Plane & Pilot
Friday, October 1, 2004

A Sharper Bonanza


The image of success for a multi-million-dollar company


A Sharper BonanzaGnoss Field is one of Northern California’s most idyllic small airports. Nestled on the floodplain of San Francisco Bay, which lies only 30 miles north of the state’s most famous city, the airport’s single 3,300-foot runway parallels the coastal hills. Predictably, Gnoss Field is quite a popular base for hundreds of personal and business airplanes owned by Bay-area pilots.
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The inevitable consequence of all the improvements is a heavier airplane and a reduced payload, only about 440 pounds with all tanks full. Leaving the tip tanks empty brings available cabin pounds back up to 620, a reasonable allowance for two couples or three big men plus baggage.

“In fact, three plus baggage is the way we operate much of the time,” says Thalheimer. “With our A36, we can fly in and out of medium short strips, even at relatively high-density altitudes. We use the airplane primarily to visit our stores in the western U.S., especially Seattle, Portland, Reno, Las Vegas, Scottsdale, Tucson, L.A. and San Diego. Flying the Bonanza, our inspection trips to the retail stores usually come as a surprise. When we had our jets, it became more of an event, and everyone always seemed to know we were coming, which, of course, often defeated the whole purpose.”

With the benefit of turbocharging and an innovative oxygen system, The Sharper Image Bonanza typically lofts to 17,000 feet or higher on most flights over 300 nm and is approved for flight as high as 25,000 feet. Flying at 17,000 feet allows the crew to comply with virtually any IFR MEA they might encounter in the Lower 48.

To facilitate high-altitude operation, Thalheimer has installed an oxygen system that mounts to the individual headsets’ microphone stalks and delivers oxygen similar to a cannula, but without the latter’s intrusive, sometimes irritating nasal probes. “The system blows oxygen directly into your nostrils, so it’s a relatively transparent method of delivery—no cannula, no mask—the next best thing to pressurization. After a while, you don’t even know it’s there, though you obviously need to be more conservative about descents than in a pressurized airplane.”

Up high, Thalheimer often sees true airspeeds over 190 knots when he’s in a hurry, 175 to 180 knots at economy, long-range cruise settings. “Our trips aren’t always about speed,” he explains, “but it’s nice to be able to cover ground in a hurry. We can sometimes fly 600 nm out and back or visit two stores in different cities on the same day.”

All three pilots from The Sharper Image are unanimous in their praise of the A36’s precise handling qualities. Thalheimer says, “Personally, I love flying that airplane. It’s a joy in the pattern, a great instrument platform with quick controls and one of the most forgiving machines I know. Perhaps best of all, you can spend a full day in it—and we often do just that—without feeling as if you’ve been run through a wringer.”

For The Sharper Image, the network of stores is especially important, as they currently account for 60% of the its revenue. Catalog sales contribute another 25%, and Internet income yields the remaining 15%.

“Our Bonanza is practically indispensable to our company,” says Thalheimer. “I can’t imagine how we’d get along without it, as fast, efficient travel has become an integral part of our lives.”

SPECS: Beechcraft A36 Bonanza N715LT



Labels: Piston Singles

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