43 min read

All but one had a single goal…

It was my pleasure to fly virtually all the airplanes that were offered from the end of World War Two up to 2008, when I retired. I knew the people who designed, built and sold those airplanes and the combination of the people and the airplanes resulted in what I came to consider a personality. No, a Piper Comanche didn’t look like Mr. Piper but they did share personality traits because in those days folks created airplanes in their own image. There was no well-defined market so they built what they thought people would buy.

Over those years a number of airplanes impressed me as being “good” airplanes. I thought of many airplanes as “fads” because they burst on the scene and fizzled. A few were “ugly,” maybe because of their looks or maybe because of other things such as flight characteristics or poor performance. Rest assured that these are all personal opinions and I am sure many will differ.

I always thought that four/six place retractable single-engine piston airplanes offered the best possible balance of cost and performance. I thus paid special attention to what went on in this area. I will say that it was a lot of fun to fly and explore these airplanes when they were new and writing about them now kindles fond memories.

Bonanza ad

This 1947 ad proclaims the Bonanza “saves man-power, man-hours and money.”

My “good” list here is topped by the Bonanza. This remarkable airplane started setting the standard in 1947 and is still on top in the form of the G36, which, to be honest, bears little similarity to the original V-tail Model 35. The last V-tail was built in 1982. The 36 offered a lot more utility for a little more money and won out.

Certainly every one of the many other airplanes I will mention here had the goal of besting the Bonanza. It still rolls off the assembly line, 67 years later, having shattered the dreams and fortunes of many others. It is the sole survivor of the first batch of airplanes in this class despite the fact that it costs about a hundred times as much today (in dollar dollars) as it did in 1947.

Some suggested that without the V-tail, no airplane should be called a Bonanza. What did those folks want them to call the 36, the Prince Air? I thought that continuing the Bonanza name after the V-tail was a fine thing to do because the newer airplanes were definitely evolutionary. Plus, if you have the best name going, why give it up?

Over the years, the Bonanza was stretched and improved and the horsepower almost doubled. Yes, it has changed but the fact is that the Bonanza has been in production longer than any other airplane. Ever. Over 17,000 have been built. More straight 1947 Model 35 Bonanzas, 1,500, were built than any other model of the V-tail and more than half the Bonanzas built have V-tails.

I became friends with Bonanzas as a kid charter pilot in the early 1950s. Subsequently, I flew every model of the Bonanza that was built before the G36. That would be all the 33s, 35s and 36s. Some of the 33s were called Debonairs but they were Bonanzas at heart. If Bonanza was the best airplane name ever, Debonair would be at least close to the worst. Later model Debonairs dropped that name and became Bonanzas.

On the occasion of the Bonanza’s 50th anniversary, in 1997, I got to put bookends of a sort on my Bonanza flying. The official 50th anniversary Bonanza was a 1997 B36TC. I got together with it and a beautifully restored 1947 Model 35 on a fine day to fly and enjoy both airplanes. I thought it was a nice thing for the Beech PR folks to do, especially for someone with Bonanza roots. They might not have been too impressed by the fact that I seemed more enamored with the old than the new.

When I mounted the old 35, N3307V, I thought back to an airplane that I flew a lot on charter flights, N3358V. The latter was probably 51 units down the line from 07V because they often used blocks of sequential N-numbers. They were building Bonanzas at a fast pace in 1947 so the age of the two airplanes was likely close.

When I was flying 58V some of the other pilots avoided it because it was a “light-wing Bonanza.” Those original airplanes did have some wing problems but all were modified and the wings looked just fine to a 20-year old Bonanza captain. I never really gave it much thought.

Beech Debonair

“If Bonanza was the best airplane name ever, Debonair would be at least close to the worst.”

Legendary show-pilot Bevo Howard apparently didn’t think Bonanza wings were weak, either. Showmanship was the name of the game at that time and Bevo put on a show (in an A35) at the 1948 Cleveland Air Races. He did rolls, loops, snap rolls including one at the top of a loop, and a host of other maneuvers. Lore had it that he did an outside loop but I don’t think that happened.

I was working for Central Flying Service in Little Rock, a Beech dealer, and most of our charter flights were within the State of Arkansas simply because most businesses then were intrastate. Using our service, a customer could hit several job sites or prospects in a day and be home for dinner.

A lot of the towns that they wanted to visit didn’t have a formal airport. Those in the farming part of the state, the east and southeast, did have duster strips and we were always welcome to use those. Central was also in the dusting business and I guess there was some reciprocity at work.

The duster strips were plenty long for our Bonanzas and the landing gear didn’t mind the unpaved surfaces at all. If there was a drawback, it was the Bonanza’s low wing which was not ideal in the summertime. We also had a Cessna 195 with an air ambulance kit but it was occasionally used for regular charter. With it, I could take a folding chair in the baggage compartment and sit under the wing, in the shade, while waiting for my passengers to come back from town. With a Bonanza, I had to sit under a tree and feed the chiggers, or sit in the hot airplane.  There were usually no buildings or other facilities at duster strips.

Few of our Bonanzas had other than a primary instrument panel. The restored airplane that I flew years later had a full panel. That was available as an option in 1947 but almost nobody flew IFR then so there was little demand for a full set of gyro instruments.

That first Bonanza did not have nosewheel steering, nor did it have an electric fuel pump. There was what was called a “wobble” pump that was combined with the fuel selector to put the pilot in charge of the fuel system. If the engine-driven fuel pump failed, the pilot had only to use one of his left hands to pump while using the other left hand to fly. The handle moved left or right to select the desired tank.

The allowable center of gravity range on all V-tail Bonanzas was rather small with the aft limit being the most restrictive as well as the most critical. In the 1950s we didn’t think a lot about that and CG was not even covered on the 25 true-false question private pilot written.

Bonanza panel

Early Bonanza panels were minimalist.

The Bonanza had a unique way of telling you about this. If you were loading two passengers in the back seat, large passengers would cause the tail of the airplane to settle to the ground. That meant moving a portly one to the front and putting a skinny one in the back. Once loaded, if the load was too far aft, the airplane was difficult to steer on the ground because when the nose strut was fully extended, the nosewheel locked in the center.

We actually had one pilot who, cognizant of degraded handling qualities caused by aft CG, asked his passengers to lean as far forward as possible for takeoff and initial climb. Maybe that helped or maybe it just made him feel better.

Beech did like to promote its airplanes and some of the flashiest early Bonanza promotions included long distance record flights.

The first was flown in 1949 by Bill Odom and was to be from Honolulu to New York (Teterboro). Nasty weather in the vicinity of Reno cut this one short but he landed at Oakland 22 hours and a few minutes after takeoff and set a record for the airplane class. He tried again a couple of months later and made it to Teterboro in just over 36 hours and set a number of records in the process. The same airplane, the fourth Model 35 built, was used for both flights. Sadly Bill Odom was killed in a P-51 at the Cleveland Air Races a few months after the last record flight.

I was not yet a pilot at the time, but I read about the flights and wondered what it would be like to sit in an airplane for 36 hours.

Then, in 1958, Beech upped the ante by sponsoring a 6,856 statute mile flight from Manila to Pendleton, Oregon. This one was flown by (airline) Captain Pat Boling and took 45 hours and 43 minutes. The takeoff weight was almost double the maximum allowable weight of the original Bonanza. Unlike Odom’s airplane, modified mainly by the addition of fuel tanks, Boling’s airplane was built up especially for the flight and included sections of the Model 95 (Travel Air) wing.

