From Wrecking Yard to "Best TLS"
ShopTalk – March 1998

I am an A&P and IA with my own business servicing my own customers, so I have always had an aircraft project in the back of my hangar at Chino Airport [I moved to Evanston, Wyoming in 1999]. One November day in 1990, I traveled to a storage yard in Phoenix, Arizona, to look at a Cessna T210 that was wrecked and going up for bid.

As it turned out, the T210 was not worth the effort but I did discover N9161D, a 1991 Mooney M20M TLS. While on the maiden voyage to her new home in Reno, Nevada - with only 18.1 hours TT - she landed short of the Flagstaff, Arizona airport. A fuel pump failure on downwind had flooded the big TIO-540. She coughed and quit, leaving her new owner to land in the trees 1-1/2 miles short of the airport. There she sat, wings cut off by the retrieval company, crushed up to her main spars.

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N9161D was sold new in September 1990 and landed in the trees just weeks later. I was the high bidder at $70,000 and hauled her to Chino Airport in January 1991. I inspected the engine for damage and pickled it for storage as I had two other projects coming in that were not as badly damaged. Finally, with the other two projects finished and sold, I had some cash flow to start 61D.

In December 1993, I contracted Coleman Aviation in Las Lunas, New Mexico, to modify and repair a used set of late-model wings I took from another airplane that I parted out. The wings proved to be a handful but, by comparing both wing parts manuals, it became obvious that the TLS wings were just a modification of the 231 wings. With all-new TLS wing parts and two loaner Huck Bolt guns, I was able to modify my wings to TLS factory-new standards. This could not have been done without Chuck Coleman's expert help.

At the same time, I purchased a new tube fuselage and firewall and was in the process of re-skinning the passenger and crew area. I quickly discovered that the landing gear as well as most of the fuselage were "TLS only" parts. I also discovered that Mooney's parts and service manuals left a lot to be desired.

It was at that time that I started dealing directly with the Mooney factory. In fact, without the help of Ruth in the Parts Department and Jim in Product Support, I would have been lost. When a lot of my problems and questions could not be addressed right away, I discovered this was the very first TLS rebuild! They would have to find the person on the TLS assembly line to find answers to my questions.

In one instance, I had to ship the broken part to Ruth so she could identify it and send me a new one! That added a lot of time to the project. But, all in all, the folks at the Mooney factory went out of their way to help me. Of course, I always checked with someone who serviced the TLS line before I took the factory's word as gospel. That is where Don at Coast Aircraft (San Diego, CA) was always very helpful.

As I was assembling 61D, I did a few STCs. L.P. Aero and I developed the first thick window TLS STC, but the best STC was the special sound-proofing kit that I produced with Olin Nelson at Aero Sound Shield (Van Nuys, CA). This made 61D as quiet on the inside as a pressurized plane. If any of you Mooney owners have your interior out, spend the money to install this kit. It makes those long cross country flights so comfortable.

I mated the wings on 61D in September 1995, and she was off jacks by November 1995. I decided to rebuild the cowlings instead of purchasing new ones. This took 2 months of work and they are perfect! We first flew 61D in January 1996, and, as usual, there was a crowd watching from the ground. But they got a boring show as we orbited the airport for the first 20 minutes, landing without incident.

After 8.5 hours of test flight time, I sent 61D to Century Paint (Chino, CA) for a custom, one-of-a-kind paint scheme. Then it was off to Klassic Interiors (Chino) for a custom cloth interior. The first 20 hours proved to be an avionics nightmare with the plane constantly in the radio shop. We now have 140 TT with no problems at all. After two years and 3,000 man-hours, 61D has turned out to be a fantastic aircraft that travels at 215 knots true airspeed on 20 GPH - Wow!

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I just had the KLN-88 removed and installed a KLN-89B (IFR approach approved). As you can imagine, there is a lot more to this story. Maybe I will write another article giving greater detail about the repairs. For now, I'm trying to keep it short. I thank my two helpers, Dave Chicardy and Craig Cornett for sticking with me throughout this project. As you can imagine, just about anyone would have been discouraged after seeing 61D lying in pieces on my hangar floor and being told that it will fly again soon. Click here to view a photo gallery of the rebuild.

I don't keep any of my projects. They are sold after I am sure that enough hours have been flown in them to provide someone with a great dependable aircraft. So 61D is for sale. I am very proud that 61D won "Best of Series - TLS" at the 1997 MAPA Homecoming.

If you are looking for a great TLS or if you are rebuilding a Mooney, feel free to call me. If I can help, I will.

If you have questions about this or any other ShopTalk article, please e-mail me at or call me at my aircraft repair shop, 307-789-6866. All ShopTalk articles can be read here at ShopTalk. Until next time, enjoy flying your Mooney.