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The Mooney Aircraft Corporate – A lesson in marketing and manufacturing

Aviation Marketing 14 Comments

I have always liked Mooney airplanes, because they were always known as fast efficient airplanes for the amount of horsepower.  Although they are a little compact and feel a little “tight” on the inside, once you get used to that feeling, they are actually roomy and quite comfortable.  I think the latest trouble with the Mooney aircraft corporation, was a lack of direction and forgetting what a Mooney airplane was about?and that was Mooney?s have always been known as the economy champ, and they lost that distinction toward the end of production.

 

As of 2008, Mooney suspended production of the airplane due to a bankruptcy situation, which isn?t the only time Mooney has gone through bankruptcy.  Seems this company has had struggles with capitalization over the years, and they were a small manufacturer that built only four place single engine airplanes.  They had tried to merge with Mitsubishi on the MU-2 program, and they have had several investor/owners who apparently just weren’t able to commit to building the aircraft company into a multi-category type manufacture which left them vulnerable.  At the same time, you can only take an airframe so far before you need to replace it with something that opens a new segment of aircraft sales, while being able to brand identify what product you are famous for.

My contention is that Mooney confused a lot of buyers over the years, and didn’t hold true to what made Mooney their reputation for performance for the horsepower.  I once had an airline pilot friend of mine ask me at Oshkosh, “what Mooney is that?” while we stood at the Mooney display tent. I have always been able to identify airplanes, but this one threw me off because it was the Mooney Eagle, and I couldn’t quite make sense of why it was an Eagle and contrast it with the Mooney Ovation, what, why?  Changing names doesn?t mean you will sell more airplanes, and Mooney continued to come up with a different model name when they should have learned from the Beechcraft Corporation on how to maintain the design designation so that people can recognize what they are looking at.

But the real problem with Mooney, was that they didn’t keep the trademark Mooney tradition of fast and economical airplanes.  Although the Ovation could run circles around the earlier model M20J or 201, it was about as economical to operate as the Mooney 201, but you would have to seriously educate me on this, since Mooney never mentioned this as a real reason to consider the new improved airplane.  Mooney started going after the Bonanza buyer, which by hanging a large engine on the front to make speed at the cost of fuel burn, was almost the worst thing Mooney could have done. Lycoming engines, especially the IO-540’s seem to be a lot thirstier engine than the Continental IO-550.  When Mooney put a turbo-charged IO-540 on the airframe they had a very fast airplane, but they didn’t have the interior room that the next performance up-grade buyer wanted.

And that has been the problem with the Mooney, mostly the fuselage had been stretched to the limit of the airframe for all practical reasons, and the cabin just doesn’t have the same “feel” of roominess that it should.  People weren’t willing to step out of their Bonanaza, Saratoga SP, or Cessna 210 Centurion just to go fast, the Mooney was just too small for a majority of buyers.  I know that doesn’t make a lot of sense, but no matter how much Cadillac tried to make the Cimarron a nice car, it was still a Chevy Cavalier in disguise, and I believe that applies here toward the M20M Bravo.  I really think Mooney should have tried to message more speed out of the Mooney 201, 231, and 252 airframes, and figure out a larger six place airplane with the wing and empennage that made the Mooney’s famous.

I always liked Mooney’s use of the top speed of the airplane as a way to identify which Mooney it was, and I would have probably took a serious hard look at how I was going to market the product and kept this aspect.  I do think the Mooney airplane has a wing that is very efficient and strong, and would have tried to mate that to a new design that would perhaps have a six passenger cabin, that could cruise 220 miles per hour on less than 20 gallons per hour.  What doomed the Mooney Aircraft Co., was the fact that Cirrus had a SR22 that was very quick and offered fixed gear, while Cessna introduced the Columbia that gave the Mooney a run for the money.  Had Mooney spent their money on the efficiency game, they would have at least had a niche they could have owned, since anytime the price of fuel goes up, Mooney airplanes hold up their value better than ever.

But Mooney really had to design a new fuselage, because the old one just didn?t have a lot left in the product cycle life to use.  The airplane was originally designed back in the 1950’s when people were shorter/smaller/lighter, and most of the newer buyers just didn’t fit in the Mooney airplanes anymore.  They have a unique design in that it is a welded steel tubing section surrounding the occupants, and they also have a one piece wing that has been known as one of the strongest wings in the industry, so why not use those manufacturing methods to come up with a new design?  Perhaps just widening the fuselage along with a higher cabin would have been all it took, and shouldn?t have been that much to re-certify since the wing/empennage wouldn?t have changed.  I know when I climb into a new Bonanza A36, the sit up tall seats and feel of room makes everything ok even though it has a narrow fuselage.

