Since 1968, the Beech 36-series Bonanzas has steadily built a solid record for workmanship, performance, handling and comfort. Prices on the used market reflect the high regard for the airplanes. Easy entry to the rear seats and club seating made them popular with passengers as well as pilots, even though the aft CG limit can make loading a challenge and some turbocharged models are a little light on useful load. Aftermarket mods to the Beech Bonanza such as turbonormalizing and tip tanks can turn a 36-series Bonanza into an airplane that can carry four people 1000 NM at 200 knots.
Beech 36 History
In one form or another, the Beech Bonanza has been in continuous production since 1947, when the first V-tail was built—an astounding fact in itself. The 35 Bonanza was the first high-performance postwar single and was markedly different from the average light airplane of the day. Base price of the first models was $7975 ($33,539 in 2013 dollars).
By 1967, Beech had a gaping hole in its model lineup. Archrival Cessna had been selling its six-place retractable single, the 210, since 1960 and by the end of the 1967 model year had rolled 936 through the factory doors. Cessna also had the 206 for the utility market.
Beech didn’t have a truly comparable airplane. The V-tail, S35 Bonanza, introduced in 1964, received a 19-inch cabin stretch that permitted the installation of a fifth and sixth seat. These were called “family” seats, and they really weren’t suitable for adults. The company kept working on a true six-place airplane.
For the 1968 model year, Beech introduced a stretched version of the Bonanza, with six seats, a conventional tail like that on the eight-year-old Debonair (redubbed 33 Bonanza that same year) and an aft set of doors. Base price of this first 36 Bonanza was $40,650, which rose to an average of $47,050 equipped ($315,824 in 2013 dollars). That same airplane is now worth an average of $90,000.
The original Beech 36 Bonanza was equipped with a six-cylinder Continental IO-520-B engine producing 285 HP and swinging a two-blade prop. It had some limitations compared to the later models: Club seating was not yet available and the standard fuel capacity was only 50 gallons, with 80 optional.
The stretch was accomplished by adding 10 inches to the fuselage of a 33 Bonanza; the 36 Bonanza was not an all-new airplane. The length was added in such a way that the cabin moved forward, relative to the wing. Empty weight rose only 31 pounds.
The 36 Bonanza was aimed at the utility and charter market dominated by Cessna, as a good choice for air taxi and cargo hauling. This was in contrast to the Beech V-tail Bonanza, which was sold as an upscale business airplane. The Beech 6 Bonanza could even be flown with the rear doors removed. Of course, the original 36 could be outfitted with options like a more plush interior. In 1970, the A36 Bonanza debuted with the popular club seating option. The marketing focus changed, positioning Beech’s A36 more as a larger version of the other Bonanzas rather than as a utility airplane. Many of the “luxury” options became standard equipment.
In 1973, the fuel system was changed. Standard capacity actually went down to only 44 gallons, with a 74-gallon extended range system available. We believe it’s highly unlikely that there are any standard-capacity A36s in the fleet. An 80-gallon system was made standard in 1980.
As the years passed, the basic Beech A36 Bonanza remained largely unchanged, though in keeping with its real-world mission—a personal user’s IFR platform—more and more equipment was made standard. By 1976, an autopilot was standard, along with what is now a basic IFR suite.
Responding to the call for turbocharging, Beech introduced the A36TC in 1979. With a 300-HP Continental TSIO-520-UB, equipped with a variable absolute pressure controller that automatically maintained manifold pressure during altitude and temperature changes, the airplane showed a lot of potential. Only 272 were sold in three years, as pilots complained about having only 74 gallons of fuel aboard when the engine wasn’t exactly fuel efficient.
In 1982 Beech released the B36TC, which used the Baron 58 wing. It was longer, for better performance at altitude and carried 102 gallons of avgas. The changes punched up range by 50 percent.
The biggest change to the normally aspirated airplane came in 1984, when a 300-HP Continental IO-550 replaced the IO-520. There was an all-new (and very well laid out) instrument panel. Gone was the trademark Bonanza “throwover” control wheel with its massive central column in favor of a pair of ordinary control yokes. With the introduction of this airplane, the base price had roughly quadrupled over the original 36: $160,700 ($361,208 in 2013 dollars) with a current average value of $155,000.
The bigger engine can be retrofitted to older aircraft; a popular mod, judging by our reader feedback. TBO on all of the engines that have gone into the “straight” (non-turbo) 36 Bonanzas is 1700 hours, with the estimated overhaul cost on the 520 currently at $30,000 or so and $33,000 for the 550. An owner opting to switch rather than overhaul not only gets the extra power (for not a lot more fuel burn), but better service reliability as well.
