The recently unveiled reboot of the Mooney Acclaim is a tremendous accomplishment for the Kerrville, Texas company, which, like many of its general aviation manufacturing brethren, was rescued from obscurity by a timely investment from new Chinese owners (in October 2013).
The new Acclaim Ultra doesn’t fly any faster or farther than its predecessor, the Type S, but clearly the new owners of the company were willing to inject some badly needed money into the company, not only to resume production but also to freshen up the product line and introduce new models.
The M20V Acclaim Ultra’s most compelling new feature is one that I never expected to see in a Mooney: a new door on the pilot’s side. Mooneys have signature characteristics, and general aviation being an extremely conservative business we probably all thought that no one would ever mess with the single right-hand-door design. Thankfully, the company’s talented design team, led by COO Tom Bowen (who previously worked at Mooney from 1992 to 2002), didn’t alter the Acclaim’s forward-pointing vertical stabilizer. But clearly Bowen and his team were willing to tear up the blueprints and apply some creativity to an entrenched design.
And they didn’t just carve a door into the left side of the fuselage; they crafted a single-piece composite cabin shell around the steel fuselage frame that makes Mooney airframes so strong. The doors are also four inches wider, and their fit is much tighter, which should make the newly designed interior quieter.
Pilots will appreciate an upgrade to the Acclaim’s Garmin G1000 avionics suite, the addition of the FMS keypad, which makes the system much easier to operate. Mid-Continent’s Standby Attitude Module, an electronic standby display, is mounted in the panel, and flap, landing gear and rudder trim controls were moved to a more ergonomic central location. Multiple USB ports are also available.
The significance of the Acclaim Ultra is not just the design changes themselves, but the recognition by company leadership that to attract new buyers, new products must offer a compelling change. The best-selling general aviation airplanes these days are those with some kind of difference, and smart manufacturers know that they must offer something new or suffer static or declining sales.
Look at Daher’s TBM, for one example. The company has consistently upgraded the basic high-performance single-engine turboprop, and the latest iteration, the TBM 900, has sold extremely well. Many of the aerodynamic tweaks and equipment upgrades that were incorporated in the TBM 900 are subtle, but existing TBM owners happily signed up to buy the new machine as soon as they heard about it.
Cirrus is another excellent example, constantly refreshing its products, often with what are just cosmetic changes, but clearly the company isn’t sitting on a good product and leaving it alone. And despite the high prices of the Cirrus SR20 and SR22, these composite single-engine airplanes sell quite well. Cirrus is also owned by a Chinese company, by the way.
And that brings up a good point. While the Mooney Acclaim redesign effort was something that customers had been requesting, according to director of sales and marketing Jared Absher, and previously the company lacked the resources to move ahead, there is no question that Mooney’s new owners, like Cirrus’s owners, were willing to pour money into the company and claw back some market share. Indeed, the redesign is already paying off, with two Acclaim Ultra sales on the books right after the unveiling.
It is sad that U.S. investors have all but given up on the light general aviation market. Of the big light GA airframers in the U.S., only Textron Aviation remains locally owned. And while its Cessna and Beechcraft light airplane products could use some refreshing, it is forging ahead with a new single-engine turboprop design that could offer some competition to Daher and Pilatus.
Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see how the market develops for Mooney’s new Acclaim Ultra, which is set for certification in the second quarter of this year.