Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Bonanza In The 6th Decade

Is there a pilot out there who doesn’t yearn for a Bonanza?


The G36’s luxurious interior is reminiscent of a mini corporate jet and is equipped with four bucket seats in the aft cabin.

What has endeared Bonanzas of all varieties to pilots for more than six decades is a combination of ingredients that transcends considerations of pure performance. The airplane is classic/modern in appearance, an admittedly old design updated with new paint and miscellaneous fillets and fairings. The sound level on takeoff is a warm, breathy thunder worthy of another tax bracket, almost turboprop in nature, suggesting exactly the performance you expect.

Perhaps most significant, however, is the indefinable feel of the airplane, achieved with impeccable detail to every tactile feature. Bonanzas manifest a kind of smooth, mechanical synchronicity—an aerodynamic synergy that combines roll, pitch and power to produce pure sensual pleasure.

Bonanzas have always maneuvered with the ease of a sport plane, and the G36, at 3,650 pounds gross, continues that tradition. In fact, Beech offered a delightfully agile aerobatic Bonanza for several years, and even if the current six-seat model isn’t approved for vertical and inverted fun, it’s nice to know it could recover from an upset without difficulty.

Bonanza The late Roy LoPresti, an acknowledged aerodynamic expert and speed guru whose motto was, “Life is short—fly fast,” once told me that Beech designer Ralph Harmon and his team had done an excellent job of configuring the Model 36 back in 1967. “There really wasn’t much left hanging out on the original Bonanza, and the six-seat model was equally well designed,” said LoPresti. “We looked at improving the airplane’s drag profile with after market mods, and there was so little to be gained, we decided it wasn’t worth it. We found some areas of the cowling and nose gear doors that could benefit from a cleanup, but not enough to justify the effort. The 36 is a very efficient airplane, and that’s certainly not an accident.”

As a result of continuous aerodynamic tweaking (and 300 hp out front), the current Bonanza is a true 1,200 fpm/200 mph airplane, provided you’re willing to pour on the power and pour in the fuel. If you’re flying from sea level, the airplane comes off the ground and starts uphill aggressively at an initial 1,230 fpm. High cruise (25 squared) at relatively low altitude is worth 176 knots, and a recent check flight in a new 2009 G36 at Sun ’n Fun in Florida confirmed that the airplane will indeed true in the mid-170s at a 6,000-foot density altitude.

By any measure, that’s good speed for a production airplane, especially one in the Model 36’s weight class. Perhaps sadly, the Saratoga HP was eliminated from Piper’s product line for 2009, leaving only the Cessna Stationair as six-place competition. The fixed-gear 206 doesn’t make any attempt to compete with the Bonanza’s speed, but even when the Saratoga HP was up and running, the 36 was always leader of the pack.

In this day of $5- to $6-per-gallon avgas, flying higher and more efficiently is the usual rule. Up at 10,000 feet, the top number is about 171 knots, but at a considerably lower fuel burn, and that’s the more realistic cruise setting. Service ceiling is 18,500 feet, by the way, so cruise heights of 10,000 to 12,000 feet are reasonable.

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