Even though Mooney Aircraft has experienced hardships throughout it’s 100-year existence, the company is known for its high-performance fleet of airplanes. With that being said, let’s take a look back at the history of this important company and how they’ve contributed to the growth of general aviation.
Founding The Mooney Aircraft Corporation
The Mooney brand has had many different owners and titles, but the original founders were a pair of brothers from Colorado, Albert and Arthur Mooney. In 1929, they started Mooney Aircraft Corporation and manufactured their initial production designs. With financing supplied by Bridgeport Machine Co., they moved to Wichita, alongside other soon-to-be industry titans like Beechcraft and Cessna. Within the early months of their company, they had made headway with official flight tests of their M-5 and an attempt to fly nonstop from California to New York. Although the flight would ultimately fail because of a bad engine weld, Mooney’s airplane had laid the tracks for a better design in the future. But that would have to wait. With the Great Depression heavily affecting the general aviation industry in the 1930s, Mooney Aircraft Corporation had to shut down and liquidate their assets.
Al Mooney Goes to Back Work
The stock market crash affected pretty much everyone, and the Mooney brothers were no exception. They had no choice but to go work for other aviation companies that hadn’t been financially decimated. Al went to work as chief engineer Bellanca Aircraft Company, who had weathered the depression thanks to a hefty contract with the Navy. Here, he oversaw the designs of Bellanca’s Airbus and the 28-70, also known as the “Irish Swoop” long-range racer. During this time, Al worked at other aircraft manufacturing companies, including Monocoupe and Culver. It was while working as chief engineer at the latter organization that he started a professional relationship with Charles “Pappy” Yankey, the man who would finance and encourage Al to re-open Mooney Aircraft Company. Also, as Culver was recording massive losses due to competition from Cessna and mis-navigating the post-war general aviation landscape, Mooney had been designing plans for the M-18, one of the most successful small airplanes of its time.
Mooney Aircraft Company: Round 2
Al Mooney envisioned a four-seater airplane that would appeal to soldiers coming home from war. The first plane they produced, although a single-seater, was a step in that direction. It was nicknamed the “Texas Messerschmitt” due to its resemblance of the BF-109, and the “poor man’s fighter plane”, due to its small size yet capable performance. Regardless, the Mooney M-18 Mite was wildly popular and many of its design concepts were used by the company throughout many of their other series. After the success of their first plane, Mooney started work on his dream, the four-seat M20 which he had been designing for several years. With financial backing from Pappy Yankey, production officially started and the first flight took place in 1953. This was an important milestone in the company’s history, but the good times were not meant to last. In December that year, Yankey suffered a severe stroke and passed away before he could supply the rest of the financing for the M20’s production. The heirs of Yankey’s estate weren’t interested in continuing work with Mooney, who ultimately proved to be a better engineer than CEO. The company approached bankruptcy once again. Fortunately, two investors, oil industry lawyer Hal Rachal and his brother-in-law Norman Hoffman, purchased control of the company for $225,000 in 1954.
New Leadership at Mooney Aircraft
After taking over as president and chief executive, Rachal took Mooney Aircraft from the brink of bankruptcy to the fourth largest private-aircraft maker after Cessna, Piper and Beech in just 13 years. Meanwhile, Al and Arthur left their own company in order to work for Lockheed Aircraft Corporation, where they both remained until retirement. It’s never been released why the brothers left their company – perhaps because they had lost control of their own name or they were being challenged with production concepts. Regardless, the new leadership continued with the work of the Mooney’s M20 plane designs. These panned out to be successful thanks to their high speed and power. And, in 1959, the company made a profit for the first time in its history.
The new leadership attracted the attention of lead engineer at McDonnell Aircraft, Ralph Harmon, and he was convinced to move to Mooney. Although he was inexperienced, Rachal saw opportunity in expanding the product line and instructed Harmon to produce different variations of the M20 and an upgraded M22 Mustang over the next several years. Although the development of the M22 Mustang was promising, it cost much more than estimated and ultimately, was a failure. This marked another return of Mooney’s money problems going into the 1970s. As such, the company sold to American Electronics Laboratories in 1969 after declaring bankruptcy. By 1970, Mooney had been sold yet again, this time to Butler Aviation International, and merged with another struggling small airplane manufacturer, Aerostar. It wasn’t until the purchase by Republic Steel Corporation, whose general manager Robert Cumming owned a Mooney M20F and believed it had potential, that the company would return to form. He oversaw the release of the M20F Executive in 1974 and the 301 turboprop (a direct competitor to Cessna 210) which put the company back in good standing in the aviation community.
Even further, the newly developed Mooney 201, called such because of its top speed of 201 mph, and the M20K 231 were released. Both of these planes, along with the 301 and subsequent variations were hot-ticket items for the company through the 1980s and beyond.However, the Mooney brand struggled to compete with other top general aviation companies. They were bought and sold several times – twice in 1984, alone. For a couple decades, airplane sales were less than impressive. And, with a huge loss to competitor Slingsby for an Enhanced Flight Trainer contract, sales dropped to just 64 units by 1993. Bankruptcy hit the company once again in the early 2000s, and with the massive hit during the Great Recession of 2007, Mooney didn’t have the resources to keep up.
Mooney Aircraft Today
Although the Mooney name served the aircraft industry for nearly a century, they officially halted production of their aircraft in November of 2019. It was recently announced that the company was under new ownership, employing a team of “pilots and Mooney owners”, meaning they still plan on providing support to the existing 7,000 planes still in use today. There may be plans in the works to revive the once iconic brand, with the company announcing they will assess the potential of “future design changes”.
Are you interested in renting a Mooney airplane?
Reach out to Inflight Pilot Training to learn more about our fleet of Mooney airplanes in Minneapolis. Stretch your wings in the high-performance Mooney M20J or fly a number of other fun planes from Beechcraft, Cessna, Cirrus, Piper and more – learn more about our general aircraft rental.