Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Bonanza In The 6th Decade

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

BonanzaSpeed isn’t necessarily the name of the G36’s game, however. What the airplane does best is transport its passengers in style. The imminently comfortable machine has an interior that’s more reminiscent of a miniature corporate jet than an upscale piston single. The aft cabin is fitted with four plushly finished buckets (though it’s true that the plane’s limited payload makes it difficult to fill every seat).

Beechcraft’s specs suggest a maximum useful load of 1,063 pounds. Subtract 444 pounds of fuel, and you’re left with a payload of 619 pounds. That’s a pilot, two passengers and about 100 pounds of baggage. If you needed to top off the seats with FAA-standard 170-pounders, you’d theoretically be obliged to limit the fuel level to an impractical 43 pounds. (In fact, you couldn’t legally operate the airplane at gross with so little fuel, even if you wanted to. Maximum zero fuel weight is 3,509 pounds, so if you were planning a flight at gross, you’d need to pump at least 26 gallons/154 pounds into the tanks.) More realistically, you could carry a pilot and four passengers with about half tanks, worth 1+30 at high cruise or 2+00 at economy settings.

Over the years, I’ve flown a half-dozen Bonanzas across a few oceans, and they’re generally delightful modes of transport, despite a narrower cabin than the only remaining six-seat competitor. The Cessna Stationair has a 42.5-inch-wide cabin and 30 knots less cruise, but it does boast five-seat capability.

If the Bonanza isn’t the most spacious airplane in its class, at least Beech makes maximum use of what space there is—even finding room for armrests at center cabin. The G36’s aft right cabin doors make entry/egress about as simple as possible, the fold-down writing table allows business travelers to work in transit, and the addition of a satellite phone makes the aft cabin a friendly place to travel while staying in touch with the world below.

Alternately, I have hard evidence that a 36 Bonanza can function as a cargo hauler. Years ago, while flying a Cessna 152/150 taildragger around the bush country of Alaska, I was amazed to see an older 36 Bonanza landing at an 1,800-foot dirt strip across the Cook Inlet from Kenai. Admittedly, the runway was reasonably smooth, but a Bonanza was the last airplane I would have expected to find on an improvised airport.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised. Though the 36’s takeoff distance is twice its landing requirement—so you can’t automatically assume the aircraft can leap back into the air in the same distance required to return to ground—it does use essentially the same tough gear and brakes installed in the turboprop Navy T-34C, a trainer used to prep naval aviators for carrier operations. (No, the T-34C never made actual carrier landings.)

The pilot of this Alaskan bush Bonanza had removed all seats except his own, and claimed the resulting available floor space allowed him to carry very large cargo. He had the advantage of most often departing heavy from long, paved runways, offloading in the boondocks and departing light, but the luxurious A36 nevertheless seemed out of place in the land of Super Cubs and Maules.

Labels: Piston SinglesSpecs


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