I sort of stirred up a hornet’s nest with a recent post about Cirrus airplanes and Cirrus pilots. A few commenters compared the discussion with ones about the Beech V-tail (Model 35) Bonanzas a long time ago. That airplane was actually referred to by many as the “V-tail doctor killer” back in its heyday. If anything, the V-tail Bonanza was even more controversial than the Cirrus is today. As with the Cirrus, the problem was more with pilots than with the airplane.
When the Bonanza came out in 1947, it was unlike anything else. It was aerodynamically clean and the very first ones would cruise 175 mph with a 165-horsepower engine. That speed came at 10,000 feet where the engine would develop but 115 horsepower.
The cabin was roomy and comfortable for four and the baggage compartment was spacious.
The initial price of the Bonanza was $7,345 and as production was beginning, Beech projected a production rate of ten airplanes a day. It was marketed as a business airplane.
The V-tail evolved from the 35 through most letters of the alphabet (A35, B35 and so on) to the V35B, the last one built in 1982. A total of 10,403 were built. They didn’t quite make the 10 a day production as the first 12 months saw 1,209 airplanes roll off the line. That is still pretty robust production.
I flew every model of the V-tail built and despite some controversy about the structure of the airplane, I felt comfortable flying them all. They did have early wing and center section problems with the 35 but that was made right and, starting with the A35, there we no further real problems except for one thing: The airplane had a high incidence of in-flight structural failures.
In virtually all the structure-related accidents the airplane was flown outside the envelope. Often as not this was the result of the pilot losing control. The airplane had light and delightful control forces and while it was stable in pitch it was less so in roll. If a pilot was going to hand-fly in clouds he had to be both good and attentive. Left to its own devices, a V-tail would be in a spiral dive in a heartbeat. A VFR pilot in clouds was almost autodead.
Bonanza pilots were either veterans or made up of a population much like today’s Cirrus pilots. The ex-military pilots were almost all bomber or transport pilots. I guess most fighter pilots wanted to just put the risks of flying behind them.
That means that most Bonanza pilots were not used to such a clean airplane that was not stable in roll. Unlike the Cirrus, not much early Bonanza flying was IFR. It could be done but the system was pretty crude in the years after the war and there was little capacity.
Not many of the ex-military pilots had instrument ratings as they were issued only to a limited number based on military experience. Even fewer civilian pilots had instrument ratings. So in the beginning, most Bonanza operations were VFR.
The Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association shows the overall Cirrus fatal accident rate to be 1.63 per 100,000 flight hours. I calculated a slightly lower rate and their number and mine are close enough together to validate the methodology in both cases.
If you are holding your breath waiting for me to tell you the early Bonanza flying was a blood bath by comparison, wait no longer. As calculated by both Beech and the CAA, (forerunner of the FAA) the Model 35 fatal accident rate was, through 1952, 4.90 per 100,000 hours. The Models A35, B35 and C35 were at 2.50. By comparison, the Cessna 195 was about 2.0 and the Beech 18 twin was lowest at .80.
In later years the V-tails had comparable accident rates to other high-performance singles, including its Model 33 and 36 siblings with regular tails. There was a self-serving faction in general aviation, though, that went on a crusade to demonize the V-tail because of the in-flight structural failures.
Grist for the mill was the fact that Bonanzas with regular tails seldom had structural failures. They did have just as many loss of control accidents. The difference was they were in one piece a millisecond before becoming thousands of pieces after a collision with the ground. The V-tails didn’t make it to the ground in one piece,
Investigators did find a common thread in V-tail accidents. Effective with the C35, the chord of the tail surfaces was increased by seven inches but the internal structure remained the same. As a result, the tail stabilizer is extended to 16 inches ahead of the spar on C35 and later airplanes.
In the 35, A35 and B35 the airframe failures were usually a result if the wings failing first. From the C35 on, the first failure was usually of the tail with the wings next failing in a downward direction.
It was determined from wreckage that when the airplane was operated in excess of the never exceed speed, the unsecured leading edge of the stabilizer would fail first, in an up or down direction. Even though the airplane met the certification standards, it was determined that anchoring the leading edge of the stabilizer to the fuselage at the root would minimize this and give the pilot a little extra time to recover from an overspeed condition.
There is probably a slightly smaller percentage of high speed loss of control accidents in the Cirrus but when there is a loss of control, the airplane is in the same jeopardy as a Bonanza because the airframe parachute recovery system doesn’t work at high speed. The Cirrus probably isn’t as aerodynamically clean unless, that is, it can cruise at 175 miles per hour on ten gallons of fuel per hour.
Piper PA-32 and Cessna 210 airplanes have airframe failure rates similar to the V-tail Bonanza, always when they are operated outside the envelope.
About three-fourths of the V-tail Bonanzas are almost 50 years old or older so they don’t fly much now. They are more objet d’art than they are serious transportation machines. There are not good enough numbers to calculate a remotely accurate accident rate on the older Bonanzas today. It is probably safe to say that they do reasonably well because pilots don’t push hard in them to complete missions.
Pilots loved their Bonanzas, too, but in a somewhat different way from Cirrus pilots today. As the controversies raged about weak wings and failing tails and unfortunate accident rates, most Bonanza pilots couldn’t care less. They knew they were flying the fastest and sexiest single out there and I guess they figured that its detractors were just jealous. Fly on.
- From the archives: how valuable are check rides? - July 30, 2019
- From the archives: the 1968 Reading Show - July 2, 2019
- From the archives: Richard Collins goes behind the scenes at Center - June 4, 2019
I flew a ’48 V35 for many years, the absolute greatest airplane I have ever owned or flown… the best of the best. From T-crafts to 172’s to Bonanza’s… I am a VFR private… that is it, no IFR, or any other ratings… loved that airplane.
Hmmmmm, I was the proud owner of a 1964 S model, a beautiful jewel of a very efficient travel machine. I really, really loved this wonderful flying machine. True, not for a novice pilot but in the hands of someone who took their flying seriously, it was a joy to fly, both VFR and solid IFR. I do agree, keep it within the operating envelope. Wish I still had it, put in over 2,000 hours
What a great ad. it says landing speed 46 mph..ha! love it!