The current G36 (G for Garmin 1000 glass panel) Bonanzas are the only Beech singles still in production; the last F33As were built in 1994.
Beech 36 Bonanza Handling, Performance
This is why pilots love Bonanzas. The handling for its intended mission is just about as good as it gets, although the 36 is regarded as more ponderous than the sports-car-like V-tail 35. This is due mostly to the stretched fuselage, although that has its advantages over the 35 when it comes to weight and balance.
The somewhat higher control forces are also a safety feature in that they translate directly to rock-solid stability—desirable in an IFR platform. An airplane with relatively high stick-force-per-G control forces is less likely to depart into a spiral if the pilot has to divert attention for a moment or two from the task of keeping the airplane upright and on course. That’s very important in slick, fast singles, as loss of control in IMC causes a significant number of accidents.
Landing a 36 Bonanza is much easier than in some airplanes, although at extreme forward CG loadings (common when flying solo), it requires some determination to raise the nose in the flare and make a smooth landing. We did notice that fully 18 percent of the most recent 100 accidents involved runway loss of control, most on landing—too much speed on touchdown (overrun) or loss of control on rollout.
One characteristic of the classic V-tail Bonanza that is blessedly reduced in the 36 is the notorious tendency to Dutch roll in turbulence. The extra length makes for a more comfortable ride.
In keeping with its mission as a serious cross-country machine, performance is respectable. Cruise for the normally aspirated 36 and A36 is about 165 knots, with a 1000 FPM-plus initial climb rate. The A36TC and B36TC will keep up with a Mooney 231 and Cessna T210N, running in the 170-180 knot range in the middle altitudes. Once over 20,000 feet, the longer wing of the B36TC shows itself, making the airplane a few knots faster than the A36TC, with cruise speeds in the area of 190 knots.
Fuel burn for the turbos is high, at least 17-18 GPH, to keep head temps under control.
Beech 36 Bonanza Interior
The Beech 36 Bonanza has excellent visibility and is quite comfortable, although headroom and legroom is cramped for taller pilots and passengers. With four aboard, it’s a luxury liner, but adding a fifth and sixth person makes things tight. There is a noticeable shortage of baggage space. Some room aft of the third row of seats (watch that CG envelope) was created with the 1979 model. Before that, the only place to stow things was the modest slot between the front seats and the rear-facing center row. There is not enough room to fit six people and six bags on board, a problem for a family that has kids and needs space for stuff.
Up front, the panel is generally well organized, although at the time the earlier 36 Bonanzas were made, Beech was still using the “backwards” or “airline” positioning of the gear and flap switches with gear on the right and flaps on the left. It wasn’t “right” or “wrong,” but just different. But it has led to many inadvertent gear retractions. Later models have the switches placed as they are in other airplanes.
Beech 36 Bonanza Payload
Figure on about 950 pounds in the cabin with full fuel in an A36 Bonanza, but watch the aft CG limit when carrying passengers. The A36TC is not a great load hauler; full fuel cabin load is 700-800 pounds. With six 170-pounders in the cabin, each with 20 pounds of luggage, it is not possible to put any fuel in the tanks and be under gross weight.
The B36TC had a higher empty weight than the A36TC, but gross weight went up by 200 pounds, a net improvement of about one 170-pound passenger. Plan on being able to carry 900 pounds in the cabin with full fuel.
Beech 36 Bonanza Crashworthiness and Safety
Beech paid attention to crashworthiness and survivability providing a strong “keel” arrangement from the aft end of the cabin to the nose. It’s tied into a sturdy rollover structure that provides anchor points for shoulder harnesses for all occupants (four-point style for the front seats). There are openable side windows that function as emergency exits. There is no separate door or exit for the pilot. The fuel tanks are in front of the main spar, which lessens their protection in a crash and means that the center of gravity moves aft as fuel is burned.
The gear is massive. It’s the same landing gear used for the Baron, where it has to support far more weight. The military T-34 trainer is basically a Bonanza, and as a result the gear had to be subjected to severe drop tests to satisfy the Pentagon. All that structure underneath the cabin also helps to absorb impact forces in a crash.
Another nice thing about the gear is that it’s electromechanical and, if correctly maintained, has proven reliable. Emergency extension is through a simple hand crank located behind the front seats.
