Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, August 20, 2013

There's Something About A Bonanza

In continuous production for an amazing 66 years, the Bonanza continues to be most aviators’ dream machine

It seems everyone loves the straight-tailed 36 Bonanza. To many pilots, it's the paragon of aerodynamic virtue, the standard by which all other single-engine airplanes are measured. Owner/pilots who work their way up from two-seat puddle jumper to four-seat retractable to a 36 Bonanza often consider that they've arrived. There's little reason to aspire for more or better, because they're already at the peak of the pyramid.

Beech Aircraft has done an excellent job of marketing the Bonanza as a pedestal product, alone at the top of the class. That's not true in all respects, but there's little question the model 36 represents an impressive combination of engineering, comfort, utility and performance. At least, you'd better not ask anyone in the 10,000-member-strong American Bonanza Society to name a better airplane.

And yet, what sets the Bonanza apart from other six-seat airplanes isn't that easy to define. One obvious distinction is that the model 36 is now truly alone in its class. It's the only new normally aspirated six-seat single in the sky. Piper's Mirage and Matrix, and Cessna's Stationair, are all turbocharged.

Fact is, the Bonanza turns in performance that's not far off turbocharged standards in the bottom two miles of sky, but that alone doesn't identify the G36's charismatic appeal. For those pilots who have flown a late-model Bonanza, there's a certain indefinable quality, a personality, that endears practically everyone. Beech has capitalized on that undefined appeal, as evidenced by the fact that the six-seat Bonanza recently celebrated its 4,000th sale.

The G36 Bonanza is powered by a 300 hp Continental IO-550 engine and cruises at 174 knots.
Introduced in 1968, the Beech 36 featured a 10-inch fuselage stretch over the four-seat E33A cabin. The longer cockpit was dedicated to a third row of seats. The first airplanes employed the same engine, a 285 hp IO-520 Continental. A few years later, Beech switched to a 300 hp Continental IO-550 powerplant, and that's the engine it flies behind today. The airplane was later produced with turbocharging, first the A36TC, followed by the updated B36TC. The latter was discontinued in 2002.

Despite the physical similarity of the old models to the new, Beech has made a long list of evolutionary changes to the airplane to keep in step with the competition. The current model is about as comparable to the original 1947 model 35 V-tail as is the Piper Mirage to the J-3 Cub.

Perhaps the most significant improvement for 2013 is the standard automatic climate control system. Some non-pilots are amazed when they learn that airplanes costing as much as 15 to 20 times the price of an automobile don't come with air-conditioning as standard equipment. That's because a representative aircraft air-conditioning system weighs in at between 50 and 80 pounds, and that has to be subtracted directly from payload, a compromise many pilots are unwilling to make since the heat only lasts for a few minutes during taxi, takeoff and climb. Installed weight is meaningless to non-aviators who drive anything from Toyotas to Jaguars, all of which offer excellent climate control and ignore system weight.

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