At first glance the newly certified Mooney Ovation3 looks like just another Mooney (which, granted, is a little like saying "just another Porsche.") But behind the familiar long-body lines are a couple of big changes.
Even before the Ovation3 came along, these airplanes were fast, and over the past few years they've gotten faster, and they've still got those great Mooney lines that have enchanted loyal owners for decades. Over that time, Mooneys havetypically come out of the factory equipped with great panels, and today's Mooneys have the best panels yet, with the Garmin G1000 integrated avionics suite and now the Garmin GFC 700 digital autopilot. For added comfort and utility, you can get upgrades like air conditioning and known-ice-approved TKS. And I don't care what you say, despite Cirrus and Columbia having really fast fixed-gear airplanes, there's something that just feels right about retractable gear on a high-performance airplane. I've gotten used to it on the Cirrus, but the idea of a fixed-gear Mooney sounds blasphemous. (And you can save your emails: I know they built a couple fixed-gear models back in Eisenhower's day.)
So what is it about the Ovation3 that makes it so special?
Power, that's what. In terms of horsepower and electronics, the Ovation3 is the most powerful Mooney, and with the possible exception of the just-certified turbocharged Acclaim, it's also the most sophisticated airplane Mooney has ever put its name on.
The pony-power part of the equation was the easy part. Well, at least it seems that way. The engine powering the Ovation, the Continental IO-550 series, is commonly rated at 310 hp in airplanes like the Cirrus SR22 and Columbia 350, but the max horsepower of Mooneys using just about the same engine has always been 280, which is essentially "achieved" by turning down the max engine rpm to 2500, instead of the 2700 rpm of the IO-550 in the Cirrus and Columbia, among others. Mooney gets back that horsepower by using a mod engineered by Midwest M20 Mooney. The STC simply boosts the power back up to 310 horses by allowing the prop to turn at 2700 instead of 2500 rpm, which is the redline on other versions. Mooney also adds a three-blade Hartzell prop. Now with FAA approval for the mod, Mooney performs the STC in-house as part of the production process.
With the STC, the Ovation is approved for max continuous operation at 2700 rpm; although there is a "maximum recommended cruise power" setting of 262 hp and 2550 rpm, you can cruise at the higher power setting if you want to. As you'd expect, the cruise speeds on the Ovation3 are very good at typical cruise altitudes, between 5,000 and 8,000 feet, but the fuel consumption numbers go way up as you push the prop lever forward. In the Cirrus, I'm used to seeing close to 20 gph at best power and 2700 rpm, which is very similar to the fuel flows I saw in the Ovation3.
The Ovation3 comes standard with the G1000 flat-panel avionics system, but the G1000 isn't set up to show the new redline on the engine of 2700 rpm. So there are a couple of placards that advise you to use "the G1000 tachometer for reference only," and an additional "official" tachometer is added to the panel, presumably so the pilot can see the proper placement of the green and red colors there.
I had a chance to fly the Ovation3 with Brian Kendrick, Mooney's chief pilot/inspector, out of Kerrville, Texas, earlier this year. It was anything but a typical general aviation day in Central Texas when I launched out of Austin, located just about 40 SR22 minutes east of Kerrville. The weather was just over minimums at Austin, and it was only slightly better at Kerrville (KERV). But it was still just better than minimums because KERV's only approaches are non-precision ones. And the wind that day was howling. At 6,000 feet, the wind vector on the Avidyne PFD was showing winds from the south at 57 knots, so I had a hellacious crab angle as I motored my way toward Kerrville, getting slammed and bammed around the cockpit as I went.
While the ride into Kerrville was pretty wild, the wind on the ground wasn't so bad. The AWOS had it just about down the runway at 18 gusting to 25 knots. The landing was uneventful, but more on the approach later. Once the SR22 was safely in the hangar at Mooney, I headed over to the reception office to meet with Brian, and spent a little time talking about the autopilot and its G1000 interface.
While the GFC 700 is an incredibly capable autopilot, pilots who fly with a rate-based S-Tec or Bendix/King autopilot needn't be intimidated by it. There are some important differences, though, both in system architecture and operation.
Even though the GFC 700 has been certified on several general aviation airplanes, the system is still not widely known or well understood. Integrated nicely with the G1000 avionics system, the GFC 700 is an attitude-based dual-channel, digital two-axis (pitch and roll) autopilot with flight director driving smart servos. In the Mooney, the autopilot is controlled by the PFD and a control unit mounted by the pilot's side of the center-mounted MFD. There's also a go-around function, with a console-mounted switch just ahead of the throttles and a control-wheel steering button on the yoke.
In terms of flying the airplane, it's important to start thinking seriously about vertical navigation. With the GFC 700, you can set in your rate of climb or descent, which is pretty common on GA autopilots. But the part that was brand new to me was the FLC button, which allows you to set your indicated airspeed. This airspeed-hold capability is known on the GFC 700 as the "flight level change" function, which is shortened to "FLC" on the control unit and simply called "filch" by pilots. Once you get used to using it, you won't want to go back.