Why was the Beech 18 so safe? That’s a good number today and they were flown in weather for serious transportation with no radar, no satellite , and many places in 1952 no ILS.
Good Morning Larry,
That is an easy one. Most Model 18s were flown by professional pilots that flew them IFR when IFR was the better way to go!
The “Forked Tail Doctor Killer” was generally owned by a good guy who had a lot of money and didn’t learn to fly IFR early enough in his or her career.
For what it is worth, I bought my first Bonsanza in 1954 (Seven years old and considered to be an antique at the time, but it was all I could afford)and I flew it IFR whenever needed.
It was not equipped with an artificial horizon, but it did nhave a directional gyro in addition to the factory stock needle ball, airspeed and altimeter. At that time, the directinal gyro and artificial horizon were not required for IFR flight. There were no autopilots available either, but we also did not have to talk to the FEDs all that often. The Bonanza has always been a dream of an instrument platform. When the FEDs decreed in 1956 that we had to have a “full” panel to fly IFR. it made it even easier!
Also, many people overestimated the bonanza like they did with the caravan (Crash-Van) and other planes with lots of capabilities.
Wow, I just had a gander at the Cessna Caravan entry on Wikipedia. Out of 2500 aircraft produced, they reported 216 hull losses with 427 fatalities.
Attitude is the difference, there is this strange thing that happens to people when they get more performance from something. Drivers go faster, turn harder and stop quicker when they trade in the Impala for a Camaro. Pilots are no different, when we can go faster, haul more, and shed some ice we have to try it even if our skills are not ready. Strap a parachute on the plane and there is nothing that can stop us from pushing the envelope, right?
We are not invincible, bad things can and will happen. The POH and FAA are there for a reason. Bad weather can’t last for ever, the search party will almost always find a crash when it is sunny. Weigh the risks, how many options will you have when things go wrong? Indecision and ignorance are the cause of most pilot error.
You are soooo correct on the correlation between increased perfomance and human reaction. I learned about this truth up close, in a world than airplane flight, but the elements you laid our were an exact match – go faster, turn harder and stop quicker. I had been spending my weekend leisure time motoring through country backroads on my 883 Harley Davidson. My 65 year old mother had been putting around on her new 1200 Sportster for the last couple months, so i stopped by to give it a spin myself. I was stunned at the power this model had, much more powerful than other 1200’s I had ridden – I was hammering on the throttle and it would just pull me backwords, I’d lean and take those country roads at 60 mpr, then grab another handful of throttle and quick bring the speed back up to 90-100 mpr before the next narrow corner – but this time as I rounded the curve I found a herd of 6 deer in the middle of the road – I breaked and leaned and the bike continued to slide forward and I leaned backword to the side and came to a stopped right next to the deer – the bike could have easily grabbed the pavement and slammed me forward to an instant death at 80 mph – I drove the bike bak at 35 mpr and left it to my mom to put around on. Your assertion that folks often display very bad habits, given opportunities with machines of increased performance, is so true and I second it as a caution to others.
Thank you Mr. Collins for always speaking the truth about the Bonanza. My family has own the same one since its inception in December 1950 (B35) and I love flying it. It is very much in its original shape except for the painting. A lot was wrong with Bonanza drivers but people do not accept the fact that they are less than perfect. Unfortunately this process will only increase with governments taken away people responsibilities. Pilots have to accept the fact that flying is unique and with this come risks and responsibilities. If they or their family don’t accept, than they should not fly.
I am a 500 hour instrument rated pilot, who currently flys a 1964 S model, after flying a 182. The 182 could haul alot, but,oh, the speed of the Bonanza! My Bonanza does not have an autopilot, and I’ve been in hard IFR twice, once with moderate turbulence and a little ice. I have to say, I was a little worried, trying to keep it right side up.
Richard’s article was spot on. We all know pilot error causes the lions share of accidents. The hard part it, as we all know, is how to get experience and judgment without testing the boundaries. Testing the boundaries causes accidents sometimes. I know there is no magic bullet. Flying regurlary certainly is very important.
I covet a Cirrus, but can see how having the chute could pull pilots in to places we should not be.
Validates the adage: “Truly superior pilots are those who use their superior judgment to avoid those situations where they might have to use their superior skills.” It’s on my iPad kneeboard as a constant reminder to me that good judgment is always ‘trumps’.
I have flown 300hrs in a 1967 V Tail Bonanza, mainly through the outback of Australia. That aeroplane and me “became one”. I would confidently put it into a 450 metre bush airstrip and know it would stay where I put it. It was fast – 5Kts faster than my current A36.
It was fully IFR equipped and never let me down. Wonderful aircraft.
I have 800 recent hours in a 1977 V35B – flown all over Australia. Lots of “bush” flying and lots of IFR. I have plenty of time in other high performance singles like the C210 and M20, but I just loved flying that V-tail.
I don’t know what you mean about not flying much anymore I fly my s35 several hundred hrs a year all over the country ifr and VFR. I think cirus is suffering the same stuff the bonanzas used to suffer, pilots with a lot of money wanting the latest and greatest and they aren’t skilled enough. They take a lot for granted, parachutes and state of the art gizmos. Doesn’t help with out solid stick and rudder skills. Fly anything outside of the envelope and your gonna get in trouble.
Good Morning Richard I do agree that the E Series engine powered Bonanzas need to be in the hands of folks who love the machine as it takes a lot of scrounging to find parts for that engine and propellor, but from the H35 on we can drop in the very modern IO-550-B with any of many currently available propellors. The early airplanes are still the most delightful to fly, but the post 1956 airplanes can be used as every day transportation just as efficiently as can the new Cirrus.
My old 1978 clunker will cruise right with a Cirrus on the same fuel flow and will carry at least one more passenger legally. The Cirri are great, but the good old Bo is yet to be beat.
Within the last year, I have flown my V35B Bonanza nonstop from Palo Alto to Chicago twice and our son just returned from the west coast last week flying his S35. He reports they could have made it non stop, but a comfort stop was needed!
Good Morning Again Richard,
Guess it is a slow day, but would like to comment on the photo you show of the Bonanza flying over Oshkosh.
That airplane belongs to Wayne Collins. He is a business man from Texas who bought the airplane new in 1976. He has flown it around the world several times and often flys it to Australia to visit a son who lives there. He does have a set of the large Texas Tips (formerly known as Dolly Parton Tip Tanks) which he installs for those trips.