Will Mooney ever make it back?  I doubt it.  I think the airplane has had its best days and although they could sell a few here and there, it would never be profitable.  Aviation needs some innovation, a reason to buy the new product because everyone looks at the Mooney as your grandpa’s Oldsmobile rebadged and isn’t that exciting.  Mooney at one time did try a Porsche engine in the airframe, but it cost more money than the stock 201 and carried less and was slower.  It did have a cool engine management system, more fuel efficient automated way of operating the engine, but it wasn’t a big enough benefit to say I want one.  Perhaps Mooney should have taken the M20R and found a way to pressurize the cabin, which would have given a reason to buy a fast single engine airplane Vs. the fixed gear airplane that was fast otherwise.  Mooney also tried this with the M22 Mooney Mustang, but they didn’t sell many of them, the pressurization was a little early in the game, and the airplane was ugly which didn’t help.

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14 Responses to “The Mooney Aircraft Corporate – A lesson in marketing and manufacturing”

  1. Larry Mitchell Says:

    This is a good summary of the Mooney situation, however, I disagree on your conclusion that Mooney has had its days and will not make it back. The basic airframe and construction are timeless. With adequate capitalization and a leader with vision, Mooney can return as a viable company with sustainable growth in the small aircraft industry.

    Think BMW with wings. The main stay of the BMW line has always been its 3 series, in line six, sedans. They have their 007 sports two seaters for sex appeal, and high powered cruisers for people with money to burn, but most of the beemers on the road are 3 series sedans owned by middle class workers who want economy and performance.

    The M20 series Mooney is analogous to the BMW 3 series. There are cosmetic changes and other minor improvements as the years go by, but the perfect match of economy and performance just doesn’t get old. People continue to put their money on the table for the “Ultimate Driving Machine”, and if the global GA market understands that Mooney is the “Ultimate Flying Machine”, they will continue putting their money on the table for it as well.

  2. lw Says:

    my first plane was a mooney ranger. i wanted to fly 800 miles efficently. in 1970 mooney was only plane to do it.
    135 ktas on 9 gph=17 mpg. no other plane could do this.
    $18,000 ,IFR,AP.

  3. admin Says:

    You are so right on what made Mooney famous and that was efficiency and cost of operating the airplane. Still one of my all time favorite airplanes, built rugged with simple systems.

    This is why I think Mooney went the wrong direction with adding the big bore engines to the airframe. Although you can stretch the airframe, it still was a smaller feeling sports-car type, which isn’t what luxury buyers were looking for, they liked room since they were paying top dollar for the performance.

    Mooney should have kept the theme of economy champ, and sold the airplane as such because they had a reputation for this. Consider if they could sell the M20J or Mooney 201 at the same price as the Cessna Skyhawk…a doable goal I think, with a lot more bang for the buck. Unfortunately assembly lines of various airframe/engine combinations requires more labor, and costs go up. Go into a MacDonalds and you can see how mucked up and ridiculous the large menu is, and why keeping things simple is the way to go.

    However, if Mooney wanted to play in the high performance game, I think they should have considered a fresh design that offered much more than the 4 place airplane. Fast is good, but at the same time the quirky aspects kind of make you wonder what you are really buying. I think I would definitely take an A36 and give up some speed for two large opening doors, and more room in the pilots station.

    This is where branding is so important, and to use the theme developed by Al Mooney when he founded the company. He developed a simple airframe with a dual spar one piece wing that is very strong. Simple systems like manual gear, manual flap type system, rubber doughnuts instead of oleo struts, etc. Very interesting and economy minded approach, it is what made the company famous!

  4. c terry Says:

    Sigh!

    I loved my Mooney 231 and drove it all over California, I remember the first time I was coming back from LA to Palo Alto. I called the tower at the check point to notify of landing. I could see four or five airplanes ahead of me. Tower said Roger, you are number one for landing. I was a little disconcerted but just turned toward approach and flew alongside, and dodged, all those aircraft ahead of me at 100 mph faster than they were!

  5. admin Says:

    Terry,

    I am with you on the Mooney being an excellent airplane. Could you share with me some of your reasons for buying the airplane, did you use it for business, and what your experience was during the times you owned the airplane?