Beech decided that was enough and when Peter Gluckmann approached them about beating Boling’s record they declined to sponsor or support the attempt but they did sell Gluckmann the airplane. He and the airplane came to rest at the bottom of the Pacific, leaving the record unbroken, for the time being. More about that later.

Pat Boling Bonanza

Pat Boling’s V-tail Bonanza on the ramp in Manila, about to cross the Pacific.

The B36TC of 50 years later was unquestionably an entirely different airplane than the 35, including a longer fuselage and better CG range.  A lot of basic shapes remained the same but few if any parts were likely interchangeable. The only one I could see was the little rod that props the door open.

I flew both airplanes and they were nice to fly but with a difference. Mainly the 35 flew like the lighter airplane that it is. The pitch forces were lighter but both airplanes were Bonanza-crisp in roll.

It was interesting that most of the speeds for the two airplanes were little different despite the difference in weight (2,550 v. 3,850 pounds) and horsepower (165 max continuous v. 300). The difference was that the 35 flew in miles per hour and the B36TC in knots. Even the cruise at 10,000 feet was about the same, at 175. The gear and flaps extension speeds on the old airplane were almost ridiculously low at 100 mph. Slowing down in advance was definitely a technique item in an old Bonanza.

V-tail Bonanzas had a safety record that was average at best. It was often a high-performance airplane in the hands of a low-performance pilot which put it at a disadvantage. When a pilot would blunder VFR into clouds and lose control, the airplane’s speed would quickly move outside the envelope and an airframe failure would often follow. No meaningful research was ever done into what role the degraded handling qualities caused by the CG being aft of the limit might have had in this context even though the passenger/baggage load in many of the accidents suggested that the CG was aft of the limit.

Much was made of the airframe failures by naysayers, one of whom will likely comment on this for you after it is posted. I did do enough research to learn that the Model 33 with a conventional tail had just as many loss of control accidents as the V-tail with the primary difference being the 33 breaking up as it hit the ground where the 35 would break before it hit the ground. That made little difference to the people inside.

Extensive testing was done on the V-tail and a mod was developed that strengthened the usual point of first failure. The mod was for C35 and subsequent models which had wider chord tail surfaces.

The old 35 and the new B36TC are both airplanes of their time and the Bonanza’s reign was a result of all Beech did to improve the airplane over the years that it has been built. They used to change the letter designation every year, A35 to V35 for example, and some models were changed a lot and others a little. My pick of the litter was always the P35 when they transitioned to a far more professional instrument panel and made other good changes. It still flew with the 260 hp Continental which I always liked.

One thing that never changed was the flying qualities that most pilots dearly loved. Flying a Bonanza was always a pleasant experience for most and well as for me. I would go back to the jargon of the 1950s and say “It was a joy to fly!” but that sounds hokey as all get-out in 2014.

Beech Sierra

The Sierra was painfully slow. If you beat it with a stick, it might get close to 130 knots for cruise.

Beech did build another retractable but it was definitely not a competitor for the Bonanza. The Sierra was a retractable version of the original Musketeer design, with a 200 hp engine and a lot of refinements. An oddity was that the main landing gear retracted outward. Can you think of another airplane that did this? Hint: Liberal, Kansas, where the Musketeer was built, was a B-24 base during World War Two. Must be something in the water.

The Sierra was comfortable and pleasant to fly. I once made an IFR trip through an occluding front in a Sierra and while the ride sucked, hand flying the airplane in the wind shear turbulence was not that demanding.

The Sierra was painfully slow. If you beat it with a stick, it might get close to 130 knots for cruise.

A lot of other retractables came along to challenge the Bonanza. Beech was dedicated to high-quality airplanes at correspondingly high prices so it was easy for other manufacturers to offer airplanes with similar performance at a lower cost.

The first direct challenge to the Bonanza by a similar airplane came from the North American Navion. This airplane was at a disadvantage from the start. Earlier I mentioned personalities. In 1950, Olive Ann Beech took the reins after her husband Walter Beech died. She had been involved with the company for years and was invested in general aviation. Mrs. Beech would accept nothing but excellence in quality and performance. I don’t think the Navion enjoyed that level of management interest.

North American was a big company that was famous for the P-51, one of the premier fighters in World War Two. I guess there was some feeling that this success could morph into light airplanes, thus the Navion.

The Navion was a great flying airplane but, using the same engine, its performance was quite far behind the Bonanza. To some, the Navion seemed more macho than a Bonanza but that didn’t translate into a lot of sales. I flew Navions from the first (actually an L-17 to begin that I converted from military to civilian for use in our Army Flying Club) to the last Rangemaster. My strongest impression was that, while nice to fly, it was not competitive.

North American gave up in 1948 and sold the design to Ryan. That company upgraded the design and built over 1,000 Navions but it ran out of steam there, too, and has passed through various owners since. There have been and probably always will be noises made about resurrecting the Navion but the usual result has been a flurry of activity that uses up a set of money and then goes away. Navion lovers love their airplanes and I don’t blame them, but as a product the Navion was a fad that passed in a few years after World War Two.

Navion in flight

The Navion has passionate supporters, but never gained wide popularity.

I did once fly one of the most unusual Navions ever. Two were operated by the Princeton Flight Research Laboratory, headed by my old friend Dave Ellis, and they were modified to be variable stability airplanes. Computers would drive all manner of different control surfaces to make them fly like anything the computer told them to fly like. Flying some of the things Dave loaded in for me to try in one of the airplanes made for some of the most intense aviating that I have ever done.

Last I heard, the variable stability Navions were at the University of Tennessee Space Institute.

The “Big Three” in post-World War Two general aviation were Beech, Piper and Cessna, always listed in that order for no reason that I ever understood.

Piper set out to defrock the Bonanza with a brand new airplane, the Comanche. It was flying in 1956 and the prototype was on the cover of the July issue of AIR FACTS.

The first Comanche flew with a 180 horsepower Lycoming where the Bonanza G35 of that year had a 225 Continental. The prototype Comanche had a little austerity in the form of a manually operated landing gear and the main gear itself looked almost exactly like a Mooney gear (which was also manually operated). Otherwise the Comanche that was produced looked just like the prototype except the gear was electrically operated and the main gear used oleo struts.

The Bonanza had a comfortable four-place cabin with plenty of room for baggage and the Comanche aimed to match that. I think the cabin was actually a little wider though the Bonanza was taller.

What was sensible about both airplanes was the fact that the cabin was designed for four and only four. The day was yet to come when manufacturers would cram more furniture into the cabins than might be found in a New York apartment. However, putting five or six seats in a four-place cabin didn’t really mean much because of weight and CG considerations. For a fact, one manufacturer used dummies instead of people on photo missions showing six occupants in what was really a four-place airplane. Trouble was dummies couldn’t smile for the camera.

The very first production Comanches were late 1957 models and the 180 Comanche was joined by the 250 Comanche in 1958. AIR FACTS leased first a 180 and then a 250 Comanche and we flew them until the Twin Comanche came out in 1964.

Piper Comanche

Piper’s Comanche was a direct competitor to the Bonanza.

The 180 Comanche was short-lived. It wasn’t a bad airplane but, hey, more horsepower is better so the 250 outsold it by a lot from the start. I remember talking to the pilot of the first 250 Comanche I saw out in the field. I asked him how he liked it. He said “Anybody who doesn’t like this doesn’t like airplanes.” Of course, he was a Piper salesman.

The Comanche was a pleasant airplane to use and when the fuel supply was increased from 60 to 90 gallons it became a true long-range airplane. I was making frequent 900 nm trips at that time and a 90-gallon Comanche would almost always do the eastbound version nonstop.

There was a lot of family flying being done at the time and the Comanche was adaptable to this in more ways than you might imagine.

