I have dreamed of owning an airplane ever since I sold my Cessna 170 in 2008. While I loved my 1948 taildragger, I wanted something that had rolled out of the factory after I was born and could fly a lot faster than 100 knots. After a long, slow search, which involved help from the Internet and friends, I finally have my own wings again. I bought a 1974 Mooney M20C Ranger.
Several limiting factors complicated my quest to buy an airplane. With a very tight budget (I wanted to stay below $35,000 for the purchase price) I had to find the most efficient airplane for the least amount of money — both up front and in terms of operating costs. I concluded that an older Mooney would get me a lot of bang for the buck. I really wanted an M20J, also known as a 201, or one with the longer fuselage, like an M20F. So I sporadically started searching for an affordable Mooney on the Controller, Trade-a-Plane and Barnstormers websites.
Unfortunately I found that the Mooneys I really desired were out of my price range. But the shorter Mooney M20Cs and M20Es were a lot more reasonable. Not only did their purchase price fit my budget, but the operating costs are also very low. M20-series airplanes with 180-horsepower engines burn less than 10 gph while seeing right around 145 knots in cruise. That kind of efficiency is tough to beat. Sure, the fuel burn is 2 to 3 gallons more per hour than my old Cessna's, but the result is a near 50 percent increase in cruise speed while maintaining about the same useful load — around 1,000 pounds.
One of the biggest challenges was finding a low-cost Mooney with an electrically actuated retractable gear system. I had previously flown a Mooney M20F with a Johnson bar — a manual system for lowering and retracting the landing gear. Located between the front seats, the Johnson bar is a big metal bar that locks into a bracket near the throttle quadrant or on the floor depending on whether the gear is being placed up or down. Many Mooney pilots swear by the Johnson bar. Through my research I even read a discussion thread on which a few owners were looking into converting their electric-gear airplanes to the manually actuated system. Their argument for the Johnson bar was that it is less expensive to maintain and less prone to failure.