Tuesday, May 1, 2007
The Bonanza Hits 60 Strong and Fast!
On its 60th anniversary, the Bonanza is still a true pilot’s airplane
Beech foresaw the need to build a lighter, simpler airplane for the postwar market and sought a single-engine four-seater that could travel 180 mph in car-like comfort. The first version, the “Straight 35,” flew on December 22, 1945, and production began in 1947. Right from the start, this 2,550-pound airplane made records—Captain William Odom flew serial number four, 4,957 miles nonstop from Hawaii to Teterboro, N.Y., in 36 hours and two minutes. In 1958, a J35 Bonanza broke the nonstop record by traveling 45 hours and 43 minutes from Manila, Philippines, to Pendleton, Ore.
A new Bonanza cost less than a third of a Staggerwing Beech and soon became the standard for private business travel. Beechcraft continued developing the Model 35 Bonanza, eventually building 23 variants of the V-tail and 17 straight-tail versions of the same basic airplane. One of those straight-tail variants was the Model 45, or the T-34 Mentor, built as a pilot trainer beginning in 1950 for the Air Force and the Navy. The Navy is still using a turbine-powered T-34C as its standard, primary pilot trainer.
In 1968, Beechcraft decided to tailor the Bonanza for the air-taxi market and used the straight-tail E-33A as the basis for the new A36 Bonanza. Adding 10 inches to the fuselage and moving the wing back the same amount increased the stability of the airplane and added enough room for six passengers to sit comfortably. A two-door clamshell entry that was 45-inches wide was added for the aft passenger seats, which improved comfort and access enormously. The new A36 Bonanza with a Continental IO-520 could cruise at 204 mph and topped 3,600 pounds.
The A36 became the sole Bonanza in production, supplanting the V-tail Bonanza in 1982, and has been the standard for fast, luxurious single-engine airplanes until recently. A 300 hp Continental was added in 1984, and the gross weight upped to 3,650, where it stands today. The versatility of the A36 was proved when the fuselage was used to form the Baron 58 design. A concept airplane, called the Lightning, tested two different single-engine turboprops using a pressurized B-58P Baron fuselage.
Throughout its history, the Bonanza has used the NACA 2300 series airfoil; developed in the 1930s, the airfoil is known for relatively high lift, low drag and a low pitching moment. On the downside, the price for superior wing performance is an abrupt drop in lift at the stall angle of attack. The performance of the wing is so exemplary that it was chosen for the Piper Malibu line of fast singles. Variants of the wing design can be seen on Baron and even King Air aircraft still being made.
Bonanzas have long been noted for their clean lines and efficient airframes. Designed in the days of the slide rule and drafting table, Beech engineers achieved a skin-friction coefficient between a P-38 Lightning and a Lear 25 business jet. The airplane is fast and not easy to slow down, forcing a pilot to plan well ahead. In any configuration, the Bonanza is light on the controls, and stalls occur with plenty of warning, except in a landing configuration. All Bonanzas are stable in pitch, exhibit some degree of Dutch Roll in turbulence and have weak spiral stability. The Bonanza is not a hands-off flyer, but because of the aileron-rudder interconnect, you can easily fly with only your feet or your hands.
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