Wayne is also the fellow who originally organized and led the group who fly to Oshkosh together as the B2OSH flight.
Great guy with a great airplane!
Still absolving Beech of any blame for the V-tail Bonanza inflight airframe failures, eh, Dick?
Perhaps you have forgotten the Beech tests that led to the emergency airworthiness directive on the tail. That A.D. came out precisely because the V-tail did not meet FAR 23. The problem arose because Beech had not considered the torsion loading case when they extended the leading edge of the stabilizer. Under unusual conditions of high angle of attack on the tail, plus large control deflections of the ruddervators, the V-tail could then fail, not only within the design envelope, but (I believe) at less than maneuvering speed (!).
Since the A.D. (and Beech stabilizer cuff) the rate of inflight airframe failures has been greatly reduced for the (long-chord) V-tail Bonanzas. (There remain some structural problems with pre-C-model Bonanzas that have never been adequately addressed, in my opinion.)
I have carefully reviewed hundreds of accident reports on V-tail failures, and in most cases, it was not obvious whether the pilot lost control (as you assert) first, or whether the tail failed first (and then control was certainly lost). How can you say with such confidence that those accidents were pilot error?
It’s so easy to blame a dead pilot. If they could speak though, I suspect that many would have a different explanation.
Nice airplane, the Bonanza. I enjoyed flying it for several years. But it did have a structural flaw that Beech denied for decades — while people died. I tried for a long time to get it fixed, but was stymied by an unresponsive NTSB, an FAA apparently intimidated by Beech, and a manufacturer in total denial that there could possibly be a flaw in their beloved product (even though they had investigated hundreds of V-tail inflight failures). Eventually, however, I and some others (none “self-serving” as far as I know) got the problem addressed. Beech was required to perform tests and the airplane, as I understand it, would have failed those tests within the FAA design envelope if Beech had not halted the tests — due to diverging deflections. Thus the emergency A.D.
Brent Silver, Ph.D. (Aero/Astro, Stanford)
P.S. I appeared on “60 Minutes” and wrote the articles in Aviation Consumer that led, eventually, to the DOT study and, finally, the FAA demand that Beech substantiate the V-tail design. After all these years — and stalwart defenses of Beech in the popular aviation press — I believe it is fair to say that I was right and Beech was wrong. There was once a very serious structure defect with the V-tail Bonanza — and there probably still would be if Beech defenders like you and prime Beech-apologist Barry Schiff had had their way. But, please, don’t re-write history to cover up the reason for the A.D. (nor to blame that on “self-serving” folks who wanted the defect fixed — while the manufacturer wanted the problem ignored — which is really “self-serving” there?).
so, Brent, is the post-c, greater than 1956, great than the H model with long cord safe to fly?
In order to comply with suspected V-Tail structural Problems, If, while flying along the front Range of the Colorado Rockies, Moderate to severe Turbulence is encountered, I often slowed to maneuvering Speed 140K and in really Severe turbulence I might drop the Gear to help stability, but that’s just me……Others may have their own techniques. In addition, I’ve heard the Bonanza has had a lousy accident rate due to the “Un-porting” of Partially filled fuel Tank or Fuel delivery caused after the A/C is turned rapidly onto the active with Take off commenced immediately resulting in fuel starvation with unavoidable landing. I’ve followed Dick Collins for many years and at one time I was one of the earliest AOPA Members.
Brent, I appreciate your candor,and recognize that facing the issue head on has probably done more to “save the species ” than just Denial. So, in your opinion which years are the safest assuming all ADS are complied with? Short Chord, or Long Chord w/cuffs?
Old Bob Siegfried : enjoy your posts in the comments section.
As a 50 hour pilot I purchased my S35 in 1980. I did promise that I would have my instrument rating within a year or I would sell the plane (got it within 6 months). I even installed the smith stub kit spar on the tail before I had (mandated by the FAA) the cuff added on top of the stub spare. With more than 1000 of my 2500 plus hours in the Bonanza, it has been a wonderful people mover for these 30+ years to include a flight to the west coast (LA olympics) and more than 20 flights to the Bahamas. My son and son-law both know they have to have their instrument rating in our 172 before I will turn them loose in the Bonanza. The wife was convinced of its use when her trip to CT with the kids went from 7 hours of driving to 2 hours in the Bonanza.
In the late 60’s I was fortunate enough to have access to a C model with many upgrades. I was indoctrinated by an expert instructor to always respect its maneuvering limits. I flew it day and night and IFR on occasion and went from border to border and coast to coast twice.
This gem would cruise at 175 burning 9.5 gph. I was trapped once under a suckerhole over the coast of Louisiana and orbited an island at 500 – 600 ft. msl for several heart in mouth minutes trying to raise Lake Charles radio to file IFR to Lafayette. I made sure the speeds were always within the maneuvering envelope. The only other hair raiser was having a climbing United B-727 cross my bow by less than 100-yds at 8,000-ft! [Think of that…a small private airplane almost flew into an airliner!]
I saw him come up from below my left wing just a moment before the crossing, I chopped the power, and started to roll to the right to turn away. I briefly noticed folks looking out at me, and if I had known any I could have recognised them. The result was a fast roll over 180-deg. and as I recovered I was tossed into a 180-deg roll to the left while the odor of burning kerosene permeated the cockpit. Once back in control I noticed I had lost but 50-ft of altitude. Yes, I had been in touch with LAX Departure Control just moments before.
I just loved flying that bird as it seemed to want to fly anywhere I did. Keep the remarks coming, they’re interesting. Warren Smith
Warren, in about 1974, my wife Mary (back cockpit of our bipe, with all the ‘dials’ and me in pax seat (front cockpit) were Pompano Bch. to Marathon, Keys, for the weekend. We were staying low under the TCA and I observed Boeing on climbout from MIA. He (or she) passed in front of us and I knew what was comming. I’d have allerted Mary but we had no intercom, so I just hung on as we flew into the wake. Pretty good ‘jolt’ but no problem.