    I had always like the M20J or Mooney 201 as it was a favorite airplane of mine, and I flew in one once. I thought one day I would purchase a 201, and although the 231 seemed more capable, the 201 was what I thought would be the better airplane. Fast forward to my years of flying turbo-charged airplanes, and if I had a choice, I would go with the 231 over the 201. The 6 cylinder is smoother, and the turbo gives you the ability to get up to altitude on warm days and if needed to get on top of ice in the clouds, it could do that as well. The fuel burn is slightly higher, but for the flexibility it is worth it. I am not an oxygen user, so flying would be under 10,000 MSL for the most part, but on occasion, I would be in the mid-teens if the benefits outweighed the hassles of using oxygen.

    Mike

  6. admin Says:

    Hi Mike,

    I’m Charles. Sure. Why I bought the 231.

    I bought it with a partner who had had a Mooney 201. He was a guy I met when we were both salesmen in Silicon Valley.

    I was the prime mover. I was looking for a high performance plane to use in my business, which was selling, installing, and servicing
    computer graphics terminals. (They used to cost around $20,000 new.) I was based in the San Francisco area and had clients in LA
    and San Diego. I was a one-man business. It was my dream to have a business that could justify, tax-wise, a plane.

    I had never flown anything faster than 144 mph. I flew planes by renting and being in one flying club. Never flew a twin. My solo
    was in an Aeronica 7AC at age 15. Never had more than a Private Pilot license but learned IFR on PC-based simulators. I did
    fly some IFR later out of necessity.

    I started looking for a top-end used plane and found a few. The top two at the end were the 231 and a high time Aero Commander twin.
    My partner wanted the 231. It was low time, fast as I could afford, and the avionics were fabulous. Full IFR and Area Nav. Great for
    those days before GPS. Oh,. this was in 1983 or 1984. That’s why we bought it.

    In use, we put maybe 500 hours a year on it, we had no problems of any kind. Flew up and down through the LA corridor and over the
    Grapevine mountains (11,000 feet) into LA Burbank from Palo Alto. I flew it most. My partner did not use it in his business, which involved
    local sales. We kept it for about two years.

    Finally I decided we had to sell it for two reasons: my business was slowing too much and I was sometimes exhausted when flying it:
    like after a high stress week at a customer site then needing to get back to SFO pronto. I did not want to fly it in those times. I wanted
    an airliner and a double Jack Daniels! Whew!

    Regards.
    Charles

  7. JM Says:

    I personnally fly an M20F and dream to fly the last Mooney produced in Kerville.
    In fact, we are now expecting from such a plane producer to develop new features such as pressurisation and fitting of A1 piston engine such as SMA
    That could be made same as what the german car manufacturers are doing with the carbon fiber frame on their sportcars (Audi R8).
    Problem is technical and of course, at the end, the financing of such development. Although it could be subcontracted to Cie who are doing it already in germany (let say europ) the certification is going to be very expensive.
    We can always dream about it, if there is no investors ready to take the challenge, mooney will gradually deseaper, which is very sad…
    JM

  8. admin Says:

    I have always liked the M20F…what year Mooney is yours? I remember the first Mooney Executive that was based on the field, it was a 1975 model which was one of the last few M20F models before the Mooney M20J or Mooney 201 came along. Compared to the M20C and the M20E, you have that extra stretch of 10″ for some rear seat leg room that is definitely needed, especially for longer distance flights.

    Mooney built such great airplanes, the one piece wing was STRONG, they have a sporty feel to them, and had the advertised fastest cruise speed for the fuel burn. This is where I thought Mooney lost their focus, because that is the “brand” identity that Mooney owned. When they started to go in the direction of the large bore engines, and tried to compete in the arena of high performance Vs. economy, they started to alienate the buyers who always appreciated and bought Mooney for the performance on the horsepower. From the standpoint of the manufacturer, now they needed to market the airplane to a completely different buyer, which costs money and smart marketing to present the airplane to a buyer who is loyal to another manufacturer.

    Regarding innovative projects, unfortunately Mooney has always had a limited budget for certification and development. As you are aware, Mooney tried to accomplish this feat with Porsche and the PFM. It was going to take time to refine the product, and because the performance wasn’t any better than the M20J with the Lycoming on paper, but the engine had potential. In fact, I have had e-mail correspondence with the PFM staff…they were working on a 3,000 hour TBO with virtually no maintenance in between! The engine had electronic ignition that was variable to optimize fuel burn, and had the simplicity of a single power lever. Because everyone has their own theory on engine operations, I.E. lean or rich mixture etc., the Porsche system guarded the parameters for you and made the engine more reliable over time. Unfortunately, I think they started with a 1,200 hour TBO or something like that.

