Safety: How Mooney Protects


By Richard Zephro

While at Mammoth Lakes, California many years ago, a near new Piper Archer was approaching for landing in windy turbulent conditions. We had just landed in my friend’s Mooney M-20C model, when the Piper came in to land– flaring too high in the gusts and turbulence.

The airplane pan-caked to the ground from about 20′ above ground level (AGL) from the stall. The Piper bounced very hard once, then bounced once again. Due to the impact, the Piper Archer’s ceiling came down from the impact, breaking the necks of both occupants. Yet, the collapse did not even break the side glass which returned to the original position.

This is impossible in a Mooney. Mooney Aircraft incorporate a wonderful steel “roll cage”, thus keeping its occupants safe from such a disaster.

At one time, a customer flew in from the east coast to consider purchasing a Mooney Porsche from me. After deciding to purchase a 201 from his local area, he put his family of 4 in the 201 for a night trip.

Later, with what was later determined to be a mechanic’s mistake in engine service, the engine quit shortly after takeoff. As panic set in, the pilot remembers hitting the trees at over 100 MPH indicated. The Mooney came to a halt, slid backwards down the tall trees from which it impacted and broke up into waste– except the “cocoon” surrounding the passenger compartment. As a result of this what could have been a catastrophic accident resulted in only minor injuries.

Another man was flying his 201 in Florida delivering his granddaughter to a major airport when it threw an entire prop blade. His quick thinking saved the day when he wasted no time pulling the power, and landed in a cow pasture gear up (cow pastures are notorious for doing really bad things to an airplane in a gear down landing), thus totaling the Mooney. However, all passengers walked away without so much as a scratch.

I spend time each month going over accident statistics as listed on the NTSB Aviation site. This is a habit I got in to many years ago because better to learn from other’s mistakes than one’s own!

Month after month of accident reports show specific brands of aircraft over and over on each page; yet the Mooney does not make that many appearances within its class of aircraft. Sure, there’s going to be some as accidents will happen to anyone at any time, but if you take in to consideration that Mooney is a traveling machine and often flown IFR as compared to the restaurant hoppers out there, it is pretty amazing as to how safe a Mooney is!

Of course if the factor of “stupidity” were removed from aircraft accidents, virtually all of the NTSB’s pages would be reduced in size. However it is very apparent that for the number of hours traveled and under every sort of circumstance, the Mooney shines in relation to others as I see it, and I often tell others that within a handful of times during my flying years, had I not been in a Mooney, I seriously don’t think I would be here writing this article. When the chips are down; MOONEYS ARE THAT MUCH SAFER!

Some years back, a fellow loaned his M20-C to a buddy of his that had a sufficient amount of flying experience, but little in a Mooney. The plane was based at a local (to San Antonio) residential airpark with a runway not much larger than a postage stamp. Off he went with his 3 pax to the wild blue yonder. Upon their return, of course the non-Mooney pilot came in too hot and too high, yet opted to “plant” the M20 on to the pavement. He Floated like a Butterfly, then Stung like a Bee an out-building which sent them careening like a Frisbee along the runway and the back yards of the local homes along the airpark. After taking out two separate out-buildings and a fence, there was not much more left than the passenger compartment of the older C model, in fact, that’s about all that was recognizable about the plane. Minor injuries were the fortunate order of the day and everyone walked out of what was left of the Mooney! An all aluminum aircraft without a steel “roll cage” would definitely have folded around them and their fate would have no doubt been should we say; altered?

Another example was a customer I had from New Jersey who came in town with the hots for a PFM (Mooney Porsche) I was marketing at the time. He really did his homework and we talked, and flew, and talked, and flew, so that no rock was left unturned. He was so excited about “his” new PFM he had been dreaming about. Being the extremely careful soul as he was, he thought the last thing to do is to calm down, let the excitement wane, and go home for two nights before deciding to fund the aircraft.

Meanwhile, some local guys got hold of him and sold him a 201 that was at his own airport. The 201 was in need of some engine maintenance and they had it done. Turned out it took most of the day and he promised his wife and two children a ride, so rather than he or someone else flying the plane solo after the engine maintenance, he loaded his family up for their first flight in that plane.

By that time it was night dark.

I had heard the “rumor” so I phoned him and asked him if it were true, and then he told me the story…… Shortly after takeoff, the engine quit cold!

He told me that he felt panic set in knowing that their new landing zone would be atop a thick forest of 100′ trees that aligned with the airport boundary. He went on to tell me that he hit the tree tops at better than 100 mph as the 201 skipped and slowed.

He was amazed as to how smooth the landing felt initially and the 201 lay awkward in the bent bows of the trees some 75′ AGL! Just as he was thinking that the major part of the event was over, the 201 began a tail first backslide down and down until the tail impacted the forest floor below which turned the entire tail section and cone in to not much more than an accordian.

They hit hard! Having his faculties return, he had everyone get out of the plane and run in case a fire broke out. His wife required some stitches in her leg near the knee cap and that was the only casualty of the one-of-a-kind landing! Add it up!

The 201 landed in the trees relatively in tact. Then it hit so hard on the fall, the trailing edge of the tail was pushed up to and very near the baggage compartment. With the advent of that kind of hit, no doubt the engine wanted to come barreling through the firewall and in to the cabin…BUT, it was a Mooney and the steel structure prevented that occurrence. My consolation prize was his statement; “I wish I had bought that PFM instead!” His wife prevented him from ever flying again…. I’m certain that the fact that she was alive thanks to Mooney aircraft was no consolation to her.

I could go on and on about such reports, but remember this: NOT the great speed, efficiency and economy, but SAFETY is the great advantage and attribute of the Mooney Airframe.