Thursday, January 31, 2008

Let the painting begin!

The time we've been waiting for is upon us. N252Q is in Tejas's quarter-million dollar paint booth and eagerly awaiting the painting process to begin...

To bring you to speed, several steps have been completed so far. She's been stripped, patched, sand coat primered and they just completed the Alodine application. The next steps are the fun ones. The paint booth is where the project really starts taking shape.

NOTE: The rusty looking coat on the surface of everything is Alodine. Alodine is a chemical treatment process used to prep aluminum. It provides corrosion protection in addition to creating a superior bonding surface for paint. It is the primer's primer so to speak. Many shops skip this step because it is costly; however, it is critical that Alodine is applied to all surfaces. An airplane painted without Alodine will easily develop corrosion under the surface of the paint. It is nearly impossible to detect corrosion under paint until it breaks through, which basically destroys the part. Not good when the part is a flight control or wing!

The photo above is of the bottom cowling. Take a close look at the quality of the finish. It looks brand new... The skills they have in the fiberglass shop is one of the many reasons why Tejas was selected to do our project. These guys remove all fiberglass parts and strip them completely down to the fiber. They then build every part back up to new, many times better than new, tolerances. There are not many shops that have in-house facilities or skills to do this type of work.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Interior Shop Survey

I received an email today from Aviation Consumer. They are doing research on Aircraft Interior Shops and are looking for people to share their experience with them. This is good timing since next major project on the list for 252Q is an interior update.

If you have experience with Aircraft Interior Shops, please share your insight with the Aviation Consumer community. The more people that provide them data the better their research will be.

Here's the link:
Aviation Consumer’s Interior Shop Survey

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Primer coat being applied

252Q's Extreme Makeover is well on its way now. The airframe has been cleaned and prepped, Alodine as been applied to all surfaces and today they started applying the base primer coat.

NOTE: Pay particular attention to how smooth the wing finish is... And this is just the primer!

By the way, here's a photo of a brand new $650K Mooney Acclaim that was being painted when I dropped off my Mooney...
And 252Q form about the same angle:
Not much difference is there?

252Q is looking as good as a brand new plane that costs 3x the price, yet she's almost as fast, she's Technically Advanced, she burns 1/2 the fuel, and her maintenance is less expensive...

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Prepping N252Q for Paint

252Q is coming along well. The vortex generators are installed and the Tejas AeroServices team is almost done with prepping the aluminum for acid etching and paint. The shop foreman told me last week that they were very impressed with my plane. He said they have been inside of everything and were unable to find a spot of corrosion anywhere. He continued to say that this is not typical for a 20 year old bird. Apparently most used planes coming through their shop have something hidden under the paint. In fact, he told me a story of one plane had nearly all of its rivet heads sanded off by the previous paint shop and another had a 10" long cut completely through from the top of the tail to the bottom and was covered over with Bondo! Not N252Q. She's as clean as a whistle!

We did have a bit of a fire drill last week. Tejas contacted their supplier to purchase the Chromallusion paint we will be using for some accent stripping and they initially refused to sell it to them.

NOTE: Chromallusion is a highly specialized paint that changes color depending on the angle you are looking from. It is hard to find a photo that adequately shows what this looks like in person, but here's one I found on the web that does a pretty good job:

Chromallusion is a solid color paint that is applied in several layers. The layering of the paint causes it to shift color depending on how the light reflects off of the surface and the angle you are viewing it from. Two people looking at the same time would see a different effect.

We will be using a red/gold paint on 252Q called Pure Fire. Of course, like everything else we are doing, Chromallusion is very expensive ($700 a pint) and complex to paint. In fact, it is so complex that DuPont rarely sells it for aircraft applications because most shops that paint airplanes are not qualified to apply it. The warranty repair on an airplane is astronomical and DuPont has had to pay out some hefty repaint fees because of shop application errors. The Tejas team is one of only a few aircraft paint facilities in the world that has the technical skill to apply this paint on an airplane properly. Fortunately I picked the right shop and they were able to substantiate that they are indeed qualified to apply Chromallusion and have successfully applied this paint to other aircraft without issues. Mark another one up for Tejas...these guys Rock!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A Naked 252Q...

I haven't posted much lately because N252Q is going through her Extreme Paint Makeover. I just got this photo form Tejas, so I thought I'd share it with you. This was taken earlier today...

