(March 2012) When Matt Norklun decided to go surfing in the Bahamas, the airlines were not an option. The 6-foot-6-inch Norklun loaded up his airplane with his two brothers and three surfboards. Considering the size of the occupants and their cargo, you might assume Norklun owns a Beechcraft Baron or a Cessna Caravan. He doesn’t. For the past six-plus years, Norklun’s mode of transportation has been a Mooney 201.
Like its M20-family predecessors, the Mooney 201 is a four-seat, low-wing, single-engine piston airplane with retractable landing gear. Produced between 1977 and 1998, the airplane’s official name is M20J, but it was marketed as the 201 to highlight its top speed of 201 mph. It was the first airplane to exceed 200 mph with an engine producing 200 hp.
In 1955, only a couple of years after brothers Al and Art Mooney had relocated the company from Wichita, Kansas, to Kerrville, Texas, the Mooney M20 was certified and hit the market with a price tag of $9,600. The Mooney brothers were no doubt confident in their product, but I wonder if they would have believed their eyes if they could peer into a crystal ball and see that the airplane would lead to a product line with more than 11,000 units produced in the next half-century.
The original M20 was equipped with a 150 hp Lycoming O-320 engine and a metal fuselage, but the wings and tail section were constructed of wood and fabric.
The tail section, which has become Mooney’s trademark with its forward canted rudder, rotates around its attachment point to provide for pitch trim in lieu of an elevator trim tab.
In 1958, with the introduction of the M20A, the engine was upgraded to a 180 hp O-360 — the first model in a series of engines that, with about 35,000 produced, has become Lycoming’s greatest success to date. The next significant model change happened with the M20B in 1961, when the wooden wings and tail were replaced with metal. This was the beginning of a number of modifications that would eventually transform the M20 into the 201.
The 200 hp IO-360 — the engine that powers the 201 — was introduced in 1964 in the M20E model. These early Mooney M20 models had an awkward, manual gear-retraction system with a clunky Johnson bar. The system was not failure-prone, but it required some muscle and a quick hand to get the gear up before the increasing speed made it nearly impossible to retract. The electrical retraction system first appeared in 1969 with the M20C and E and was added to the F model the following year. All subsequent models had electrically actuated landing gear, a system that also has a unique rubber disc shock-absorption system.