V Tail Bonanza

Aircraft · 5 min read · Jun 06, 2022
v tail bonanza

When looking for the ideal assortment packed with passenger safety, high performance, sleek design, and operational reliability, only a few aircraft top the list. And the V tail Bonanza ranks above many not just because of its unique V tail design but because of its unmatched capabilities. Most of the variants of the Bonanza are categorized under the high-performance aircraft category as they are capable of delivering an engine power greater than 200 horsepower.

Beechcraft Bonanza holds the record for the longest continuous production run for a general aviation aircraft. Starting from 1947, more than 17,000 aircraft have been manufactured, and many more are waiting to join the list in the future too!

A miracle of aeronautical design

In 1947, when the Beech model 35 was initially introduced, there were no other V-tailed aircraft flying around. The peculiar tail design was the key order winner and sealed many orders from customers all around the globe. Walter Beech, an American aviator who co-founded the Beech aircraft company had stated Bonanza is a miracle of aeronautical design, and almost seven decades later, Bonanza still keeps clocking up miles up in the sky.

We have tailored this article to cover all the imperative aspects of the V tail Bonanzas opening more room for the potential buyers, pilots, and enthusiasts.

Beechcraft Bonanza A36 stationed on a runway.

Available models

Basically, there are three Bonanza models out there in the market: Model 35, Model 33, and Model 36. Out of these three, Model 35 catches the eyes of all at a glance with its vertical tail, while the other two variants were designed to have conventional tail arrangements.

Beech Model 35

During World War II, Beechcraft backed the U.S Army with airplanes, and the dexterity they gained by mass-producing airplanes for the world war laid the foundation for Beech Model 35. Ralph Harmon led the group of engineers who designed the model and Walter Beech made plans to compete for postwar demand with his iconic V tails.

His plans blossomed by manufacturing 1,500 aircraft within one year (1947- 1948). The price tag was not exorbitantly high at $8,000. In 1982, 35 years since its introduction, Beechcraft discontinued the model with a track record of 10,400 aircraft.

The straight model could reach 175 mph with its 165-horsepower engine. The retractable landing gear kept the aircraft clean during flight and could be used as an effective speed brake to control aircraft speed in approaches. The aircraft recorded a lower fuel consumption due to its clean configuration.

With a record-breaking production of 1,500 model-35 airplanes, Beechcraft offered mods for the straight model to enhance its wing strength. There were only a few owners who found the mod feasible as it cost nearly half the price of a newer A35 model. A35 model came up with stronger wings and nose wheel steering.

Most of the straight-tail models performed well during the time and secured a firm demand within the light aircraft category.

V35B – last in the line

Beechcraft kept its Bonanzas evolving and adding more features to the newer models. Down the line, more powerful engines such as Continental IO-520 with a horsepower of 300+, fuel tanks with greater volumes, and a cockpit fitted with new instrument panels were added making the model 35 an all-time favorite of most pilots. Starting from the V35 model in 1966, Beechcraft added a single-piece windshield giving more visibility and making the aircraft ideal for sightseeing. Additionally, the tip tanks enhanced aircraft range making V35B a viable option for cross-country flights. Many pilots find the availability of tip tanks as a plus point for an aircraft intended for cross-country flights.

An aircraft with a full tank could fly a little longer than 7 hours with a fuel consumption rate of 12-15 gallons per hour. When flying at full throttle, the rate is in the range of 15-20 gallons per hour.

According to an owner who commented on the aviation consumer website, operating cost per hour varies from $140 to $150, which is quite acceptable for a cross-country flyer. The annual cost for the maintenance will go around $1,500 to $2,500 depending on the maintenance tasks.

V tail yaw: the most common concern of Bonanza pilots

Unarguably, the V tail Bonanza secures a solid place among the aircraft owners despite a well-known idiosyncrasy – the aircraft’s V tail tends to yaw amidst the turbulence. Earlier variants are more prone to the adverse yaw, but with the later models – starting from C35 – significant changes were made to the stabilizer.