They are not completely finished with the striping, but are very close. They manually strip all areas that have seams that could leak chemical striper into the interior. Those areas are taped off and then striped by hand. The cone section of the tail is also manually striped because it has plastic components and chemical could easily get into the air induction tube.

In case you are wondering, the guys are installing the Micro Aerodynamics Vortex Generators. I will write more about these later, but they greatly help the low-speed handling characteristics of the airplane while improving lift and efficiency of the wing. Outside of speed brakes, vortex generators are one of the best performance/safety systems you can add to a high-performance machine like 252Q.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Mooney...are they really the best?

At the end of every year I reconcile my aviation expenses, which always gets me thinking. I've spent some cash on 36G this year and will be investing quite a bit more in paint and interior in 2008. Like every aircraft owner, writing a check is a big reality check (pun intended).

The New Year got me thinking about other comparable airplanes. How does 36G stack up to other popular birds? Am I accurate in my statements throughout this blog that asserts that the Mooney is the best airplane out there? I suppose everyone wants to claim that their plane is the best, so I wanted to take emotions out of the equation and base my statements on facts. I figured it would be a worthwhile exercise to put my money where my mouth is and do the research.

To tackle this project I needed to find a few airplanes to compare to the Mooney. There are three planes that are similar to the Mooney M20K 252...The F33 Bonanza, The SR22 Cirrus and the Diamond DA40. The only other ones I could think of is the now Cessna Columbia 350 and the turbo SR22, but I don't have access to the performance data for those planes to do a comparison. I was able to obtain the performance numbers for the SR22, F33 & DA40 from Windy City Flyer's, which is a reputable flying club in the Chicago area. I also use to own a SR22, so I am very familiar with the Cirrus.

To normalize the data, I used the typical cruise power settings (@75% power) and optimal cruise altitudes (@6000-8000 ft. for 36G's competition). 36G's competition is normally aspirated and can't make it much higher than 8K while maintaining 75% power. I used 12,000 ft for 36G, which is actually lower than I typically fly. I wanted to be fair. 36G is very efficient at high altitude and her service ceiling is 28,000 ft, which is higher than any other non-pressurized plane I am aware of. I can easily hit true airspeeds well over 190 knots at higher altitudes.

Acquisition Cost
I didn't do a full-blown research project on acquisition cost of the airplanes, but I did do some research on the web. I reviewed the postings in Trade A Plane, Controller and other for sale sites. I also validated my data using the Aircraft VRef guide on AOPA. I took the average used price of the airplanes that were for sale that were comparable to 36G. In the F33 case I narrowed the research to the 1985-1989 range. I looked at the early 2000 SR22's. Diamond wasn't around until the mid to late 2000's and there aren't a lot for sale. I took the lowest sale price I could find for Diamond.

UPDATE: a reader submitted a comment to me saying a DA40 could be had as low as $220 or a very good one for $290. I updated the chart with the $290 since I could not find one at $220; however, even at the lower number the results are basically the same.

No question I have more money in 36G than they are selling for, but I am investing in a plane I intend on keeping for a long, long time. For you readers out there, it is a buyers can easily acquire a very good M20K 252 for $175K. The 252 performance is about the same as an Ovation and not too far behind the Acclaim, which sells for $600K! The F33 averaged out around $200K. The rest were in the $300K range.

I chalk up a win for the Mooney here. I sincerely believe the cost is well below what they are worth. I'm not going into this in this posting, but maintenance costs, annuals, parts, etc. are also significantly less expensive than the others. In fact, most of the parts on 36G are still in production and being installed on new Mooney's. The main wings, spars, gear, flight controls, etc. are exactly the same.

The Mooney has a reputation of not having much of a payload. Is that reputation warranted? The short answer is YES. Clearly the Mooney was not a designed for carrying full fuel and people. My personal mission is two people and bags, so this wasn't a concern for me. In fact, I'm not convinced this is really an issue for most aircraft owners. The vast majority of planes I see flying around typically only have one or two people in them -- counting the big 6 seater's.

How does 36G Compare to her competition?

Every airplane has an Achilles Heal. No question the Mooney's is payload, which is calculated by filling up the fuel tanks and what's left is what you can carry in people and baggage. Not surprisingly, all of 36G's competition won in the Payload category. The F33 can carry 348LBS more, the SR22 can carry 266LBS more and the Diamond can carry 156LBS more. If you need to put someone in every seat and top-off the tanks you want a Cirrus or Bonanza. Those guys can certainly carry the load.

