How I became a Mooniac

How I came to own a 1960 Mooney Wood Wing M20A

by Dave Morris

January My wife finds out she is pregnant. The next day, I go to the airport and sign up for flying lessons. I realize if I don't get my ticket now, I may never get another chance. Well, for another 18 years anyway. It costs $20 an hour for the Cessna 152, and $15 an hour for the instructor. Soloed after 7.4 hours of instruction with Bill Riggins.
August After about 40 hours of instruction by Bill Riggins and Joe Fife, got my pilot's license. I was Dan Stramel's first private checkride.
October 17 My son is born
October 18 My son gets his First Flight certificate. (Well, not really. I think it was a week later.) Over the next 20 years, I will have too many things on my plate to do very much flying. I will fly around 100 hours in Piper Warriors, Cessna 172s, and an occasional Beech Sundowner. Aircraft rental will skyrocket to $110 an hour for a Cessna 172, and it will become more difficult and expensive to schedule one for any kind of cross country trip.
December I have been wanting to own an airplane for a long time now, to make it easier to go flying. And I want to build the airplane myself, so I can experiment with some moving map and glass cockpit ideas I've had. Being a software engineer, I start working on some prototypes. I decide on a Dragonfly, because it is a "pay as you go" airplane with a company (Viking) behind it and a lot of builders for support. I get the plans for Christmas and start immediately building. The company will go out of business and factory support will vanish within a few years.
January 20 Many, MANY years later... I attend one of William Wynne's Corvair College events in San Antonio. I take my Corvair core engine down with me, and we disassemble it.
April 19-22 After two years of rebuilding the engine, I drive to William Wynne's hangar in Florida. William and his expert staff open up, inspect, and close up my Corvair engine again. With exception of some minor valve geometry discrepancies and a missing oil slinger disc, everything looks pretty good to them. After a couple of days of painting, welding vent tubes, plumbing, sealing oil sumps, and running plug wires, the engine cranks up and runs perfectly on April 22nd on the test stand on the very first try.
June 15 Mark Langford breaks his crankshaft in a 3100cc Corvair. Over the next few months, 3 other KR-2 builders break their Corvair crankshafts.
September William Wynne issues a recommendation that all engines be torn down and have their crankshafts nitrided. I'm too depressed to go back to the hangar again for 6 months.
May 11 Charlie Johnson has a VW prop hub failure and looks for a quick replacement.
May 12 I started the Dragonfly in December 1992, and have been working on it for over 13 years now. But the reality is finally setting in:
  1. It is going to take me several more years to finish the airplane
  2. The Dragonfly no longer meets my mission requirements, namely being able to fly with one other person, taking baggage and Scuba dive gear around the country to do aerial and underwater videography
  3. I am observing how long it is taking even the top builders to get their aircraft completely debugged
  4. My original reason for building an experimental, was to write glass cockpit software. Now I can buy that same software off-the-shelf from several different companies. For instance Flight Cheetah or Garmin GPSMap 496.
  5. I am not getting any younger, and I would like to start flying before I lose my medical!
I make the painful decision to sell my Dragonfly and buy an already-finished airplane with more space.
May 15 I start running a For Sale ad on for my Dragonfly.
May 17 I spend some time on the Beech Musketeer and the Grumman email discussion lists. I figure both of these planes would be affordable starter planes for me. But neither of them is really what I would call thrilling. I found the owners of a Grumman Cheetah who were looking for a 3rd to form a partnership. The airplane was hangared at my airport (52F), so it seemed the stars were in alignment. I stopped by their hangar one day, saw the airplane, looked at the paperwork, and talked with one of the partners. Turns out the airplane has no logs and was repossessed from its previous owner. History unknown. A red flag goes up.
June 1 Buyer in South Africa offers somewhat less for the Dragonfly and Corvair engine than I wanted, but I am just about willing to make the deal just to be done with it.
June 5 I want to test-fly the Cheetah, but I can't get either of the two partners to call me back.
June 8 South African buyer decides a local KR2 would be cheaper and backs out of the deal with me. I now contact Charlie Johnson to see if he wants the Corvair engine, if I were to sell the engine separately from the airframe.
June 12 Charlie makes me a good offer for the Corvair engine, nosebowl, engine mount, and shipping. I start looking for ways to ship it.
