Mooney Aircraft Corporation

Furnished by the U.S. Centennial Of Flight Commission

Mooney M-18-C Mite

The Mooney M-18 Mite was designed in 1946 and first sold late in 1947.

Mooney Mark 20

A 1957 Mooney Mark 20.

Mooney MJ3 in flight

Mooney M20J in flight.

In a fine example of the adage “if at first you don’t succeed,
try, try again,” aircraft designer Albert W. “Al” Mooney founded the company
that bears his name, not once but twice, with vastly different levels of
success. His persistence and vision resulted in the production of the highest
performance single engine aircraft ever manufactured while the trademark Mooney
forward-swept tail remains instantly recognizable at airports the world over.

Al Mooney was born in Denver in 1906. By the age of 19, he had
established himself as a draftsman and assistant to the chief engineer of
Denver’s Alexander Aircraft Company, builders of the legendary Curtiss OX-5-powered
Eaglerock. Soon promoted to Alexander’s chief engineer, he developed the
Bullet—a low-wing, high-speed monoplane that featured Mooney’s revolutionary
retractable landing gear.

Teaming with his brother Arthur, Al Mooney left Denver and
Alexander to form the Mooney Aircraft Corporation in Wichita, Kansas, in early
1929. The Mooney brothers’ first venture was an airplane similar to the Bullet,
an efficient low-wing monoplane dubbed the Mooney A-1. Unfortunately for the
brothers, the Great Depression arrived at about the same time as the Mooney
A-1, and Mooney Aircraft Corporation was unable to survive, closing its doors
in 1931.

The initial failure of Mooney Aircraft did not dissuade Al Mooney
from pursuing his passion for designing quality aircraft. In 1934, he became
the chief engineer for Bellanca Aircraft Corporation and contributed
significantly to the design of Bellanca’s successful line of low-wing wooden
aircraft. Another small aircraft company, Monocoupe Aircraft, quickly
recognized Mooney’s genius for design and convinced him to join the company as
vice-president and chief engineer, resulting in the development of its Model G
“Dart” and the Monocoach.

Culver Aircraft, another aircraft firm, purchased the design
rights and tooling for the Dart in 1938, and Al Mooney accompanied his creation
to the new firm. As he did with both Bellanca
and Monocoupe, Mooney set out to design a classic aircraft, creating the aerobatic two-seat Culver Cadet featuring
an elliptical-shaped wing and retractable landing gear. More than 350 Cadets were built in the months before World War II.

After the War ended, the Mooney brothers partnered with C.G.
Yankee and W.L. McMahon to resurrect Mooney Aircraft Corporation of Wichita in
June 1946, with Al serving as the firm’s general manager and his brother Art
acting as production manager. Their first product, introduced in 1947, was an
all-wood single-seat airplane with retractable landing gear and the trademark
forward-swept “backwards” vertical tail (which actually helped the airplane
recover from spins).

Officially designated as the M-18, but known everywhere as the
Mooney “Mite,” it became the smallest and most inexpensive airplane ever
mass-produced, costing only $1,995. The Mooney Mite’s size was matched only by
its fuel efficiency and cargo capacity—the Mite burned only 3.5 to 4 gallons
per hour (13 to 15 liters per hour) to cruise at about 125 miles per hour (201
kilometers per hour), but models equipped with a battery could carry only 40
pounds (18 kilograms) of baggage in
addition to its single passenger.

Everything about the Mooney Mite was austere but functional.
Landing gear was retracted by a temperamental hand-crank system—a feature that
occasionally resulted in a belly-landing by embarrassed pilots who forgot to
crank-down the landing gear. A Plexiglas “porthole” in the aircraft floor
allowed the pilot to observe the nose-wheel, and the shock absorbers were
fitted with nearly indestructible rubber disks. Later models featured a plaid
reflective paint scheme on the vertical fin and a larger fuel tank that allowed
it to fly farther without refueling.

After building 290 Mites in Wichita, Al Mooney moved the company
headquarters and manufacturing capability to Kerrville, Texas, in 1953 to be
closer to the family’s dairy farm (and to escape from the shadows of the
rapidly expanding U.S. Air Force base). Tragically, his partner and financier
Charles Yancey died of a stroke that same year—before funding had been
arranged for the next generation of Mooney aircraft.

By the mid-1950s, the price of the Mooney Mite had risen to about
$4,000, and production of the still-popular aircraft ended in 1956. Al Mooney
shifted his resources to designing the Mooney Mark 20, a four-seat low-wing
plywood aircraft that could achieve 180 miles per hour (290 kilometers per
hour). After Yancey’s untimely death, Al and Art Mooney were forced to sell
their Mooney Aircraft stock to finance the Mark 20’s development. Shortly after
the Mark 20’s first test flight, Al and Art Mooney left the company they
founded and that still bears their name to work as aircraft designers at the
aviation giant Lockheed.

The high performance of the Mark 20, which was priced at about
$12,000, along with its modern features and distinctive forward-swept tail
proved to be a popular addition to the four-seat aircraft market. The new
management of Mooney Aircraft followed-up with the fixed-gear Master and
briefly returned the popular Mite to production. The advanced Mark 22 Mustang,
featuring a pressurized cabin and retractable landing gear, was a failure—only
30 were sold before production was halted. In 1961, Mooney introduced the
low-cost, low-wing Mark 21 and again found a niche in the four-seat aircraft

Ownership of Mooney has changed hands several times since the
Mooney brothers’ departure. In 1967, Mooney acquired Alon, Inc. (owner of the Ercoupe design) and Alon A-2A Aircoupe
joined the Mooney line, along with the Ranger (renamed Mark 21), which numbered
more than 2,000 planes by 1979, and an advanced single-tail M-10 Cadet. The
Ranger was followed by the more-powerful Executive, which was succeeded by the
Mooney 201 (M20J) in 1976. In 1969, Mooney was acquired by American Electronic
Laboratories, which, in turn, sold it to Butler Aviation a few months later. In
1995, Mooney achieved a milestone—the production of its 10,000th

Al Mooney retired from the aircraft business in 1968 and died in
1986 at the age of 80, while his brother Art died in 1980. The Mooney aircraft
line and name still endures–-a legacy to the Mooney brothers’ talent, vision
and determination to “try, try again.”

—Roger Guillemette


Ball, Larry. Those Remarkable Mooneys. Indianapolis, In.: Ball Publications, 1998.

Mooney, Al and Baxter, Gordon. The Al
Mooney Story: They All Fly Through the Same Air.
Fredericksburg, Texas:
Shearer Publishing, 1985.

Donald M. A History in the Making – 80 Turbulent Years in the American
General Aviation Industry.
New York: McGraw-Hill, 1998.

Online sources:

Clifford, Frank J. “Al Mooney: The Man Behind the Mighty Mite.”

Mooney Aircraft Pilots Association.

Mooney Mite History.

The Mooney Story.