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February 1, 2005
By Thomas A. Horne
Mooneys, always known for their speed, fuel efficiency, and strength, just took a big leap forward in the avionics department. The company recently announced the certification of Garmin's G1000 integrated avionics system in its Ovation2 and Bravo airplanes. These new models carry the GX suffix, and are priced some $20,000 higher than Mooney's Ovation2 DX and Bravo DX models, which have panels featuring Garmin GNS 530 and 430 GPS/nav/coms.
Although the core design of today's Mooney singles dates back to the 1960s, the company has managed to survive by continually tweaking the airframe and refining its systems. But the GX versions represent the most ambitious upgrade so far. One look at those twin 10-inch-diagonal display screens and you begin to wonder: Just how much further can Mooney go with this airplane?
Step inside a GX model's cockpit, fire up the G1000, and the first impression is one of visual overload. We're talking wall-to-wall color displays with primary flight instrumentation at the pilot's position, and a multifunction display (MFD) to its right, complete with shaded-relief terrain representation. Like any new cockpit environment, it takes time to make peace with the G1000's control placements and operating logic, and develop an efficient scan of this unit's many, many display subsets. Bottom line: The G1000 is a very capable system, worthy of any high-end, turbine-powered airplane. The G1000 will be standard in Cessna's new Mustang, a six-seat twinjet that's set to debut in 2006. It's also offered in new Cessna 172s, 182s, 206s and Diamond DA40s.
But it's Mooney that was first to market with the G1000 in a complex, retractable-gear piston-powered airplane. Raytheon says that its new Beechcraft Bonanzas and Barons will offer G1000s later this year.
The G1000's advanced features come via its integrated air data computer (ADC) and attitude heading reference system (AHRS). To be brutally concise, the ADC processes airspeed, outside air temperature, altitude, and vertical speed inputs, then displays them on the primary flight display (PFD). Vertical tapes are used for airspeed and altimeter displays, and the pilot can choose between a horizontal situation indicator-style compass rose or an arc-type compass display for heading indicator depictions. The ADC can also detect rates of change in both airspeed and altitude. Based on this information, magenta trend lines extend from the tapes — to show the airspeeds and altitudes the airplane will reach in the next six seconds. This can be very useful in compensating for the effects of wind shear, or leveling off at predetermined altitudes.
The AHRS — a digital, solid-state (and longer-lived) alternative to traditional spinning-gyro attitude platforms — generates pitch, roll, and yaw information, which is passed along to the G1000's attitude indicating displays.
Sensors from the system's dual navigation and communication radios, Mode S transponder (which provides the pilot with traffic information service [TIS] coverage uplinked from ATC surveillance radars), and engine and other airplane system components round out the G1000's data feed.
The result is predictive airspeed and altitude information, real-time true airspeed and winds-aloft information, traffic alerts, and automatic waypoint sequencing for flight-planned routes and instrument approaches. There are even aural call-outs: "Check gear," if manifold pressure is below 13 inches and flaps are extended, but the landing gear is not; and "stall, stall" when airspeed becomes dangerously low.
Anyone familiar with the flight-plan functions of the Garmin GNS 530 and 430 GPS units will be right at home with the G1000's — they are virtually identical.
Softkeys along the lower display borders let you call up several submenus to customize the PFD's and MFD's look. One, for example, lets you put a thumbnail planform view of your flight path along the terrain below — and nearby traffic — on the PFD. Another lets you input V-speeds for display on the airspeed vertical tape. Altitudes and headings can be selected using a pair of knobs to the left of each display. Two other such knobs are for dialing in navigation and communications frequencies.
What if one of those monster tubes goes dark? That's when you push the red Display Backup button to produce a composite display of the most critical information on the operating tube.
In cases where the ADC or AHRS fails, you must revert to the three vertically stacked primary instruments for emergency use. Should the main alternator fail, there's a standby unit capable of powering the G1000's main functions, plus two batteries — but be prepared to shed the airplane's electrical load if the low-voltage annunciator comes on. You do this by pulling a BAT (battery) circuit breaker. This removes power from the nonessential bus, which includes the number-two nav and com radios, the autopilot, the fuel pumps, the landing gear motor, and several other components deemed of secondary importance. Prior to landing, the BAT circuit breaker can be re-engaged to extend the landing gear and turn on the fuel pumps.