With really little kids, you could take out the right front seat, easily done, and put a baby carrier on the floor, right in front of the right rear passenger. That made diaper changing easier though the captain would usually choose not to have his peanut butter sandwich at that time. If there was another child, she could ride in the back, by her mother.

That right front seat that was removed would actually fit into the baggage compartment, along with quite a bit of luggage, so when you offloaded the kids with their grandmother and were taking another couple to the Cotton Bowl, the four seat configuration could be restored in minutes.

If it sounds like I did all that, I did, more than once, but not always to a game. If you want the Cotton Bowl score from that year, it was Duke 7, Arkansas 6. The Hogs didn’t “go” that day.

Competition is a wonderful thing and Piper had its eye on a Bonanza prize in the form of those long distance records.

Where Beech had enlisted experienced professionals for their long-distance flights, Piper took a different tack. They enlisted a flying grandfather, the legendary (at that time) Max Conrad who had earlier set a transcontinental distance record in a Piper Pacer.

Conrad’s first and longest record hop was in a 250 Comanche, from Casablanca to Los Angeles, 7,668.5 statute miles, easily beating the Bonanza record. He did it again a bit later, in a 180 Comanche, Casablanca to El Paso, 6,966.71 miles for a record in a different class. Conrad set a number of other records over the years.

Max Conrad

Max Conrad flew a Comanche from Casablanca to Los Angeles, a distance of over 7600 miles.

I didn’t know the pilots who set the Bonanza records, but I did know Max Conrad and to know him was to understand how he could manage to sit in a Comanche (or a Pacer) for enough hours to fly those long distances. He had both great self-discipline and the ability to relax, or to zone out. I always imagined that at the end of one of those long flights he looked up at the destination airport and thought, “What, I am here already?” He was an interesting and fun person and he loved to square dance.

Flying IFR was becoming much more common in the early Comanche days and one with the top-of-the-line avionics package was well equipped for IFR flying. Only Narco radios were offered and that was really the only choice because King Radio had not yet become a big factor in the avionics world.  You might say that Pipers of that era were all-Pennsylvania airplanes with Piper in Lock Haven, Lycoming in Williamsport, and Narco in Fort Washington.

I learned a couple of IFR lessons in our 250 Comanche.

The first came after an IFR departure from Mount Pocono, Pennsylvania. I had to get a clearance on the phone and so armed I launched into low clouds. Hello. Hello. I couldn’t make contact with air traffic control. On top of that the nav needles, while alive, were flopping about aimlessly.

I climbed to the assigned altitude and knew that it would be a safe altitude in the direction I was flying. Then I set out to see if I could identify the problem. This was distracting, I was hand flying, and at one point I noticed that I was inadvertently in a 45-degree bank. Whoa, time to just fly straight and level. A good friend and experienced pilot was with me but he was apparently as discombobulated as I was.

I knew the weather was better in the direction I was going so I quit trying to solve the problem and just concentrated on flying. The clouds came to an end and the radios started working, sort of. I did finally make contact with ATC and cancelled IFR and flew on home VFR and then called and explained the situation.

The airplane had sat out in heavy rain for a number of hours before takeoff. There was an air scoop atop the fuselage for cabin ventilation and the system had a drain at the low point to get rid of any water. The drain was clogged so a copious amount of water had dripped on the aft-mounted remote power supplies of the Mark V radios. Nothing worked until they dried out.

It’s easy to say that I should have ascertained that the radios were working before takeoff but there was no way to do that. I think they had Unicom at Mount Pocono but there was nobody there where we left. In later years, I never departed IFR without a radio check.

The other lesson learned came in one of the few substantial icing encounters I had in 57 years of flying. I was headed southwest, actually en route to the Cotton Bowl that I mentioned earlier. I had a one-on-one weather briefing at Nashville that suggested there would be ice-free altitudes all the way to a stop at Little Rock.

Not so and I broke a rule that I followed since. Treat ice like smoke in the cockpit. Do something now. I started picking up light ice first and changed altitude. I could tell by the outside air temperature that it was going to be close and it was. More ice started forming.

By the time I was just south of Memphis, it was clear that I had flown for too long in the ice and had to land as soon as possible. I flew the ILS to a long runway (9) at Memphis, left the flaps up, landed hot, and taxied a well-iced Comanche to the Memphis Aero ramp. They put the airplane in the hangar to deice it but I told them I would pass on further flying that day. The Collins family spent New Year’s Eve in one of the first, if not the first, Holiday Inns that was ever built.

Comanche 400

The Comanche 400 proved that you can have too much of a good thing.

Piper built 148 Comanches with an eight-cylinder, 400 hp engine up front. The increase in cruising speed was minuscule when compared with the fuel flow and noise. It was not a particularly pleasant airplane to fly. Increasing the horsepower does all manner of things to screw up the pitch stability of an airplane and the things that have to be done to offset that often result in degraded handling qualities.

I have fond memories of the 250 Comanche and always thought that while it certainly did not match a Bonanza, it was a good useful airplane. It lasted from 1958 to 1972 and a total of 4,857 were built.

One reason the Comanche came to an end was a historic flood at Lock Haven that ruined the factory and destroyed a whole lot of airplanes. After that, Piper shifted to Vero Beach and developed the retractable versions of the PA-28 and PA-32. They were the Arrow and the Lance (later the Saratoga) and while both were useful airplanes, they lacked the performance of the Bonanza. Currently Piper builds a few Arrows on special order for training institutions.

Piper put a T-tail on both the Arrow and the Lance and the less said about the flying qualities of those two airplanes, the better. Bad idea, and the airplanes went back to low tails.

I had a Cherokee Six for quite a while, a fixed-gear Lance, so to speak, and it suited our growing family perfectly. Each kid had a chair, with one to spare, and there was plenty of luggage room (but not more than you can carry, only the pilot got that allowance back in the days of heavy Jeppesen chart books).

Piper Malibu

The PA-46 remains a beautiful airplane, even 30 years after it was introduced.

Piper also developed the last piston retractable to be certified. Thirty years ago the pressurized PA-46 Malibu was introduced and while successful, it came after the general aviation boom had fizzled and a big market share didn’t mean much in the way of volume.

The Malibu was and is hands-down beautiful and has a handsome six-place cabin but it lacks the useful load to be a real six-place airplane. The handling qualities are nothing special and the ride in turbulence is a bit bouncy.

The Malibu had engine problems from the start and a Lycoming engine took the place of the original Continental. I don’t know how much better it worked but I do know that the vibration level in the Lycoming airplane seemed a bit higher.

The PA-46 is currently offered in three versions: piston unpressurized (Matrix), piston pressurized (Mirage) and turboprop (Meridian). All sell slowly and steadily with the turboprop usually the best seller of the lot.

The Bonanza’s Wichita neighbor, Cessna, offered the 190/195 as its high-performance single right after the war. It was a curious choice for the marketplace. It was a new airplane based on the prewar wooden Airmaster but of all-metal construction. The airplane had a fixed landing gear and used a radial engine of which there were thousands upon thousands available in the surplus market. The most-built 195 used a 300 hp Jacobs; the few 190s that were built used a lower-horsepower Continental. The round engine dictated a bigger fuselage to follow it around and the result was a spacious cabin for four or five (three across in back).

Cessna 195

The Cessna 195 is a gorgeous airplane, but it was hardly a competitor for the Bonanza.

