The Mooney M20F is a fast aircraft with retractable landing gear and a spacious cabin for four. Here’s what you need to know if you plan on owning one.
Built for speed, the Mooney M20F has a cruise speed of an astonishing 156 KIAS. With over 1000 examples built, the M20F costs between $85,000 and $135,000 used. Powered by a single Lycoming IO-360 engine, the M20F burns 12.6 gallons per hour.
As a flight instructor and proud member of the Mooney Aircraft Pilots Association, I have long admired the Mooney M20F, an aircraft I have long flown for recreational flying in addition to the flying I do as a corporate pilot.
Mooney M20F Background
The Mooney M20 is the name given to the twentieth aircraft design that the venerable Albert Mooney had designed. It remains the most popular design of his career. With the characteristic seemingly forward-swept wing, horizontal stabilizer, and vertical stabilizer, every aspect of the aircraft’s airframe was considered from the perspective of speed.
The M20F, dubbed the Executive 21, was introduced in 1966 and remained in production until 1971, selling just over 1,000 units. It is the seventh aircraft in the M20 family with the latest being the M20U and V which are still in production. Like the rest in the M20 stable, the M20F is a high performance, low-wing, single-engine, single-pilot, retractable landing gear aircraft that is built primarily to be the fastest GA aircraft out there.
The Mooney’s advanced aerodynamics is the brainchild of Albert Mooney, the self-taught aircraft designer who went on to design jets for the Lockheed Aircraft company at one point in his illustrious career. It includes dual airfoil usage, one shape for the inward half and another for the outboard.
The split wing allows better stall-prevention characteristics as each section reaches the point of an incipient stall under different conditions, typically the inboard section stalls first, leaving the weight of the aircraft to drop the nose reduced the angle of attack, while the outboard wing, still flying, allows for better roll control.
The M20F’s wings are some of the strongest in the industry. Being as fast as it is, Al Mooney wanted to make sure that the wings could take the sudden loads that it could be subjected to. While the gross weight of the aircraft is just over 2,500 pounds, the wings themselves have been tested to 20,000 pounds.
The main difference between the M20F and its predecessors is that the cabin of the M20F had been stretched by 10 inches, giving occupants more legroom and making the rudder more effective.
The M20F’s entire empennage has a unique construction in that it pivots entirely according to the trim set by the pilot. The entire assembly, which includes the vertical and horizontal tails, and the tail cone, is hinged in the rear fuselage and pivots up and down thereby altering the angle of attack of the vertical stabilizer while simultaneously adjusting the sweep of the vertical surface.
What Are The Specifications of The Mooney M20F?
How Much Fuel Does The Mooney M20F Burn?
The Mooney M20F was the third M20 variant to be upgraded to the 200-horsepower, four-cylinder fuel-injected, horizontally opposed Lycoming IO-360-A1A engine.
The Mooney, while built for speed, is not what you might call a gas guzzler. Its fuel burn at 1940 RPM and 17 inches of manifold pressure, which results in 40% power output, is just 6.3 gallons per hour. This is for an aircraft at gross weight, flying at an altitude of 15,000 feet.
That setting propels the M20F at 140 mph (TAS) while giving it an endurance of 10 hours.
The Mooney’s fuel burn is dictated more by its aerodynamics than by the power of the engine that propels it. It is an aerodynamically-clean design with clever use of laminar-flow wings, along with the attention to cross-section shapes, the limiting of unnecessary protuberances, as well as the meticulous management of the center of gravity.
Its greatest speed of 197 MPH (true airspeed) comes when flying at an altitude of 5,000 feet while setting the RPMs to 2700 and the manifold pressure to 25 inches. This generates 91% of brake horsepower and consumes 12.6 gallons of fuel per hour.
In comparing the lowest fuel flow and the best speed scenarios, we find that the 100% increase in fuel burn from 6.3 gph to 12.6 gph results in only a 40 increase in power from 125BHP to 176BHP. The speed increases by 137 to 197, which is 43%. The conclusion which can be drawn from the picture we get from observing the M20F’s fuel burn profile is that it is aerodynamically efficient the faster it goes.
How Much Does The Mooney M20F Cost?
The M20 series has continued into the twenty-first century with later models, like the most recent M20 U and the M20 V. The designs are loosely based on the same appearance, with structural differences that will catch the eye of a Mooney aficionado.
When it was first introduced, the M20F was originally priced between $17,500 and $22,000, depending on the additional equipment installed on the airplane. When they ceased production in 1977, a total of 1023 M20Fs had been sold, and in that final year, the company priced it at $32,000.
