A Brief History of the Beechcraft Bonanza

By Willie Bodenstein


The six-seater single-engine all metal Bonanza that had its first flight on 22 December 1945 was built at a time when most light aircraft were still made of wood and fabric.

Designed by a team led by Ralph Harmon, the model 35 Bonanza was a relatively fast, low-wing monoplane at a time. The Model 35 featured retractable landing gear, and its signature V-tail which made it both efficient and the most distinctive private aircraft in the sky.

The V-tail design gained a reputation as the "forked-tail doctor killer", due to crashes by overconfident wealthy amateur pilots, fatal accidents and inflight breakups. However, a detailed analysis by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) of accident records for common single-engine retractable-gear airplanes in the United States between 1982 and 1989 demonstrated that the Bonanza had a slightly lower accident rate than other types in the study.

In 1982, the production of the V-tail Bonanza stopped but the conventional-tail Model 33 continued in production until 1995. Still built today is the Model 36 Bonanza, a longer-bodied, straight-tail variant of the original design, introduced in 1968.

More than 17,000 Bonanzas of all variants have been built, produced in both distinctive V-tail and conventional tail configurations the Beech Aircraft Corporation of Wichita, Kansas now part of the Textron Group.

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