The Jacobs was reasonably efficient with a specific fuel consumption (pounds per hour per horsepower) that was much like the horizontally opposed engines. It was pretty standard, though, to add a few quarts of oil and then check it before further flight. If the Jacobs had a weakness it was the tendency to “swarm,” as we used to call a catastrophic engine failure. A friend was taking an instrument check ride in a 195, the engine swarmed, he landed it on a levee, and the FAA (then CAA) inspector promptly issued his instrument rating. If you are working on an instrument rating, do practice your levee landings.

I always thought the 195 was fun to fly. This was a time when most of us didn’t care whether the airplane had a tailwheel or a nosewheel. You had to pay attention to land both, but you did have to pay a little closer attention with the tailwheel. The 195 just seemed like a big, tough airplane and you could actually roll the pilot’s window down with a crank. For some reason, that was, to some pilots, a complete turn-on.

The military also bought the airplane, designated LC-126 for that purpose, but the 195 was short-lived, 1947-1954, with most built early in the period. It was simply not a competitor for the Bonanza.

It took Cessna a few years, a little bit longer than Piper, to come out with a true Bonanza-competitor. The 210 was introduced in late-1959 as a 1960 model.

That first 210 was basically a retractable 182 but with more horsepower, 260 v. 230. I have seen a picture of the first effort and it was literally a 182 with folding wheels. By the time the transformation was completed, Cessna had switched to a rakishly swept vertical tail and made other changes that gave the airplane an entirely new visual personality. It was a handsome airplane.

Cessna 210

The Cessna 210 had a unique approach to folding its gear up.

When the 210 was first introduced, everyone was curious about how the main gear went from extended to stowed in the belly of the airplane. Someone came up with a simple paper clip explanation. I actually still have a paper clip and just tried to do this but all these years later I couldn’t remember how. In the unlikely event you have a paper clip, see what you can do. It has to do with an angle.

AIR FACTS had one of those first 210s. My father flew it most of the time while I used the Comanche most, but I flew the 210 enough to come to like it. For one thing, it had fuel-injection which meant that for the first time I didn’t have to fool with carburetor heat. It was a good smooth-running engine, too.

The 210 lasted from 1957 until 1986 when it fell victim to the cataclysmic decline in general aviation aircraft sales. Cessna opted not to bring it back when they resumed production on the 172, 182 and 206. A total of 9,240 were built so while it was a good competitor for the Bonanza, and outsold it when both were on the market, it fell far short of Bonanza total production.

The 210 was altered greatly over its life. It went from being a retractable 182 to a full six-place airplane (with enough space and useful load to make that a reality) to a turbocharged and a pressurized airplane. See the post about my P210, N40RC, for more information on the latter.

One thing that I didn’t mention about the P210 is the fact that I flew the type with three different piston engines and two different turboprop engines. There was always interest in making it into something more powerful.

There was a P210 mod that fitted a Lycoming. This looked good but, in fact, little was gained from it. I flew a photo mission in that airplane, using a Bonanza 36 as the photo platform airplane, and was constantly asking the Bonanza pilot to power down so I could keep up. Some airplanes were converted under an STC. I suppose those who enjoyed the Lycoming v. Continental debate might have taken comfort in the fact that a switch could be made.

Cessna put a geared 421 engine in a P210, 375 horsepower, and I flew that off the Cessna factory strip with the chief engineer. The view out front was somewhat obstructed by the hump on top of the cowling that housed the gear box for the big prop. One advantage was the prop being farther off the ground so they could have a larger prop to take proper advantage of the horsepower. The ride was amazingly quiet and smooth. Cessna was apparently not serious about it as a product because they only flew it for a while and then put it back into the original configuration.

Silver Eagle P210

The Silver Eagle P210 mod is a popular and impressive upgrade.

The Silver Eagle Allison turboprop conversion offered by O&N aircraft for the P210 is an excellent mod. Cessna actually did the same thing, built two airplanes that would have been the Cessna 250 if produced, and then the bottom fell out of the market. I always wondered if O&N had benefit from the work Cessna had done but could never get anyone to comment on this.

I also flew a P210 with a PT-6 turboprop. That was way too much engine for the airplane and the prop size dictated by ground clearance was far from ideal. The Allison turboprop was a much better fit for the airplane. The PT-6 mod did get an STC but it was never really marketed.

The 210 was, simply, an airframe that was adaptable to a lot of different things and it offered a lot of utility and performance at a relatively reasonable price. The handling qualities did suffer as horsepower was increased and CG limits were stretched out a little past where they should have really been set.

Right up until the end of production, the nicest 210 to fly was the plain old 210 with no turbocharging and no pressurization. Three of us from FLYING took one of each out for an evaluation, swapping airplanes for each leg, and everyone agreed on which was the most pleasant to fly: the plain old 210.

One curiosity about the 210 v. Bonanza competition relates to turbocharging. Both airplanes were offered with it and in later years the great majority of the 210s produced were T210s. Over at Beech, turbocharging for the Bonanza was far less popular. Maybe it was the personality of the buyer or maybe it was because Cessna did a better job of adapting their airplane to turbocharging.

There is evidence of this. Cessna never went for distance records with the 210 but the airplane was used to set notable records. On 1/11/1966, Walter Cable set an altitude record of 39,334 feet in a stock T210. Shortly after that, he did it again in a modified T210 (more horsepower) by climbing to 43,699 feet. Top that. I don’t know that Cessna actually had anything to do with these records.

In later years, airplanes had maximum certified altitudes but when those 210s were built there was no limitation.

Cessna 177RG

Cessna offered a number of retractable models, including the 177RG.

Back in the 1970s Cessna was building an airplane for every conceivable niche and had RG versions of the 172, 177 and 182. I had a 177 (Cardinal) RG for a while and it served well. It was about five or eight knots faster than the Piper Arrow III I had for a while but it always seemed to lack spirit, whatever that might be in an airplane. Turbocharging was also offered for a while in the 182RG as well as in the Piper Arrow, Lance and Saratoga. None of these were too well done.

A lot of other companies tried to compete in the retractable single market and Mooney probably tried harder than anyone else.

Mooney Aircraft actually started in 1929 but that was a bad time for anything and it went bankrupt in 1930.

Mooney resurfaced after World War Two and I have heard many wonderful tales about how it wound up in Kerrville, Texas. No two were alike so I just always chose to believe the one I liked best. It involved old family friend George Haddaway, a consummate Texan and publisher of FLIGHT magazine. He sold the Mooney folks on Texas in general and Kerrville in particular and I am sure he helped arrange tax incentives and such.

Mooney’s first retractable single definitely did not target the Bonanza. The M-18 was a single seat airplane that looked like a miniature version of the Mooneys we have known and loved since the first M-20 was produced in 1955.

For some unknown reason, we had an M-18 at the FBO where I worked for a short while. To check a pilot out, we’d get some muscle, put the M18 up on saw horses, and show anyone who wanted to fly it how to retract and extend the landing gear.

The main thing I remember about my one M-18 flight was wondering how long it would take me to get it back on the ground. It did not feel right to me. I was surprised to learn these many years later that Mooney built more than 300 M-18s. I thought it was a much smaller number.

Mooney M20

Mooney specialized in efficiency, squeezing a lot of speed out of four-cylinder engines.

I rode in, but did not fly the first production M-20 in 1955, out of Linden Airport in New Jersey. My father was evaluating it for an AIR FACTS pilot report and my recollection of the flight was that I thought the cabin was awfully small for a four-place airplane.

The many entities that built Mooneys went in and out of business on a fairly regular basis. The question often comes up about how many owners Mooney as a company has had over the years. The only accurate answer would be “a lot.”

There were some good Mooney years in the 1960s and 70s and there were probably years when the company turned a good profit, or at least a profit. However, it always managed to run aground one more time.