The price of the M20F is driven by supply, condition, modifications, and TBOH, but not so much by TTAF (Total Time Airframe). It is even possible to find airframes and wings from the M20F to do up as a DIY project, though to make this work you’d need to comply with FAA guidelines to get it certified as airworthy once again.
The price of a Mooney M20F within the lower 48 states, ranges between $70,000 and $130,000 depending on the factors mentioned above.
On the lower end of the price range, between $70,000 and $79,000, you will find the pre-1970 models with paint jobs that remain attractive and have less than 3500 hours of TTAF. With prices at the bottom of the range, it would be reasonable to expect that the engines will have less than 1000 hours before engine overhaul.
As for the avionics, M20Fs in this price range will very likely still have the traditional Bendix/King panel and the original yoke.
What is unusual at this price point would be to have poorly maintained upholstery and interior. Even if the original factory interior remains, it should be in tip-top condition for this price point.
The next price range for a used Mooney M20F is between $80,000 and $100,000. There are two kinds of Mooney’s at this price level. You will either find ones that are in solid mechanical condition except for a close-to TBOH with a refurbished panel that includes upgraded avionics, new paint, new upholstery, and even external modifications.
The final price range for the M20F is between $101,000 and $130,000. At this price, it usually comes with a new dash, and a long way to go before overhaul. It is also common to find low-time airframes that have been meticulously cared for.
What you should worry about at this price range are aircraft that have a hidden damage history. There are unscrupulous sellers who will attempt the sale of a lemon. It’s okay to buy a lemon, as long as it's priced in. But at this price, you are looking for an M20F in mint condition.
My philosophy when it comes to most planes, and especially something as well-built as Mooney, is that age does not matter, what matters is if it flies straight and true. Everything else can be worked on and priced in.
Aside from the price of the aircraft, part of your before-purchase analysis should also include the costs involved to maintain and fly it. This is divided into direct operating costs that begin to accrue as soon as you turn on the master switch and crank up the engine, and fixed costs, which incur regardless of whether you fly the plane.
Direct Operating Cost
Think of Direct Operating Cost (DOC) as everything that you will need to pay for, out of pocket, each time you use the aircraft. It is an important part of how you will view the aircraft you are about to purchase from a financial standpoint.
The greatest component of DOC is the cost of fuel. Your fuel burn is a function of the mission. If you believe that you will constantly use the plane at high altitudes flying at a relaxed pace then you will consider your fuel burn to be an average of 7 gph. But if you are buying the M20F so that you can zip around to your heart's content and unleash the beast, then figure on 14 gallons per hour.
At the current national average, 100LL is $6.50 per gallon. So if you burn 14 gph, your hourly fuel cost is $91.
Another DOC that is closely related to fuel burn is the oil burn. The M20F typically burns about a quart every 4 hours of flight which translates to $2.50 per hour.
While it is not necessary, giving your M20F an oil change every 25 hours is good practice. An M20F has an 8-quart sump. With the filter, fresh oil, and two hours of labor the oil change should cost about $250. This raises your hourly cost by $10.
If you rent the Mooney out for hire at a club or a flight school, you will have to do a 100-hour maintenance in addition to the annual. That will fall under this category.
Adding these gives you the total Direct Operating Cost for a Mooney M20F to be $103.50.
To the Hourly DOC, you should add the prorated Fixed costs you will incur.
Think of fixed costs as a basket that captures all the costs of owning an airplane outside the DOC. It includes costs incurred from the moment you take possession of the plane, whether you fly it or not.
For the Mooney M20F, there are three specific items you need to consider including insurance, maintenance, and hangaring.
We begin with the insurance premium. Current premium rates average 2.5% of the hull value, depending on the primary owner’s flight time. With a thousand hours in single-engine aircraft and a dozen hours in a Mooney M2-F that you valued at $100,000 you’d see a premium of $2,500 annually.
As for maintenance, it is not something you incur upfront unless there is a situation with the aircraft that you already knew about when you made the purchase. Instead, maintenance is more of a forward-looking cost that you create a fund for and put money toward it as you countdown toward a maintenance event, like an overhaul.
There are three maintenance events that you have to think about when it comes to the M20F. The first is the annual maintenance that you will incur. This is due on the last day of the twelfth month from the last annual inspection.
It’s a good assumption to set aside $4,000 for an annual.
The second maintenance factor that you will have to set money aside for is the overhaul of the engine. If you determine that the engine on the Mooney has a sound core and only needs a top overhaul, then plan to set aside about $30,000. But if the engine’s core is deteriorating, then consider a fully overhauled engine for $45,000 or a brand-new engine for $75,000.
