Plane & Pilot
Saturday, January 1, 2005

The Ultimate V-Tail

This Bonanza has the most famous silhouette in the sky

The V-tail Bonanza's distinctive tail has always been an unmistakable figure in the sky or on the ground.
Pilots don't agree on much. We argue about virtually everything: Continental versus Lycoming; high wing versus low wing; fixed gear or retractable; the relative merits of turbocharging; and a hundred other things. While we rarely agree, there are a few universal truths: Airspeed is life; you can never have enough power; and the V-tail Bonanza is one of the most beautiful airplanes ever designed.

Indeed, the Beech model 35 has become something of a legend, an icon by which other airplanes are measured. It's one of the few general-aviation machines that looks as good or better from the rear as it does head on or from the traditional 45-degree front angle.

The Bonanza's 30-degree dihedral, butterfly empennage was a signature characteristic shared by few other designs. The type's flush-riveted, NACA 23000 airfoil (borrowed from the Twin Beech model 18), adjustable cowl flaps, fully enclosed retractable gear and boarding step, internally hinged control surfaces, recessed flap tracks with gap seals beneath the wings and electrically adjustable wooden prop helped reduce drag and contribute to the type's image as an aeronautical paragon of virtue. When the 35 Bonanza was introduced in March 1947, it boasted the lowest drag coefficient in the industry and a claimed cruise speed of 153 knots.

Granted quick handling and eager performance, the model 35 had all the earmarks of a legend in the making. Today, pilots who own V-tail Bonanzas feel that they've reached the peak of the pyramid, and many aviators who don't own one aspire to.

Okay, it's true that reality doesn't quite live up to the legend. The V-tail design wasn't perfect. Despite early press reports, the graceful two-member tail didn't really reduce weight. Beech had to build the V-tail slightly larger to make two surfaces do the work of three. There may have been a minuscule drag reduction by eliminating the conventional vertical stabilizer, but even that is questionable. (On later models, Beech listed the cruise spec at the same value for the conventional-tailed F33A and the V35B).

Certainly, the model 35's most publicized fault was its poor record of in-flight structural failures, mostly as a result of the deformation of the ruddervators' leading edge, but since 1987, when the FAA issued an AD mandating a beef-up to the ruddervators, there has been only one tail failure.

Labels: Piston Singles


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