them if you wish -- it will decrease the overall drag on the airplane during the climb to altitude.

Airspeeds for the climb in the J model can vary. If there is terrain ahead or you need to get to altitude as quickly as possible, climb at Vy -- the best rate of climb speed. That's 88 KIAS at sea level decreasing to 82 KIAS at 10,000 feet. But how many times do you really need to climb like this? A better choice for the climb to altitude is a constant 105 KIAS at heavier weights if you desire a good compromise of best rate of climb and most horizontal distance traveled across the ground in the climb. At times (when the airplane is a little bit light or it's cold outside), I even like to climb at 120 KIAS in the J model. The rate of climb is still good and you're really covering the ground while you're climbing to altitude. So keep the power up, the mixture leaned and the airspeed high as you climb your J model to altitude. It's the way the airplane was designed and engineered to fly.

To check the real world climb performance on our test M20J, I performed a climb at 105 KIAS/120MIAS. I chose this speed for two reasons. First, the climb performance is still good, even though we're 15 KIAS or so faster than Vy. Second, we climbed the other pre-J models at this speed, so using this speed in the J model gives us a good "apples to apples" comparison with the other Mooneys evaluated for these series of articles. So here is the observed data obtained in the climb, climbing the J model at full throttle, 2700 RPM, mixture at peak EGT plus 100 degrees rich, cowl flaps full open and a 105KIAS/120MIAS climb speed.

Continuous Climb Data 1980 M20J N531DD
Full throttle, 2700 rpm, mixture leaned to 100 degrees rich of peak EGT, cowl flaps full open, 105 KIAS/120MIAS, ram air off

Elapsed Time Altitude MP RPM OAT
Rate of Climb
0:00 1000 28.0 2700 52 ---
1:00 2100 27.0 2700 51 1100
2:00 3000 26.1 2700 50 900
3:00 4000 25.1 2700 50 1000
4:00 4800 24.2 2700 50 800
5:00 5600 23.5 2700 50 800
6:00 6450 23.0 2700 50 650
7:00 7180 22.6 2700 51 730
8:00 7840 22.0 2700 52 660
9:00 8350 21.5 2700 52 510
10:00 8900 21.2 2700 52 550
11:00 9400 20.7 2700 51 500
12:00 9840 20.2 2700 49 440
20.0 2700 47 400

So, the data above shows that it took us 12.4 minutes to climb 9000 feet on a day where the OAT was below standard down low but above standard up high. That's an average rate of climb of 726 FPM -- excellent for an airplane with only 200

horsepower. And the loading was identical as the other Mooneys tested before -- full fuel (66.5 total/64 useable gallons in the J), single pilot (me) and 30 pounds of miscellaneous equipment and charts.

Note that the climb was done with the ram air control off. Ram air in the M20J is really pretty ineffective compared to the E and F models. In the J model, activating the ram air system and bypassing the primary induction air filter gives you only about .25 " Hg increase in manifold pressure - about 3 horsepower or so. In the E and F models, the ram air is good for almost 1" Hg increase in manifold pressure - almost 10 horsepower. In later year J models, the ram air control system was dropped from production. .25" Hg is hardly worth anything, so why put the ram air system on the airplane? That's what the factory decided and it was a good decision.

I've said it before, but in my opinion "ram air" was a bad idea for all Mooneys. It was a band-aid for a poorly designed primary induction air system on the E and F models. It shouldn't have been carried over to the J model, which had a better primary (filtered) induction air system. Mooney's engineers should have designed a better primary system in the first place and not required the pilot to select a manual bypass to get the engine performance he or she deserves in the first place. That's not good engineering discipline.