    If I were to operate Mooney corporation going forward, I would start by doing factory STC’s for conversions to a Diesel engine. It is a numbers game, but I would go after the model that Mooney sold the most of, which is probably the M20J, and work with an engine manufacturer to STC that into the airframe. At least the factory would be open for business, and engineering would be on staff to make further improvements to airframe performance. At one time Mooney had a pressurized single engine piston airplane designed by Roy Lopresti, my understanding was that this airframe eventually became the TBM 700. Either one of two things, I would find the drawings to that airplane, and consider certifying the airplane because of the success Piper has had building the Malibu. Otherwise, a clean sheet design that copies the best features of the Cirrus SR22 series, the Beechcraft A36 Bonanza, and the Piper Malibu and build it to fit the niche of a high performance single that exceeded the current choices of airplanes. Personally, I would take a look at the Bellanca Rocket III due to its extreme performance, 6 place seating, and the fact that the design has flown.

    It all takes money is the only hold-up. You have to pencil it out to make it worth the risk and investment. However, compared to investing in the “flying car”, I would hope there are investors that love aviation enough to get involved in a project such as this. Trying to manufacture the dated M20 series designs is a tough sell due to the price point, and so many used airplanes on the market. To get this to work, you would have to provide some serious innovation with limited demand. You could take a few of the airframe components, and build a better airplane like a supersized M20J…which might work.

    Comments?

    Mike Dempsey

  9. JM Says:

    Our Mooney is from 1975, it’s still the short body.
    You know for sure that the name of TBM is made of TB for Tarbes the french town where the aircrafts are built and M for Mooney.
    When talking about getting a pressurized Mooney equipped with the SMA engine, it’s still 4 sitters aircraft with a long range and hability to fly high.
    When you get to the need of having a 6 sitters aircraft, it becomes obvious to have the TBM 850, which is a fantastic aircraft in its category.
    Who’s suppling a cruising aircraft 4 sitters pressured with low operating cost engine: I think no one
    Is there a market for such a plane, I ready do not know.
    if so, it shouldn’t be a problem to find investors to go for it

  10. admin Says:

    The question of a four seat pressurized airplane is a good one, and I am sure you are aware of the Mooney M22 Mustang. Since they didn’t sell many of these, I think 30 total production with 24 still in service according to Wikepia. It was a development airplane that had some merit, it appears the pressurization was good enough for a 11,000 cabin at 24,000 feet, it was perhaps too early in the high performance single engine category. Introduced at a time when aviation fuel was “cheap”, it probably would sell much better today and they could bring it back with some refinements if Mooney was in business. I wonder myself if this wouldn’t be something an investment group could be sought to see if there would be any interest.

    I am sure Cirrus Corporation has looked at this market also, due to the performance and customer brand that the pressurized option would probably work. Since Cirrus already has air conditioning on the models, pressurization would be a logical step and give the current owners a reason to upgrade. I believe pressurization adds an element of risk however, specifically pilots will now fly in the mid-teens and twenties where a lot of weather is at its worst. That is why the Malibu has a very high insurance premium, because you can be in icing conditions in the middle of July, and that is where convective activity is going to be dangerous also. SR22’s that have the turbo-normalized engines probably will go up into the mid-teens, but after you do that a few times, you prefer the non-oxygen levels.

    This was the case with the P-210 that was a Turbo 210 Centurion and had never experienced turbo problems and other system issues, until the P-210 was being sold. All of the sudden, owners started flying at higher altitudes and the number of fatalities increased…some of this due to vacuum pump failures because the single pump now was working much harder. I have experience in the P-210 and with the pressurization, the cabin was much smoother and quiet, as the structure isolated a lot of the vibration and just made the experience so much nicer. It was a heavy airplane however, and you paid for this with a climb rate that was lower than the Turbo 210, which had a gross weight 200 lbs less than the P-210. I noted the Mooney M22 had a gross weight of 3,680 with a 310 horsepower engine so performance should have been pretty good with the airplane, the wing is certainly adaptable to high altitude flying.