My buddy Tom took off from PHL in a Tri Pacer with two passengers, and hit ‘heavy’ wake at about 400 ft. This put him in knifedge, he elected to ‘go with it’ to complete the roll. Tower asked if everybody was OK….yep, no problem. I hit a bunch of it in a C-172 after flare at Washington National, did a lovely ‘dance’ at ten ft. altitude. One night, landing a 172 on runway 29 Newark, there was this Connie running all four at a pretty high power setting, blowing all his ‘bad’ air over my touch-down point. Tower, on discrete freq. got an earfull from me. Same thing at night, runway 32 at Allentown, a Connie again, high rpm blowing bad air over TD point. Another earfull from me.
Mr. Smith, Thank you for telling us about the near collision with the 727. Just as scary as it was educational. I am sure glad your skills were good enough to save you and those aboard the larger plane. It seems LAX lapsed in their attention. Very scary indeed.
I recently bought a turbonormalized 1974 V35B with IO520BB engine and tip tanks, total fuel capacity 120gals. It is a wonderful handling aircraft and cruise performance is not far off a Cirrus, and it certainly makes a great travelling aircraft. One key point in its favour is its great short-field capabilities – a few weeks back I landed easily on a 2500ft grass strip which had just been ploughed clear of snow. Don’t think a Cirrus could do that.
I have owned and flown a 1960, M35 Bonanza since 1972 and love it. It is easy to fly, has a fairly accommodating CG, is fast and fuel efficient.
When the Bonanza came out in 1947 there was nothing to compare it to. Instructors only knew fat engined, high drag airplanes and they got away from people – thus the “forked tail doctor killer” moniker.
Today that is no excuse. We have had slick, smooth high performance airplanes for several decades. If instructors do their job, modern pilots should be able to handle modern designs like the Cirrus.
Congratulations, again – because you just reiterated the one lesson you’ve taught me over the past 50 years.
Fly the aircraft. I’m still indebted to you. Miss your name on the letterhead.
All the best,
Back in late 1969-70 My buddy Tom and I took our vacations from PA to Andros, Bahamas, via Charleston, SC and Palm Bch. in our newly-built (and EAA prizewinners, Rockford ’68) D-260 Senior Aerosport aerobatic bi-planes. Dick Birch owned the “Small Hope Bay Lodge”, and owned a C-172. Tom and I, both CFIs and me a DPE, gave Dick dual toward his Comm. Cert., Tom signed the reco. and I gave him the certification check ride. I also soloed Dicks wife Rosie. Anyway, one of the guests was the head of the computer science dept. at Duke University, and Dick asked me if I’d be interested in giving this fellow a lesson in basic aerobatics in his brand new V-tail 1970 Bonanza. I said lets give it a try . So off we go, with Dick in the seat behind the Professor and me in the right seat.
At altitude, the Prof. flipped the wheel over to me for a try at a vanilla loop. I figured that on the downside of the loop, power off, the big prop disc would act as a brake, which it did, and held the speed in check. OK, now it was ‘his’ turn…flip the wheel over to him, and he did a nice loop, me talking him through it.
Next, the bbl. roll….throw-over control column back to me, pull the nose up 30 degrees, left aileron and rudder, inverted, ease off on the back presssure, still holding left aileron and rudder, increase back pressure on the pull-out. Now it’s ‘his’ turn, me talking him through it. Did good, nice bbl. roll. Next came the Cuban Eight which went good.
Finally we finish the session with an aileron roll…start with slight dive (below maneuvering speed). Me with the wheel in hand, nose up 20 degrees, crank in lots of aileron and we have an aileron roll. Wheel back to him…this is his graduation manaeuver…right over the lodge with a bunch of folks watching, and he does a fine roll. End of lesson. Since we were outside the states and far from airways we put no one in jeprody. I sure wouldn’t try this back home. So, if you keep the airplane within it’s speed and loading parameters, it’s no sweat. Jim
Gee, I guess that I am nervous now after reading about the V35 Bonanza’s wings and tails failing. I am retired from the charter work that I did in the early Seventies. I had Commercial license, Instrument and Multi ratings, but did most of the flying in the V tail. Funny thing about flying. If no one told you how dangerous the airplane was, you got along just fine. Thunderstorm at night and IFR in a Cloudy and Rainy day meant to pay attention and keep the speed down.
My dad was killed on Jan 9 1971 in a Beach 35 and i blame them for his death.
The plane was as unsafe as advertised
My V is. 1950 “B” ,model my intent is too emulate Bill Odum and go Honolulu New Jersey in 28 hours nonstop new technology with engines gas consumption and aerodynamic clean up will allow this wondrous machine do this record and on only 265 gallons of fuel — watch the news in fall of this year. ed
I have a 56 G 35, and want to fly it around the world. I am enquiring about the integrity of the wings of the Bonanza that Odum flew. Were the wings re-enforced or stock? That airplane had 60 gallon tip tanks, and I would like to know if my G model will carry that much without threatening the integrity of the wing. If you have this information, or know where to obtain it, please forward it to me. Thank you, Al Rutherford
As long as the spar goes all the way out too tip a fellow in Texas has 100 gal dolly patrons that u can hang on tips
Wings are supported at the wing root and loaded upward. Actually, wing and tip tanks reduce the stress on a wing. When the wing lifts on its full span and weight is down on root and tip, the bending moments are reduced.
On some tip tanks, they function as lifting surfaces and carry their own weight, also serving as end plates or winglets.
Talk to an aerodynamic engineer, it is quite feasible
As long as the spar goes all the way out too tip a fellow in Texas has 100 gal dolly patrons that u can hang on tips
After 35 years of flying and owning 12 aircraft including a former straight tail and a turbo v-tail, I am flying a ’65S-35 and it is simply the easiest and most forgiving airplane of all high performance airplanes.
I concur with Smith Spar stub…vital to this airplane. Nothing else holds a cancel to the Bonanza.
Dr. Mike Schuster
First plane was a 1961 Piper Colt 108 (no flaps and a hand brake).Second plane was a 1964 Piper Cherokee 180. Third was a 52-C Bonanza with drooped wing tips. An old barn stormer in N/E Iowa named Ray Henry taught me to fly, and checked me out in all three of my planes.I so loved flying the Bonanza. Once in the late 70’s crossing Lake Michigan up near Green Bay,flying VFR I got into total cloud cover,and had to drop down to about 2,000 ft. and follow the railroad on into Owosso,Mi.Your absolutely correct about keeping her straight and level in those conditions.Not recommended. V35’s rock.
