The 36 series Bonanzas have a deserved reputation as one of the best single-engine airplanes ever built. Offering superb workmanship, fine handling and performance, and such high-class features as club seating and a separate set of doors for the passengers, the 36 series is highly sought after by pilots, many of whom regard them as close to the ultimate single-engine IFR airplane.
The Bonanza, in one form or another, has been in continuous production since 1947, when the first V-tail was built-an astounding fact in itself. The 35 Bonanza was the first high-performance postwar single, and was markedly different from the average light airplane of the day. Base price of the first models was $7,975. How times change…
Jump forward 21 years. In 1967, Beech had a hole in its model lineup. Archrival Cessna had been selling its six-place retractable single, the 210, since 1960 and by the end of the 67 model year had rolled 936 through the factory doors. Cessna also had the 206 for the utility market.
Beech didnt have a truly comparable airplane. The V-tailed S35 Bonanza, introduced in 1964, received a 19-inch cabin stretch that permitted the installation of a fifth and sixth seat. These were called family seats, and they really werent suitable for adults. The company had been working on a true six-place airplane, however.
In his book They Called Me Mr. Bonanza, Beech veteran and 36 Bonanza program manager Larry Ball wrote of the 36: This was my airplane. I fought for it for four years. Cessna was killing us with the Cessna 206. It was finally approved, and we began by splitting the Bonanzas cabin roof from the keel section, in effect moving the passengers and the engine ten inches farther forward. We needed a six place airplane-we needed an improved center of gravity envelope.
For the 1968 model year, Beech introduced a stretched version of the Bonanza, with six seats, a conventional tail like that on the eight-year-old Debonair (redubbed 33 Bonanza that same year), and a second set of doors. Base price of this first 36 Bonanza was $40,650, which rose to an average of $47,050 equipped. That same airplane is now worth an average of $127,000.
The original airplane was equipped with a six-cylinder Continental IO-520-B engine producing 285 HP, and swinging a two-bladed prop. It had some limitations compared to the later models: Club seating was not yet available, and the standard fuel capacity was only 50 gallons, with 80 optional.
Essentially, the stretch was accomplished by adding 10 inches to the fuselage of a 33 Bonanza; the 36 was not an all-new airplane. The length was added in such a way that the cabin moved forward, relative to the wing. Empty weight rose only 31 pounds.
The original 36 was aimed at the utility and charter market dominated by Cessna, as a good choice for air taxi and cargo hauling. This was in contrast to the V-tail Bonanza, which was sold as an upscale business airplane. The 36 Bonanza could even be flown with the rear doors removed. Of course, the original 36 could be outfitted with options like a more plush interior, and so forth.
In 1970 the A36 came out, with the popular club seating option. The marketing focus changed, positioning the 36 more as a larger version of the other Bonanzas rather than as a utility airplane. Many of the luxury options became standard equipment.
In 1973, the fuel system was changed. Standard capacity actually went down to only 44 gallons, with a 74-gallon extended range system available. We believe its highly unlikely that there are any standard-capacity A36s in the fleet. An 80-gallon system was made standard in 1980.
As the years passed, the basic A36 remained largely unchanged, though in keeping with its real-world mission-a businessmans IFR platform-more and more equipment was made standard. By 1976 an autopilot was standard, along with what is now a basic IFR suite; by 1986, the airplane was being delivered with RNAV, DME and plenty of other bells and whistles.
The biggest change to the airplane came in 1984, when a 300-HP Continental IO-550 replaced the IO-520. There was an all-new (and very well laid out) instrument panel: gone was the trademark Bonanza throwover control wheel with its massive central column in favor of a pair of ordinary control yokes. With the introduction of this airplane, the base price had roughly quadrupled over the original 36: $160,700. (Current average value: $240,000.)
The bigger engine can be retrofitted to older aircraft; a popular mod, judging by our reader feedback. TBO on all of the engines that have gone into the straight (non-turbo) 36 Bonanzas is 1,700 hours, with the estimated overhaul cost on the 520 currently at $16,500 (assuming the heavier, Permold case), and $18,000 for the 550.