For years, efficiency was the hallmark of the Mooney, I think more were built with four-cylinder Lycomings than any other powerplant but the Mooney got one six-cylinder Lycoming (the TLS), a six-cylinder Porsche engine (the PFM), and a whole host of six-cylinder Continentals. For the most part, the company did a good job of turbocharging on the airplanes offered with that feature.

Why, with the price of fuel going through the roof, did they abandon the 200 hp 201, which would cruise not much slower than a Bonanza on not much more than two-thirds of the fuel? Simple math. The fancier airplanes with the bigger engines could be built for not much more money (the increased cost of the engine and prop) than the 201 and they could be sold (in smaller numbers) for a lot more money. The Mooney airframe was labor-intensive and the man-hours of labor required to get one out the door was an expensive proposition regardless of which engine was used.

In the 1960s there was a lot of talk about Mooney overstating the cruising speed of their airplanes. When they came out with the Super 21 with a 200 hp Lycoming everybody wondered if the claimed speed was fact or fiction. Mooney wasn’t alone here as most manufacturers looked at performance through rose-colored glasses at that time.

I liked to race airplanes to get a true measure of speed so told the Mooney demo pilot that I wanted to race his airplane against our 250 Comanche. He agreed.

The rules of the race were simple: full power at 1,500 feet. Do that and there is no doubt about which airplanes is fastest. In relative terms, any difference would be the same as the difference at cruise.

The 250 Comanche was ever so slightly faster than the Mooney. This was pre-knots and I counted on 170 mph (145 knots) as the normal cruise for the Comanche so the Mooney would be about the same.

I’ll hasten to add that those old Mooneys had terribly inefficient cowlings and when this was addressed with the 201, the Mooney speed actually went up quite a bit and was as advertised.

Mooney Mustang

The pressurized Mooney Mustang seemed like a good idea, but never took off.

Mooney developed a pressurized single, the Mustang, but it was expensive to build and was described by one pilot as “a slug.” Not many were sold and the airplane is often cited as the reason for one of Mooney’s many sinking spells.

I flew a lot of different Mooneys over the years and rented a turbocharged 252 for a month while my P210 was in for an engine overhaul. The 252 was a capable airplane that I enjoyed flying but I always thought the 180 hp Mooney with the manually-retractable gear was the most enjoyable to fly. It is rather like something simple that you put on and then fly away.

Mooney is running with new investors today and last I heard they projected a gradual return of Mooney production. I hope they make it. The good people of Kerrville, Texas, have stood by Mooney through thick and thin and renewed activity at the airport would be well deserved.

North American Rockwell badly wanted to be in this business and bought the Meyers 200, a mostly hand-built four-place airplane with a 285 hp Continental. It was renamed the Aero Commander 200 and was built in a new factory on the Albany, Georgia, airport.

The trouble with the 200 was the cost to build it. Like the Mooney, the airframe was expensive to build and what little tooling they got with the purchase was not of much help. They admitted to spending $4-milion to build $3-million worth of product but it was likely worse than that. The design was sold and another company put a turboprop engine on it but not much came of this.

I flew the 200 a couple of times and it was a pleasant airplane to fly. The ride in turbulence was a bit busy but that was all I really noticed about it. It was probably about the same speed as a Bonanza but the cabin was far from being as comfortable.

You have heard the old saying about throwing good money after bad. The art of doing this has been practiced almost to perfection in the general aviation airplane business. After the discontinued the 200, Rockwell set out to develop and all-new retractable. The first version was the Rockwell Commander 112, a 200 hp retractable. It was followed by the 114 with a 260 hp engine.

Commander 112 and 114

The 112/114 Commander was a good-looking airplane, but was terribly expensive to make.

The 112/114 airplanes had a big cabin and flew reasonably well. They were both slower than like-powered airplanes but after a lot of airframe problems in the development and early production of the 112 they finally seemed to get most of that right.

The airplane was never a big success and the design has been sold several times and there have been good-faith efforts to revive it. So far, each has reached a conclusion that did not include producing airplanes on a regular basis.

Over time, a lot of smart (in other areas) people have looked at general aviation, decided that the manufacturers don’t know what they are doing, and set out to demonstrate how it should really be done. This was done on a massive billion-dollar scale with the Eclipse jet. The Aero Commander 112/114 program was on a far smaller scale but I’d still bet it was an expensive lesson. The inside joke then was that when a Harvard Business School grad showed up to run an airplane company, the end was near. (My father attended that school for a while and never argued with this theory.)

Another lesson was learned in Midland, Texas, where I once flew the Windecker Eagle, the first “composite” general aviation airplane.

First, are you ready for some corny? The FLYING blurb on an Eagle story: “A Resin in the Sun.” Barf.

The Eagle had a 285 engine and was actually quite pretty to look at. It was certified when I flew it but there were some rough spots.

The wing carry-through structure the FAA wanted all but dictated legless passengers in the back seat. Windecker was working to modify this but give the company credit for dealing with a bureaucracy that was gun-shy about certifying anything new especially a construction method. It is a wonder they got it certified at all.

Windecker Eagle

The Windecker Eagle, a composite airplane when the idea was radical.

The Eagle that I flew was incredibly noisy. One problem was that the main cabin door didn’t fit properly; the other was that nobody knew how to deaden sound in a composite airframe. I well recall Beech learning that lesson years later with the unconventional Starship composite turboprop twin. It was loud to begin, especially in the cabin. I likened it to being inside a bass drum with the band playing. I guess Cirrus and Lancair had this figured from the beginning because the SR airplanes and what later became the Cessna TTx have acceptable noise levels.

The Windecker Eagle had okay handling qualities and the performance was what would be expected from an airplane of this horsepower and configuration.

A few Eagles, nine, were built but like so many others, this airplane could never attract enough capital to become a competitor in the marketplace. The design has been sold and there have been the usual noises about bringing it back, turboprop power, and all the rest.

Walter Extra, of aerobatic airplane fame, designed, certified and built a retractable single. The pressurized composite Extra EA-400 used a liquid-cooled Continental that was barely used elsewhere (on a Cessna twin conversion) and everything else about it appeared unconventional. It did have a cavernous club-seating cabin.

Like the 210, the EA-400 main gear retracted into the fuselage. But where you could simulate the 210 landing gear action with a paperclip, it would take a top-of-the-line Erector set to match the complexity of the Extra landing gear.

Extra EA-400

The Extra 400 may be unconventional, but it certainly isn’t ugly.

As far as I know the EA-400 never could attract the capital required for production and the airplane is pretty much in limbo. A turboprop version, the EA-500, was developed and certified and, to me, it was a far better airplane but they are not rolling off a production line anywhere.

Look at the picture of an EA-400 and make your own decision about the appearance of the airplane. Personally, I would never call anything designed by Walter Extra “ugly.”

Bellanca is one of the oldest names in general aviation, dating back to 1927. To most today, Bellanca is or was the Viking, a four place retractable that, as the Super Viking, had a 300 hp Continental and Bonanza-like performance.

With its wood wing and steel tubing and fabric construction elsewhere, many felt like the Bellanca was still being built after its time had passed. The airplane had fans, though, along with the dedicated folks at the Alexandria, Minnesota, home of Bellanca, and production started and stopped as demand ebbed and flowed amidst financial upheavals.

The Bellanca Viking was neither pleasant nor unpleasant to fly. I remember once thinking it reminded me of an old Pullman railroad car. I guess that meant I felt it was a bit cumbersome as well as out of date.