My wife and I just purchased our 1955 V35 and we love it. The classic lines of this plane are visually as exciting as flying her. After reading all this stuff!
I just can’t wait to fly her next week! Ceder Key Fl. Here we come! Oh, and I’ll be flying with Mrs. Daisy. Be safe to all!
As a veteran Bonanza pilot and mechanic I do have some insight into the “V” tail truths as well as myths. The 35, 35B and 35B had a short fuslage with an admirable safety record.
To increase interrior room models C and higher were designed with a longer fuslage requiring a longer chord to the tailplanes. Rather than redesign the tail with the front spar moved forward the unsupported leading edge was extended. This leading edge was tapered and near the end was only a few inches but at the root was nearly a foot of unsupported leading edge.
In normal “in envelope” flight there was no problem but in turbulence encounters near VMO the inboard corner of the tail could fold causing a high G pitch up or down breaking the wing “bottle bolts” These accidents although rare were of statistical interest prompting two Airworthyness Directives.
The first AD limited the MMO remarking the airspeed indicator. The second AD added a pair of brackets attaching the forward inboard corner of the tailplane leading edges of the fuslage. Once the AD’s had been accomplished the accident rates on the “V” tail models became identical to thoses of those with conventional tails such as the Travelair or the Mentor.
A myth associated with the “V” tail is that it causes the characteristic oscillation known as the “Witchita Wobble”. I have flown other models of Beechcraft including the 99 and they all exhibit the same characteristic. The actual cause of the oscillation is inherant to high efficiency laminar flow wings.
Another myth is that because yaw and pitch the result of a vectored sum of forces from two different directions that overall drag is increased. This is true but only when significant control forces are applied and even then do not outweigh reducing the whetted surface of the tail by 1/3. In trimmed level flight the reduction in whetted surface is of significant advantage and part of what makes the Bonanza so fast.
Good Morning Capt Glen,
I thought I mentioned this when you first posted your message, but it does not seem to be here now. The C35 fuslage was NOT stretched at all. The only Bonanza derivatives that have a stretched fuelage are the Model 36 and the Model 58. The rest are all identical other than for different length spinners or tail cones.The 58 does have a longer nose baggage compartment, but the fuselage, fire wall aft, is the same as the 36. I do agree the the unsupported section of the V-tail starting with the C35 needed attention and that has been addressed.
Does anyone know where I can find a blank “Accident Form” to fill out?
Ruddervator flutter due to magnesium disappearing from corrosion inbalance led to tails coming off.
Also trim cable tension and condition figured in on this.
I understand early wings broke thru the landing light where main spar wasn’t continuous.
Throwing out the gear during an overspeed condition failed the tail downward, pitching the nose down and failing wings downward.
Speed and roll control kept these planes together.
I’d bet a single axis (roll control) would have brought those in- flight failures way down.
At one time someone developed speed brake/ spoilers. They would have been nice
I owned an A-35 Bonanza many years ago. 8415A. Put nearly 1500 miles on it. Loved just about every minute. Had a 1000 foot dirt strip behind my house, and made so many landings/takeoffs on that strip. Wonderful short field performance. I could stop the A/C in less than 350 feet most of the time. Used her in my business, with many long X-country trips. Easy A/C to maintain and inspect. Converted her to full IFR early on. Converted the old electric wooden prop to a metal one. Hated to see her fly away when I had to sell her.
“fatal accident rate to be 1.63 per 100,000 flight hours”
I’m doing a bit of research on GA accidents from NTSB data, and I’m curious how the accident rate per flight hours data is being obtained. When I do an export of NTSB accidents, airframe hours are not present. If I look at the full narrative for an accident, on occasion they will note engine hours, or airframe hours, but more often they do not mention either. I was wondering if there is somewhere else I should be looking?
Thank you for any advice!
Buddy Holly along with Richie Valens and Big Bopper died on Feb 3, 1959 while in a V-tail Bonanza. The pilot was partially trained for instrument control and the reports indicate the artificial horizon was unlike that of most planes making the pilot believe that he was flying horizontally. But I wonder about his altimeter, etc.; these would all indicate the plane wasn’t right. The take-off that night was at 1:30 AM and while he could take off using visual rules he flew into snow and was down soon after with one of the wings hitting the ground first. From what you have written the plane must have quickly gone into a spiral when VFR was not possible.
Forty years ago I took flying lessons and instrument control was one of the lessons where I wore sort of a box on my head so all one could see was the instrument panel. I showed little proficiancy at this and quickly got us into a graveyard spiral. Of course the instructor knew how get us out but I cannot forget seeing the artificial horizon “malfunction” duing a turn and then after following the instructor’s words to lift up the hood I realizing we were flying sideways.
My brief flying days consisted of operating a piper cherokee plane during 1974 to 1975. This was cool because the wings were not above me, like I was in a WW II fighter airplane. I flew just east of the Rocky mountains in Alberta and on one cross country flight I recall a down wind that caused me to fly with power up and a somewhat up attitude in order to stay level. In another instance I flew into clouds and thought I could fly above them for practice, My decision was to fly back to the airport as I did not feel confident in flying in clouds or above them because of my failure with instrument control. I hope that someone can comment about the crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchy Valens and Big Bopper.
Jay, your summary on the Holly-Valens-Richardson crash were interesting. I am not a pilot. A lot of questions remain … and I am not convinced that the crash investigation and report were properly handled. There is no mention of fuel gauge or fuel spill even though the tanks must surely have been ripped apart, judging from photos of the scene. Magnetos were ‘off’ according to the report. Loss of control was likely and would a pilot switching off the mags indicate he was aware of what was going to happen?
The refusal of the authorities to re-investigate the wreckage (which is still in storage) is puzzling, given the lack of detail in the original report. Foul play was not even considered, despite the activities of the mob in entertainment and the ‘local’ Chicago guys trying to get control of music companies and being rebuffed….
A sad loss of three great entertainers and a young pilot who may have been overawed by his passengers and thus had his attention diverted.