Its not surprising that the IO-550 mod is popular. The IO-520 has been notorious for case and head cracking, a shortcoming that has not plagued the IO-550 to the same extent. So, an owner opting to switch rather than overhaul not only gets the extra power (for not a lot more fuel burn), but better service reliability as well.
The 36 series Bonanzas are the only Beech singles still in production; the last F33As were built in 1994. At the start of the 1998 model year, 3,140 normally aspirated 36 Bonanzas had been produced. Current average equipped prices, according to the Aircraft Bluebook, range from $127,000 for an original 68 model to over $500,000 for new production.
Handling and performance
This is why pilots love Bonanzas. The handling for its intended mission is just about as good as it gets, though the 36 is regarded as being a bit more ponderous than the sports-car-like V-tail 35. This is due mostly to the stretched fuselage, though that has its advantages when it comes to weight and balance (more on that later).
The somewhat higher control forces are also a safety feature in that they translate directly to rock-solid stability, which is desirable in an IFR platform. An airplane with relatively high stick force per G control forces is less likely to depart into a spiral if the pilot has to divert his attention for a moment or two from the task of keeping the airplane upright and on course.
Landing is much easier than in some airplanes, though at extreme forward CG loadings (common when flying solo), pilots report that carrying some power into the flare helps to make smooth landings considerably easier.
One characteristic of the classic V-tail that is blessedly absent in the 36 is the notorious tendency to Dutch roll in turbulence. The extra length makes for a much more comfortable ride, particularly for the rear-seat passengers.
In keeping with its mission as a serious cross-country IFR machine, performance is respectable: Normal cruise is about 165 knots, with a 1,000 FPM-plus initial climb rate (depending on the prop installed).
The 36 is quite comfortable. Theres plenty of headroom, and visibility is excellent. With four aboard, its positively luxurious: A fifth and sixth in back can make things tight, however.
If the 36 has a real shortcoming, its in baggage space. There is some room in the form of a shelf aft of the third row of seats (watch that CG envelope!), but the only real place to stow suitcases is between the front seats and the rear-facing center row. Theres not much room there…perhaps enough for two small-to-medium sized bags.
Using space that would otherwise be occupied by a passenger works better. The rear four seats can be removed, and the seat cushions of the third row can be folded up for more cargo room. In any case, theres simply not enough room to fit six people and six bags on board in any sort of reasonable fashion.
Up front, the panel is generally well organized, though at the time the earlier 36 Bonanzas were made, Beech was still using the backwards positioning of the gear and flap switches (that is, gear on the right and flaps on the left, the reverse of the arrangement chosen by all other manufacturers). It wasnt right or wrong, but just different … and it has led to many inadvertent gear retractions. Later models have the switches placed as they are in other airplanes (sort of a Catch-22 for pilots transitioning out of older Bonanzas).
The most recent Bonanzas have conventional yokes and control columns, though much of the production run has the older, massive Beech center yoke control system.
One thing we like about Bonanzas is the attention to crashworthiness and survivability thats sorely lacking in many other airplanes.
Even the very first Bonanzas, all the way back in 1947, had opening windows for the rear seat passengers, designed specifically as emergency exits but with the side benefit of permitting ground cooling during taxi. In other aircraft, in order for rear seat passengers to get out in the event of an emergency, they have to either climb over the front seat (and the front seat passenger, if necessary) to get to the door, or climb over the rear seat back (and luggage) to get to the baggage door…assuming its fitted with an interior release. In the 36 Bonanza, of course, theres also the set of rear doors. About the only thing missing is a separate exit for the pilot.
Another safety feature incorporated into all Bonanzas is the keel structure and cabin frame. The heavy keel structure (which doubles as the nose gear well) runs along the underside of the fuselage from the front of the engine compartment all the way back to the trailing edge of the wing. The cabin frame is a built-up rollover cage that extends across the cabin top.
The gear is massive. Its the same landing gear used for the Baron, where it has to support far more weight. The military T-34 trainer is basically a Bonanza, and as a result the gear had to be subjected to severe drop tests to satisfy the Pentagon. Needless to say, it passed. All that structure underneath the cabin also helps to absorb impact forces in a crash.