As with so many other old names, Bellanca wound up attached to an all-new airplane, the Bellanca Aires T-250, in 1977. This metal airplane was designed in Texas, by Anderson, Greenwood and Company and was an FAA-certified T-tail four place with a 250 hp Lycoming. It became a Bellanca because of some connection between the two companies.

Bellanca Viking

The Bellanca Viking, like many other airplanes, went in and out of production over the years.

The T-250 was a nice airplane to fly and might have made its way if the capital had been around to fund it. Only five were built and the airplane was never really “produced.”

I vividly recall the first time I saw a T-250. I was with a photographer and Marvin Greenwood, a fine fellow and one the airplane’s designers.

Marvin showed us the airplane in its hangar. I raised an eyebrow but the photographer slapped his forehead with the palm of his hand and said something like “Holy Cow, you have got to be kidding.” His outburst in front of the person who designed it was embarrassing to me but Marvin just laughed.

The T-250 was a bit on the boxy side and the narrow track of the main landing gear was a bit different. Out of the hangar it looked better and in fight it looked even better though still boxy.

The Bellancas, both wooden and metal, are bits of history and I will say that I admired the tenacity of the folks who tried to make them a factor in the market. Tenacity, though, can get pretty expensive.

The more popular of those single-engine retractables accounted for tens of thousands of sales over the years. They were the darlings of manufacturers and airplane owners. Now, only three are in regular production: the two Piper PA-46s (Malibu Mirage and Matrix) and the Bonanza G36. A big-engine fixed-gear, the Cirrus SR-22, outsells the retractables by a huge margin and I guess it does so because it offers about the same performance without the complexity of folding wheels.  As a purist, though, I have to say: “Yes, but it is no Bonanza.”

Richard Collins
45 replies
  1. Stephen Phoenix
    Stephen Phoenix says:

    It is always great to get your long term perspective on these things.
    I have always thought that airplane design was similar to violin design. Once you get it right, the design carries on for a long time. I think the Bonanza made it to that level. Can they make it to 100 years? I would like to be around to see that.

  2. Ed Griffith
    Ed Griffith says:

    Ahhh, memories! This was a great article not because I agree that the bonanza was the best GA aircraft ever (although it may have been), but because he identified what there was to love about all the other aircraft.

    -I remember my father flying the family around in a Cessna 195. Later when I learned to fly I was pretty good on instruments because when I practiced as a short kid you could not see out the front except for a sliver and had to rely on instruments.

    -Though I have never flown one, I consider the Cardinal RG to be tied with the Globe Swift as the most beautiful GA aircraft. It would be great to see an article on the Swift. (Never mind practicality – I am talking about beauty. The most beautiful aircraft in the galaxy is, of course, the Spitfire.)

    I have several very pleasant memories of the 210.
    • Took my mother solo on a trip out to Denver.
    • When the supercharger worked it was awesome. I remember the highest by far I ever flew in a GA craft was 15,000 feet over the Rockies. And there was still an inch or two of throttle left!!! Knowing the toll density altitude would take on lesser craft, I was (and am still) amazed that we were soaring so high over the Rockies that it did not seem necessary to learn mountain flying. It seemed we were half way to outer space.
    • Once while flying in the 210, Dad asked me to keep an eye out for a bonanza in the distance. We passed him and when Dad asked his position I said so. He was skeptical. “Pass a bonanza? That’s impossible! Unless he doesn’t have a super charger.” He then slapped me on the knee and said, “Well we do!” He smiled for the next 50 miles – the happiest I have ever seen him continuously while flying. Now he is passed, but I cherish that memory and perhaps should be grateful to that bonanza for helping make it.

    I now realize one of the most emotionally satisfying elements of flying was retractable landing gear. It just looks so cool! Though it just involved a switch, I remember watching the gear on the 210 go through complex gyrations to retract and proudly thought how I did that. When watching the movie Jet Pilot with John Wayne, I could imagine it was me instead of Yeager because I knew how to extend and retract the landing gear. Ditto with the space shuttle. And of course Japanese anime always has spaceship with landing gear that came up and went down. There may be no extra speed in a vacuum, but there is extra coolness. Richard Collins said about the Cirrus SR-22 “outsells the retractables by a huge margin and I guess it does so because it offers about the same performance without the complexity of folding wheels.” Same performance?!? Heck, I don’t care if retractable landing gear caused a decrease in speed, the increase in coolness was worth it.

  3. William
    William says:

    I always enjoy your writing. Not many folks have flown all the planes you have flown, so I’ll take your word for it… Bonanza is king.

  4. Mark Fay
    Mark Fay says:

    Really good memoir-style article that I bet you have a book’s worth of.

    I have only flown Cessna 172s and a single Cessna Turbo Retractable 182.

    So I know nothing. Except I love my TR182.

    John Frank, president of the Cessna Pilot’s Association – who was also a Bonanza test pilot – will tell you if he didn’t own a T210 he would own a Cessna TR182.

    So there. My kid is not so ugly!

  5. Tom Yarsley
    Tom Yarsley says:


    Thanks for the memories. You still are America’s GA treasure.

    Back in the 1908s, a flying buddy of mine serially owned a pair of Comanches: a 400 and a (six-seat!) 260. The 400 was a delight to fly, but I sure was glad that I wasn’t paying for the gasoline! Lightly-loaded in the New England winter, it delivered Lear-like rates of climb – at 44 gallons per hour fuel flow! On the first flight home from Norfolk, VA., ATC asked us to verify what kind of a Comanche we were flying, as he pointed out the traffic that we were overtaking below us – a Baron 55. Despite my giving him quite a few hours of dual, my buddy never managed to get used to planning and managing letdowns in the -400, so he sold it and bought the -260, which was a natural transition from his faithful Arrow III.

    I’m impressed that you were able to get 130 knots out of a Sierra, using a big stick. I guess I needed more lumber – I never managed to get more that 120 knots in level flight.

    Although it never saw production, the Mooney 301 did eventually lead to the Socata TBM series of big single-engine retractables, which like the Bonanza, the PA-46, and the big Pilatus birds, still are in production.

    No one can deny the “sex appeal” of folding wheels. Cessna surely learned that with their 336/337 vehicle. Maybe you and John can coax Harry Clements into doing a story about that duo. But Piper’s successful “fancy pants” of the mid-1908s foretold Cirrus’ decision to go with low-drag fixed gear on their SR singles.

    Still, the FAA clings to its outmoded definitions of “complex” and “high-performance.” I wonder what they’d do if some wealthy airman sought his very first license check-ride in a Cirrus SF-50 baby jet? Could that airman not legally fly an Arrow? After all, the SF-50 doesn’t have a controllable-pitch propeller. And for that matter, could that airman not legally fly an SR-22? The SF-50 doesn’t have more than 200 horsepower, either… or does it?

    If I had money and time on my hands, I’d be tempted to mate a 350-hp diesel to a Rockwell 114 airframe, for use as a personal airplane. First-time GA passengers always liked the high stance and oversize windows of that otherwise ordinary-stature bird, and its two doors certainly make loading easy. It’s short-coupled in the yaw axis, though, so it likes to wander a bit in rough air.

    Having taught for many years, I’ve been fortunate enough to have been exposed to lots of different aircraft types. As I think about it, I haven’t encountered even one type that I disliked flying. I guess they’re like women – they’re all lovely; some are just lovelier than others.

    Keep ’em coming, Richard. We can’t get enough!

    • Dick Collins
      Dick Collins says:

      Hi Tom: The Mooney 301 bore little similarity to the TBM. I watched Roy LoPresti build the 301 and was there for his first flight in the airplane. It was strictly a one-of-a-kind airplane and the fact that it was a relatively large pressurized single (though never actually pressurized) has always led folks to believe the TBM was developed from it.