I was fascinated by the comments about the Buddy Holly Plane crash. My brother was nicknamed Buddy when he was young and heard Oh Boy and became inspired to learn to play guitar and he wrote songs the way Buddy wrote them. As a result we have pondered that crash many times and wondered what caused it. There seem to be several possibilities, including failure of the right rudder, fuel intake icing and spiraling. It is fascinating. Givn Jerry Dwyer’s silence on the issue I always felt he knew what happened but kept it to himself because he knew the guilty would be found out, but I don’t know. Very interesting view points here. I think the engine failed and Peterson endured seconds of terror before he died trying to save it, but that’s just me.
Now I’m looking at a 1957 V-tailed H35 after having sold my Cirrus SR22! As a 1000-hr instrument-rated pilot I don’t pay much attention to people’s opinions about this airplane or that airplane being a “killer.” Most people who say that kind of thing are stupid. But what I do know is that, if I buy this old girl, I can put some love (meaning $$) into the panel, or the interior, that the next guy will keep it going and she’ll be flying years after I’m gone.
Paul you seem like an ignorant egotistical jackass, that thinks 1khrs means something
Regarding the Holly-Valens-Richardson incident… there are still so many unanswered questions.The failure to accept a re -investigation is disturbing to say the least… considering that the original investigation was less than satisfactory.
It’s easy to blame the pilot.. and any investigation could stop right there…. It shouldn’t !!!!..
Other factors could be involved… and please don’t dismiss a mob connection. It is not as ridiculous as it might initially sound
Flutter of ruddervators is a critical issue with V-Tails up to the N Model.
Balance according to Beech manual specs has to be corrected with lead weights.
Ruddervators need to be removed to check balance.
Also cable tension up to the mixer and trim tab need to be with specs.
After reading about in flight breakups resulting from flutter I checked mine.
My 25 year old V-Tail needed all these adjustments.
It’s probably a good idea to check that flaps are up against the rubber snubbers when retracted.
Longerons in the tailcone aft of the baggage compartment cannot be deformed from people crawling into the tail. They are structurally important.
The Beech manual has a dimensioned drawing of a temporary plywood floorboard for these inspections.
What a rich list of comments. I can’t imagine an article about the C210 or Cirrus (both very capable airplanes) generating such heartfelt praise from pilots. I treasure my P35 handed down to me by my father (and mentor) and it remains a time machine for my own family’s travel. “Ask the man who flies one” was their marketing slogan at one point, as I recall. Boy did they get that right. What a gift when your only complaint about your airplane is that you must really keep an eye on her because her speed and maneuverability require intellect, planning, and a developed skill set.
The first comments in this blog began in 2012… It’s now 2016 and they’re still going strong! Far from a hanger queen, my 53 year old (and still beautiful) S35 flys most every weekend! She has been well maintained; new engine, prop, avionics upgrades, new magnesium skins, led lighting and strobes, upholstery, etc.. These investments were only justifiable because the v-tail remains classically beautiful, cross-country comfortable, highly capable, and an absolute joy to fly (by any standards). At this point, the older she gets, the more pride I take in ownership.
I wonder if many will feel the same about today’s airplanes fifty years from now?
Here I must add another vote for the venerable V tailed wonder. The basic design is just the same as it was in 1946. First flew on December 22, 1945. Just 42 years and five days after the Wright Brothers!
Beech built two prototypes. One with a geared Lycoming and the other with the direct drive Continental. The Lycoming powered version also used a laminar (SP?) air foil whch was championed by Ralph Harmon. Upper management decided on the old 2300 series wing they had used on the Beech 18 and later Staggerwings. Ralph claimed they lost seven mph by that choice!
Such is life.
Unabashed Bonanza lover!
Glad to see Ralph Harmon mentioned here!
Huge name in the emergence of the Bonanza. Also, and as Mooney pilot (1965 E model), I must mention that it was Mr. Harmon who came over to Mooney in the early 1960s to lead the engineering effort to convert the M20 wing from wood to metal. Interestingly, it has been reported that one of his motivations at Mooney was to design a very robust, strong wing, as he did not like the Beechcraft corporation’s ethos of designing from a desired structural limit, back. (He didn’t like the Bonanza’s exposed spar) At Mooney, he designed a truly robust wing (dimensionally the same as Al Mooney’s wooden one….which was stout as well) that has become quite known for its strength.
That said, in my humble estimation, the early Bonanza’s (just the two side windows….1947-53) are just about as pretty an airplane as has ever been designed. I also think the earliest Debonairs (60-61) are pretty darn perfect looking as well.
Now I am a bit confused. First, I’d like to find out more about securing the tail and wings (and what to look for)…because they seem kinda important in order to overcome that gravity thingy. Secondly, I just bought an F model. I thought the F indicated the year (1955), however, now I wonder if it stands for something else?!
I’m a 500 hour pilot (over a 15 year period), not IFR rated, and have flown mostly C172.
I’ve owned several airplanes to date and I feel the V-tail Bonanza is by far the best single engine airplane I have flown. I currently own an original H-35 with no mods. except upgraded instruments and radios. The H model was the year the tail brace was introduced and the rating went to utility. 240hp, true 175 MPH cruise at 11.4 GPH. I am the second owner and plan to give my plane to my granddaughter who will graduate the CFA aeronautical school at sun n fun with her pilots license.TT3011 hrs of which i have flown her 687hrs.My airplane still gets a WOW at airports when I land.
My dad and three others were killed in a 1947 early model 35. My dad was a military flight instructor in WW2 and then flew for Braniff Airlines after the war. He had a lot of flight experience to say the least.
The leading edge of the right wing started failing and as a result, the skin started pealing off. Parts of the right wing and leading edge were found a little over 4 miles from the crash site. Beech realized that there was a problem with the “light wing” model 35, (over 200 of the early model 35 had structural failures in the same locations, but were never grounded.) It is my understanding that Beech had considered replacing the wings, but decided that it would cost them too much, after all, they insisted, the design met all of the requirements for certification!! My dad was in contact with approach control / tower and was describing what was happening….for some “strange reason” those tower tapes disappeared….hmmm! Powerful lawyers working for Beech!
as a new private pilot in 1966 i and my partner jumped at the chance to bum a ride to vero-beach to pickup our new cherokee 140. we would be joining the owner of a 1947 bonanza and his wife for a before light take-off the next day. i had some reservations about the whole thing especially the 1100′ strip with a 50′ obstacle on one end, but i was assured it was alright. lucky for all of us the owner decided to take one last spin the night before, with his uncle and the local flight instructor. 400′ into the climb 8″ of the wooden prop separated and the plane was trying to shake out the engine. our gifted flight instructor took over verbally since there was only 1 wheel, and all walked away although plane was totaled. glad i missed that flight, as all of us would be dead the next morning, if he had not taken that last flite.
