mooney m20
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Flying with two close friends from the Minneapolis area to Branson, Missouri, taught me a flying lesson which lingers in my conversation and memory several days beyond the landing. It happened like this.

A few couples from spots in the northern and southern US planned to meet in Branson for a week of adult fun and frolic. While others were traveling by car, my choice was my sweet, little 1968 M20C Mooney with two passengers on board. The drivers left a day prior to my flight.

airplane in hangar

Standing with fried, Steve Olson (right) outside my sweet 1968 M20C Mooney.

I topped off my bird’s two wing fuel tanks which provided four hours and 40 minutes of usable fuel on board. Planning on a cruising speed of 140 knots at 9,000 feet MSL, the tailwind should work out just right, leaving ample fuel reserve. A projected three hour and 35-minute trip calculated from my Foreflight software generated the IFR flight plan I filed.

I was delayed by a funeral that my passengers, Val and his wife Lynn, planned to attend. Lifting off around 3:30pm from Anoka Airport (KANE) direct to the M Graham Clark Downtown Airport (KPLK), I anticipated a routine flight of blue sky VFR. Canadian forest fire smoke had drifted into the United States over the prior few days, creating a haze that was visible up to 8,000 feet. I appreciated the Mooney waste gate turbo boost climbing to altitude, and eliminated the turbo boost once we were cruising at 9,000 feet. Val copiloted in the right seat while Lynn enjoyed solitude in the back seat throughout the flight.

We were handed off to a couple of control centers enroute to Branson. Springfield Approach assigned lower altitudes as we approached Downtown Airport, while the sun settled lower in the sky, giving off a smokey red hue to everything. Struggling to maintain my assigned 3,000 feet, ATC had to remind me I had slipped down to 2,600 feet.

Now the workload was increasing. I was becoming frustrated at not having identified the actual runway 30. Climbing back to 3,000 feet, I responded to Springfield Approach that while I planned a visual approach, I could not actually identify the runway with the restricted forward visibility. But no worries. I had landed at this airport in prior trips, so I knew the terrain. However, in the past I had landed runway 12 rather than 30. Amazing how different things looked from the opposite direction with smoky air restricting visibility looking into the setting sun.

rnav 30

A view of my ill-advised attempt at joining the approach under at the final approach fix and subsequent missed approach.

I loaded the RNAV 30 approach procedure into my Garmin 430 GPS and pasted it to the moving map display which was also connected via bluetooth to my iPad moving map. Identifying the final approach fix (EFESA) on the glideslope with an intercept altitude at 2,600 feet tempted me to again drift down to 2,600 feet as we were getting close to the airport. This irritated the controller. He reminded me again of the 3,000 feet assigned altitude, but I was distracted by the visual search for the airport runway. Val identified the airport runway 30 as, “just below the Mooney’s nose.”

Lowering the Mooney’s nose for descent enabled me to finally see the runway. However, when my bird’s nose is lowered, she is so slippery I accelerate quickly at the very time I need to be slowing. I intercepted the approach course of 297 degrees and then flew through it. Springfield Approach was most assuredly glad to be relieved of my sloppy altitude hold as I cancelled the IFR flight plan, reminding me once more that they wanted a minimum 3,000 feet in the Branson area until established on the glideslope.

At once I realized that I was too high and off of the final approach course, and worse yet, the rest of our friends were standing on the ramp at the airport watching this clumsy landing. Announcing to my copilot and passenger that I would initiate a ‘missed approach,’ I entered full throttle and cleaned up the airplane as I started the climb back to altitude while taking off the carb heat and trimming for climb. I wanted to make haste but not be careless because the fuel burn and this end of flight ‘landing dance’ was burning the fuel down to minimum IFR fuel reserves.

Soon I was circling to intercept the final approach course and glideslope once again, this time at the proper altitude, speed, and angle to make a standard VFR landing approach. I greased the touchdown, much to my satisfaction.

mooney m20

I was relieved to have the Mooney tied down after a clumsy IFR/VFR approach.

Lesson learned.

I will be more definitive in planning and communicate more clearly my intentions for an approach to landing. Also, I will avoid in the future blending my IFR flying plan and clearances for a visual approach when I am not established on the intended glideslope on the approach to landing.

In retrospect, I could have eliminated any confusion by planning to intercept the RNAV 30 approach at an initial approach fix rather than the final approach fix. I could then clearly identify the runway and airport, then cancel IFR with the controller. I then could have continued on the glideslope while squawking VFR and announcing my intentions on the newly selected CTAF/UNICOM frequency 122.7 before gently touching down.

All was well and we were soon tied down and heading for a fantastic adult fun week. And to top it off, I got to fly the Mooney home at week’s end.

