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.
Despite these niggles, the V-tail Bonanza has inspired as much or more allegiance than virtually any other design, and the basic airplane has served as the foundation for an entire family of Beech airplanes that have spanned nearly six decades. The model 33 was a 35 with a conventional tail, and the 36 was a stretched 33 fitted with six seats, club seating and a double cargo door. Beech developed and flew an unusual over and under twin-engine version of the Bonanza, the model 40, powered by a pair of 180-hp Franklins and driving a single prop, but the FAA's certification requirement for a firewall between the engines doomed the project.
An Oklahoma oil executive tried to market a V-tailed twin as an aftermarket mod, the Super V, but that airplane fell on its sword, as Beech was already selling the model 95 Travel Air with a pair of 180-hp Lycomings and a conventional tail. The 55 and 58 Barons were successful designs,utilizing the straight-tail Bonanza fuselage and engines rated from 260 to 325 hp. The ultimate production Bonanza upgrade was the 58P Baron, a fast, pressurized twin capable of cruising in the flight levels at 230 knots. (There was even a turboprop Bonanza, the Lightning, that never made it into production.)
By the standards of the late 1940s, the basic airplane was a major accomplishment. Even today, in an age of faster, more comfortable composite designs, Beechcraft Bonanzas stand out from the crowd. Whether you're considering a restored, original 1947 "straight" 35 or the final 1982 V35B, Bonanzas are consistently among the most in-demand airplanes in the sky.
They're also among the most modified. Steve Oxman of Riva, Md., owns a 1959 K35 model, although he has made so many mods to it, you might mistake it for a later vintage V35B.
"I bought the airplane in 1996 with a run-out, 250-hp, Continental IO-470, so I knew I'd need to replace it fairly soon," comments Oxman. "But when the time came, I elected to step up to the 285-hp IO-520-DA."
In the intervening years, he has added the long, third side window, tip tanks, speed brakes, a one-piece windshield, a modified panel and every piece of avionics imaginable, including a Sandel EHSI, a Garmin 430, an angle-of-attack indicator, an STEC 60-2 autopilot and an amazing ally in higher density traffic areas, the Ryan TCAD.
The truth be told, the Ryan 9900B TCAD is just as happy anywhere it goes because it's always listening for nearby transponder replies and uses that information to display traffic. An aural "Traffic!" warning alerts pilots to aircraft on a collision course. The 9900B is upgradeable to the full Ryan TCAD, the 9900BX, for pilots who need or want more information.
Oxman's Bonanza is definitely one of the best of the type that we've seen. That's saying something, considering that Bonanza owners are among the most fanatical of aircraft enthusiasts.
The interior in Oxman's K-model is all Perrone leather over Oregon Aero foam, fashioned by the legendary Don Stretch of AirTex in Factoryville, Pa. The paint is an immaculate, eye-catching, red scheme that attracts attention everywhere Oxman flies. N12711 has won awards virtually everywhere: Best of Type at Sun 'n Fun 2001 and Grand Champion the following year; at the AirVenture air show starting in 2002, Oxman's model 35 won the Bronze Lindy Award for Contemporary Custom, repeated that honor in 2003 and was the Silver Reserve Grand Champion last year.
Oxman owns a computer software company, OXKO Inc., in Lanham, Md., and the Bonanza is a working business tool. He uses the airplane several times a week, servicing clients throughout the eastern U.S.
"My typical leg is 400 to 600 nm," says Oxman, "and with the Bonanza, I can cover that distance in 2.5 to 3.5 hours. Many of the places that I fly have no airline service or sporadic schedules at best, so it would be impractical to even consider doing business on a face-to-face basis without the airplane. As it is, I can often fly out early in the morning, spend several hours with a client and still be home in time for dinner."
Oxman's K35 Bonanza is a relatively lightweight design (originally 2,950 pounds gross) blessed with the power of the later, heavier (3,400 pounds) V35B, although the owner has upgraded the gross weight to 3,150 pounds with the 15 gallons per side, Beryl d'Shannon tip tanks. This boosts the total fuel to an even 100 gallons. At an average 15 gph, Oxman can spend five hours aloft with plenty of IFR reserve. "I fly quite a bit of IFR in the Bonanza," says the computer executive, "and with the addition of the yaw damper, it makes an effective instrument platform."
As you might imagine, high power and low weight translate directly to better performance. Oxman's Bonanza enjoys notably enthusiastic climb and impressive cruise speed. Even at full gross, the airplane scores a remarkable 1,200 fpm pointed uphill, and at 7,500 feet density, the owner often sees 172 knots at 75% in a straight line.
What, perhaps, endears Bonanzas most to pilots is not the speed, climb or any other numerical measure of performance, but simply the way they do what they do. The airplane possesses a certain indefinable feel that's not available in any other general-aviation airplane. Control harmony is exceptional. Roll rate is quick without being twitchy, and pitch response is excellent, some say almost too good. Only ruddervator response leaves something to be desired, but that's most often not a problem, as ailerons and ruddervators are interconnected to automatically coordinate most maneuvers.
Contrary to what some butterfly Bonanza purists will tell you, the V-tail airplane is the least stable of the Bonanzas in the yaw axis, and it manifests this instability even in smooth air. It doesn't demand a theoretical physicist to understand the logic. With ruddervators slanted about 30 degrees above the horizontal, any updraft or downdraft generates a horizontal moment.
I've flown V-tails many times with yaw dampers installed, and the electronic system makes the model 35 fly like a 33. Oxman agrees, and to that end, he installed the aforementioned STEC yaw damper, but pilots often can tame the sidesteps by simply blocking the rudders. Some pilots counter the yaw excursions almost subconsciously, often without even knowing it.
Back in the 1970s, I did a story for P&P on a good friend's turbo S35. Dewey Morrison had owned a half-dozen V-tail Bonanzas over the years, and the "S" was his last single before switching to a Baron. Dewey's Bonanza had no yaw damper, but the owner was so proficient in the airplane that he automatically compensated for the walking tail. When I asked him to fly with his feet flat on the floor for a few minutes in smooth air, we both watched the wingtip prescribe a small oval on the horizon, arcing forward and aft in flight. Dewey was amazed, as he was so used to damping the tail wags automatically, he wasn't even aware he was doing it.
Oxman is more than content with his Beech K model, but almost predictably, he has some minor complaints. "The gear speed is too low, 121 knots. That's one reason I installed the speed brakes. If you're flying IFR and a controller issues one of those go-down and slow-down directives, you may have a hard time complying without shock-cooling the engine," says Oxman. "Even pulled back to the bottom of the green, 15 inches, it's tough to lose speed unless you have the advantage of speed brakes."
Oxman also owns a helicopter and flies hot-air balloons. He's as committed to aviation as is possible without making a living in the field. "The Bonanza is the ultimate airplane. I enjoy my Bell helicopter and hot-air ballooning, but flying the Bonanza is about as much fun as I can stand."
SPECS: 1959 Beech K35 Bonanza