Another nice thing about the gear is that its electromechanical (electric motor, gears, pushrods and bellcranks), rather than the trouble-prone hydraulic system used by Cessna. History has shown the Beech method to be somewhat more reliable. Emergency extension is through a simple hand crank located behind the front seats, but caution should be used. Its easy to stop cranking a bit early, before the gear is actually down and locked. Also, there were some SDRs in our scan that showed the emergency crank being blocked by an improperly installed spar cover.
The 36 Bonanza also has a simple feature lacking in many aircraft: An easy-to-open barn door cowl. This is really a safety feature, in our opinion. The screwed-down design used on many aircraft forces the pilot to peer through the oil filler door and cowl inlets to inspect the engine. An openable cowl makes preflight inspection of the engine easy.
Last but certainly not least, Beech provided shoulder harnesses for all passengers, with double straps for the front occupants. Ironically, the earliest Bonanzas also had shoulder harnesses as standard equipment, but for a time Beech discontinued the feature because people werent using them.
The short-body Bonanzas, particularly the V-tails, have rather narrow CG ranges. A typical V35B at gross weight will have a CG range of only 2.3 inches (compare this to the typical F33A range of 4.6). Its even possible to load some short-bodied Bonanzas so that they might be within CG limits at takeoff, but slip out of the envelope as the fuel burns off.
Fortunately, the 36 Bonanzas have a much wider CG range: 6.7 inches at 3,600 pounds. The long cabin does force some compromises on loading, of course: A pilot flying solo might have a tough time getting the CG aft of the forward limit (hence the widespread observation that the 36 feels a bit nose-heavy).
One of the great things about owning a Bonanza is that the factory is still there, still producing new Bonanzas, and doesnt seem to be in any sort of financial trouble. Thats more than can be said for many other manufacturers.
Owners report that getting parts from Beech is not a problem, though the cost of those parts is extremely high.
In January 1998, Beech announced an interesting new program that applies to the owners of late-model Bonanza. Called STARS (for Service Tracking and Reliability System), the program is already in place for the Beechjet, King Air, Starship, and Baron.
According to Beech, STARS monitors maintenance and inspection requirements and alerts operators as they come due. The program is meant to make the task of planning, scheduling and budgeting for maintenance easier. It also allows on-line access to current information.
It applies to A36 Bonanzas, serial numbers E-1241 and up (that airplane was built during the 1978 model year), all 36TC Bonanzas, V35Bs s/n D-10120 and up, and F33As s/n CE-722 and up. Check the Raytheon website (www.raytheon.com) for details.
There are a few ADs applicable to the 36 Bonanza that are of particular note. One, 77-13-22, applies to some IO-520-equipped airplanes. As we noted above, the 520 has a reputation for cracking cases. The AD addresses this, calling for inspections every 100 hours if the engine has the so-called light case. The heavy case engines, produced from 1976 on, are not subject to the AD. But they crack, too, judging by past reports from the field.
A more recent AD, 93-24-3, deals with the rudder forward spar assembly and rudder center hinge. These parts were found to be cracking, and the AD calls for an inspection every 500 hours. Several SDRs noted that cracks were found. Beech makes a kit that, if installed, obviates the need for further inspections.
Other recent type-specific ADs parallel those applicable to the smaller Bonanzas. The most recent serious one is 95-4-3, calling for inspection of the wing front spar carry-through frame, with repair and reinforcement if its found to be cracked. AD 93-24-3 calls for repetitive inspection of the rudder front spar for cracks; 91-17-1 deals with the spars in the horizontal stabilizer and 89-5-2 calls for inspection and possible replacement of the elevators.
As with any Beech product, the big bugaboo is the cost of parts. The good news is that the airplanes are well built, and things dont wear out all that often, but when they do, it hurts. Unlike many now-orphaned aircraft, parts availability is no problem for Bonanza owners.
The parts cost is higher than reality, wrote one owner. There doesnt seem to be any problem getting parts, as long as you brace yourself.
