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Chapter 35 Takes Mooney Factory Tour
By William Richardson, EAA Chapter 35 PR Coordinator, EAA 1157441
January 2017 - In October, members of San Antonio’s EAA Chapter 35 travelled to nearby Kerrville, Texas, to see the amazing new Mooney aircraft being manufactured in the heart of Texas. Nearly 40 members flew or drove to the event, hosted and guided by Mr. Dirk Vanderzee, vice president of sales and marketing, and Tom Swofford, COO of Mooney Aircraft, who threw open the doors and gave us a wonderful guided tour on a bright south Texas Saturday.
The Mooney facility re-opened a few years ago after a period of non-production, and the folks in Kerrville are turning out modern aircraft that are blisteringly fast but built like the proverbial tank. We had a chance to see rows of brand new 240-plus Acclaim Ultras that will be certified by the time this article is in print. If you haven’t seen one, they are a work of art.
Chapter members, many of them builders and restorers themselves, marveled at the precision welding on the rigid chromoly steel cockpit frame and amazingly tight fits and tolerances for every part. Mooney employs digital CNC machining, laser cutting, and even 3-D printing technology combined with old-style artisan techniques learned from decades of experience. The result is a custom, hand-built, and finely tuned aircraft with a luxury feel and fighter-like performance. Yes, as a guy flying a 70-year-old plane, there is a tinge of jealousy!
Chapter members had the chance to stand before the huge stamping press at the heart of the operation. It was once the largest in the nation and was the backdrop for a photo of the chapter that appears in the February 1965 issue of Sport Aviation. In the stamping area, Mooney has continued its owner support through the decades and has retained the original tools and dies for more than 90 percent of the parts from any aircraft they have ever built. They rightfully pride themselves on getting parts out to owners quickly, even if they have to make it for them.
Afterward, nearly everyone made their way over to the local Burger Barn. There, the owner, Tye, who is a pilot too, dedicated the entire restaurant to the chapter. The food was great and the hospitality awesome, with burgers that were Texas-sized and delicious.
Can it get better? We all got to cap off a great event with either a flight home in clear blue south Texas skies, or a backcountry drive through the Texas hill country in fall.
Thank you to Dirk Vanderzee, Tom Swofford, the amazing Texas craftsmen and women at Mooney, and Tye and his staff at the Burger Barn in Centerpoint, Texas. If y’all ever get a chance, drop in and see both! The Mooney staff gives tours weekly, preferably on Wednesdays, but call ahead at 830-896-6000 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a visit. You will not be disappointed!