This is the first of what we hope are many flight evaluations and reports on all of the models of Mooneys currently being flown by our members. The purpose of these evaluations is not 'gee-whiz" anyone or to look at these airplanes through rose colored glasses. It is to pass on real world, honest evaluations and appraisals of each model flown. We all fly wonderful airplanes, but Mooneys are not perfect. We plan to report the good and the not so good for each model. We will use some flight test techniques better than just the airspeed indicator and rate of climb to determine performance. And these evaluations will not be based on just a short hop around the pattern. We will have spent a considerable amount of time with each model to learn its characteristics and personality. We start these evaluations with Mooney's latest "entry level" model, the M20S Eagle. Next will be the M20C

The M20S Eagle

As we all know, for 1999, the Mooney factory made the tough decision to stop producing all "short body' Mooneys. This includes the M20J and the M20K that served the company and its customers faithfully for almost 30 years. The names "201 ", "231 "and "252" bring good feelings to the hearts of all Mooney owners and pilots. So it is understandable that many in the MAPA community didn't like the idea of not seeing any more new J and K models coming off the assembly line in Kerrville.

"So", we all asked, "without the J and K model, what was Mooney going to produce to replace these bread and butter, entry level airplanes?" The answer is the M20S Eagle, a lower cost version of the M20R Ovation that gives the pilot excellent levels of performance at a price that is significantly less than the Ovation. But the question remains - is this a viable replacement for the J model?

As Mooney pilots, the first thing we want to hear is about performance. And when we talk performance, we talk speed. For us, speed is everything and we are willing to give up a lot to go fast. Our airplanes aren't the most comfortable inside; they're pretty tight. We sit awfully close to the instrument panel. Our airplanes don't stand tall and strong on the ramp. We fly with stiff, squatty gears and sit close to the ground. Our airplanes don't like to slow down in the pattern and are pretty unforgiving to excess airspeed on final approach. All of this we are willing to put up with in the name of low drag and high cruise speed.

The M20J we all know and love has set the standard for speed and economy. When it first came out in 1977, the J model left everything else behind in this regard. In the real world, you can plan on 155 knots true airspeed at 11.5 gallons per hour in almost any J model you might fly.

So how does this new Eagle do in this regard - just how fast is it? The number is an honest, flight test verified 180 knots true airspeed. That's right, 180 knots. It's easy to say that number without stopping to think of its significance. Try for a moment to think of where you might find a similar level of cruise speed in a normally aspirated airplane - and at what price.

First of all, it's got to be a twin! Maybe a Baron would give 180 knots. But think of the maintenance upkeep and the insurance and of the proficiency requirements for the pilot to stay sharp to be safe with one engine inoperative. Same with a Cessna 310. A good 3 10 can give 180 knots, but again the need for big bucks to maintain and operate the airplane and keep the pilot proficient.

Anything else you can think of that cruises in the real world at 180 knots with a normally aspirated engine? Let's even consider a turbocharged option in the Eagle's price range - a used Malibu. Checked the shops lately and seen how many Malibus are in for a firewall forward replacement every 500 hours? The cost of going 180 knots or more in a used Malibu can be measured by the number of $75,000 firewall forward engine replacements in the logbook.

So with the M20S Eagle, you get an honest 180 knots true airspeed from a simple, normally aspirated engine. And we verified the 180 knot value using accepted flight test practices used in development and certification flight testing. You can do the same. Here's how.

When checking the performance of any airplane, you should never rely on the ship's airspeed system for accurate numbers. Any pilot who points to the airspeed indicator to show you how fast an airplane may be getting completely erroneous information. There are too many chances that the particular airplane you are flying has developed either a pitot or static system leak and the number you see on the airspeed instrument is way off.

Before GPS's, engineering test pilots had to make runs over a speed course to calibrate the airspeed system before they could get accurate data. A speed course is simply a measured known distance on the ground that you flew over with a stopwatch. You flew opposite directions over the speed course, calculated the two- way groundspeeds and averaged the two to determine true airspeed. Even with the best test pilot at the controls, this method was approximate at best. Every try to fly a steady indicated airspeed for a minute or so 500 feet off the ground?

GPS has changed all of this. Now, anyone can get dead accurate true airspeed data in any airplane they fly. Forget using a speed course, all the information you need to play performance test pilot is right on the face of the GPS. Using the GPS groundspeed readout, for a given power setting and altitude, fly north, south, east and west reading groundspeeds for each to negate the wind. Don't compensate for any wind drift - just fly the headings on the DG. Write down and average the four steady groundspeed readings taken on each heading. For the steady power setting and altitude you have just flown, the average of these four readings is a very accurate true airspeed.

