Mooney Ovation2 GX

Richard Collins checks out the new G1000-equipped Mooneys. Will Garmin's spectacular flat panels bring this fast single into the new millennium?

FL0305_Mooney_pic1

FL0305_Mooney_pic1

The Garmin G1000-equipped Mooney Ovation2 GX

Three guesses what the "GX" stands for in the name of this new Mooney. The "G" gives it away. The airplane has the exciting new Garmin G1000 glass cockpit system that is revolutionizing the instrument panels of many new airplanes. Where the Mooney panel used to look small, with a lot of elements, it is now primarily two big screens, a primary flight display (PFD) on the left and a multifunction display (MFD) on the right. All navigation, communications and flying information is available in this integrated system.

Because Flying has had coverage of the G1000 system in other airplanes over the past several months, we'll look mainly at the differences in the system as it is installed in the Mooney Ovation2.

One difference is that the G1000 in the Ovation shows flaps and pitch trim positions on the MFD. The whole G1000 system lights up whenever the master switch is turned on and there is no separate avionics master switch. The system should be displaying XM WX downlinked weather on its MFD by the time you read this.

The G1000 system will talk to you in the Mooney. It'll call traffic either with the standard TIS system (with which it'll also tell you when traffic information is not available); it'll tell you to check the landing gear if the throttle is retarded with the gear up; and it will tell of an impending stall. As a nice touch, the pilot has the choice of a male or female voice for the advisories.

Even though the FAA requires only that essential equipment operate for 30 minutes after the failure of a charging system, Mooney has gone well beyond this requirement in its glass cockpit all-electric airplane. The Ovation2 has two separate full-size 24-volt batteries and two alternators. The second alternator is a 20-amp engine-driven unit from B&C Specialty Products that is finding its way onto a lot of new airplanes and that can be retrofitted to a lot of older airplanes. Twenty amps is enough, in the case of the Ovation2, to run the entire G1000 system off an emergency bus. When this is done, the battery circuit breaker is pulled and the two batteries are held in reserve for an arrival with everything playing.

The audio panel and the autopilot are not on the emergency bus and if use of those is desired, as it would be a lot of the time, the number one battery might be used until it gets low, then the emergency bus might be activated with the second battery held in reserve. However it is done, there are plenty of electrical options in this all-electric airplane.

The current autopilot offering in the G1000-equipped Ovation is an S-Tec 55X. The altitude pre-select, heading select, and navigational cues for the autopilot come from the G1000. Separately, the autopilot has a vertical speed hold mode to use for climbs and descents.

The standby instruments are at the far right side of the panel. There's a mechanical airspeed indicator and altimeter plus an electric artificial horizon. The position of these is not ideal but they are clearly visible from the pilot's seat and would be flyable. Their use would not be required unless both G1000 tubes were to fail, because the primary flight display is available on either tube, or unless there were unlikely multiple failures in the electrical system.

Equipping with the G1000 adds only about $20,000 to the price of the airplane when compared with one using steam gauges, and all sales are currently of airplanes with glass though the standard airplane is mechanical and still available.

As with all airplanes, a glass cockpit changes the personality of the Mooney. Where airplanes evolved over the years and instruments, avionics and switches were arranged and rearranged, complete order is restored to the panel with the G1000. Everything appears to be "on purpose" and in a logical place.

When flying with the G1000 the feeling is that you are operating the airplane through the avionics system, which is the way it has been in jets and bigger turboprops for years. Certainly any system like this has to be learned and once it is understood the pilot both flies the airplane and operates the system. That might not appeal to folks who prefer to live in the past but, for most, hooking all this electronic wizardry to a fine airplane like a Mooney creates the best of everything.

The fit and finish of new Mooneys is excellent and a plush leather interior gives you a great place to enjoy the flying and the flight. A Mooney is not the easiest airplane to get in and out of, but for normal-size people it's a comfortable ride.

For years, Mooneys didn't have rudder trim and even with much smaller engines than the Ovation's 280-horsepower Continental IO-550, it needed rudder trim. It's there now, electrically operated, and with the readout of trim setting shown on the MFD. This, and everything else, is carefully checked before takeoff.

The propeller on these airplanes has gotten a lot of attention. Mooney has used two-blade and three-blade props, always seeking the optimum balance between climb and cruising speed. The current airplane has a three-blade Hartzell scimitar prop that seems to be ideal for the airplane.

The Ovation2's IO-550 Continental engine turns but 2500 rpm maximum for takeoff to make 280 horsepower. The engine is rated at 300 or more horsepower in other applications where it turns 2700 for takeoff.

Takeoff acceleration is good, though not brisk. With takeoff flaps selected, the airplane flies cleanly away at 70 knots. The prop and throttle are left full-forward for climb and at 110 knots the rate is well over 1,000 feet per minute.

The optional Bose active noise-canceling headsets enhance the smooth engine operation by making it quiet as well. The atmosphere is serene indeed, even at climb and maximum cruise. Riding around at 2,500 feet above the ground at max cruise power, leaned to best power using the handy exhaust gas temperature feature on the MFD, the indicated airspeed was flirting with the yellow, which begins at 175 knots. The fuel flow was 16.5 gallons per hour.