With the exception of waiting a couple of minutes for the AHRS to initialize, startup is conventional, and so are almost all the checklist items. Compared to pre-DX models, Mooney has lowered the glareshield by an inch and a half on the GXs. This was quite a feat, given the extra dimensions of the G1000 display screens. The result is better over-the-nose visibility. There are other comfort items, too, such as the standard leather seating. This comes with adjustable lumbar support and "memory foam" seat padding that conforms to each pilot's anatomy.
The G1000 screens also forced the company to move the landing gear controls from the trademark-Mooney upper-panel area to the pilot's sub-panel, just above the pilot's right knee. The control unit includes a gear-unsafe light, which gives the airplane four reminders to lower the gear: the glareshield annunciator; the control unit's light; the floor-mounted red (unsafe) and green (gear down) hash-marked sight gauge; and the aural warning.
There's definitely a strapped-in and solid feel to the airplane as you advance the power and charge down the runway. Rotation, V X, and V Y airspeeds are marked on the vertical tape, so it's easy to know when to pull, and how to set pitch for climbout.
The 280-horsepower from the Ovation2's Teledyne Continental Motors IO-550 engine provided enough oomph for a 1,300-fpm initial climbout from Kerrville Municipal/Louis Schreiner Field in Kerrville, Texas, (under conditions very close to standard), and at 6,000 feet pulling 24 inches of manifold pressure, 2,500 rpm, and burning 18 gph (the best-power fuel flow) our 75-percent power setting yielded 190 knots true airspeed, as noted on one of the G1000's displays. Another showed a winds-aloft arrow relative to the direction of flight, with its speed and direction posted in real time.
Our Ovation2 GX was a demonstrator — N10469 — and with few exceptions had the equipage that will come with production airplanes. The GX models are full-boat, no-options luxo-chariots. Besides the leather seats, here's a list of standard features for the Ovation2 GX:
About the only options available are a TKS weeping-wing ice-protection system, certified for flight in known-icing conditions, ($39,990) and an air-conditioning system ($26,900). The turbocharged 270-horsepower, 220-knot Bravo GX — best treated in a separate article — has almost the same list of standard features, but includes an oxygen system.
You hear a lot of talk about how Mooneys are hard to land, have a nasty stall, and so on, but my flight in the Ovation2 GX should help keep the bad-mouthing at bay. In slow flight in the landing configuration, for example, I slowed to 63 knots (approximately 1.1 V SO) and rolled the airplane into a 30-degree bank. The stall warnings were sounding, but there was no buffet. After steepening the bank to 45 degrees, there was stall buffet onset, but no stall break, no rolloff to the left or right, and rolling the wings level brought instant stall recovery. It was a fair demonstration of the Mooney's safety margins while maneuvering at very low airspeeds — airspeeds 5 to 12 knots below the approach airspeeds recommended in the pilot's operating handbook.
The G1000's airspeed and altitude trend lines help in demonstrations like these. You can see how quickly your airspeed and altitude are rising or falling, and what those values will be in the next few seconds.
For a stability demonstration, power was set to 18 inches manifold pressure and airspeed was allowed to bleed off to 70 knots. Then it was hands off the controls until the airplane entered a 35-degree spiral descent and reached 105 knots in a 1,000-fpm descent. Simply rolling the wings level resulted in the airplane's returning to the initial airspeed and altitude in short order.
As for the landings, the key is energy management and airspeed control. Too many pilots bring their Mooneys over the threshold way too fast. Published target speeds for short final range from 68 knots at light weights to 75 knots at maximum landing weight. On instrument approaches, 15 inches manifold pressure, 2,500 rpm, takeoff flaps, and gear down produce 105 knots — a good speed for following the G1000's commands down the final approach course. Full flaps and 12 inches manifold pressure yield 80 knots — perfect for the transition to the roundout and flare.
Once again, the airspeed trend lines keep you well advised of your airspeed situation, and the speed brakes do wonders to help salvage a too-high or too-hot approach. Cross the numbers at 70 knots — or slightly less — and you'll be rewarded with nice, short mains-first rollouts with none of the bouncing or wheelbarrowing that rumor central so avidly proclaims.
