To many in the general aviation community, the words Mooney and efficiency are synonymous. With a sleek fuselage and flush-riveted surfaces on much of the wing, Mooneys have always been top competitors in their class. Therefore, it was not surprising that some Mooney aficionados gasped when the company introduced the Ovation with its big-bore Continental engine. The Ovation is a commonsense kind of airplane. It extracts sizzling performance from a tried-and-true engine and airframe, yet makes life easy for the pilot by embracing sophisticated and modern systems.
The Ovation's faster sibling, the TLS, gets its 220-knot maximum cruise speed by utilizing a turbocharged 270- horsepower Lycoming TIO-540 engine. The turbo'd airplane is terrific for those who need to fly high and for those who don't mind paying the higher acquisition, fuel, and maintenance costs associated with such an installation. But until the Ovation debuted in 1994, Mooney customers who didn't need a turbo were shown the MSE, an efficient 200-hp, 168-knot airplane, but one that uses a shorter fuselage.
The Ovation, then, filled a gap in Mooney's lineup. Its normally aspirated 280-hp Continental IO-550-G allows a max cruise speed of 190 knots in the comfort of the TLS's 20-inch- longer fuselage. Like the TLS, the brawny Ovation carries with it enough redundant systems to get it through almost any inflight crisis short of an engine failure.
An engine-driven vacuum pump normally drives the Ovation's gyros, but another engine-driven pump is always in standby. A 100-amp alternator powers the electrics, but if that packs it in, two batteries pick up the slack. If you run down a battery in an attempt to start the engine on a cold morning, flip the switch and bring on the fresh one.
Ovations equipped with Mooney's certified TKS anti-ice system come with even more redundancies. The Ovation is the first normally aspirated piston-powered single to be certified for flight into known icing. The certification criteria demand complete electrical redundancy for the two pumps that push the anti-ice fluid through tiny holes in the titanium leading-edge skins. The fluid keeps ice from adhering to the surfaces. Ovations with the TKS option come with two alternators, using up one of the engine pads typically occupied by the standby vacuum pump. In that case, an electric standby pump is placed in the tailcone — a normal configuration for the TLS, which comes standard with two alternators and two batteries.
The Ovation brings much versatility to the pilot. A turbocharged airplane is at its peak up high; most normally aspirated airplanes don't produce much power above 10,000 feet. The Ovation, though, performs well in either regime and in between. Fly high, fly low, fly fast, fly far, the Ovation has a mission profile to fit the job.
But its 280 hp notwithstanding, the Ovation's Continental IO-550-G engine brings with it a fuel efficiency that a Mooney lover can appreciate. The Continental-claimed fuel specific of 0.38 pounds per horsepower per hour comes in part from the tuned induction system. The engine's induction-air intakes drape across the top of the engine like a tarantula sunning itself on a rock. By equaling the distance the air travels to each of the cylinders, the induction system assures a nearly balanced mixture of fuel and air in each cylinder.
A more equal fuel/air distribution means a smoother- running engine — which is noticeable in the Ovation — and the ability to lean the mixture more aggressively, since all cylinders should peak at about the same fuel flow.
Other IO-550 models typically put out 300 to 310 horsepower while turning at 2,700 rpm. Continental limits the rpm to 2,500 in the -G variant, derating the engine to 280 hp but upping the published TBO to 2,000 hours from 1,700 in other normally aspirated IO-550s.
To the Ovation pilot, the derating means simplified engine operation. For takeoff, put all the levers forward. They can stay that way through about 5,000 feet msl. Thereafter, in the climb, a flick of the mixture control every thousand feet or so will keep the exhaust gas temperatures in the blue arc on the EGT gauge. Upon leveling off, the pilot, if desired, can leave the throttle and prop full forward and lean normally. And without any cowl flaps to contend with, the Ovation comes about as close to a single-lever power control as you'll find in today's market.