Brent Silver you are soooo wrong! This is not the case at all. It was pilot error pure and simple and “sixty minutes” types such as yourself tried to make it a “big business” problem. The aircraft was mishandled and it killed those that did it. When will folks such as yourself stop rewriting history because it serves your opinion. I own a V35 with those ridiculous cuffs placed there by people like yourself. Stick to your knitting and leave us poor pilots alone. Flying is expensive enough without fixing imaginary problems.
Right on Ted! First of all, THERE WAS NOTHING WRONG WITH THE V TAIL BONANZA. I owned and flew my own V Tail, 1952 C-35 for almost 15 years! Full IFR equipped, NO autopilot, NO wing leveler etc… I bought it in 1986, way before any GPS was even considered. I put a top of the line northstar M1 loran in it, in 88. Anyhow, this airplane is in NO WAY structurally unsafe. To say so after so long, is plain ludicrous! After-all, thats how it got its name, “The doctor killer”! Not because it was unsafe structurally, but because low time pilots, with a lot of money, (doctors) could just buy one and start flying it, after accumulating all their time in an old straight tail 172. Well, thats a disaster waiting to happen, due to the high performance of the V Tails, and low pilot experience. This is NOT the airplanes fault!. Every accident can be attributed to the pilot losing control of the plane. Pilot error. The V tails are an absolute dream to fly, light controls, smooth as silk. I the engine replaced (185-205hp on takeoff) up to an IO-470-N, fuel injected 260hp. Well, you out a vfr pilot, into a v-tail, nes behind the airplane, becomes overwhelmed, and then the spiral. This plane could carry a lot of weight, and could carry a ton of ice if it needed. I had inches of ice on occasion, not even a bit of trouble. Long story short, i logged about 10,000hrs in my Bonanza C-35, vfr and hard IFR without ever a concern. Been caught in moderate to severe turbulence, never a problem. I also flew a 182 RF, logging a ton of hours. There’s just no comparison, the Bonanza out does them all. After all these years, I can’t believe people are still beating this false story about the V Tails into publication. Its utter nonsense. Just don’t fly one, until your capabilities are able to handle the airplane!
Oh, I forgot to add this part, to my story. When I sold my V Tail, after flying her about 10,000hrs, through all kimds of weather, short fields etc, an “experienced” pilot bought from me. (Sadly I had to sell her) That pilot, after owning my C-35 for only about 3 months, crashed it, utterly destroying the airplane. He survived. So, I had flown it all that time, it was 100% in proper shape, beautiful comdition. He flew it a matter on a few times, and bounced it into the air, off the runway destroying it. The airplane takes a good pilot to fly it. In all my years flying it, meeting other V Tail pilots, I mever met any that didn’t absolutely love the plane, and the way it flies. And the single yoke it nice also, since you can lift and swing to the other side if you want. (What we used to do to open and read our IFR charts enroute, before iPads and all the new gadgets). :-)
In my nearly 50 years of owning and flying 8 different bonanza models, I have never flown a better performing aircraft. I flew out a 2000′ grass strip in upstate NY for many years (even hit a deer on rollout once) and it demanded sharpness and attention at all times. The answer is know your aircraft limitations as well as your own. I never challenge the weather and many times waited it out. I have always maintained my own aircraft and have YEARS of hard core racing experience and never had any inflight emergencies or issues. I am totally convinced that when flown within its limits, it is the finest private aircraft ever produced.
Very well stated John, I couldn’t agree with you more. If you were upstate, you may be familiar with Basin Harbor as well as Post Mills VT? My home field was Burlington for a while, and I regularly flew my Bonanza into those two grass fields. The Bonanza is a great short field airplane, in addition to everything else its good at! My C-35 with the new engine, IO-470N, and the updated panel, I can honestly say, I felt there was nothing better out there for even double the price range. I absolutely loved my Bonanza, and wouldn’t hesitate to take it about anywhere. That said, I’m also a safe pilot, not careless, and never knowingly tempted fate! The Bonanza is a dream to fly, ultra light controls, a clean fast airplane. But NOT a plane to just jump into if IFR, if all of someones flying has been in a 172 or even a low performance retractable, say a Piper Arrow or similar. Sadly, I was forced to sell mine, and the guy who bought it promptly crashed it, totally destroying it. NOT the airplanes fault!
isn’t this the aircraft Roger Peterson flew into the ground (no IFR training) and killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, The Big Bopper and himself?
Yes it is the same type aircraft, that Buddy Holly and the others were killed in. Very sad story, but once again, it was due directly to the pilots inability to properly fly the plane. Vfr into low visibility, or ifr conditions is a common scenario with inexperienced pilots flying the V tails. Of course this isn’t the planes fault, its just that things start to happen fast, and if you’re unable to keep up with the aircraft its often a disaster waiting to happen. I’d love to buy another old V tail given the opportunity.
In the mid 1960s owned a J35 for a number of years, based in Eastern Washington-many great VFR trips as I built time -transitioned from straight tail C182– very simple process
loved N3O05C and see she is still flying in FL. later finished multi instrument program and moved on to 310Q- Truly enjoyed that time and logged may IFR hrs. and approaches as had moved to new base at Boing Filed Seattle-where if you fly year round you will need to have the ticket and keep truly current. After several years -simply because of operating cost-sold the 310 and found in Denver a “loaded” V35 S – best plane I ever had-and great instrument platform– still current with fresh medical a– 81 years old
John Henry, your j-model N3005C is still a great airplane! Flown out of northeast Ohio for the past 40 years. It is now fitted with a IO-550B 300hp engine, tip tanks and an original beech long window update kit. Incredibly fast and capable. I visit family in SO-Cal often and nonstop to Tampa every winter. No other aircraft is as efficient a traveling machine.