Let's compare our 726 FPM rate obtained in our test J model with the 120 MIAS/105KIAS data obtained with our other pre-J model test airplanes flown for these series of reports. Here's what that data looks like:

Climb Performance Comparisons M20C, M20E, M20F and M20J

Model Climb Speed
Average Rate
of Climb to 10000'
J 105/120 726
E 105/120 688
F 105/120 615
C 105/120 571

Very interesting, isn't it? What I find the most interesting is that these numbers aren't really all that much different. An M20J will climb about 150 FPM on the average better than a C model. But you know what? That's not a whole lot of difference. Certainly, the extra 20 horsepower and better aerodynamics of the J model put it a step ahead of all the other airplanes in climb. But the basic Mooney airframe gained weight over the years, so the improvement in climb performance between an M20C and an M20J isn't so great after all. No wonder the older airplanes hold their value well -- they perform almost alongside models built 30 years later, at least when it comes to climb performance.

The pilot's view of the panel as the airplane is just intercepting the ILS. Note the inoperative oil temp gauge. Shown below is the view out the front as the airplane turns towards the airport. The over the nose visibility is excellent, much better than the later model Mooneyls with their much taller instrument panel.

How about real world cruise performance? Is there a bigger difference here? As we did with the other airplanes, we took a look at real world cruise performance with our test M20J. We configured the airplane for the most efficient cruise power setting and looked at GPS derived groundspeeds with that power setting flying four cardinal headings (N, S, E, W). That's the way you find out what your airplane will really do in level cruise. Forget the information off the airspeed indicator -- these numbers are subject to all kinds of errors. To find out how fast your airplane really is, for a specific altitude set the power setting you want to test, hold altitude and heading very precisely and note GPS stabilized groundspeeds while flying N, S, E and W on the DG. Don't correct for any wind, just fly stabilized headings and altitude. Write the stabilized groundspeed from the GPS for each stabilized heading. Add those four groundspeeds up and find the average. The result is your aircraft's true airspeed for the altitude and power setting you are flying. And it's very accurate.

As we have in all the other Mooneys, we set the most efficient cruise power setting in the J model for the true airspeed check. The normally aspirated Lycoming IO-360 engine in the J model was designed to run the most efficiently at the following cruise power setting, regardless of altitude and OAT. That power setting is 1) full throttle, 2) 2500 prop RPM, 3) mixture leaned to 50 degrees rich of peak EGT and 4) cowl flaps full closed. The induction and exhaust systems on normally aspirated Mooneys are designed to be the most efficient with the throttle full open. 2500 RPM is the setting gives the best propeller cruise efficiency at the cruise speeds we fly. Mixture setting is your choice. You can fly at 100 degrees rich of peak EGT for best power (good airplane performance but watch those fuel flows), 50 degrees rich of peak for the best combination of best power and best economy (this is where I like to fly), peak EGT for best economy (good fuel flows but performance is down) or 50 degrees lean of peak for really good economy (low fuel flows but slower speeds).

For these comparisons, I choose to fly at full throttle, 2500 RPM, 50 degrees rich of peak EGT and cowl flaps closed. It's how I fly every normally aspirated Mooney in cruise and it's a power setting that has served me well for many years. You're always within the operating limits of the engine and you're flying the airplane for an excellent combination of economy and performance. So how did our M20J do on these speed runs? Let's take a look.

Level Flight Cruise Performance 1980 M20J N531DD
Full throttle, 2500 rpm, 50 degrees rich of peak EGT, cowl flaps closed,
ram air off.

Altitude OAT

MP RPM Direction IAS
10000 50 20.8 2500
139/160 172
10000 50 20.8 2500 E 139/160 171
10000 50 20.8 2500 S 139/160 146
10000 50 20.8 2500 W 139/160 143
Average GS/TAS 158 kts
7000 52 23.5 2500 N 146/168 175
7000 52 23.5 2500 E 146/168 183
7000 52 23.5 2500 S 146/183 152
7000 52 23.5 2500 W 146/183 138
Average GS/TAS 158 kts
4500 55 25.2 2500 N 153/176 173
4500 55 25.2 2500 E 153/176 183
4500 55 25.2 2500 S 153/176 151
4500 55 25.2 2500 W 153/176 136
Average GS/TAS 160.75 kts