Unlike the V-tail, the 36 Bonanzas being built today are very similar to the first ones off the line: The biggest difference is the engine. As a result, there arent quite as many mods as for the smaller airplane, though the list is still a healthy one.
As noted above, upgrading the IO-520 to the IO-550 is a popular option when it comes time to overhaul. The STC is available from a wide variety of sources, including the factory.
Owners of two-bladed props can upgrade to the three-bladed airscrew, again available from several sources, including Hartzell.
Also available are various speed mods and even vortex generators. The best source of current information about mods is the American Bonanza Society. They offer service clinics, fly-ins, and a good magazine. The ABS is located in Wichita, Kansas (where else?). (316) 945-6913, or www.bonanza.org.
I purchased my A-36 Bonanza (285 Continental) three years ago after six years of flying a 78 Turbo Lance. What a plane: Smoother, easier to fly and better quality.
I fly about 150-200 hours a year. The A36 delivers a consistent 160 knots at 55 percent power, burning 11-12 GPH. I cruise climb at 120 knots indicated, trip plan for 12 GPH for a 3-4 hour flight including climbout. Total hourly costs average $100.
My future plans include a Colemill IO-550 conversion, four-blade prop, and turbonorm-alizing.
I purchased my 79 A36 in 1984 with 520 hours total time. I have since flown it about 115 hours per year. It has been both reliable and enjoyable. Last year I finally reached TBO and took the opportunity to repaint the airplane, refurbish the interior, and install a factory reman IO-550. I also installed a JPI EDM-700 engine monitor.
Although my IO-520 never missed a beat and never required any significant maintenance, I decided to upgrade to the IO-550. I used the Beryl DShannon STC so that I did not have to replace the prop. The staff at DShannon were most helpful and went out of their way to facilitate the installation at my local FBO. I can highly recommend the DShannon organization.
My major question regarding the new engine installation was that of cooling. The DShannon bridge baffle seemed good, but living in Southern California and flying the Southwest, I was concerned as to whether the baffles alone would be enough. I finally decided to go with the Turbo-Flite baffle and louver kit. I have not only been pleased with the entire installation, but the support of both of these organizations was superb.
I am very pleased with the new engine, engine monitor and installation. Although hard to tell with any precision, I seem to have picked up about 5 knots at 10,000 feet while turning 2,300 RPM on the same or slightly less fuel flow. Overall the climb and cruise performance is notably better and I recommend the upgrade.
Laguna Beach, Calif.
I bought my first A36 new from the factory in 1977. The airplane was great. I am 62 and this airplane had plenty of room up front for my long legs. It was a beautiful-flying cross country aircraft in all conditions. Maintenance never caused any unusual problems.
In 1979 I bought a new A36TC, which I still own. That airplane now has 1,900 hours on it.
Beechcraft has always had any part that I needed. The cost of these parts is sometimes astronomical. For example, an on-off switch for an overhead dome light is $115; an electroluminescent sub lighting panel costs $2,200. My airplane has three of them on board.
My maintenance has always been performed by United Beechcraft at PDK in Atlanta. They have always given outstanding support. After 2,000 hours of pure enjoyment in flying Bonanzas, I am hopelessly hooked.
The major benefit of the A36 as opposed to the short-bodied Bonanza is found in its longer CG envelope. The F33A required mind-bending research whenever four adults presumed to travel together in order to avoid the dread aft CG problem. Frequently, the choice was to carry more fuel and incur an over-gross situation in order to remain within CG, or to remain within gross weight limits and suffer an aft CG problem as the flight proceeded. The A36 solves all these problems.
Although I have not encountered a CG difficulty with my typical loading arrangement, I understand that a forward problem might exist with heavy front seat passengers and full fuel. As things now stand, my current trips involve primarily weight management-and easy task given the internal tank markings and significant max-fuel endurance (5.5 hours).
Overall, I have found the entire line of Bonanzas to be a delight to fly, and well constructed compared with its Wichita neighbors. I have also found it to be preferable to the F33A, although opinions may differ.
