“I used to be a total military airplane snob,” says Francesco “Paco” Chierici, a former U.S. Navy fighter pilot and producer of Speed and Angels, a documentary film that follows two pilots through military flight training.
“If an airplane didn’t have afterburning jets, I just wasn’t interested,” he says. “I wouldn’t even look at a propeller-driven airplane. But now I’m just the opposite. I read AOPA Pilot magazine and see all these great airplanes that I’d love to own. My friends who grew up in general aviation just laugh at me and the total reversal I’ve done.”
Chierici, 43, owns a share of a 1979 Mooney M20K based near his home in the San Francisco Bay area and uses it for business and family travel. This year, he flew the airplane to film festivals in Santa Barbara, California; Sedona, Arizona; and elsewhere, and took his family on a trip throughout the West. He also makes regular business flights to and from Los Angeles.
“The Mooney is the first piston airplane I’ve ever really known, and I approached it very cautiously,” Chierici says. “When I was flying F–14s or F–5s, I was young, invincible, and bulletproof. I was by myself much of the time, and I had an ejection seat. In the Mooney, I’ve got my whole family with me. It makes me really want to not mess up while carrying this precious cargo.”
Unlike other pilots who started in piston trainers and moved to jets, Chierici’s flying career moved in the opposite direction.
“My Mooney instructor knew I had an extensive military flying background and said, ‘There’s nothing I can teach you about flying.’ But that’s not true. Mixture, manifold pressure, magnetos, propeller settings were all new to me. The Garmin 530 was unfamiliar, too.”
Chierici’s favorite GA flying trip was a 12-day combination of river rafting, camping, and family reunion with his wife and two kids (ages 4 and 7) that stretched to Jackson, Wyoming; Oregon; Southern California; and home.
“It was a great sense of freedom traveling in the Mooney as we did,” he said. “We saw the West from a unique perspective, and we never could have covered that distance or visited those places in that amount of time any other way.”
Chierici is working on a pair of movie projects that involve aviation.
“One’s a documentary and the other’s a feature film,” he said. “The Mooney is going to be a great help in getting each of these projects off the ground.”
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