So there it is. GPS derived true airspeed data for a representative M20J. And it's data at a "real world" power setting -- full throttle, 2500 RPM, mixture leaned to 50 degrees rich of peak EGT, cowl flaps closed. Note that the data was performed with the ram air control off. In the M20E and F models, the ram air adds about 1" manifold pressure, or about 10 horsepower in level cruise flight. On the M20J, the system is much less effective, adding only about .25" manifold pressure and 3 horsepower or so. It's not worth fooling with on the J model. That's why the factory dropped it. It's also why I didn't use it for this performance testing - I'm not sure you can measure the effect of 3 horsepower on level flight cruise speeds. Certainly, the risk of running unfiltered induction air through the engine isn't worth the miniscule increase in performance it gives. Take my advice on your J model -- leave the ram air control off.

Incidentally, probably the best engine cooling of all the Mooneys can be found in the J models. The engine in the J model runs almost too cool. I was always amazed at how much engine cooling margins the J model had during my flying at the factory as Mooney's engineering test pilot. I was fresh from Cessna flight test, and Cessna's philosophy was that if the engine passes cooling tests with a 1 degree margin, that's okay. So it was a surprise to see so much engine cooling margins in the J model when I first started testing them in 1983. Want proof? Just look at the data I obtained from the JPI engine monitoring system installed in N531DD during these cruise performance runs:

M20J Engine Cooling Data Level Cruise Flight N531DD
Full throttle, 2500 rpm, mixture leaned to 50 degrees rich of peak EGT, cowl flaps closed

Altitude OAT Cylinder #1 Cylinder #1 Cylinder #1 Cylinder #1 Oil
10000 50 308 1327 325 1340 356 1345 329 1316 180
4500 55 305 1379 333 1377 356 1392 334 1371 180
Max Allowable 475 475 475 475 245

As you can see, the hottest cylinder (#3) has a 119 degree margin below maximum allowable in level cruise on the day we flew. The oil is 65 degrees below max allowable. Even corrected to 100 degree F day conditions (at sea level) per FAR 23.1047, the hottest cylinder would still have a 90 degree margin below the max allowable limit at the altitudes we tested. That's lots of cooling margin, allowing you to aggressively lean the mixture any time in the J model with confidence that you're not going to exceed any temperature limitation with the engine.

So how does this cruise performance data compare with the pre-J model airplanes we have tested. Let's take a look:

Comparative Cruise Speeds M20C, M20E, M20F, M20J
Level flight, full throttle, 2500 RPM, mixture leaned to 50 degrees rich of peak EGT, cowl flaps closed

Altitude Ram Air GPS Derived Cruise Speed (KTS)
M20J M20E M20F M20C
10000 on --- --- 145.25 ---
10000 off 158 145.5 144 139
7000 on --- 153.75 150.5 ---
7000 off 162 149.5 147 143.5
4500 on --- 151.5 151.25 ---
4500 off
149.25 148 146.75

If you look at all this data, it becomes much easier to decipher is you make the following simplifications; 1) the M20J is a 160 KTAS airplane in level flight, 2) the M20E is a 150 KTAS airplane, 3) the M20F is 150 KTAS and the M20C is 140 KTAS. So in the day to day flying we do, there is a 20 KTAS spread in these four airplanes -- the J model is 10 KTAS faster than and E or F and 20 KTAS faster than the C. So Mooney's engineers extracted 10 KTAS from the F model when they developed the M20J. That's quite a feat, especially since it was all done with aerodynamics and not horsepower.

Descending from altitude and you'll find a nice, high limitation on the top of the green arc in the J model. It's 174 KIAS/200MIAS, same as in the current production airplanes.

This gives you all kinds of margins for descents in rough air. The early C and E model Mooneys (pre'69) had ridiculously low top of the green arcs (150 MIAS). The M20F was a little better at 175 MIAS. But the J model is the best of the best in this regard. I really like the ability to make descents with indicated airspeeds comfortably in the green arc compared to high in the yellow arc.