In-flight structural failures – was the Bonanza cursed?

When we hear the name Bonanza in an aviation context, the list of pros goes on and on in our minds. But there is one thing that makes us retreat – the higher rate of in-flight breakups. If someone is going to own a Bonanza, this is a MUST read!

Starting from the C35 model, Beechcraft introduced a major modification to tackle the tail yaw: they increased the stabilizer chord by extending the leading edge. But, the designers introduced a major flaw by the modification leaving the front par as it is and extending the leading edge. Torsion loads twisted the stabilizer beyond the threshold during high angle of attack operations and high control surface deflections. This led to the majority of in-flight breakups and cost many lives.

The reason for the majority of the in-flight breakups could not be determined with certainty. Beechcraft alleged accidents were due to pilot error while some aviation experts pointed their fingers at Beechcraft saying that the aircraft’s tail failed in the first place. After investigating hundreds of cases and vehement flak from aviation experts, Beechcraft decided to conduct a detailed investigation on the controversial V-shaped tail design under the eyes of the FAA.

From the introduction of the aircraft, Beechcraft came up with a series of minor tail modifications where non of them addressed the in-flight breakup issue. Later, Beechcraft joined hands with some other parts suppliers and extended their efforts to mitigate the tail issue.

The team decided to introduce a separate stub spar to support the front spar of the stabilizer and Beechcraft denied the fact that a stub spar could assist the front spar with the torsion loads and the modification was halted. Later FAA found that Beechcraft’s decision to halt the mod was not backed by a firm premise.

V tail Beechcraft Bonanza taking off.
Image source: Bill Larkins

One accident made an impact!

In 1984, a close friend of Donald L. Monday, the president of the American Bonanza
society died in a V-tailed Bonanza in-flight breakup. This single crash flipped the stance of society in the in-flight breakup controversy. The society was baking Beechcraft throughout the allegations and suddenly Monday requested FAA to investigate the matter.

Ultimately, after years of controversies and investigations, FAA issued an emergency Airworthiness Directive (A.D) limiting the maneuvering speed of the aircraft. As a result, Beechcraft developed a beef-up kit to strengthen the stabilizer. The speed restriction was then removed for the aircraft that had undergone the modification.

The story behind the infamous moniker – Doctor Killer

Earlier models recorded a higher rate of in-flight breakups putting more tension on the Beechcraft company. Most of the airplanes that were subjected to in-flight breakup were commanded by the doctors and this gave the moniker for the V tail Bonanza – Doctor Killer. At the time of introduction, many doctors, lawyers, and aviation enthusiasts with deep pockets got their hands wet with a Bonanza- it was more like a trend within the affluence tier to own and fly a Bonanza.

Most of the pilots who owned Bonanzas in the 50s and 60s lacked the preparedness to fly an advanced aircraft. As the aircraft was having a peculiar and perilous wag in its fork-shaped tail that could lead to flutter and ultimately break apart, many people used to specifically name the aircraft as ‘forked tail doctor killer’. With the accidents, aircraft sales fell amidst the concern and reinstated with time when pilots got more exposure to the aircraft characteristics along with effective modifications.

According to some users, apart from the V tail Bonanzas, tail wag is present in other Bonanza models with a straight tail as well. When considering in-flight breakups, earlier models were more prone to breakups while newer models handled the torsion loads when flown within the flight envelope.

Here is the verdict

Let us boil this entire context into a few words: V tail Bonanza is a go-to workhorse that is packaged with power, comfort, and reliability. The first time you step into a Bonanza, it makes you feel like you have found the missing piece of your life. But on the flipside, tail yaw at turbulence and inflight breakups – that have not happened recently – are real concerns.

However, according to a plethora of happy Bonanza owners, the tail yaw can be corrected from a slight pressure at the rudder. Any airplane – even the state-of-the-art jetliners – inherits its own drawbacks. Once the ideal idiosyncrasies are identified, V tail Bonanza is capable of giving the pleasure of flying anyone has dreamed of.

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Jet pilot @NASA

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