It is easy for marketing people to do the math and give Mooney a black eye in the payload category. In all reality, however, you certainly don't have to fill the tanks to the top every time you land. Biz jets and the airlines certainly don't. If you ask any commercial operator they will tell you they rarely fill the tanks. It is simple physics. The more weight you carry the less efficient an airplane is because you need a greater wing angle of attack that increases drag to carry the weight. The more weight you carry increases take off distance, adds time to climb to altitude and slows down the plane in cruse.

Again, if you must carry full fuel and fill all 4 seats then the simple answer is to buy a Bonanza or Cirrus. I've only had someone in the back seat once or twice in 3 years, so carrying 4 people was not a concern for me. However, is Payload a real limitation? To answer this question you need to calculate endurance. What is your personal mission? How many people/weight do you typically need to carry and how far do you need to carry it.

To make math easy, I just calculated raw Endurance and did not take into account for fuel burn such as taxi time, climb time or reserves. I wanted to see what the absolute range of each plane would be. Here's what I found:

With full fuel the Mooney can fly nearly an hour longer than the Bonanza (5.7 hours versus 4.9). The Mooney and Bonanza blows away Diamond and Cirrus in the endurance category. The Cirrus has a max endurance of 4.2 hours and the Diamond has 4.4 hours. The Cirrus and Diamond don't hold a candle to the tired and true Mooney and Bonanza.

Assuming we are not carrying 4 people, the Mooney clearly beats the others in the Endurance category.

5.7 hours of flying time is impressive, but to measure the significance of this, we need to know how far can we can actually travel. 5+ hours at 120 knots certainly won't get you as far as 5 hours at 200 knots. Speed is where the Mooney really comes out ahead. It's fast! How fast...?

The Bonanza cruises at a respectable 165 Knots, the Cirrus cruises at 170 (based on personal experience this is not a real world number) and the Diamond is putting around at 145. All while 36G is trucking along at 175! Like I said earlier, however, the higher you go the faster 36G is. I can easily hit 200 knots in the low 20's. And before you ask...Yes I can realistically get that high. 36G will sustain a 1200 ft per minute climb all the way up no problem. Getting to 20,000 feet takes less than 20 minutes and not only makes me go fast, it also gets me above nearly all weather!

After you know the speed, it is easy to calculate the range. You simply take the cruise speed times the max flying time...

36G can travel 998 nautical miles in 5.7 hours! The Bonanza is also impressive. The F33 can travel 809 miles. However, the Cirrus and Diamond didn't do so well. The Cirrus can only do 714 miles while the Diamond can only cover 638. 36G could easily do a coast to coast trip in a day or two where the others could not. The Turbo enables 36G to climb over the mountains that the others could only dream of doing and she can go further without stopping. The 187 mile difference between the Mooney and Bonanza doesn't sound like a lot, but every time you stop you loose at least an hour. Staying in the air longer makes a big difference. This extra range enables the Mooney to do super endurance trips like traveling the Northern routes to Europe, traveling through Africa where 100LL fuel is scarce or going on an Alaskan vacation!

36G clearly wins in the range category. However, the Bonanza is a close second. If you need to regularly carry 4 people long distances then the Bonanza is likely the right choice. I would not even consider the Cirrus or Diamond if you regularly travel 500 miles or more. Time is money and stopping every few hundred miles is inefficient.

No matter how you cut it -- it is expensive to own an airplane. However, there is a clear difference between operating a Mooney versus the others.

I thought it would be fun to take the used market costs above and put a cost to them. My first calculation is the cost per knot, which is taking the average used Market Acquisition cost and dividing it by the cruise airspeed:

It is hard to justify spending near $300K+ for an airplane, but spending this much money on a slow airplane really takes the cake. I was a bit surprised when I did the math. The DA40 works out to $2,000/knot whereas the Mooney is about $1000/knot. In other words, the Diamond is 2x the cost of the Mooney form a speed perspective. You are paying a whole lot more for a lot slower plane. Sure the Diamond has the G1000, but if you recall...36G is also a technically advanced airplane. She doesn't have a PFD, but she does have the same capabilities as the Diamond or Cirrus (XM weather/Moving Map/WAAS GPS/Traffic/etc). The Mooney wins hands down in the speed and cost per knot perspective. The Bonanza again is a close second.