XM WX Satellite Weather is due to have its datalink weather service available and approved for installation in the GX models by this spring, according to Mooney. This will put Nexrad radar imagery and text weather information on the G1000's MFD. And, yes, it will be part of the standard equipment package.
Currently, Mooney is using the Meggitt/S-Tec Fifty Five X as the GXs' autopilot. But when Garmin brings its new autopilot to market sometime in 2005, this will replace the Fifty Five X.
One of the clichés you hear batted around the industry is that when Mooney had good management, it had poor financial backing. And that when it had money, it had lousy management. Anyone trying to construct a Mooney family tree would have quite a challenge — especially in the past 10 years or more. A bewildering series of management teams and schemes passed through Mooney on what seemed like six-month cycles.
Now there's the promise that these cycles may come to an end. Mooney's principal investors — LH Financial Services among them — have hired a new chief executive officer, one with a strong background in software systems for manufacturing procedures. Gretchen L. Jahn, the new chief executive officer, has a master's degree in experimental psychology from the University of Colorado and a working history as a vice president of a series of companies involved in mortgage banking and construction. Most recently, she owned her own software company, one that specialized in products aimed at pharmaceutical manufacturing. A pilot and aircraft owner for 20 years, Jahn is optimistic about Mooney's future, but realizes a lot of work is ahead of her and her team of executives.
Jahn said her first objective is to "stabilize Mooney's manufacturing processes, so that we can deliver a high-quality product when we say we will." When asked about future product offerings, Jahn played it close to the vest, emphasizing that "companies have a habit of preannouncing a new product before they're ready to deliver. We saw some of that in the G1000 development, when software glitches held things up...the problem was that the G1000 was managed as an aircraft program, not as a software project. We didn't ask the right questions, so our entry into service was delayed."
Paying attention to customer service and support is another priority. Jahn hopes to make more parts available to existing Mooney owners — based on which parts are most needed, and knowing the rate at which these parts must be manufactured. "We've had a poor history of that," she said. "And so we had customers going elsewhere for parts, or making their own. We don't have any data on this, but we don't want this to go on. So we'll be strengthening our service network and making more parts."
Jahn, hired in October 2004, inherits a company with 270 employees, and she says she's taking résumés for positions that will open throughout this year. Those with service and customer support backgrounds are in particular demand, she said. Mooney has 32 service centers that will doubtless be the focus of much short-term attention.
As for sales, Mooney has had steadily rising numbers. From a rock-bottom low of 10 deliveries in 2002, there were 36 airplanes delivered in 2003, and deliveries were projected to hit the 60 mark by the end of last year (this article was written in early December 2004). Most buyers — 80 percent, according to a Mooney executive — opt for the Ovation2, and the other 20 percent go for the fire-breathing, turbocharged Bravo. Since the GX was introduced, interest in the DX variants and the "bare bones" Ovation (at $299,000) has dropped off the charts altogether. Everyone wants the big glass cockpit these days.
With the arrival of Jahn and the G1000, Mooney once again raises hopes that it will shed its frailty and return with credibility and stature. Jahn's biggest challenge will be to earn the trust of Mooney owners and prospects. Worried for years that the airplane has been teetering on the verge of orphanship, the general aviation community has become inured to empty promises and press-release bravado.
For years, Mooney survived on the force of its airplanes' impressive attributes alone. But inept management has taken its toll, and now's the time for a turnaround. Here's hoping that Jahn helps the company turn the corner.
E-mail the author at [email protected].
For more information, contact Mooney Airplane Company Inc. Louis Schreiner Field, Kerrville, Texas 78028; 800/456-3033; www.mooney.com.
All specifications are based on manufacturer's calculations. All performance figures are based on standard day, standard atmosphere, sea level, gross weight conditions unless otherwise noted.
AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Tom Horne has worked at AOPA since the early 1980s. He began flying in 1975 and has an airline transport pilot and flight instructor certificates. He’s flown everything from ultralights to Gulfstreams and ferried numerous piston airplanes across the Atlantic.
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