  6. mark makee
    mark makee says:

    I own a comanche 250 N8315P and it is a great true high perormance airplane for much less cost than a Bonanza. The experience will make you a much better pilot both VFR and IFR. I fly my friends V35 and it is a complete joy as well. (especially in the smoothness department). The performance figures are very similar, except I can go much further (range). Great article designed to inspire aviators to plunge into the high performance market by explaining the development and design and history of “real performers” to make you a better and safer and more practical pilot. Yes,it does cost more for Insurance and maintenance, but not by a whole lot. The cost of fuel is not a factor because faster is usually cheaper, when going further. (14 gph for 1 hr is nearly the same as 9 gph in a plane that takes 1.5 to do the same trip, and just gets better with longer distances.)

  7. Vic Ardito
    Vic Ardito says:

    Retractable singles: I owned a Socata Trinidad TB-20. 250 HP, complex, retractable, IFR panel.
    This aircaft was the best trip airplane I ever owned or flew. Unfortunatley they have been out of production for several years. If you ever have a chance to fly a Trinidad TB-20 you will not be dissapointed.

  8. James Macklin
    James Macklin says:

    Back in 1983 I flew some gentlemen to Kerrville, TX to see the Mooney 301 public roll-out.
    It was a beautiful airplane. Mooney did not really build a prototype since the built production tooling and were ready to go into production, but orders never came.
    Somewhere I’ve still got my MOONEY 301 cap.
    I think several companies benefited from Mooney’s research since several airplanes, including Piper’s Malibu look a lot like the 301. Maybe Mr. Lopresti’s work at Piper carried over.
    The Internet says…
    Mooney 301 – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    The Mooney 301 was a prototype aircraft created by American manufacturer Mooney Aircraft Company in 1983. It was a low-wing, single-engine, six-place …
    Mooney 301 – Mooney Aircraft Owner Events
    The history of the design of the Mooney 301 — which eventually became the TBM700.

  9. Old Bob Siegfried
    Old Bob Siegfried says:

    Hi Dick,

    Great stories as usual.

    And, as usual, I do have some comment. There were quite a few of us who were active IFR pilots in the late forties and early fifties. I well remember your dad promoting IFR flight at the big Reading Pa. flyin!

    I had a straght 35 at the time which had a Directional Gyro installed. No horizon, but a full psnel was NOT required for IFR. I added an electric T&B to augment the vacuum T&B which with it came from the factory. Flew a lot of IFR. Low frequency as well as VOR using the early Narco multiple boxes set up. I could even shoot DF approaches using the loop in the tail cone. It was not until 1955 or so that the Feds forced us to get an ADF for what had been DF approaches.

    I totally agree with most of your evaluations, though the 195 was always very high on my list of great machines. However, I have always reverted back to Bonanzas. Of course, I am one of those who feel that all Bonanzas have V tails. Too bad Beech never came up with a good name for those absolutely wonderful derivatives which incorporate the inverted T tail!

    Happy Skies,

    Old Bob

  10. Bill Miles
    Bill Miles says:

    While working at Cessna I had one opportunity to fly in the testbed 250 (Allison turboprop P210). While quite a performer down low, it was no faster than a standard P210 above 20,000 and really needed a higher pressure differential since it was quite an ear popper. Thse factors, probably combined with a high anticpated selling price, are probably why it never turned into a real program.

  11. Fabio Jacintho
    Fabio Jacintho says:

    Hi Dick, thanks for the excellent article, wouldn´t expect anything else coming from you!
    Have been flying the same 1986-C210R, and have tried to ‘upgrade’ to something newer, only to recognise it´s the most versatile platform in existence, either used or new, as far as my flying needs are concerned. Sure I would enjoy those VW-Kombi-style doors of the Bonanza or C206, but all-around it´s a difficult airplane to beat.
    I became curious about the Flying magazine article you mentioned, where 3 versions of the 210 are compared, so I´d like to ask you if you know where I can find that article for consultation. I´ve been watching carefully the Column “25 Years Ago” in Flying, but could not find that one up to now. Thankyou.

  12. James Cole
    James Cole says:

    “With really little kids, you could take out the right front seat, easily done, and put a baby carrier on the floor, right in front of the right rear passenger. That made diaper changing easier though the captain would usually choose not to have his peanut butter sandwich at that time.”– OMG!!! I nearly wet my pants that was so funny. I wonder if Dick made up that joke or that’s one that regularly makes the rounds in Arkansas. If it’s original, Dick needs to start his own late-night talk show.

  13. Mike
    Mike says:

    Great writing as always Mr. Collins. Back in April of this year I bought into a partnership on a Comanche 260B. My uncle owned a 1964 Comanche 260 and it was the first small airplane I had ever flown in. While I still think Bonanza’s are the top of the line I truly love my Comanche. It’s a great flying and traveling aircraft. I’ve always liked the Commander 112/114’s also cause they just look good but I have to say after flying a 112A for a few hours I’m glad I’ve invested in the 260B and look forward to many more years of flying it.

  14. Howard Benz
    Howard Benz says:

    Tom nailed it. “You still are America’s GA treasure.”

    Thank you Mr. Collins. I move heaven and earth to read your articles. They are wonderful.

    • Old Bob Siegfried
      Old Bob Siegfried says:

      Good Evening Richard,

      Sure did! In fact it was not at all unusual for someone to buy a Bamboo Bomber and send the engines to Wichita to be mounted on a couple 195s. I have personally flown more 195s with 245s than 300s.

      All great airplanes.

      Happy Skies,

      Old Bob

  15. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    I put several thousand hours on a P210 and found it to be both dependable and economical (relatively). No problems with the pressurization, no problems with the gear, no problems with the turbo. Got 2700 hours out of a 1700 TBO engine. Loved it as did my family. I disagree however that it’s a six seater. It’s really a four.

    • Dick Collins
      Dick Collins says:

      It is true that the cabin of a P210 is tight for six but when I got mine it would fly with full (90 gallons) of fuel and six people who averaged 160 pounds and be within the maximum takeoff weight.I never flew with more than five.

  16. Chuck Lambert
    Chuck Lambert says:

    Thanks Dick for sharing your experience. Experience is the best teacher and provides the perspective needed to do a proper comparison. Among retracts I have flown Bonanzas, Commanches, Mooneys, 210s, Cardinals and an Epic. I own a Cardinal and Bonanza. My 36 is the best of them all and has proven itself for longer than all of them.

  17. Old Bob Siegfried
    Old Bob Siegfried says:

    Good Morning Richard,

    I was just rereading you fine article on high performance singles when I noted the following message:

    “The B36TC of 50 years later was unquestionably an entirely different airplane than the 35, including a longer fuselage and better CG range. A lot of basic shapes remained the same but few if any parts were likely interchangeable. The only one I could see was the little rod that props the door open.”

    There are many 35 Components that are the same on the 35 as the 36. The forward cabin doors are identical as are most of the windows. Most of the fuselage skins are identical other than in the thickness of the metal used. The tail section is all identical in structure other than the tail used. The Debonair and 36 are the same for the same. Depending on the year of manufacture, many of the model 36 may have been increased in thickness. There is one skin section over the top of the cabin that is different and one forward belly skin that is different.. All of the engine installation components are the same. To me, it is amazing how many components of the earliest and the latest are actually identical other than the gauge of metal used to stamp out the piece.

    Happy Skies,

    Old Bob

  18. moda
    moda says:

    After his death, the business was successfully carried on by his three sons.
    Style- Most of us looks at the design and style while buying any item.
    Right from the beginning the company had earned great reputation thanks to the quality
    of its shoes.