The next area I thought would be interesting to look at is the direct fuel operating cost.

Fuel cost per hour is where the Diamond stands out. Efficient fuel consumption is likely why so many DA40's are used for training. The DA40 burns 9 gallons an hour compared to the Mooney 13, the Bonanza 15 and the Cirrus 19. In other words, the Diamond gets 16 miles per gallon of fuel; the Mooney gets 13 MPG; the Bonanza gets 11 MPG and the Cirrus gets a dismal 8 MPG. The Diamond wins the MPG category, but the Mooney and Bonanza aren't far behind.

NOTE: the MPG figures above are nautical miles per gallon not statute miles per gallon you would get in a car. Here's the conversion to Statute MPG: Diamond: 18 SMPG; Mooney 15 SMPG; Bonanza 13 SMPG; Cirrus: 9 SMPG. On paper, airplanes are basically in the same category as an SUV; however, you can cover a lot more area if you go over instead of around everything. For example, a trip to Port Columbus Airport (CMH) in Columbus, Ohio from Chicago Midway Airport (MDW) is 364 statute miles (316 nautical) and takes about 6 hours in a car. Flying the same trip is 291 statute miles (245 nautical) and takes an hour and twenty-seven minutes in 36G. Time is money. Airplanes can easily pay for themselves if you travel regularly.

The final calculation I performed was the cost versus payload.

What this chart shows is how much it costs to carry the payload. This calculation takes the used market acquisition cost and divides it by the payload available after filling the tanks. The Bonanza comes out on top here. The used cost of the Bonanza compared to its carrying capacity is very impressive. The used Cirrus and Mooney are about the same, but the Diamond with updated numbers is still high.

The Results
Every plane has its strengths and weaknesses. Picking the right plane depends on your personal mission. However, in this blog I wanted to find out which one is the overall best airplane. To be objective, I took the above data and compiled it into a table to make it easier to read:

To rank the planes I established a simple scoring system that weights each of the above categories from best to worst. Since there are 4 planes I used a 4 point scoring system. A score of 4 is the best in category and a score of 1 is the lowest:

Based on my scoring system, the Mooney came out as the overall winner because it leads in several categories (Acquisition cost, Endurance, Speed, Range and Cost per Knot). The F33 Bonanza, however, is a close second. The Bonanza only led in two categories (Cost/Payload and overall Payload), but it was a solid number two in most other areas. The Cirrus and Diamond fell well behind the tried and true Mooney and Bonanza in every category except for fuel cost per hour. the DA40 was a clear leader from a direct operating cost per hour perspective, but fell at the bottom of the list in every other category. It is slow, expensive and underpowered.

Going into this I expected that the Mooney would come out on top, which is why I bought it in the first place. However, I did not skew these results. The data is the data. Sure we could add more data points, but I would expect that in most cases the Mooney would still be the leader or darn close to it.

The M20K 252 is an awesome machine no matter how you slice and dice it. Maintenance costs alone make the Mooney a better bird. Ask any Bonanza owner to tell you the cost of their last annual. Just sit down when they do. A Mooney averages around $2.5K whereas the Bonanza's typically go for $5K+. Cirrus and Diamond are also very expensive when they go out of warranty as well. It is also much more difficult to find parts for the new guys. Many components are specialized and it is impossible for them to keep parts in inventory because they are used on the production line. Insurance is another killer. Mooney's have one of the safest track records of any GA airplane, which dramatically decreases insurance cost.

NOTE: I am a current IFR pilot with over 2000 hours total time and 1500 hours in multi-engine/complex aircraft. I am classified in a low risk category by insurance companies. When I owned the Cirrus I paid $9,000/year for insurance. I pay about $3000/year for the Mooney with greater limits of liability and no per seat limitation even though the Mooney is faster and has retractable gear! The Bonanza pilots aren't as fortunate. They have more accidents per 100,000 hours than Mooney, which drives up risk and their insurance cost.

Bottom line, the Mooney is an inexpensive, safe, reliable and fast airplane. Even if you can't afford the high-end M20K/252, the others in the line are also very good. You can literally buy a well maintained Mooney for $35K that will blow away the $220-290K Diamond and most new planes. Don't fall for the marketing hype or sit on the ramp because you can't afford a plane. Do your research and I bet you will discover what me and many other Mooniacs have found. A Mooney is something you don't simply fall in love with her because she will take you places that your land-based friends and most other GA pilots can only dream of.