It was by this method that we verified our evaluation M20S Eagle's actual performance and verified the ship's airspeed system was accurate. Using the above method, here is the cruise performance data we recorded:

ssM Smooth air, level flight at 8500', 12 degrees C OAT, 50 degrees F, rich of peak, full throttle 21.7" HG, 2400 RPM, 15.1 GPH MMkdkdkM
North 175 kts groundspeed Average 183.75 kts
South 192 kts groundspeed
East 220 kts groundspeed
West 144 kts groundspeed

There it is. 183 knots true on 15.1 gallons per hour. Truly outstanding numbers. Incidentally, the ship's airspeed system for this run was indicating 155 knots for a true airspeed indication on the airspeed instrument of 180. So this verifies the ship's readings for true airspeed were relatively accurate as well. Plus or minus 3 knots is well within limits.

In all the trips we made, we always saw 180 knots true airspeed when flying at or near 75% power anytime we were cruising between 4500 feet and 9500 feet. And fuel flows were always in that 15 gallons per hour range. So, for 3.5 gallons more fuel flow per hour, you get 25 more knots of cruise speed in the Eagle compared to the J model. That's a compromise I think any Mooney pilot would be willing to make.

Concerning fuel flows in the Eagle, power charts in the POH allow leaning at 50 degrees lean of peak or rich of peak EGI. We found that 50 degrees either side of peak EGT resulted in a difference of 1 gallon per hour of fuel flow. For example:

ssM Cruising at 8500 feet at full throttle (22"Hg), 2400 RPM and 5 degrees C OATMMkdkdkM
Peak - 50 degrees rich of peak:
15.4 GPH, 181 KTAS
Peak EGT:
14.6 GPH, 180 KTAS
Peak -50 degrees lean of peak:
13.4 GPH, 174 KTAS

From the data and for my money, flying at peak EGT is the way to go. Speed loss is negligible, fuel flow is down a little bit and the engine is happy. I found 50 degrees on the lean side of peak unacceptable in the airplane we were flying from an engine vibration standpoint. The engine in the particular airplane I was flying was just not happy any time the mixture was adjusted to the lean side of peak. It stumbled and missed enough to make me feel uncomfortable. It could be simply a clogged injector in one of the cylinders. Or, it could be that the injector nozzles aren't balanced close enough for smooth lean of peak operations. If that's the case, I wish that Continental would do a better job of matching tolerances in their fuel injectors at the factory. If Mooney tests and certifies their engines for lean of peak operations, Continental should supply engines that can operate there. As it is, we have to buy GAMI injectors for smooth lean of peak operations.

How about climb? The Eagle does very well. The engine in the Eagle is an IO-550-G, same engine as in the M20R Ovation. But to differentiate the performance between the Eagle and the Ovation, horsepower in the Eagle was limited to 244 by reducing maximum RPM from 2500 in the Ovation to 2400 in the Eagle. As a result, climb performance in the Eagle is less than the Ovation, but not by much. Below are some real world numbers determined with a stopwatch and the altimeter. These are excellent numbers.

200 lbs. under gross, full throttle, 2400 RPM, leaned to top of the blue arc on the EGT indicator for climb.kdkM
Pressure Alt. OAT KIAS R/C Fuel Flow Comments
2000 ft 15C 105 1050 FPM 23 GPH Near Vy
8000 ft 4C 100 800 FPM 18.0 GPH Near Vy
4000 ft 10C 140 600 FPM 21.4 GPH Cruise Climb
8000 ft 2C 140 500 FPM 18.1 GPH Cruise Climb

One thing to notice from the data is that like all other Mooneys, the Eagle has a flat climb speed versus rate of climb curve. That's why it's always much more efficient to climb a Mooney at a speed higher than Vy. You're rate of climb doesn't suffer that much with the increase in speed, but everything else is much better (visibility, engine cooling, distance traveled over the ground). From the above data, you can see that the Eagle exhibits this common Mooney characteristic. The cruise climb performance at 140 KIAS indicated is not all that less than when climbing at or near the lower Vy. My only concern about climb performance centers around engine cooling. I noted some pretty high CHT (380o F indicated with a 4600 F redline) and oil temp readings (200o F with a 240o F redline) when climbing at Vy. Since our flying was done on relatively cool days with outside temperatures below standard day, it would be interesting to see how the engine cools on a 100- F day when climbing for sustained periods at Vy. This is a certification issue that must be passed with adequate margins, so I'm sure the airplane meets the 1000 F day engine cooling climb requirements for cylinder and oil temperatures. It's just that it might be close.

The panel tells the story. Fuel consumption is 15.2 GPH at 75% power and 181 Kts true airspeed shows on the airspeed indicator at 4600'. The low drag cowling of the M20S is evident in this photo.