The 36 Bonanza also has a simple feature lacking in many aircraft: an easy-to-open “barn door” cowl, making preflight of the engine easy. This is really a safety feature, in our opinion.
The 36 Bonanzas have a much longer CG range than the model 35 series, although not as long as its competitor, the Cessna 210. Both fore and especially aft loading has to be carefully watched. A pilot flying solo with a full fuel load might have difficulty getting the CG aft of the forward limit. Trying to carry six passengers (reduced fuel is necessary) and any baggage aft of the rear seats may not be possible.
Beech 36 Bonanza Mods and Club
Unlike the V-tail, the 36 Bonanzas being built today are very similar to the first ones off the line: The biggest difference is the engine. As a result, there aren’t quite as many mods as for the smaller airplane, though the list is still a healthy one.
As noted above, upgrading the IO-520 to the IO-550 is a popular option when it comes time to overhaul. The STC is available from a wide variety of sources. We have been particularly impressed with Tornado Alley Turbo’s (www.taturbo.com) turbonormalization mod for the A36 that adds 400 pounds to the gross weight and makes the airplane capable of carrying four people 1000 miles at 200 knots.
Owners of two-blade props can upgrade to the three-blade airscrew from Hartzell at (www.hartzellprop.com). Also available are various speed mods and even vortex generators.
Approach Aviation (www.approachaviation.com) markets its SmartSpace baggage conversions for pre-1979 airplanes. It gives a much-needed eight cubic feet of baggage area behind the rear seats, with a 70-pound capacity, while retaining the rear hat shelf. Installation is reported to take only a day.
The best source of current information about mods is the American Bonanza Society. It offers service clinics, fly-ins and a good magazine. The ABS is located in Wichita, Kansas (where else?). Find them at (www.bonanza.org). In our opinion, we would not own a Bonanza without being a member of the ABS.
Beech 36 Bonanza Owner Comments
We recently acquired our A36 after selling our previous bird, an A35 Bonanza, due to our family having outgrown it. Both aircraft are from the same lineage, and because of that they share the same wonderful flying qualities of which the Bonanza is so well known. But, there is an extra 1000 pounds on the wing in the 36 and you feel it in the controls. In short, flying the A36 is like flying a truck when compared to the A35. While the controls are heavier, they aren’t objectionable, and the extra weight also makes for a much more stable platform. I found that to be the only issue in transitioning from our old Bo.
We routinely true out at 155-160 knots at 10,000 to 11,000 feet. Fuel burn with a stock IO-520 engine at our normal cruise of 20 inches and 2300 RPM averages about 12 GPH. We recently installed GAMIjectors, and that reduced cruise fuel flow to about 10.5 GPH.
Speaking of GAMIjectors, that, in my opinion, is the single best mod any Bonanza owner can do to their aircraft.
The airplanes are solid, reliable machines. For family travel they really have no competition; they are in a class of themselves. They’re great to fly, have no nasty handling quirks and are super comfortable for long flights.
Chris Nichols, Via email
I have owned a 1988 B36TC for 14 years. I think it fits the high-performance piston single spot well. I live at 8000 feet in Colorado and often cross the mountains at 13,500 or 14,500 feet, or above, so the turbo engine is useful. It will climb 1000 FPM, even in the teens, and the ceiling is 24,000 feet. Cruise is 170 knots true at a modest power of 28 inches and 2300 RPM at 18 GPH, at 11,500 feet. More power, up to 31 inches at 2400 RPM gives more speed and probably 200 knots true at 20,000 feet.
Pros: interior room and a feel of quality overall. Holds 108 gallons fuel, so range is longer than I can sit. Nice handling in cruise, stronger than some planes, rated utility category.
Cons: the Continental engine, problems with exhaust valves mainly—once had zero compression since the valve face was missing a pie-shaped piece, and had a cracked case.
Two points to know on the B36TC: If not properly rigged and closed, the door can pop open just at lift off. No problem, but the noise is like a firecracker and can scare the pilot into doing something dumb. Do it on purpose on the initial checkout and learn.
It comes new with six seats. If you don’t want two people to have to ride backwards, you can turn the middle seats around to face forward. It is easy if you read the pilot manual on how to do it. I removed my rear seats and use that area for baggage room.
Bill Greenwood, Via email
I have a 1976 A-36 Bonanza that I purchased in 2009. I was disappointed with the lack of storage space in the airplane, as the pre-1979 models were not equipped with a rear baggage compartment.
I had the SmartSpace baggage mod done and have been very happy with the result. The fit and finish are excellent, and it’s easy to remove for inspecting the flight controls and avionics in the rear fuselage.