The A36 is not as maneuverable as the F33; at the same time, it is considerably more stable. Although not as truck-like as the long-bodied Pipers, this airplane is nowhere near as nimble as the shorter Bonanza. Despite the increased stability, I do not find the A36 to be a particularly good instrument platform: Too much time consulting charts or dealing with a cranky radio will result in an unusual attitude in a hurry. For me, the autopilot is a no-go item for this reason.
The A36 suffers from a lack of luggage room. In my model, bags can be stored between the front and middle seats, and in any space not occupied by passengers. To solve this problem, I have removed the sixth seat. Even this is not enough.
To date, maintenance has run about $3,000 to $5,000 a year, including the annual, given a lot of owner involvement. My experience has been that the aircraft is easy to work on from the mechanics point of view, thus saving a buck or two in labor. The flip side is the tremendous cost of Beech parts.
My airplane has suffered from few glitches of a mechanical nature. I replaced the landing gear motor, wiring harness and hoses, not because there was anything wrong with them but because they had reached their recommended life span. The only airframe problem Ive had was the beginning of corrosion on the elevator, which required replacement.
The IO-520 worked very well, although it did not deliver the airspeed of the F33: 160 knots vs. 170 or so. Fuel flow averaged 15 to 16 at my operating altitudes. Oil consumption was only a quart every five to six hours. Notwithstanding this, and because it had already been overhauled once, I decided to replace the engine at 100 hours past TBO.
The question was whether to install another IO-520, or upgrade to the IO-550. Regrettably, there was no unanimity as to the correct course of action. I finally settled on the upgrade, and have not regretted it. Airspeed has increased by 15 knots, and fuel consumption has remained about the same. I used my existing prop and had it overhauled, thus making the upgrade cost about $4,000 more than another IO-520 would have. To date, it has proved to be a pretty good investment.
In summary, I have enjoyed my A36 immensely. Given a reasonable maintenance budget, it is a thoroughly satisfying airplane. It represents all I ever want.
Name withheld by request
In October, 1991 I traded in a pristine C-33 Debonair on a 1979 A-36. The engine was near due for an overhaul, so with nearly 1,800 SFREMAN I called Firewall Forward for their standard overhaul with a new cam and dynamically balanced crank and prop. I decided on .010 oversized steel cylinders rather than chrome. The CHTs rose somewhat, so 275 hours later I had the Flightcraft side louvers and plenum trays installed. The louvers seemed to do more than the trays.
The utility of this airplane has been excellent. It is equipped with boots and a hot prop, and while not certified for flight into known icing, the ability to deal with moderate icing for a while decreases weather-related cancellations in the winter. The dispatch rate has been in the high-90 percent range.
The avionics and instruments have intermittent problems. With a densely packed panel, temperatures under the left side of the glareshield can cook plastic gears and Argus displays. Additional cooling air is necessary to keep all the goodies working.
Aside from almost weekly ADs (largely inconsequential) airframe maintenance has been mostly look-and-lube with the exception of a fuel cell replacement. Most of my expense is related to avionics.
Although not as light in pitch as the Debonair, the A36 is crisp. The larger airplane is preferable as an instrument platform. Set your power, drop the gear at the marker and it will nearly fly an ILS just with the rudder pedals. I plan for 162 knots loaded heavy or 171 at 3200 lbs. Cruising in the 8-11,000 foot range, full throttle and 2,500 RPM, fuel burn is 13.5-14.5 GPH.
Cost per hour including reserves runs about $110 on average. This includes the expense of refurbishment, engine overhauls and avionics upgrades.
I own my A36 without a partner, however the durability of this airplane combined with the acquisition expense makes it an ideal airplane for two owners. Its a rare week I dont get a postcard from an individual or broker wanting to buy an A36.
If youre looking for one, my advice is to find one cosmetically to your tastes with Bendix-King radios. 1978 and newer models are corrosion-protected inside and out with zinc chromate. the 24-volt models offer quick gear speeds and lots of juice for the avionics, but will make it hard for you to run portable accessories from the cigarette lighter.
Jerome Lamb, M.D.
Lees Summit, Mo.