So for us Mooney pilots, there are the numbers. The Eagle delivers cruise speed like no other normally aspirated single engine airplane, except for the new Ovation2. You buy this airplane for perfomance and you get it. Never will the Eagle disappoint its' pilot with poor performance levels. This airplane sets the standard for a pilot flying a normally aspirated airplane. The Eagle also carries a pretty good load. Our test airplane, serial number 30-0030, weighed in at 2199 pounds when delivered. Subtracted from the airplanes gross weight of 3200 pounds, this leaves 1001 pounds of useful load. Subtracting full fuel (75 gallons) from this leaves 551 pounds of payload in the cabin. That's not too bad considering full fuel can keep the airplane aloft for four hours at high cruise with good reserves.

Incidentally, full fuel capacity in the Eagle (75 gallons) is reduced from the Ovation's full fuel capacity (95 gallons) simply by incorporating necks into the fuel tanks. In the Eagle, the line attendant is told to fill the tank "to the bottom of the filler neck". When the fuel level reaches the bottom of the filler neck, that tank has 37.5 gallons in it (75gallons total). The Eagle pilot must be careful that the attendant understands to fill to the bottom of the neck only. If he keeps forcing fuel into the tank, the capacity can be raised to the same as an Ovation (10 gallons extra per tank). Great for extra range but not so good for keeping the airplane under gross.

But there is much more to the Eagle than just performance and load carrying capability. I think one of the most important virtues of this airplane is something you don't hear much about. Probably has something to do with our "pilot egos". But the fact remains that this is one easy airplane to operate. The Eagle's engine/airframe combination is set up for simplicity. Examples? There are no cowl flaps to regulate engine temperatures. Maximum engine RPM is 2400, which happens to be exactly where the engine is happiest. Just leave the prop control full forward and forget about it. The only time you really need to reduce RPM is when cycling the prop prior to takeoff. Other than that, leave it full forward. Same with the throttle. Full forward for takeoff, climb and when cruising at altitudes greater than 6000 feet. The throttle should come back only when you are ready to start down. The mixture control is the only one that requires attention. I carefully leaned to the top of the blue arc for climb and carefully leaned during cruise. I found the mixture control to be the only engine control I was manipulating regularly.

This is a great attribute for the airplane, especially for lower time pilots who desire to go fast without all the usual workload items associated with a high performance airplane. Even for experienced pilots, any airplane that reduces your workload while delivering high levels of performance is a winner. This is where the Eagle shines. If you can check your pilot ego in at the cabin door, you'll really come to appreciate how good this airplane makes you look with very little demand asked in return.

And as we hope to begin attracting new pilots into our ranks in the new millennium, making flying easier becomes important. As experienced pilots, we spend way too much time messing around with managing the engine. Throttle, prop, mixture, cowl flaps, keeping everything in limits, constantly fiddling with everything. Sometimes it just becomes too much. Engine power management in the M20S Eagle is no more complicated than a Cessna 150. Throttle full forward for takeoff, climb and cruise. Prop control always forward. No cowl flaps to mess with. Only the mixture to adjust. If more high performance airplanes were as easy as the Eagle to operate, we would be attracting more new pilots into the industry. What new pilot really wants to fly around the country at 100 knots for several years while he or she gains experience? With airplanes like the Eagle, high performance flying can be had right away without slugging along forever in a 172 or a Cherokee "gaining experience".

But the Eagle is not without its airplane is. The interior noise levels are high, requiring active noise-cancelling headsets for comfort. It's a shame that general aviation airplanes suffer from noisy cabins. Maybe someday some new lightweight materials will come along that will quiet down our airplanes. Until then, thank goodness for ANR headset technology. Consider ANR headsets a must in the Eagle. Another squawk is over-the-nose visibility. As with all the new Mooneys, the top of the instrument panel is pretty tall, restricting forward visibility in during takeoff, climb and in the landing flare. Instead of looking through the windshield, you sometimes feel like you are looking through a porthole. Not only is this an issue for the pilot, but several times I noticed the front seat passengers straining to see what was ahead. Visibility to the sides is fine - all Mooney pilots enjoy a view of the ground because we sit relatively far forward of the wing's leading edge. That's true for everything from an M20C to an Eagle.

Another discrepancy was the fact that the particular airplane I flew didn't like to be leaned on the lean side of peak EGT. It was too rough at any mixture setting leaner than peak. Because of this, I couldn't check performance and fuel flows at any mixture setting lean of peak even though the POH said I could operate the engine there. Come on TCM, balance those fuel injectors better to allow us smooth operation lean of peak EGT.