When all the cruise options for trading off speed for range for altitude in the Ovation are considered, it comes across as being one of the most flexible airplanes around, even when compared with turbocharged airplanes.

Max cruise in the Ovation comes at 8,000 feet where it will true 192 knots. That is a lot of knots to use against a headwind and rare would be the day when the westbound groundspeed would drop much below 150 knots. If you need to go higher to get to smooth air, an Ovation will still be near 190 knots at 10,000 feet.

Where the airplane shines brightly is when eastbound in the windy season. At 15,000 feet the airplane will get close to 170 knots and do it on just over 11 gallons of fuel per hour. The airplane has a lot of span which helps it get to those higher altitudes with a normally-aspirated engine. Add a typical tailwind of that altitude and the Ovation2 will vault half way across the country nonstop and with a generous fuel reserve. An oxygen system is optional on the airplane.

Standard fuel for the Ovation2 GX is 102 gallons so, even at max cruise at 8,000 feet, the airplane has an absolute endurance of about six hours, or longer than most people want to sit. Fly higher and seven or more hour flights with reserve could be the norm. That, though, probably wouldn't involve passengers because nobody but truly dedicated pilots will sit in an airplane for that long.

An interesting airframe option is a rear bench seat with three belts. Somebody in the engineering department must have three kids because that's what this would be for. Certainly pilots with three kids have often raised the question of whether or not it is legal to put two under one belt in the back seat of a four-place airplane. They don't have to ask the question when an Ovation2 has this feature.

The flying and riding qualities of the Ovation2 are great. The airplane is responsive to the touch and about the only thing a pilot might notice on a first flight is the pitch change with flaps extension and retraction. It is strong.

The airplane has speed brakes that enable high rates of descent with the engine developing enough power to stay warm. These are more effective at higher speeds though some pilots use them for glidepath control at slower speeds. It's okay to land with them out, but should a go- around become necessary they need to be stowed quickly.

The S-Tec 55X autopilot flies the airplane quite well, even in turbulence. Electric trim is part of the autopilot, but I still use the manual trim wheel between the seats. It just seems more natural.

One thing that the Ovation2 GX does not have is a flight director. Some manufacturers are putting a flight director in the airplanes with glass cockpits and S-Tec autopilots but, because the autopilot is rate-based and doesn't know the attitude of the airplane, the flight director does not behave in the same precise manner as does one with an autopilot that gets information from an attitude indicator.

I always psyche myself up for the first Mooney landing in a while. The airplanes are well-behaved and easy to land but only if you do it right. The one thing they have no forgiveness for is the high and fast approach. If it looks like that is in the offing, best give it up and come around for another try, even with the speed brakes. The goal in the airplane is to come over the runway threshold flying at 75 knots with full flaps (and the landing gear down, please). If that is accomplished, all that's left is to flare, float for just a second, and land. Add 10 knots to that approach speed and you'll float 1,000 feet before landing according to a Mooney expert.

There was a 30-degree crosswind on the runway with gusts into the 20s for my first Mooney landing in a while, but the effective controls took good care of the crosswind component.

There is some good price news on the Ovation2. The last one Flying reviewed, a 2000 model, was well-equipped and priced at $428,800. The price of a 2005 Ovation2 GX is $418,150. The option list is short, too. A Stormscope is available but the XM WX weather downlink system will include lightning information. A Skywatch would be nice and is $16,950. A TKS ice protection system, approved for flight in icing conditions, is $39,900, which is substantially less than it has been in the past. Bose headsets are $990 each, but the hot-wire plug for them is standard. An oxygen system is $7,500 and air conditioning $26,900. Most pilots would eschew some or most of those options to keep the price and weight of the airplane down because the airplane is a pretty complete package as it is equipped.

The airplane flown for this report included the Garmin G1000 integrated glass cockpit system. Bose headsets, metallic paint, a Stormscope, and a three-belt bench seat in the rear were the optional equipment included. Some items were part of a special pricing package that was effective at the time. All perform-ance figures are from the pilot's operating handbook (POH) and reflect standard day conditions at maximum weight.

It has never been a secret that Mooney as a company has gone through periods of instability throughout its history. It has always been interesting to me, though, that even in periods of inactivity as far as airplane building goes, Mooneys have always had product support. In its present incarnation, recently established, it has become the Mooney Airplane Company. Last December was a record-setting month for deliveries, mainly because they had built a lot of GX airplanes but couldn't start delivering them until the FAA approved the installation in November.

I'll add one last thought. My first ride in a Mooney M20 was 50 years ago. Some of the shapes are the same, in tribute to an original first-class engineering job, but a half century later the new M20s are as modern as tomorrow.

The Ovation2 GX is partnered with the turbocharged Bravo GX, powered by a Lycoming TIO-540 rated at 270 horsepower. The airplanes are sold through dealers in some territories and by factory reps in other territories. For more information, go to www.mooney.com.