Mooney’s Almost-Warbird Returns to the Texas Skies | Aviation

Piper built thousands of L-4 “Grasshoppers” used as liaison and artillery spotters. Cessna’s T-41 trainer was a Skyhawk in military colors. Beechcraft has pressed a variety of designs, from Staggerwings to King Airs, into service.
After a two-year restoration effort, the one surviving airframe from Mooney is all that remains of the company’s dual attempts to gain military contracts. It now prowls above Texas after decades on the ground.

Mooney’s absence from the warbird scene is not for lack of trying.
Company founder Al Mooney designed the Culver Cadet, which was used as a World War II military trainer and drone, and after the war he pitched a lightly armored version of his Mite, a wooden, single-seat design as a light attack aircraft that could also target enemy light observation aircraft. The U.S. Army’s evaluation in 1951 produced marginal reviews, and the design was relegated to the dustbin. It handled well but would have been an easy target for any meaningful enemy air force presence.

Later, another military opportunity for Mooney came along with the Enhanced Flight Screening program. Competing designs in this program sought to replace the Cessna’s T-41 as a training aircraft to screen pilot candidates economically in a 20-hour course before they progressed to more expensive aircraft. The competition came to a head in 1992. Competitors included the SIAI-Marchetti SF.260, Piper/LoPresti Swift, Aerospatiale Trinidad, Slingsby Firefly, and Glasair II and III.

[Courtesy Paul Maxwell]

Mooney built the M20T as a contender for the EFS competition. Much of the airframe used off-the-shelf airframe components that marked it as a Mooney product. The fuselage was modified from an M20C, the wings from a later model, and the large tail from the company’s M22 Mustang, a short-lived design that might have rivaled Cessna’s P210 but beat the pressurized Centurion to market by more than a decade—and that market segment hadn’t developed yet.

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