June 22 I find shipping through Charlie sends a deposit. I start removing the engine from the firewall and build a pallet for it to be shipped on.
June 26 Corvair is supposed to ship today. After waiting 8 hours for the truck to arrive, shipping company finally calls to tell me they have just received the paperwork and can't pick up the engine without fully enclosed crating. I tell them I'll call them back when I figure out how long it will take me to crate the engine. I find a really cool Glass Goose in San Diego for only $32k on and call the seller to discuss why it's so cheap. It's worth at least $80,000 in parts alone!
June 27 Local potential buyer makes appointment to come look at the Dragonfly, but is a no-show.
June 28 I talk to someone who knows about the Glass Goose for sale. It's going to take several days of work to get it flying again. Can't be transported. The reasons for the super low price slowly emerge. It would be an awesome deal for someone who has some time and composite experience to get an $80k airplane for $32k.
June 29 Corvair engine finally ships to Charlie in a fully enclosed crate. A week later, I get a bill for another $100 because the crate weighed so much more than the pallet alone. Oh well.
July 5 Corvair arrives at Charlie's office. He sends the balance of the agreed price. Can't find anybody willing to finance the $32k Glass Goose because fewer than 10 examples are flying.
July 7 While searching for undervalued airplanes, I spot a Mooney M20A (N6030X) on that the seller is willing to partially finance. I have only a vague recollection of having heard about the Mooney M20 in The Illustrated Buyer's Guide to Used Airplanes, so I start educating myself. I subscribe to a couple of Mooney discussion lists and ask a lot of questions. Everybody says to beware of the wood wing. I make a phone call to Bill Wheat, a legend at the Mooney factory who was the test pilot for most of the early Mooneys, who reassured me that wood wing planes are perfectly fine if properly maintained, kept dry, and inspected for wood rot.
July 11-12 I drive to the Hill Country in central Texas for two purposes: to visit the Mooney factory in Kerrville, and to attend the American Yankee Association convention in Fredericksburg. Stanley Feller, who has been at Mooney since 1958, gives me a great tour of the factory. After Kerrville, I'm not all that interested in Grummans any more, and I only spend about 15 minutes at the AYA convention before heading home. I call an aviation insurance agent on the drive home and ask for a quote on the Mooney. I won't hear from him again for 3 weeks when I have to finally call him back.
July 13 I have a lengthy conversation with Larry, the A&P mechanic who performed the annual last month on N6030X. He tells me the history of the plane, how it was completely disassembled and put back together again over a period of several years in Ohio by a group of mechanics, how it has a number of speed mods and is in great condition with none of the problems that have plagued wooden wings in the past. He owns an 1955 M20 himself, so I trust him to know how to inspect and maintain a wood wing airplane.
July 14 Turns out the owner of the hangar next to mine at Northwest Regional Airport also has a Mooney. An M20D that has had its fixed gear converted to retractable. I worry about the size of the cockpit, and whether my 6'5" height will be a problem. So I make an appointment to talk with him and sit in the cockpit. But it turns out my size is not going to be a problem. I look funny climbing out of my Porsche too, so who cares if they laugh at me trying to unfold from the cockpit of a Mooney?
July 15 My wife agrees that if I can sell our Isuzu Trooper, she'll let me keep the money for the Mooney down payment.
July 17 I sell the Trooper on eBay.
July 18 I look for the best instructor there is, to give me the training necessary for the complex endorsement and any Mooney transition training the insurance company might require. I also need a BFR. I find the right guy, but he is on his way to Oshkosh, so I'll have to contact him again later.
July 19 Get my 3rd Class Medical renewed.
July 20-22 Trip to Richmond, VA. Meet with the seller (Ed), look over all paperwork, logs, manuals. Go flying. I notice in the logs that Bill Wheat, the gentleman I spoke with last week, was the test pilot of this very plane in July 1960. Awesome! I make the deal, print and sign contracts in the lobby of the Marriott. I make a down payment to hold the plane. Immediately after signing contracts, I go back to my room where there is an e-mail from Ramon in Spain who wants to buy the Dragonfly airframe. I say yes. I've chatted with Ramon off and on for a couple of years, both on the Dragonfly list and on the Corvair list. He seems to be a smart engineer who understands experimental aircraft.
