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 market...you 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 fly...you 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.


Anonymous said...

Jim; I agree with your views and points... there's no better plane than a Mooney. However, I invite you to revise the figures on the DA-40: first, it's not a diesel but a 180hp avgas engine; and then, you could get one of the earlier models for +/- 220K, or a lightly used, less than 100 hours XL's for about 290K, not the 350k you listed. Even with those revisions, Mooney still beats the hell out of the DA40. My view is that M20's are personal transportation, and I really mean personal... me and 1 passenger at the most, so payload is not an issue for me either. Want to carry a big payload? Get a Cessna 206 or a Chevy Suburban; the 206 is slightly faster, though.
Enjoy your 252!! Sounds like you really have a blast with it.

Mooney N252Q said...

Anonymous, thank you for your comments. I have updated the graphs with the $290K cost since I could not find one listed for less. I also removed the erroneous comment about the Diesel. Happy Flying!

Anonymous said...

I enjoy your blog very much. You obviously take time into it's production and maintain a level of fairness and accountability in your writing. As I have commented here before; I believe the 252 is Mooney's best. You probably have one of the finest examples flying today. Congratulations.

TonyTDMD said...

Good stuff! I just bought a 252 yesterday! (252AS) I think mine is lean on takeoff, the TIT is ~1550 and fuel flow 16gph at 36",2700 rpm, full rich. What do you think?

Dan said...

You forgot to mention that highly objective factor: Mooney's are the prettiest of the bunch.

Dan Chang
N626AG ('79 M20J)

Anonymous said...

My Mooney M20J flows about 18.0-18.5 GPH on take-off/climb, full rich, 28" MP X 2700 RPM. 16 GPH does seem a little lean but I have never owned a 252.
Mooney's are so fast and fuel efficient. I find myself laughing all the time while flying it and seeing most of the other slower planes burning 25% more fuel or more.
Oh, and Mooney's are sexy.

Mooney N252Q said...

I spoke with Tony awhile back and we discussed 16 GPH on takeoff was too lean. His plane had a new engine installed just before he bought it. He had his mechanic adjust the fuel pump. A 252 should burn somewhere around 22-24 GPH on a full power climb. TIT should be between 1450-1500 degrees.

And yes you are right. All Mooney's are sexy! Al and team put their hearts into designing the M20. I love parking next to a Cirrus or other new bird on the ramp. I get a kick out of the fact that my 1988 airplane is faster, prettier, cheaper to operate and more unique than their $500K+ plastic airplane that doesn't even has a steerable nose wheel ;)

Don Shade said...

Great article! Mooneys are awesome! For my money, the best Bonanza ever built was named, Debonair. Mine cruises at 155 knots at 10 gph. 9 years ago, I paid half what a comparable straight-tail Bonanza (such as the F33A) would have cost. Same landing gear as the Baron's.
Insurance was $1,600/yr before I got instrument rated. I'm expecting rates to be a little less now. I'm sooo glad I didn't buy a Cirrus!

Anonymous said...

Great Blog just what i was looking for I'm looking at getting a mooney 252 or rocket and this answered a lot of performance and cost questions I had Thank you for your hard work
PS Great looking plane

Anonymous said...

Awesome and very great article. Good facts. i trained in the Diamonds and love them, but costs being costs, faster and sexy the Mooney wins out. I hope to fly one in the next few weeks.
If only it had more door space fo r bags.

John van der Kieft IV said...

Hey Jim, First...AWESOME BLOG! I have been pounding my head against the control column, trying to figure out the magic formula for determining the right M20F for me. How does one look at the same model year airframe with 3500 at a price of $59K vs. 2801 at $53K? I can figure out the SMOH on the equation on the engines but not sure how to value difference in TT on airframe.

Jim Kerr said...

Mooney being an all metal/tube structure makes airframe time not as critical as other aircraft. The key is to look at how well the airframe has been maintained. Corrosion is the #1 killer of a Mooney. And it is not easy to find. Windows are typically where water can seep in unnoticed. It will sit on the tube structure and they will rust beyond repair very quickly. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to get the sidewalls out during a pre-buy inspection. Many overlook this step and end up with an expensive piece of scrap metal. When evaluating an airplane, find one that has been hangared most of its life. Those tend to look better, which is generally what drives the cost upward for higher time airframes.

N Dale said...

I've had the good fortune to fly a straight M20J (N4212H) & Rocket Missile mod M20J (N1068R) for nearly 20 years. They're both sweet planes that I've used to travel coast to coast. The Missile is quicker and longer legged (typically 175kt @ 13gph, 92gal tanks), but the straight 201 is still a great economical distance runner (150kt @ ~10gph, 64gal tanks). The Cont IO550 in the Missile performs remarkably well at near turbo altitudes and still feels solid at 19000ft...I've felt comfortable while overflying the Rockies going east or west. I've had the 201 up to 17500 over the Grand Canyon but it was slow climbing and flying at that altitude. Mooneys remain at the top of the heap when the mission is flying 1-3 persons safely, efficiently over a long distance and used versions are a particularly good value now.

Jim Kerr said...

N Dale, I couldn't agree more. Thanks for the comment.