Bonanza G36: Turning heads for 75 years

A new Beechcraft Bonanza, the world’s longest continuously produced aircraft, the G36 75th anniversary edition, will be available for delivery next year. Words: Mike Stones

Still sprightly after nearly 75 years: The Bonanza, designed in the 1940s has received a 21st century make over.

SLEEK AND SPORTY – once equipped with a racy V-tail – the Beechcraft Bonanza has been turning heads for nearly 75 years. Launched in 1947, when president Truman was in the White House and Bing Crosby’s White Christmas was in the pop charts, the Bonanza has won a loyal following worldwide. Now, Beechcraft, part of Textron Aviation, aims to win more hearts (and investment dollars) with its new G36 75th anniversary edition.

It’s a fan base that began with an advert targeting businessmen. Two smiling gents in business suits, sporting brief cases and fedora hats, stroll nonchalantly away from a V-tail Bonanza. The advertising copy for the first Model 35 Bonanza dated May 1947 reads: “You save … Man power, man hours, money with a company-owned Beechcraft Bonanza.” Not wishing to miss the family sale, the advert also features a girl perched on an inner leading edge, as her mother climbs out of the cockpit while her father, sporting a Stetson, holds the wing tip. The illustration, which also features a mounted cowboy looking on, reads: “For rest and relaxation.”

Nearly three quarters of a century later, the 75th special anniversary edition, loaded with Garmin avionics, is set to roll off the production lines in Wichita. There’s little discernible difference between the two airframes. The latest variant has swapped the V-tail assembly for a straight tail and now wears a Hartzell three-blade constant speed metal propellor. But appearances can be deceiving.

Let’s start with the cockpit. The G in G36 stands for Garmin. Specifically, it refers to the new Garmin G1000 NXI next-generation integrated flight deck. Featuring an improved graphical interface, more powerful hardware, higher resolution displays, the extra functionality is designed to improve the pilot’s situational awareness and reduce workload. Wireless technology is an optional fitting. The Garmin Flight Stream 510 is standard.

Ahead of the cockpit fire wall snuggles a 300-horsepower Continental IO-550-B engine driving the Hartzell propeller. The pairing delivers a maximum cruise speed of 176 knots, a maximum range of 920 nautical miles (nm) and a 1,060-pound maximum payload with a service ceiling of 18,500ft (5,640m).

Moving aft, the six-seat G36 cabin – offering a height of 50in (1.27m) and width of 42in (1.07m) – is almost a third larger than its nearest competitor, according to the manufacturer. Four different cabin layouts are available catering either for passengers or special cargo.

The exterior and interior colour scheme features the favourite choice of the late Olive Ann Beech, president of the company from 1950 to 1968, after the death of husband Walter, and chairman of the board from 1950 to 1982. Known as ‘Mrs Beech Blue’, Olive Ann favoured it for everything from aircraft interiors to clothes on the advice of fashion designer Oleg Cassini. A graphic of Mrs Beech’s signature appears on airframe below the pilot’s window. The rudder even features a ‘Bubble B’ logo from 1954. Clearly the designers have pressed the nostalgia button hard.

“The Bonanza has lasted because the manufacturer has scratched the market that has an itch.”

Good looks and long legs: “It’s a great compromise in an airplane …”, says Lou Seno, chairman of JSSI.

So, how is a piston engine aircraft designed in the faraway days of the 1940s likely to compete in the 2020s? Its place in the modern market is assured, according to Lou Seno, chairman of JSSI.

“It’s a great compromise in an airplane because of its good speed [176 ktas for the G36] great range [920 nm] and is very comfortable inside,” Seno tells Corporate Jet Investor (CJI). “It does everything well and it’s built extremely well.”

It must be recognised he is not an impartial witness. His enthusiasm for the Bonanza almost brims over. And it is backed by more than 3,500 hours in his logbook on the Bonanza and her twin sister the Baron. Plus, happy memories of meeting the late Mrs Beech, who co-founded the business with her husband in 1932.

Another big Bonanza fan is Don Dwyer, managing partner at Guardian Jet. “I own and fly a 1991 A36 and absolutely love the airplane.” Ownership aside, Dwyer used to lead the sales team at Beechcraft, so he is very familiar with the product and the previous market, if not the current one. “The Beechcraft Bonanza was and may continue to be the standard for personally-flown piston singles,” he says. “I know my friends at Cessna and at Cirrus will take umbrage with the notion that the Bonanza is still the best mix of flying qualities, comfort, speed and build quality available.”

Dwyer also sold Mooneys for three years – with the M20 being a Johnny-come-lately design certified in September 1955. Every potential sale was direct competition with a Bonanza. “It wasn’t until I left Mooney and flew a Bonanza for the first time that I realised just what a jump in flying qualities the airplane had. They are a dream to fly.”

Again, he can’t withhold the L-word. “I love my Bonanza. I am very proud of the fact that I lived a tiny piece of the history of this aircraft. 75 years of continuous production is an amazing record and a testament to the vision, hard work and dedication to generations of Beechcrafters.”

It is the versatility of the Bonanza that partly accounts for its extraordinary longevity, according to David Crick, DavAir Group MD. “The Bonanza has lasted because the manufacturer has scratched the market that has an itch.” The aircraft seems to be a class leader with capacity, economics of operating costs and constant currency with respect to avionics, fuel efficiency and performance, he says.

