Dreams may fade, but they don’t have to die

It was December 1990. Operation Desert Shield was in full swing and the Gulf War was about to kick off. I had just sold my first airplane, N6092N, a Beechcraft Musketeer Super III. My US Air Force assignment in the Mojave Desert, training F-4E Phantom II pilots and weapon systems officers to employ the airplane in combat, left me no time for personal flying.

I was reading my December issue of Flying magazine, the one with the Mooney M20M TLS on the cover. I drooled over the capability of the newest Mooney. It was love at first sight! What a fantastic personal airliner, capable of covering long distances in less time than I had ever thought possible in a light GA airplane. To have and fly an airplane like that would be the ultimate freedom to travel where I wanted to go and see everything that I wanted to see, and do it in style. If I could make the time, of course.

Flying cover
The magazine cover that started it all.

But I was a captain in the Air Force without the resources to acquire such a fine machine, nor the time to use it even if I did. So it became a thing of my dreams. Over the years those dreams faded in the brilliance of raising a family, fighting in a couple of wars, and a change in careers. My GA flying was on indefinite hold.

Fast forward to December 2015, 25 years later. I had bought a Zenair CH2000 to get back into GA flying and for my son to learn to fly. I kept the airplane with the idea of using it to provide primary training down the road, after I’d retired from my day job and could give my students my full attention. In the meantime it would be a great platform for introductory flights for family and friends, friends of family and friends, and my favorite: kids of family and friends. There is nothing like the look of joy on the face of a child or young adult sitting in the left seat at the controls of an airplane and experiencing the wonders of flight for the first time. It does my heart good.

I took Glennie, my wife and a reluctant flyer, on a weekend trip from St. Louis to Panama City Beach, Florida—almost 600 miles at 95 knots in the CH2000. We took two days to get there and two days to get home, with two days in a condo on the beach in the middle. Three hops down and three hops back, about two hours per flight. We stopped overnight in both directions at my father’s house in Tennessee to give us an even more leisurely trip. She did really well with the whole adventure, and even enjoyed parts of it!

Her favorite part was flying over an undercast between Shelby County Alabama (EET) and Northwest Florida Beaches (ECP) in Panama City Beach. The smooth air and the puffy white floor below had a very relaxing effect. She also enjoyed the true airspeed at 9,000 MSL; we had to climb from our filed altitude of 5,000 MSL to stay on our IFR flight plan when the approach sector facility went down. That was the highest and fastest she’d been in a light airplane, and the highest I’d ever had the CH2000. Both airplane and passenger did very well there.

When we arrived home from our Florida trip, Glennie’s only comment for improvement was, “I’d like it better if it wouldn’t take so long to get there.” While breaking up the trip into two hour flights had helped with addressing her concerns about being airborne too long, it added significantly to the overall travel time.

I had an idea on how to address that. I started looking at used Mooneys, with nicely-upgraded M20J and M20K models topping my consideration list.

Mooney in hangar
That’s one way to get to the beach faster.

Three months later I was back in the Mojave Desert, as a civilian this time, flying test missions for an aerospace company. One of the local test pilots I was working with was also shopping for an airplane and had found a Mooney that he really liked but had decided to pass on. He showed me the advertisement for the airplane and asked if I wanted to go look at it. I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time but there was something that felt familiar about this particular airplane. We drove out to Tehachapi Airport for a look.

It was a beautifully reconditioned 1989 Mooney M20M TLS/Bravo. The airplane was a 9-10 inside and out, airframe completely overhauled mechanically, and the engine newly topped and internally inspected with no signs of corrosion. It was a bit more airplane than I really needed and slightly above my budget window, but something compelled me to make the owner an offer. I was soon on my way to ownership of N1088F.