Bill Bond
Latest posts by Bill Bond (see all)
23 replies
    • Don
      Don says:

      Good call. I teach to make ifr and vfr approaches procedurally/technique alike, as much as possible. We don’t see autoland systems using different procedures to do visual approaches from Cat III, after all.

      Power for airspeed, pitch for GS.

  1. Doug
    Doug says:

    Thanks for sharing, vectors to final would have helped you get established prior to the FAF but guess that wasn’t an option. If not, I think I will stick with flying the full approach starting at an IAF.

  2. Kevin Wolley
    Kevin Wolley says:

    Yep, once it is apparent that finding the airport visually may not be as easy as hoped (smoke in the area, in this case), it saves time and frustration to just go to an IAF and fly the approach. You then have lateral and vertical guidance assuring terrain clearance, and plenty of time to configure, slow, descend safely, and find the runway without all the drama.

  3. Don W.
    Don W. says:

    Nice flight Bill. This is not for criticism, but something to think about and discuss. Once you canceled IFR services, you were VFR traffic, and the weather was VFR, so there could have been multiple other VFR airplanes in and around the traffic pattern. The recommended approach to an uncontrolled field is an overflight above pattern altitude passing midfield, and then circle back for a 45 degree entry into downwind. You were announcing position and intentions on CTAF, but KPLK is Class G up to 700 AGL and there might have been airplanes that weren’t monitoring CTAF like they should have been. The situation you described with low vis added in is the setup for many of the mid-airs on final that are in the NTSB database. Nice flight, and good story. I’d like to hear more about your turbo setup sometime.

  4. Warren Webb Jr
    Warren Webb Jr says:

    I loved a number of trips in Mooney’s too. Sounds like you had a blast.

    I’ve never been to that area, but on Google Maps, I can see where that airport would be a challenge to identify. It’s at the southeast edge of Branson (shown on the sectional chart) but occupies a small sliver of land hidden by trees on each side. On a visual approach, only the airport needs to be identified rather than the runway, if that may help. Also it may help to use nearby landmarks, i.e. to cross-reference the city of Branson, the bends in the river, and the north end of Table Rock Lake as an abeam point west of the airport.

    • mike pilot
      mike pilot says:

      Serial Number 680168 Status Valid
      Manufacturer Name MOONEY Certificate Issue Date 12/13/2016
      Model M20C Expiration Date 12/31/2029
      Type Aircraft Fixed Wing Single-Engine Type Engine Reciprocating
      Pending Number Change None Dealer No
      Date Change Authorized None Mode S Code (base 8 / Oct) 52226433
      MFR Year 1968 Mode S Code (Base 16 / Hex) A92D1B
      Type Registration Individual Fractional Owner NO
      Street 13514 ISLAND VIEW DR NW
      County SHERBURNE Zip Code 55330-1128
      Country UNITED STATES
      Type Certificate Data Sheet None Type Certificate Holder None
      Engine Manufacturer LYCOMING Classification Standard
      Engine Model O&VO-360 SER Category Normal
      A/W Date 07/26/1968 Exception Code No

  5. Wes Madycki
    Wes Madycki says:

    Just a comment re “slippery when lowered nose”. I wrote in an article last year regarding an aborted take off in an M20 during an endorsement flight, by lowering the nose to abort the TO (“dead” ASI), the M20 accelerated and the rest is history as per my article. The Mooney has a laminar flow wing which has what we in Aerodynamics call a “Drag Bucket”. Basically, lower the nose and the Drag Coefficient decreases “drammaticaly”; raise the nose and it goes the other way. Same with other high performance aircraft. Just another thing to watch out for.

    • Bill Bond
      Bill Bond says:

      I love that about the Mooney but it is amazing how quickly I can approach the never exceed speed in a prompt descent.

  6. larry smith
    larry smith says:

    Lots of issues here. First if you can’t hold altitude on an IFR flight plan, cancel, if it’s VFR, if not you need more training. Loosing 400 ft is inexcusable unless you’re in a thunderstorm and you shouldn’t be there either.
    And, on an IFR flight plan, ALWAYS set up an approach or at minimum, put an extended centerline to the runway. Even in VFR that’s a good idea.
    And, if you can’t see the runway, as for vectors.
    AND, there’s nothing slippery about a Mooney that pulling the power back can’t solve. And if you really need to slow, flaps and gear works great. And that works for most any slipper plane (excepting some jets)

    • Bill Bond
      Bill Bond says:

      Your points are very true, Larry. With nearly 2000 hours of PIC in 1) my 1949 Piper Clipper I flew for 10 years, 2) my little 1963 Cessna 150; and 3) many Airplane club Cessnas, in comparison I find the Mooney exhilarating with the speed it picks up in descent.


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