Forked-Tail Doctor Killers

The V tail Beechcraft Bonanza is the best flying machine ever built, bar none. I admit I may be a little prejudiced, but they are awesome aircraft. When I traded my Piper Arrow for the V-tail, I knew I had an aircraft that I could fly and enjoy for a long time to come. The Bonanza flew 35 knots faster, had a much higher climb rate, and had a much more solid feel. 

An early Model 35 Bonanza

The Bonanza Model 35 made its maiden test flight on December 22, 1945, right after the end of WWII. Beech delivered 1,000 new Bonanzas by the end of 1947, at a then hefty price of $7,975 per copy. That price was much more than the cost of an average house in those days. 

The first V tails had a 165 hp, six-cylinder TCM engine, later upgraded to 185 hp. By comparison, today’s Bonanzas have 300 horsepower engines, but they also weigh considerably more. The first aircraft off the assembly line had wooden propellers and fabric control surfaces. Later, the prop was converted to an electrically controllable pitch aluminum design, and the control surfaces were made with magnesium skins. 

Since 1947, over 17,000 Bonanzas have been built. Ten-thousand of those were the V tail version, and the rest were straight-tails including 3,000 of the stretched straight-tail known as the A-36. Bonanzas have enjoyed the longest continuous production run of any type of aircraft, standing the test of time from not only a design standpoint, but also looks and comfort. 

These planes are over engineered. My aircraft was certified for 4.4 g’s vs. the 3.8 g’s in the Arrow and other general aviation aircraft.

Bonanzas are very slick aircraft with a drag coefficient of 0.0192, or about mid-way between a P51 and Lear 35. The only time this was an issue was on an ILS approach. In Bonanzas, it is nearly impossible to “go-down” and “slow-down” at the same time. My early Bonanza had a max. gear extension speed (Vle) of 122kts. If ATC asked you to keep up your speed to the Outer Marker, it was very difficult to slow down to extend the gear and follow the GS down to DH. The best procedure was to slow to Vle well before intercepting the localizer, then drop the gear at GS intercept or Outer Marker. On later aircraft the gear system was beefed up, and max gear extension speed was increased to 152kts.

My particular V-tail, N9860R was an M35 model Bonanza, built in 1960 at an original cost of $25,000. From the log books, records indicate it was purchased new by a doctor. This doctor, based on the repair history in the logs, had a gear up landing accident in the aircraft within the first year of ownership. Incidents like that quickly gave the Bonanza the nickname  forked-tail doctor killers

Beech Bonanza US Postal Stamp

N9860R had the IO-470-C, TCM fuel injected engine rated at 250 horsepower. That iteration TCM has a very good service history. The aircraft was somewhat limited in avionics, although it handled like a dream. There was neither an autopilot, nor HSI or flight director, so navigation required keeping your head in the game at all times. I filed IFR as a /Alpha with only NARCO Mark 12-D digital radios/VORs and DME in the panel. I always filed airways and used DME readouts and cross radials to plot my position, just like generations of pilots did before me. 

I flew N9860R for many happy years, including numerous business trips around the southeast, a few Angel Flights and trips to Key West. And, flying my then very young daughters to North Carolina for weekends in the mountains. Later there were also trips to Michigan, the Bahamas and the desert southwest. 

Eventually I sold the V tail and traded up to the A36 because of its greater cabin space, barn door access to the aft cabin, greater fuel capacity, and air conditioning. In Florida, having a plane with AC is especially welcome in the summer months. Or, maybe I’m just getting soft.

It has occurred to me that we are not really the owners of these fine aircraft, some of which are more than 50 years old and still flying. We are simply the current caretakers. Anyone thinking of purchasing a Bonanza should consider these books:

Flying the Beech Bonanza by John Eckelbar

Those Incomparable Bonanzas by Larry Ball

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One Response to Forked-Tail Doctor Killers

  1. Matthew Chisten says:

    I am looking at a 1947 model 35 and am concerned with any problems with the tail skin and the empanage sections of the aircraft any information you could provide would be appreciated.

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