Mooney owners typically replace a new engine every three overhaul cycles and just do top-end overhauls for the two before it. That would cost $30,000 for the first two overhauls and then $75,000 for a new one at the third overhaul.
Three overhauls are spread over 6,000 hours and the total cost of the two top-ends and a new engine is $135,000. That’s $22.50 for each hour you fly.
The third that you will also have to consider is the prop. The prop has to be inspected and overhauled every two years or 2000 hours. The prop kit is $1,800 since it’s not likely that you will not be flying 2000 hours in two years, just put this cost on the calendar. In other words, put aside $900 a year for the prop kit just to be safe.
Under the heading of maintenance, you will also have unintended maintenance that you will have to allocate for. Mooney owners typically have about $5,000 a year put aside for anything from tires to spark plugs, or even busted avionics antennae.
Finally, have a kitty for paint jobs. If you are hangaring the plane, you can set this for once in 5 years. If you leave it outside, figure that time frame to be 2 years. A Mooney M20F paint job will cost you $15,000. That works out to be $3,000 per year.
As for the cost of hangaring the Mooney, a T-hanger will do nicely and will cost about $7,200 annually. If you consider the benefit of keeping your Mooney out of the elements and how much it will reduce the frequency to replace seals and paint jobs, the hangar fee becomes worth it.
You will notice there are two kinds of costs that accumulate under the heading of fixed costs. One can be broken down to the hours you fly. This includes the overhaul costs for the engine and the prop.
But then there are costs that only break down into time elements, like the annual, the paint job, and the hangaring, for instance. To get an idea of how this breaks down to an hourly number, we need to make an assumption at this point. This is where you need to project how much you think you will fly in a given year.
In General Aviation that number is typically 400-600 hours a year. The higher the number, the lower the spread of fixed costs but the higher the total costs. And vice versa. Assuming you will fly 450 hours a year, the total costs for the insurance premium, the annual, the prop overhaul, miscellaneous, the allocation for a paint job, maintenance, and hangaring will be $50.25 per hour.
In addition to this, you also have the hourly cost for the overhaul which is $22.5 per hour. In total, the fixed costs, broken down into hours add up to $72.75. Adding that to the DOC, we have $176.25 an hour.
How Fast is The Mooney M20F?
Mooney’s M20 line is known for its speed. The M20F is no different. With the ability to reach a top speed of 197 miles per hour, or 130 knots (TAS) at 15,000 feet without the use of a turbocharger, or any additional modifications it represents a significant feat, especially considering that this plane is more than half a century old and was conceived during a period where there was no computational fluid dynamics.
The Mooney M20F also celebrates an improvement in the design and an increase in speed. It is faster than its predecessors, but not much slower than the 201s that came after it which broke the 200-mph barrier. Just 3 mph slower, which some M20F drivers compensate for with vortex generators, and an upgraded composite scimitar prop will keep it at the 200 mph IAS mark.
The M20F is a step up for most new pilots. Most of the primary instruction aircraft are not as fast or as slippery as the M20F. You will see this the first time you take it out. It doesn’t quit flying just because you pull the throttle back.
The one thing you should always remember though is that you should fly this plane by the numbers. Do not rotate before time. At the same time do not hold the nose down. If the M20F pops off the runways, keep it in ground effect till you get up to rotation speed before you pull back on the yoke. On higher-density altitude days, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to let it go a few more knots before you gently pull on the yoke and pitch for 94 mph.
If the M20F is your first complex aircraft, it will make a huge difference in your time behind the wheel if you get a competent flight instructor who has a ton of time in Mooneys to give you a check out in the airplane. Depending on what you may need to satisfy your insurance needs, getting about 20 hours of time with an instructor will go a long way in understanding the plane.
The Mooney is like a Formula 1 car. It is fast and it has strategies that you have to incorporate into your flight planning and habits to make sure that you get in sync with it.
To manage the speed of the aircraft, use the gear, the flaps, and the speed breaks. The speed brakes can be deployed at any speed below the red line. You can also deploy them at any altitude. However, speed brakes are not a substitute for proper planning. If you come within a few knots of your approach speed and are almost to the threshold, speed breaks should not be what you reach for as you may not be able to control the plane if the speed drops below Vs1.
About THE AUTHOR
After spending years watching every video I could find about flying, I finally scratched the itch and got my pilots license. Now I fly every chance I get, and share the information I learn, here.Read More About Joe Haygood