“They also appeal to a broad spectrum of the market as opposed to a smaller portion that may only want a large cabin intercontinental or a corporate jet type aircraft. But with the Bonanza they can have the corporate interior feel and still function in very small regional airports,” says Crick. “And values appear to stay relatively constant.”

All sitting comfortably: The G36 is equally at home transporting children to the beach or business people to their next client meeting.

Four different cabin layouts are available.

“Has a corporate interior feel and still functions in small regional airports.”

Doors opening: The rear double doors are designed to ease access of passengers, baggage and for equipment.

Four different cabin layouts are available.

“Has a corporate interior feel and still functions in small regional airports.”

Doors opening: The rear double doors are designed to ease access of passengers, baggage and for equipment.

That short field performance – taking off in 1,913ft (583m) and landing in 1,450ft (442m) could prove persuasive in the age of Covid-19. As the airlines, including regional feeder services, struggle to recover from the impact of the global pandemic, private aviation is looking like an increasingly attractive way of catching up with existing clients and meeting new ones.

Covid-19 may even have boosted the prospects of piston engine aircraft, says Chris Crow, Textron Aviation’s vice president Piston & Utility sales. “Interest in piston aircraft has increased as more customers are considering owning an aircraft to avoid commercial airline travel,” he tells CJI. “With the Covid-19 related restrictions on public transportation, especially airline travel – such as cancellations/reduction of flights, more extensive screening/tests of passengers and complex requirements that vary around the world – more people are embracing the flexibility that general aviation offers, especially as far as owner/pilot operated aircraft are concerned.”

But is it truly a business aircraft? “The Bonanza is often used by business owners who use the aircraft for both business and personal travel,” Crow tells us. “In addition to business travel, the Bonanza is a great aircraft for families. As well as the large cabin, there is also ease of access through rear double doors, which facilitates getting in and out, as well as loading/unloading of baggage and equipment.”

Although most associated with the US, the G36 Bonanza is a great choice for the European market due to its versatility and robust construction, he continues. “It’s excellent runway performance makes it suitable for unpaved/grass runways that can be found throughout the region. This gives customers considerably more options for where they can go compared with other aircraft in this category. With more than 4,000 Model 36 Bonanza pistons built to date, this aircraft is proven, fun to fly, comfortable to ride in and flexible for any mission. The aircraft’s spacious interior can quickly be arranged into various configurations, making it a great multi-tasker for recreational pilots, as well as business owners.”

And, of course, flying lower (and slower), the Bonanza offers significantly cheaper running costs and maintenance bills than a light jet. Beechcraft has yet to reveal its full 2022 price list but the special-edition option, will be priced at $18,000.

Welcome to the new office: Equipped with the new Garmin G1000 NXI integrated flight deck.

Not everyone holds unreserved admiration for the Bonanza clan. Brian Foley, founder Brian Foley Associates, believes the Bonanza’s flame “is beginning to flicker”. Back in 2006, about 80 aircraft were delivered. That fell to seven in 2019 and climbed to 12 in 2020. “At some point these designs become economically unfeasible to manufacture anymore,” said Foley. They were designed in the ‘40s and ‘50s, when labour man hours or parts count were not a concern.

Foley believes the M-word is mainly responsible for the aircraft’s enduring presence: “It’s called marketing.” While acknowledging the significance of the 75th anniversary, he points out that to replace an existing aircraft with a clean sheet design which gains new certification can cost up to $100m. Neither is the Bonanza alone in the seniority stakes. The Cessna Sky Hawk is 66 years old and the New Piper Aircraft Cherokee is a sprightly 61.

But Foley could see a longer future – perhaps even another 75 years – if the Bonanza aircraft was rejuvenated by a new power plant. “If there’s some new supplemental type certificate, where the engine goes electric, that could change the economic equation because the manufacturer does not have to out and spend $100m on a whole new airframe,” says Foley. “Putting a new engine in the existing airframe could save a tremendous amount of certification money.”

Crick, from DavAir, also thinks Bonanza production could extend to 2096 – maybe. “The design could still be in production in 75 years if it adapts to SAF [Sustainable Aviation Fuel] and ESG [Environmental and Social Governance] protocols. However, if the costs of new urban mobility options continue in their current ways, then the aircraft may only appeal to aviation purists who want to fly rather than those who need to get from A to B.”

So, what would Olive and Walter make of the 21st century makeover given to their 1940’s darling? One answer is supplied by Lannie O’Bannion, senior vice president, Global Sales & Flight Operations. “We know Walter and Olive Ann Beech would be proud of where we’ve taken their stylish and powerful piston with today’s Bonanza G36.”

Seno, at JSSI, thinks O’Bannion is right – the G36 will continue to turn heads. It’s an opinion backed by a personal connection. Seno met Mrs Beech during a factory visit in 1983. (And his Baron was selected to star in the 50th Anniversary Celebration in Wichita). “Olive Beech would be so pleased,” he says. “So am I. Achieving 75 years of continuous production is a real milestone.”

CJI Connect

Lou Seno Chairman, JSSI [email protected]

David Crick Group MD, DavAir [email protected]

Don Dwyer Managing partner, Guardian Jet [email protected]

Chris Crow Vice president, Piston & Utility Sales, Textron Aviation +1 316 517 8270

Brian Foley Founder, Brian Foley Associates [email protected]

Mike Stones, Group editor, Corporate Jet Investor

Mike Stones, Group editor, Corporate Jet Investor