Let's look at some stall speeds and characteristics in the J model. Stall speeds are quite low in the J model. Lots of pilots think that the J model is a "hot" airplane with high stall speeds and harsh characteristics at the stall. Not so. We found that N531DD stalled at 58 KIAS/67MIAS gear down and flaps up and at 52 KIAS/60MIAS with the gear down and the flaps full down. These numbers are about 3-5 KIAS less than those in the POH, but remember we were pretty light -- probably 300 pounds or so under gross weight. Characteristics were benign for all configurations tested. N531DD would drop the left wing 15 degrees or so at the stall break, a characteristic seen in most J models. This was not the onset of a spin, just the fact that one wing (the left one) was stalling a little bit before the right one.

N531DD did exhibit a stall characteristic that can be found in all J model and newer Mooneys and is something that will get your attention if you encounter it. It's a secondary stall, encountered only if you're too aggressive on returning the nose of the airplane back to level flight during the recovery from the primary stall. Primary stall characteristics are excellent in all Mooneys, but if you pull that nose back to early or too fast during the stall recovery, the airplane will enter a secondary stall. It's this secondary stall that gives a pretty interesting ride. Expect a pretty healthy wing drop if you encounter a secondary stall, one that really gets your attention. It's not a safety issue and not a certification issue, since all the FAA cares about are primary stall characteristics. But if you encounter a secondary stall in your Mooney during a too aggressive recovery from the primary stall, you'll know it. The roll-off is brisk and opposite aileron doesn't do much to stop it. You must release the back pressure and the nose must go back down to unstall the wing before recovering to wings level from a secondary stall. Do this and everything will work out fine. But keep that wheel back in a secondary stall and the airplane can quickly roll to wings vertical -- or beyond.

Using the stall speeds derived above, let's set some approach speeds and shoot some landings to get a feel for the airplane in the pattern and in the landing flare. Using our old rule of multiplying the stall speeds times 1.2 to determine "over the threshold" speeds, we come up with 1.2 times 58 KIAS = 70 KIAS with the flaps up and 1.2 times 52 KIAS = 62 KIAS with the flaps full down. I know these numbers sound low -- they did to me. But let's try them out in a series of landings.

I like to fly the pattern in a J model at 100 KIAS. I use this speed for my climb, crosswind, downwind and base. On final, I begin slowing to 80 KIAS and am at my targeted threshold speed of 1.2 times the stall speed as I enter the landing flare. My first few landings were done with the flaps up. All Mooneys land very well with the flaps up, just expect a pretty high nose up attitude on final approach. Our calculated threshold speed of 70 KIAS with the flaps up sounded slow to me, but guess what? It was perfect! The airplane had plenty of energy left to flare and float before touching down. I next tried the targeted threshold speed of 62 KIAS over the numbers with the flaps full down. Again, perfection! Good energy left for the flare and touchdown. At no time did I feel the airplane was going to fall out from under me. Remember, my stall speeds and calculated "over the numbers" speeds were done with about three-quarters fuel, only me and 30 pounds of equipment on board. With more fuel or passengers, these speeds would have increased by 5 knots or so. But that's all.

Regardless of the type of Mooney you fly, try finding out what your threshold speeds should be in this same manner. Go up to altitude and do some stalls with the gear down and the flaps up and the gear down and the flaps down. Note the indicated airspeeds where the stall break or buffet occurs. Multiply these indicated stall speeds times 1.2. Use the resulting speeds as the target speed you want to be at as you cross the numbers and begin to flare the airplane for landing. We're having way too many landing overshoots and prop strikes in our ranks these days -- all the result of excessive airspeed during the landing flare and touchdown. Get those speeds in check. It's okay to fly the pattern at any speed -- I like 100 KIAS, slowing to 80 KIAS on final. But those speeds must be slower as we begin our landing flare. So determine what the indicated stall speeds are for your particular airplane at the weight you fly the most, multiply them times 1.2 and set that as your target speed for beginning the landing flare. Your landing distances will be shorter -- guaranteed. Your landing gear maintenance will be less -- guaranteed. And the chances of the airplane porpoising and getting up on the nose gear during the landing will all but be eliminated -- saving a very expensive engine/propeller replacement if you should have a prop strike.

