November 11, 2009
By Marc E. Cook
While most of the country enjoyed the holiday season, work continued behind the scenes to purchase the airplane that will become the 2000 Membership Sweepstakes grand prizeï¿½the Millennium Mooney. In the last three or four months of 1999, the staff at AOPA considered a number of different projects as candidates for the 2000 sweeps. But after a successful run in 1999 with a large-but-simple airplane, we decided that it was time to return to a formula that worked very well in 1997. You might remember that as the year of the Ultimate Arrow, a highly modified and updated Piper Arrow III. No one seemed put out by a moderate-performance retractable so we thought it might be time to raise the bar for 2000 and try a Mooney.
We considered several options, including buying a late-1970s M20Fï¿½the long-body, 200-horsepower version of the Mooney airframe built from 1964 to 1976ï¿½and making extensive airframe modifications. There exists in the Mooney-aftermarket world sufficient resources to transform an early airplane into the functional equivalent of a later-model 201. In the end, we decided to cut to the chase and just buy a 201 outright, seeing as how that was the final goal anyway. (It will help the value of the airplane in the long run. Modified M20Fs are still not valued as strongly as true 201s.)
So by autumn, the hunt was on. We considered several different airplanes, ranging from very early 1976 models to much later examples. After seeing and inspecting several airframes, we decided to buy N5817L, a 1987 M20J being sold by Bob Pursellï¿½s Central California Aviation in Fresno, California.
This particular 201 was part of Mooneyï¿½s Lean Machine program. By specifying a set avionics package and a limited number of paint schemes, Mooney hoped to cut unit costs and sell the airplanes for less than a same-year 201. It worked reasonably well, but pilots buying new airplanes tend to want them just so, making changes large and small to the equipment list.
Our 201 has the normal Honeywell Bendix/King KX 155 nav/coms, single-axis autopilot, ADF, DME, and transponder. This airplane also has a KCS 55 HSI system and two area nav packagesï¿½a KLN 90 (VFR-only) GPS and a KLN 88 loran. Previous owners also installed a Horizon digital tachometer, Aero Safe aileron trim, and a Sigtronics four-place intercom. Alas, all that will be coming out. Pacific Coast Avionics will be installing a complete suite of UPS Aviation Technologies gear and a Vision Microsystems VM1000 engine monitoring package.
For its part, the 1987 airframe embodies most of the useful changed Mooney brought to the 201 line through the yearsï¿½an improved ventilation system, split rear seatbacks, and a one-piece belly pan that eliminates scores of screws and a dozen or so inspection plates.
Through it all, the Lycoming IO-360 has been up front. Our airplane has a total of 1,600 hours on the airframe and engine; the engine carries an 1,800-hour TBO.
The Millennium Mooneyï¿½s first stop is to Top Gun Aviation, in Stockton, California, for an airframe inspection and installation of new window glass from LP Aeroplastics. In the coming weeks, weï¿½ll learn what we need to fix or alter on the airframe and then prep the 201 for the extensive avionics installation to start in February. Stay tuned.
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