Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Flying Into The Future

Behind the Bonanza’s anniversary makeover

bonanzaBaby boomers can appreciate the urge to have a little work done as a milestone birthday approaches: tone up the body, smooth out a few wrinkles, all to reflect the youthful zest we still feel in our hearts. So when Hawker Beechcraft Corporation (HBC, formerly Raytheon Aircraft) prepared for the Bonanza’s 60th birthday, celebrated last year, the company decided a makeover was in order.
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From the original Model 35 to the latest G36, 60 years of evolution from Beechcraft have incorporated features that include new avionics, an upgraded interior with soundproofing, door seals and a roomy cabin.
Beech established his company’s reputation with the Model 17, commonly known as the Staggerwing, the deluxe biplane Beechcraft brought to market in 1934. The Staggerwing set the standard for performance and luxury in prewar GA aircraft. As World War II wound down, U.S. aircraft manufacturers looked ahead to the postwar market for GA aircraft. And Beech was again determined to lead the pack. His engineer Ralph Harmon led the design team charged with creating the plane Beech envisioned. The team developed what was arguably the first modern GA aircraft. The Model 35, or Bonanza, as the company dubbed the new low-wing monoplane, featured an all-metal airframe, tricycle landing gear and a distinctive V-tail, called a ruddervator, combining the functions of the rudder and elevators.

“It was very innovative for its day,” said Wade McNabb, CEO of the Beechcraft Heritage Museum ( in Tullahoma, Tenn., which owns what’s likely the oldest flying Bonanza, a 1947 Model 35, serial number 17. “Beech learned a lot during World War II about making metal aircraft.”

The V-tail would gain notoriety as Bonanzas suffered a disproportionate number of in-flight break-ups. A series of airworthiness directives and strengthened tail design mitigated the problem, but production of Model 35 V-tail variants ended in 1982. The straight tail was introduced with the Model 33 in 1959. Initially called the Debonair, the Model 33 was designed as a low-cost Bonanza to compete with Cessna and Piper singles. Over the years, Beechcraft gradually made Model 33 variants more upscale. Production of the Model 33 line ended in 1995. Similarly, the current Model 36 line began life in 1968 as a stretch variant of the Model 33 aimed at the utility market. Again, the company decided to upscale the product. The A36, introduced in 1970 featured an upgraded interior and higher gross weight. The A36 remained in production until it was replaced by the G36 in late 2005.

So after 60 years of evolution in some 40 Bonanza variants, how recognizable is the G36 as the offspring of the original Model 35? Observers had a couple of opportunities for side-by-side comparisons during the Bonanza’s 60th anniversary. At EAA AirVenture in 2007, the annual “Bonanzas to Oshkosh” group flight—more than 100 Bonanzas strong—was led by HBC’s 60th anniversary edition demo aircraft, N207BB, flanked by the Heritage Museum’s 1947 Bonanza, NC80418, in the first echelon. The two aircraft reunited at the Beechcraft Birthday Party held at the Beechcraft Heritage Museum last fall.

The ’47 Model 35 is all gleaming polished aluminum, a pristine classic. The six-place G36, bigger and brawnier, looks like it’s much more ready for business. At 300 horsepower, its engine is almost twice as powerful as the 165 hp motors in the first Model 35s.

Nonetheless, the family resemblance is unmistakable. The shape of the airframes are basically the same. During development, models of the Bonanza were subjected to extensive wind-tunnel testing, resulting in its optimized performance. “There’s very little aerodynamically you could do to that airplane to improve it,” said Byington.

Performance-wise, there’s little difference between the G36 and its A36 predecessor. It still delivers a high-speed cruise of better than 170 knots at all altitudes through 10,000 feet. And for those who want to go faster and higher, a Tornado Alley ( turbonormalizer is a popular aftermarket item. (Both Beck and Wray opted for the conversion in their G36s.)

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