So that's a look at the J model, the airplane that probably saved Mooney Aircraft Corporation and bridged the gap for the company from the 1970s into the 1980's and beyond. The M20J is a fine, fine airplane. Listed below are what I think are the primary advantages of owning and flying an M20J compared to a pre-J model Mooney;

Primary Advantages of Owning and Flying an M20J Over a Pre-J Model Mooney

A Great Combination of Performance and Economy -- Expect 10 KTAS faster than and M20E or F and 20 KTAS faster than an M20C. The J model can be flight planned at 160 KTAS, a remarkable number. And the nice thing about the J model is that it gets these speeds with a 200 horsepower engine, so your fuel flows aren't going to be any higher than the M20E or F. Certainly the newer Mooneys are faster, but at a price of higher horsepower and more fuel flow.

Updated Instrument Panel -- You'll love flying behind the basic T instrument layout with the avionics in the middle. Switch locations are better laid out. All this makes operating the airplane, especially IFR, much easier.

Updated Systems -- Items like alternators, newer wiring harnesses, better primary induction air system, higher landing gear operating speeds, state of the art avionics, good autopilots and an HSI. All these mean a lot, again even more so if you fly IFR.

Good Cabin Room - Same as the M20F, but with better-designed, more comfortable seats. Also expect shoulder harnesses as standard equipment - a huge, must-have item in any Mooney for pilot and passenger safety.

Good Aerodynamics -- You have a good feeling flying a J model, knowing that you're getting the most performance from the least horsepower in the "201". Pre-J models all have horribly inefficient cowlings from an aerodynamic standpoint and a much too vertical windshield. In an M20J, you feel like you're "sliding" through the air with the improved cowl and sloped windshield.

Excellent Range and Endurance -- The J model has some of the best numbers here in the entire general aviation fleet. Combine 64 gallons of useable fuel, an 11.5 GPH rate of fuel consumption, a cruise speed of 160 KTAS and the numbers get pretty awesome. On the average, expect 4 hours and 30 minutes of endurance with a solid 1 hour of reserves in the tanks with full fuel. Know of any other general aviation airplanes with better numbers than these?

Prices for J models are strong and they won't be going down anytime soon. Depending on model year, expect to pay anywhere from $85,000 for an early one to $200,000+ for one of the last ones built. Most airplanes built in the late 1970's and early 80's fall in a $100,000 to $130,000 price range. N531DD was a good example. An exceptional 1980 model with excellent paint, low time factory new engine, excellent interior, like-new avionics and an updated autopilot, the airplane was priced and sold for $120,000. And the new owner got an exceptional M20J for the money.

So, is the M20J the best Mooney ever built? Tough, tough question. I love to ask this question with a group of Mooney pilots present. It always starts an argument. Certainly, the M20J has most of the bases covered -- this is an airplane that does almost everything very well. Speed, economy, looks, low maintenance requirements, reasonable initial purchase price -- it's all there. It is an airplane born from years and years of refinement done in the 1960's and 70's on the pre-J model Mooneys. The M20J has a strong heritage -- it couldn't help but be a success. But is it the best Mooney every built? Put twenty Mooney pilots in a room, ask them the question and take a vote. The majority will always answer "Yes".

The M20J. It's everybody's favorite! One of the best to come from Kerrville.

Not that it matters, but will it get my vote? Not quite. I'll tell you what my personal favorite is when we get to it. But I love the M20J. It made Mooney what it is today. It was built by people in Kerrville who really cared about their jobs and the products they were building. I was fortunate enough to work with these people for eight years and I can tell you that any airplane they built was built right. The M20J represents what's good with general aviation. It's an airplane you can entrust your and your family's lives to. It'll get you through the storm and safely on the runway if you give it half a chance.

If there ever was an airplane that could be called a "hero", the M20J is it. I envy all of our members who own and fly one.