Searching the internet for everything I could find about the M20M, I was rewarded with great information from current M20M pilots and instructors. The online resources available from the Mooney Aircraft Pilots Association, The Mooney Flyer, and mooneyspace.com provided a wealth of material. I studied it all and prepared lots of questions for my CFI to make the most of my Mooney-specific transition training. In the process I learned what a great community of people Mooney pilots are, everyone willing to lend a hand and help out just for the asking. I knew I was getting into more than just a new-to-me airplane; I was quickly building a new circle of very good friends.

And then I came upon something I had long forgotten about. The very thing that I now know compelled me to buy this airplane. I once again found myself reading the article in the December 1990 issue of Flying magazine about the new and marvelous Mooney TLS, this time on a computer screen, and all of the feelings of awe came flooding back. I had fallen in love with the airplane all over again, for all the same reasons.

Rick with grandkids
Giving rides to grandkids—the best mission in the world.

Glennie and I use the airplane just as I had dreamed we would, traveling to see distant family and friends on weekends and letting it transport us like a magic carpet to the East and Gulf Coast beaches whenever we can make the time to go. We make new friends at every stop and rarely get out of the FBO without someone complimenting our Mooney. When they do, I credit Mike Haney, the previous owner, for all of his meticulous attention to detail in making her like new again. Thanks Mike! We’re doing our best to keep her that way.

I had a dream inspired by a magazine article, just like so many of us, not knowing how or if it could ever be realized. In my case that dream faded over time as the priorities of life ebbed and flowed in my pursuit of other dreams and responsibilities. Faded, but didn’t die.

25 years later, my dream as a young USAF captain had become reality—I’m a Mooney Pilot!

Oh, and we still have the CH2000. That retirement dream fulfillment is right around the corner…

11 Comments

  • Dear Rick, thank you for sharing this touching story with us. I must say that my own retirement plan is somewhat like that. Unfortunately, the environment I grew up was not even close as yours to aviation, therefore it took 30 years to find out how to finance and even how to become a pilot. But it worked out, and this year I celebrate half a decade flying as a pilot in the airlines, although I’m far from young. My career took long to start, but since it did, I can not complain. And from my first take off in a Cessna 152 in Florida to the right seat of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner in the Middle East, it took me just a little more than five years. But, the little Cessna had totally won my heart since those magic time sharing times. And if I may say, my goal is to have one in the future, and, who knows, become a CFI myself, something I didn’t do for lack of time and money during my basic training towards the Commercial license. And here, I probably will be able to apply something I heard year ago, quoting Jonathan Kozol: “Pick battles big enough to matter, small enough to win.” The little C152 falls exactly into that, I believe. Just like your Money did. Cheers and safe flights!

  • Thanks Enderson, I’m happy our story resonated with you. Congratulations on your successes, and best wishes for achieving your goals!

  • Nice story! I had the dream to own my own airplane sometime ago and I really wanted something with a bit of speed as well. I waited and dreamed, and eventually I was able to purchase an old Cessna 210 that I just happened to be in the right place at the right time for. There is nothing more fun than jumping in your own plane and going flying!

    • Timing is everything, and being prepared to act on an opportunity is a very close second. More encouragement to the dreamers!

  • Makes loads of sense to let someone else spend all the money & do all the work and THEN buy. Kinda like restored classic cars or resto mods. She’s beautiful & yes that’s the best life a GA plane can have, congratulations!

    • Some day I’ll reach the end of my flying and hand her off to a new owner with the benefit of all we’re doing to keep making her better. Paying it forward with the advantage of enjoying the upgrades along the way.

  • 600 miles at only 95 knots. Not sure I would have done that. Or wanted to fly that far at so slow of an airspeed. So when the time came for me to check off what I wanted to do, fly from Aurora Illinois to Colorado Springs, Colorado, I knew I had to up my game. I got signed off in a Cessna 182 RG. I think a distance of close to 800 miles one way. 6.5 hours roughly one way. It can be done in a day VFR. Weather permitting. But one is certainly going to be wrung out afterwards!

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