July 24 Ed finds out I have a Porsche 911 and asks me a lot of questions about it. I start looking for a freight forwarder to ship the Dragonfly airframe to Spain.
July 27 Ed asks if I would be interested in trading the Porsche plus some money for clear title to the Mooney, and I agree.
July 28 Finally I get a quote from one Freight Forwarder to ship the Dragonfly airframe in a 40 foot container for around $2800 including pickup at my airport. None of the other 3 freight companies ever responded.
July 31 Falcon insurance (sponsor of the Mooney Aircraft Pilots Association) tells me they cannot insure the Mooney at all because of the wooden wing. That's odd... and worrisome.
August 2 I call AUA, Inc., the broker with whom the aircraft is currently insured. And sure enough, they have no problem insuring it again. It will require 15 hours of transition training and joining the Vintage Aircraft Association. After a reminder call, I also get a quote from the first insurance agency I contacted 3 weeks ago. Their quote is for $1,000 MORE per year and will require 20 hours of transition training!
August 3 Ed starts thinking he may have a problem with the idea of taking the Porsche in trade and wants to know if I would sell it and just give him the cash. So, the deal is now an all-cash deal, and a lot better than the original financed arrangement that had gotten me interested in this plane in the first place. That Ed is a smart salesman!
August 4 Freight Forwarding company commits to ship the Dragonfly airframe on August 8th. Buyer in Spain begins wiring money to freight company. I start an eBay ad running for the Porsche 911.
August 5 I build cradles for the wing and canard of the Dragonfly to protect and support them during shipping.
August 6 I dismantle the wing and canard from the Dragonfly airframe to get them ready to ship.
August 8 With 3 helpers, I load up the Dragonfly into a 40 foot container, where it will ride a truck to Houston, then by ship to Vigo, Spain.
August 10 I start an ad running for the Porsche on the Collector's Edition of AutoTrader
August 11 The auction on eBay for the Porsche ends without meeting my reserve. I relist the Porsche, this time with a starting bid a little above the highest previous bid, no reserve, and a 3 day auction.
August 14 The eBay auction ends for the Porsche. The high bid was for $1,000 more than I was hoping. Excellent. He sends me a cashier's check by FedEx.
August 17 I wire the money to Ed. The ball is now in Ed's court to get the remaining 2 squawks fixed and get the plane ready for ferrying to me. The vacuum pump must be fixed so the two vacuum gyros work, and the voltage regulator must be fixed so it does not cut in and out. I talk to a ferry pilot, Jim Willess, and we tentatively discuss the week of August 27th as the target date for ferrying the plane to me.
August 18 Dependable Auto Shippers picks up the Porsche to take to the buyer in Las Vegas.
August 24 The airplane is ready to go. New vacuum pump, and the voltage regulator is fixed. Ferry pilot plans to pick it up August 27.
August 27 Ed calls and says the ferry pilot just took off and the plane is on its way. The pilot calls me later that night from Little Rock and says the plane flies very well and he hopes to be arriving at Northwest Regional Airport between 9 and 10am the next morning. I tell him I'll be there well before he arrives, and will have my camcorder rolling to catch his landing, and I'll flash my lights and he can follow me to the hangar.
August 28 This morning, after something like 6 months of dry, hot weather, the heavens decide to open up and start pouring rain. The sky is completely overcast with nasty cumulonimbus, embedded thunderstorms, wind gusts, etc. A cold front went through. Great. I figure I'll probably have to wait until the afternoon for the plane to arrive, but I might as well get on out to the airport by 9 anyway, and do some more cleaning of the hangar. As I pull onto the airport property, I see some strobe lights way down the runway and wonder what fool is flying on a day like this. As he taxies back up the runway, I gasp out loud "Hey, that's MY plane!". I flash my lights quickly so he'll recognize me, and then lead him around over to my hangar. These ferry pilots... they're fearless I guess. He says "aw a little rain doesn't bother me". I guess that's what 24,000 hours of flight time and a Garmin 496 does for you.
Taken minutes after we pushed the plane into the hangar out of the rain on Day 1
August 29 And now, after 3 1/2 months... or maybe I should say after 13 1/2 years, (or 23 years and 16 days after I got my license), the real fun finally begins!

-- Dave Morris