For anyone looking for a truly in-depth examination of the “V-Tail Killer” thing, take a look at an article published in 2006 by Edward W. Constant III, titled “A Tale of Two Bonanzas: How Knowledgable Communities Think About Technology.” It was published in the academic journal named “Technology and Culture” (Vol. 47 No. 2, April 2006). Constant is a historian of technology and the journal is the leading one in the field of “history of technology.” Constant is, of course, examining the Bonanza debate as part of a broader thesis about how deeply engaged and knowledgable communities approach technical/engineering problems. That said, it provides a very thorough look at the debate in a deeply interesting context. Its worth looking up. Its one of those articles I wish “made the jump” from the academic world over into the broader community.
I have owned and operated several great aircraft over the last 25 years and by far the most satisfying performer yet is my current H35 bonanza. Turbulence, IFR, VFR, thunder storms, you name it, my V tail has never failed to deliver great performance. Properly maintained and flown by the book this aircraft is superb. Lost a gyro in turbulence once and went on needle ball and airspeed, little work but no real problem. Slick airframe builds up speed in dive but maintaining proper attitude and airspeed makes for smooth safe and efficient aircraft. Wish I had found it sooner. 175 mph on 12GPH is hard to beat.
Been flying bonanzas for 46 years and have owned 8 from A35-V35A VFR only. I always
respected them all and was familiar with the “doctor killer” comments. First ALWAYS
respect your aircraft and know all the limitations. Do not challenge the weather EVER.
I have flown to all corners of the country and coast-coast twice and 800 +hours in them. The secret to safely flying these beautiful aircraft is : Know the aircraft limitations
as well as your own and don’t push either – ever. With many 1600 mile trips and 11 hour flights in one day, I knew that was my limit. Never been in IFR conditions as anything close I got down and waited out the weather.
I saw my Bonanza at her worst right after we were introduced. In 1978 my flying buddy and I purchased an M35 with a throw over yoke. We had owned two Skyhawks previously. My partner, whom I will call Chuck, was never much for theory of flying and pretty much, to my continuing chagrin, downright sloppy. But we rarely flew together.
We were on one of the checkout flights which included stalls. I had completed my drill and was sitting in the back left side looking out the window sightseeing, not paying a lot of attention. Chuck was left seat and the CFI was right seat.
We were in a power on stall when the left wing began to drop which is where I started paying attention. It was a slow drop, nothing precipitous. As I looked up, I saw Chuck crank a lot of right aileron in RIGHT NOW! The aircraft snapped inverted and rolled over the top in an eyeblink, dropping the nose and immediately beginning a brisk rotation. I remember seeing through the center of the windscreen far below an intersection that we seemed to be rotating around and around. In my field of vision were a set of four fluttering hands as the CFI tried to wrest the wheel from Chuck as Chuck was trying to hand it over. I was reminded of The Three Stooges skits where they would erupt in a series of girly slaps at each other. The problem was too many firemen trying to release the t-handle in order to throw over the yoke. Finally Chuck pulled his hands away allowing the CFI to pull the yoke over.
By then, I was hypnotized by the intersection rotating round and round. It pretty much filled the windscreen. After way too many rotations, the CFI got us stopped and began pulling the nose up. The G-forces seemed enormous and I was very conscious at that moment of the Bonanza’s reputation for disintegrating – about the time I heard a loud snap and my seat dropped inches. I thought we had had structural failure. But no, the CSI returned us to straight and level flight at 3000′ AGL and we landed at El Monte for a post-mortem, so to speak.
It was a “I Learned About Flying From That” session. It had been scary for the front-seaters but they had not realized the terror induced helplessness of being in the back seat until I emphatically explained it to them.
We owned the Bonanza for a few years and then sold it due to the economic necessity of my partner. Bonanza 889R ended up in Great Britain and I assume she is living a happy life. It was a great airplane and I loved her dearly. Every preflight included me going over that “departure from controlled flight” that we had experienced.
I never figured out how we ended up in such a tightly wound spin with such an extreme nose down attitude especially considering the aft cg.
And the “structural failure” leading me to think was my ticket was punched? It turns out the rear seats in a an M Model are built like patio chairs with plastic strapping. What I felt was two of the straps snapping.
I have around 1000 hours in Bonanzas, and it is far and away my most favorite small airplane. I did my instrument training in a C-35 Bonanza and agree with Collins’ observation of its marginal roll stability. An active scan is a prerequisite for IMC operations in the Bonanza, as a moment’s inattention will be rewarded by a slide into a graveyard spiral with little or no provocation. That property is also responsible for the Bonanza’s delightful roll response. Stability and control response are often at odds with one another.
An additional fact I discovered when doing an accident investigation in the ’80s on an early Be35 was that the early Bonanzas had no wing spar. To reduce aircraft weight the wing shear loads that would normally be transmitted by the spar were transferred via top and bottom spar caps attached to the wing nose “D” section, which is very efficient as long as the “D” section remains intact.
The accident we were investigating involved the inflight failure of the wing resulting in the loss of the airplane. On the airplane’s lower inboard leading edge/spar cap mating surfaces, there was a significant amount of black aluminum oxide residue caused by the skin and spar cap rubbing against one another. The rivet holes attaching the lower inboard skin also exhibited enlargement and black aluminum oxide residue. Almost all of the rivets from the inboard end were missing. We concluded that over a couple of decades the flexing of the wing caused the lower inboard rivets to loosen, preventing the loads from passing through the skin to the rivets to the spar cap. When slightly overloaded, the lower skin parted from the spar cap like a zipper, popping rivets allowing the “D” section to open to the relative wind, exploding the wing from internal pressure.
Later Bonanzas were redesigned with a standard shear web wing spar
I have owned my K model since 1980 and fly both IFR and VFR. If flown within the design limits, it will not break up. The tail defect was found after arm chairing of the tail leading edge cap from wake vortex from a 727. The Bonanza pilot successfully landed and an investigation disclosed the spar cap issue now fixed with a cuff at the tail and fuselage. I have had a few head bangers in turbulence at maneuvering speed and wondered if the wings were still on. It is a very strong airframe and fly it every three weeks.
A person’s success does not depend on his wisdom, but perseverance
A person’s success does not depend on his wisdom, but perseverance