    Are you sure you have the F model M20? I always thought that was the Executive, while the M20G was the Statesman with the 180 horsepower. I have flown an M20E or Chaparral with the manual gear…it was a speedster and a lot of fun to fly.

  11. Nathaniel Reece Says:

    If it is possible to get dimentional drawings of the individual air frame parts, I would very much appreciate this information. I have a 1965 M20E that is missing some metal parts that could be made easily with the correct drawing. Also assembly drawings of the power plant.
    Thanks

  12. admin Says:

    Nathaniel,

    I don’t know anything about getting engineering data or drawings, although I am sure someone out there does. My recommendation would be to search on-line for a Mooney specialist shop, as they may have this data and if not, would know where you could get this information. http://www.mooneymodsquad.com/ is a site I found on-line. They may already have the parts you are trying to fabricate, otherwise I don’t have any more information.

  13. Victor Says:

    I worked for Mooney in the early 90’s in the service center. My favorite was the Mooney 205. It was basically a 201 with the gear doors the same as the Porsche witch covered the wheels completely. It was a little faster than the straight 201 burning the same amount of fuel. They did not make many of them though. I liked the performance of the 231’s but the engines were temperamental to set back to factory specs. I loved the Porsche’s it was a good engine but the systems were really overweight. It had battery coil ignition systems, like a car, instead of magnetos it had to have two completely separate ignition systems, two large batteries two large ignition boxes in the belly witch were also very heavy. It was the first of the stretched fuselage models, more weight, all with near the same horsepower as a 201, as a result it was slower. It was easy to fly though. The single power control worked a little strange, the throttle went wide open when you moved it above idle and all after was just changing prop pitch. The TLS was the first of the Lycoming 540’s, a real hot rod. It was really fast but ate tons of fuel, it was also expensive to maintain. We also did annuals and 100 hour inspections on older Mooney’s. the older ones had problems with the fiberglass insulation around the cabin. If a window had any leaks in the windows,witch they usually did, it would hold hold water to the steel tubular frame and cause them to rust, if the rust pits were too deep you had to remove the outer skins and replace the damaged structures. We would then replace the fiberglass insulation with a foil backed foam insulation. It was much better. I never owned a Mooney but they still let me park my own plane in the back of one of the storage hangers, a Downer (Bellanca) 14-19-2.

  14. admin Says:

    Victor,

    Yeah…I have always liked Mooney airplanes, except when they started to go into the TLS series. To me, Mooney represented the economy champ of single engine high performance airplanes. Easy to maintain, economical and fast. They weren’t the best airplanes for commercial pilot training, but for the owner flown airplane, you simply can’t beat a Mooney.

    When they went to the TLS and the larger engines, although fast, they were missing the market that had brought them the reputation and branding that was what made a Mooney – a Mooney! I also thought the Mooney 205 was an excellent airplane, the result of years of refinement and eking out the most speed for the horsepower. The 231 had the fixed wastegate Continental that was a cheap compromise but really? I know there is a modification to have a variable wastegate installed, and the results were tremendous as far as easier to manage and people made comments that the cylinder head temperatures would be cooler.

    The problem with Mooney aircraft, is that they were a smaller airframe and could feel tight to larger people. When they started to go after the Bonanza and Cessna 210 market, I thought they were limiting the buyer for the airplane, because only a few people in that category would trade comfort for a little more performance. Unfortunately, Mooney did not have the capital to really certify a new airframe, which my understanding the TBM 700/850 was really a preliminary design by Mooney.

    The wing of the Mooney is truly efficient, and the unique tail design made a lot of sense and is very identifiable in the air and on the ground. I wish they had developed a six place airplane that had club seating and a rear entry that would clobber the Saratoga and other heavy singles. The PFM experiment was a great attempt to bring new automotive technology to the table, and you are right, it added weight and was the long fuselage…which in reality, made sense. There still is a web site out there that talks about the Mooney PFM, and when you look at the practical aspects, the engine would have been more and more popular as the airplane continued to be developed. It was ahead of its time, Porsche was looking at extending the TBO way beyond the current Lycoming recommendations, and they were going to turbo-charge the engine to add even more performance. Smooth and automated engine management would have brought Porsche into many more airframe designs…I think Cessna had flown a Skylane with one and liked it, just never produced it. This development was done as GA was on a steep decline in aircraft deliveries, and unfortunately the airplane and engine were halted in production.

    I hope Mooney can figure some good marketing strategies, find a market that they can sell a lot of airplanes, and stay in business!

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