I’m also happy with the other mods to the airplane; the Atlantic Aero engine conversion, tip tanks, turbonormalizing and GAMIjectors.
It’s been very reliable—I’ve only scrubbed a few flights in four years. Operating costs run $150-$175 per hour based on 150-200 hours per year, not including insurance and hangar.
David Crouch, Via email
Our family was growing when aircraft prices plummeted with the stock market, so we took the opportunity to upgrade from a four-place airplane. Our choices were a Piper Lance/Saratoga or a Beech 36/A36. After testing used examples of both aircraft side-by-side at a dealer, the decision was obvious. The flying qualities and performance of the A36 were nothing short of fantastic.
Transition training was straightforward. I took advantage of personalized training from the American Bonanza Society and highly recommend this approach. With about 1000 hours total time and less than 100 hours in retracts, insurance for the first year was around $3000 for a $1 million smooth policy. It settled to around $2500 as my experience built.
The challenge, we quickly discovered, was baggage space. We could only afford pre-1979 A36 aircraft and, frankly, preferred these due to the increased useful load when compared to later models.
I went to work on creating an STC to expand the baggage capacity of these earlier 36/A36 aircraft so that we could have the same space benefits of the later A36 aircraft. It was a very long, expensive and painful process, but in late 2010 my company, Approach Aviation, was awarded STC SA00304BO for SmartSpace Extended Baggage.
The kit costs $4999 and takes only a day for installation in most cases. Since the cost of a post-1979 A36 is tens of thousands of dollars more than a “baggage-challenged” earlier 36/A36, I think this STC represents an outstanding value in general aviation.
Jeff Simon, Approach Aviation
I purchased a 1999 Bonanza A36TN (Tornado Alley Turbo) approximately five years ago. It is a great travelingmachine, especially with the TN conversion and tip tanks. I have 104 usable gallons and at 180 knots, a range of over 1200 NM. I usually fly WOT (wide open throttle) 2300 RPM and LOP (lean of peak), burning 14.8 GPH.
The engine is now 200 hours past TBO and running well. A multi-probe engine monitor is a must with the TN, as are GAMIjectors. My CHTs are in the low 300s in winter and low to mid-300s in summer. I try to run at least 60 degrees lean of peak TIT.
My 1999 aircraft with TKS (+100 pounds), air conditioning (+60 pounds) and turbonormalizing (+80 pounds) is heavy at 2810 pounds empty. With full fuel (624 pounds), I have 566 pounds available for people and luggage. So, for long flights it is a good two-person plane, with lots of luggage. Leaving the tip tanks empty, I have four hours of fuel, 720 NM range, and I pick up 180 extra pounds of payload, providing 720 pounds for people and luggage.
The transition from the Cessna 182 was relatively easy; however, there was a definite learning curve when hot and heavy. Fully loaded, my A36TN’s gross weight is 4000 pounds. I break ground after using between 1400 and 1900 feet of runway, depending on conditions.
Shops in our area charge anywhere from a low of $2500 to $4000 for annuals on A36TNs. Routine maintenance on the engine and avionics probably adds another $1500-$2500 per year. The aircraft has been extremely reliable and has never let me down on a trip. I attend the ABS (American Bonanza Society) service clinics and take instruction annually from an instructor specializing in A36TNs.
The A36TN is a delight to fly, especially in hard IFR conditions. Controls are on the heavy side, which translates into more stability. I believe TKS is a must-have option in the Northwest due to icing and the fact my aircraft primarily flies in the teens.
Dave Ross, Via email
I purchased my A36 with no hours in type and 500 hours total time. I believe there were three companies willing to insure me. The best deal came from the insurance company that had a relationship with the flight school where I had been flying. The insurance company required an IPC with a specific instructor at the school as my checkout. Insurance was just under $3000, which I hope comes down dramatically since I’ve logged more than 150 hours in the 10 months since I bought the airplane.
Buying the Bonanza over other planes came down to networking with members of the American Bonanza Society, BeechTalk, CSOBeech, Southeastern Bonanza Society and others, comparing useful load, speed, reports of reliability and durability as well as utility. The extra cost of retractable versus fixed gear became a minor issue when all the other factors were reviewed. I bought the Chevy Suburban of singles. The back doors make flying my dogs and rescued dogs a breeze—I’m a volunteer pilot for Pilots N Paws.
Susan Delgado, Via email
This article originally appeared in the October 2013 issue of Aviation Consumermagazine.
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