And finally, we did suffer a couple of equipment failures. One was the PS Engineering PMA 700OM-S Intercom/Audio panel when the airplane had a total of 35 hours on it. However, switching my headset to the emergency set of phone and mic jacks bypassed the unit until it could be replaced. Cutter Aviation in San Antonio was kind enough to loan us a replacement unit until the failed one could be repaired. Our hats are off the Cutter Aviation and their "can do attitude" when it comes to customer support and service.

The other equipment failure occurred when the ignition switch stuck in the off position. This effectively stranded us without a way to get the engine started. Luckily, the switch freed itself for one more start which enabled us to get to a shop to get it replaced.

Avionics in the demonstrator airplane we flew consisted of the PS Engineering PMA 700OM-S audio panel/four-place intercom, a KLN 89B GPS, a single KX155A nav/com, a KT76C transponder, an S-Tec ST180 slaved HSI and an S-Tec System 30 autopilot. With the exception of the audio panel mentioned above, the avionics worked very well.

A word about the S-Tec System 30 autopilot. At first, this autopilot seems overly complicated to operate (too many buttons) and marginal for a high performance airplane like the Eagle. However, after learning what all the buttons and switches do and learning its limitations, the System 30 turned out to be a fine basic autopilot for the Eagle. It does a good job of heading and altitude hold and nav tracking. But for complicated nav Intercepts at high rates of speed, the System 30 shows itself to be a little outclassed by the Eagle's performance. Again, the System 30 does a good job in the Eagle. There are just times when you get the feeling that the autopilot is being outperformed by the airplane.

Now let's get down to the bottom line. Let's talk pricing. One-half of MAPA's membership is made of owners and pilots who fly airplanes costing less than $100,000. That's 2600 members. 2600 or so members fly airplanes that cost over $100,000. So what's the Eagle's price in relation to these airplanes? It's up there. The airplane we flew was a 1999 model. Base price of the airplane was $319,000 with the basic IFR avionics listed above, including the autopilot and the HSI. For real world IFR operations, you would need to add a second KX 155A nav/com and a Kl-203 nav indicator at $6900. And with an airplane this fast, speed brakes at $6800 are awfully nice to have. Throw in a polished spinner at $800 and you have your airplane ready to go at $333,500.

Again, these are 1999 prices and there are still several airplanes in dealer inventory available at these prices. I just received Mooney's year 2000 prices and see that an identically equipped Eagle will cost $343,700 this year. Either way, that's a chunk of change. A lot of us can't afford that kind of money for an least not right now. But there are some MAPA members who can. And for those who can, owning and flying a new Eagle would be a magnificent experience. Everything is new. It works. And if it doesn't, it's fixed under warranty, no questions asked. A good example of this was the failed audio panel/intercom. In 20 minutes, I was on my way with a loaner. When the replacement unit arrived, it was out with the loaner and in with the new in 5 minutes and no questions asked. Try that with a used airplane.

Another huge issue to consider is that when you buy new, you're starting with a fresh engine. The older I get, the more I dislike flying behind a high time powerplant that the guy before me probably didn't treat right. Every miss and snort has me on the edge of my seat wondering what's going on inside the engine. With a new airplane, you're the number one pilot. You know the engine because you're the one flying it from new condition. If the engine misses or snorts, you probably caused it.

And on and on. For those who can afford it, there is nothing like a new airplane. Did you know that the average MAPA member owns an airplane that is 26 years old and has 3400 airframe hours? Did you know that the buyer of a used Mooney spends an average of $15,000 the first year of ownership on upgrades and maintenance just to get the airplane to a level he or she is comfortable with? Not so with a new airplane. Your investment after the purchase to get the airplane that you want is $0. I'm not saying that all of us should run out and buy a new Eagle. That's not realistic and not what MAPA is all about. We're about supporting all Mooneys, regardless of their age. But for those of us who can find a way to afford a new Mooney, we say, "way to go!" Because for those of us who can afford a new Eagle, you get:

  1. A 180 knot airplane on 15 gallons per hour - unequalled normally aspirated performance.
  2. An airplane that brings these levels of high performance in an easy to operate package. No other airplane has such low workload demands on a pilot with such high levels of performance.
  3. No questions asked service and warranty. If it breaks or doesn't work they fix it, not you.
  4. The privilege of being the very first pilot to operate the airplane. You're not inheriting someone elses mistakes and mishandling. You're number one in the left seat.

For those of us who can't afford a new one, don't be angry. Be happy for those who can. Because some day, we just might be in a position to trade our older Mooney on a used Eagle. And I promise you that if you're ever able to do that some day, you'll never look back at your old Mooney.

The Eagle is that good.