  19. Mark Phelps
    Mark Phelps says:

    Great to have a chance to “listen” to your voice again. For example, I doubt I’d ever heard that Max Conrad liked square dancing. Now, I doubt I’ll ever forget it.

  20. Chase Harper
    Chase Harper says:

    As I was reading this, I kept thinking “what a great article – I’m going to have to leave a comment thanking the author for putting this together.” Then I looked to see wrote it. It felt like I was in one those V-8 commercials.

  21. Humberto
    Humberto says:

    Mr. Collins, what would be the one single engine piston that you would recommend as a substitute to the T210R 1985? I am having a very hard time justifying a change to any as it would mean a compromise in either useful load, operating expense or cruising speed. Thanks and appreciate your posts.

  22. Gary Sackman
    Gary Sackman says:

    Great article on the retractable singles. Now I know why the Beech V-tail and 33/36 models are so famous and popular. My wife’s ex said the A36 was the best airplane he ever flew and he did charter work in a Beech G18 for Hartzog Aviation in Rockford, IL (RFD) in the 60′ and 70’s. I’ll just have to save a lot to get the best. Thanks Dick. I love your aviation videos and everything you write about flying.

  23. Jeff
    Jeff says:

    The North American NAvion is a heavy airplane, over 1850 lbs, with a 3200 lbs gross, It is very stable in rough weather, and has excellent handling characteristics. With the E225, cruise is 170 mph @ 12 GPH. It carries 40 in the mains, 20 in a auxiliary. It has a roomy cockpit and is a excellent flying machines, If you want to travel inconspicuously, this is not the airplane for you. NAvions attract a lot of attention

  24. Gary Sackman
    Gary Sackman says:

    Thanks Dick for a fascinating history of some famous and not so successful aircraft. I started going to airports in the late 50’s, so I was able to see a blend of the older conventional geared aircraft and the newer tri-gear. Machesney Airport in Loves Park, IL had every “taildragger” you could want to fly and RFD (Rockford) was starting to collect the Bonanzas and Cessna tri-gear. Even though there were plenty of conventional geared aircraft stationed at the yellow hangers. I love the Bonanza and Comanche. Really pretty aircraft. It’s like they’re flying even before take-off. Mr. Pipers Comanche 400 was for sale in California a couple of years ago. Always enjoy reading the history of aviation and aircraft. Thanks for bringing it alive.

  25. Phil Potts
    Phil Potts says:

    This was a great article about aircraft I dreamt about as a kid in the 50’s and 60’s. While going to Engineering school in Wichita, I worked at Cessna when we upgrade the 210 with Tubular Gear and large swept tail. Though I never Flew the 210, It was a favorite design. But I love the Cirrus and Columbia for its capabilities, other than the 210 flexibility. Thanks very much for your article.

  26. Gerry
    Gerry says:

    As a 24 year old in 1964, I learned to fly in a Piper Colt. Piloted a Comanche twice. Honestly, I liked the way the Colt got right off the ground, better. One thing back then was, when I got down and got back in my car to go home, the car seemed to take 10 times more concentration. Then I got away from flying. I think it was because the next steps, instruments etc, turned the plave into a Time Machine, and I felt that was not much fun.

    I came here looking for the “Clean” Cessna 210. Reason is, there has been a Gas Pipeline inspection plane that I now know is a 210, or better. He may have special clearance, but I love when he is “Inspecting”, it is like a Military Air Show. The thing even sounds right.

    I have a Degree in Industrial Design. The things that seem to become Classics are nearly always the “Nifty” ones. The media has led me to believe that, soon, a Two place + Luggage Quadricopter will land in my yard and take wife and I to O’Hare Field. That sounds so safe. Love the 21st Century.

  27. charles burnett
    charles burnett says:

    Kudos for a wonderful comparison of these aircraft. You scratched alot of old memories for me in LIT(Claude Halbert was the DPE who provided me with a pvt ticket, along with one great hour of dual instruction.Thereafter, I just assumed that everybody got spin indoctrination on his private checkride).
    My old Mark21 was traded for a C310 followed by an A36, which met my needs for 15 wonderful years.The Bo’s classic flying qualities still fill my daydreams.
    You and Bax,along with Bob Parke made aviation enjoyable for millions of my generation. Thank you.

  28. Dana R Jackson
    Dana R Jackson says:

    Hi Dick,
    Got my CPL in a Sierra with outward retracting gear, like the B-24 Liberator that you mentioned. Funny thing about it is the fact that the Sierra designation is “Beechcraft B-24R”.

  29. Macon
    Macon says:

    Here, Mister Collins presented a really comprehensive evaluation. We’ll certainly miss those. Only thing I don’t think he mentioned was, as I recall, the gear problems of the 210. Perhaps those incidents had more to do with maintenance than design. Can anyone enlighten me?

    Never had the opportunity to fly anything “Beech”, but always thought the Debonaire was about the sexist looking plane around… just a little too rich for my blood.

    Did have a ’64 Mooney M-20C. Actually, it had begun life as a straight-legged M-20D. I think Mooney had tried to engage the entry-level market with the “D”. Dunno how many of that model Kerrville produced, but someone had previously converted mine to retracts. Yes, had a smaller cabin, but with only a couple exceptions and some local flights, mine were all solo, so mostly the space outside the left seat was wasted. The sweet thing was that if I kept those laminar-flow wings really clean, was careful to load luggage and unnecessaries aft, even sliding my seat back at cruise, and set the mixture just right at 24 square, at 12-13,000′ I could true 155 mph, and burn less than 8 GPH.

    Mid ’90’s the engine was nearing TBO, and prop hub had reached the end of its life-cycle, so I sold the plane. (There were also personal health reasons for me to begin questioning how long I should consider continuing to fly.) Couple years later, I was transferred to near Atlanta. A few years afterward, I discovered that Mooney was based nearby. Contacted the owner, met him at his hanger, and lo and behold, there it was..! Sure brought back fond memories… and it was still a beautiful plane. Fifteen years later, according to the current FAA database, that fellow still owns it.

  30. arjay etzelmiller
    arjay etzelmiller says:

    I own 2 airplanes, one is a 1982 A-36 and the other is a 1974 Bellanca Super Viking. The A-36 is the plane I take if I’m going on a long cross country, but I’ve kept the Bellanca simply because it is a better handling, more responsive, more fun airplane to fly. They
    are so different that I almost wouldnt call them competitors. The Bellanca IMO is hard to beat if it’s just 2 people out for a fun flight. Best bang for the buck in GA, hands down.

  31. John Dotson
    John Dotson says:

    To: Richard Collins
    Fr: John Dotson – (310) 770-1956
    Dt: 6-18-19

    I am the son of Dick Dotson who was the owner of a Beechcraft Bonanza, wing number N3358V. Did you own that plane at one time?

  32. Drainville
    Drainville says:

    It’s always and so fairly sweet as well as filled with a lot of fun to me personally and my own business office friends to find your site no less than three times in a full week to find out the modern instruction exhibiting.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] a pickup truck and into a sports car. I instantly understood why people loved it. The Bo has had many imitators over the years, but not until the Cirrus (see below) did the graceful Beech finally face a real […]

  2. […] a pickup truck and into a sports car. I instantly understood why people loved it. The Bo has had many imitators over the years, but not until the Cirrus (see below) did the graceful Beech finally face a real […]

  3. […] a pickup truck and into a sports car. I instantly understood why people loved it. The Bo has had many imitators over the years, but not until the Cirrus (see below) did the graceful Beech finally face a real […]

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