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"We are the protagonists of our stories called life, and there is no limit to how high we can fly."


Type rated on A330, B747-400, B747, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

V-Tail Bonanza Debate is on!

In search of a plane...
 
A friend we will call Pilot 1 is helping me search for a plane. He sent me this link to a V-tail Bonanza that I thought was awesome! I happened to be discussing another issue with two pilot friends, and asked them to look at this. Below is what transpired.





I sent the link to two pilot friends, one in general aviation and the other an airline pilot who owns small aircraft, to ask their thoughts. We'll call them Pilot 2 and Pilot 3. Below are their responses.

Pilot 2: 

"As far as the Bonanza goes....... They do make the best airplanes. I am NOT a fan of the "V" tail. Lot's of unexplained crashes in those things, including a few friends of mine who where well experienced. Anyway, I would not give much more than 45K for that model & vintage. As a friend, I would rather see you in a straight tail Bonanza. It's a buyer's market for any commodity aircraft. My recommendation is never finance an airplane, always pay$$$. Otherwise, it is better to rent."

Pilot 3: 

"I agree with Pilot 2.  The V tailed airplanes are a neat concept but they have had issues, especially older ones. The model you should look for is F33 (4 seats) or A36 (6 seats). Both have conventional tails and are good airplanes. There's no arguing a bonanza will do what you need. Another thing to consider is the location of it. 

You will need a pre-buy inspection done by a mechanic (usually takes just a few hours but can get costly if away). I think it's important to use a trusted mechanic but I know you've been away from general aviation for a long time. Using a mechanic at the location of the airplane is difficult because you don't know their work quality and they may charge too much as well. I only bring this up because I noticed it was in Tulsa. I'll keep an eye out on my end for good bonanzas. They can be hard to come by because they are popular!"


I shared both these responses with Pilot 1. 
Below is his response. 

Pilot 1:
 
Old Wives Tail Alert! Both are wrong. Here’s why:

In the 1940’s Beech came out with the Beech 35, which used a V-tail design to reduce drag and create a high performance design. Because the tail only has two surfaces, they have to do the work of both the vertical and horizontal tails and use “Ruddervators” to do it. The result – less wetted area, less drag.


The downside – susceptibility to flutter because the two ruddervators are not interconnected. So you do have to be careful that they are properly balanced, and have any tail work done by an expert. As there were 15,000 built, those experts are reasonably available.

In 1951, in order to ensure greater stability and to provide for growth of the aircraft, Beech enlarged the tail twenty percent. To avoid a major structural redesign of the tail and to avoid new tooling costs, Beech did not move the location of the front tail spar. When Beech modified the tail, much of the increased size was placed ahead of the front tail spar. This left the spar sixteen inches behind the leading edge of the tail. This was a bad idea.


When at high speed (above VNE) in rough air (think thunderstorm or VFR-into-IMC and a resulting steep spiral dive), the leading edge of the diagonal tail could be deflected up or down because the support structure (spar) was too far back. The result was a series of in-flight break ups, a reputation as the “forked tail Doctor killer”, and an FAA study. The FAA concluded that rather than the V-tail Bonanza being an unsafe airplane, the Straight Tail Bonanza was cited as an unusually safe airplane. 
 
About the same time as the FAA study, the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) conducted its own study. The FAA study had examined in-flight break-up for a wide variety of aircraft. The NTSB study examined the accident history of light, single engine fixed-wing aircraft. The conclusion of the NTSB study agreed with the FAA study. And that was before the AD. They concluded the a/c met certification requirements, and the primary issue was pilot error – in other works, Doctors were Forked Tail Bonanza killers, not the other way around.


However, out-of-envelope in-flight break ups continued, and eventually, Beechcraft and the FAA gave in, and issued a mandatory AD (94-20-04 R2) which required 2 things: the addition of strengthening “cuffs” that hold the tail leading edge in place, and immediate and repetitive 100hr inspections of the rear bulkheads (where the cuffs attach). If that AD has been complied with and the bulkheads are not deformed, the aircraft is perfectly safe. If it hasn’t, run away and tell the FAA – the aircraft is not airworthy. It’s easy to tell – look where the leading edge is attached to the fuselage (not my plane):


So my conclusion is, even without the cuffs, if flown properly and kept within its performance envelope the V-tail was a safe airplane. With the cuffs and AD inspection compliance, it’s very safe – as safe as the straight tail. No other light aircraft has been as studied as the V-tail Bonanza. V-tails continued to be made until 1982, but their reputation as being somehow less safe, deserved or not, never went away. 
 
 
This is of course still debated almost daily on Beechtalk between the V-tail owners and the C33/A36 owners, just as the twin vs. single debate is ongoing daily between the Bonanza, Debonair and Sundowner pilots and the Baron, Duke, and King/Queen Air crowd. The truth is, any high performance aircraft can get you in trouble if not flown within its limits, or within the pilot’s experience and knowledge (see JFK Jrs flight on a moonless night, over the ocean, in a Piper Malibu, without an instrument rating or IFR plan).

Also V-tails – the F-117, F-22, F-35, the air force’s new unmanned space shuttle………

There you have it. 
The V-tail Debate continues. 
What do you think?

Enjoy the Journey!
XO Karlene

28 comments:

  1. It's a V tail. I believe It needs someone who knows about them. It's not a monster, it's a tail. So you will eventually have to have someone who can configure them correctly.

    I agree with Pilot 3. It is a good idea to have a mechanic of your trust who can go with you to where the aircraft is located and do a pre-buy inspection. Maybe P3 knows someone?

    I've seen V Bonanzas in Abingdon-UK. They are lovely. I would have one. I would even have a Piper Cub! A yellow one.

    Is it possible for you to have a test flight?

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    1. Thanks Alex!!! Oh...and I have pictures. :)Coming your way. Thank you for the comment!

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  2. This is an interesting debate for sure. I say take it for a test flight. The V tail is a unique design for sure which offers a challenge. I do like how it resembles that of the fighters.

    Personally I think it would be a good fit for you - for sure!

    Hope you had a great ride over last night!

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    1. Thanks Jeremy... it's one of those things that one friend recommends one thing and another sends warning. There are signs everywhere. I'm thinking... get a movie done and go for the straight tail. If it's about money... how much is your life worth? Thanks for the comment!

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  3. Hi Karlene,

    These are very interesting perspectives. I have learned some new lessons.

    I will introduce the debate to my friends at school.

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    1. Joseph, Thank you so much! I would love to hear what they all say.

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  4. Hi Karlene. What do I think, as a non-pilot? I think you are on the right course and are proceeding with caution. You are getting first rate advice and you know how to use that advice. As a pilot of many year's experience flying may types of heavies, you already understand the importance of flying well within the envelope (where many others may not) and are, perhaps, one of the few pilots who can operate a V-Tail properly - AND make the right choice. If additional ground school and/or CFI time are indicated for this unique airplane, you'll do it, rather than balking at the cost and won't set a solo foot into it until all concerned are satisfied that you are fully ready to do so. In the end, the airplane's reputation may save you a lot of money and you'll be thoroughly qualified to operate it properly. Best wishes and please keep us posted. -C. P.S. Book?

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    1. Craig, you have excellent points. I would not take it outside its envelope and most definitely get the training I need... all good points!

      Book... should have been done 2 months ago but life and family. I'm so close... it's going to be a reality before we know it.

      Thank you so much for your comments! And... support of my writing too!

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    2. PS... did you see Wednesday post?
      http://tinyurl.com/njd7twt

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  5. What do I think? I think I'm excited that you're buying an airplane and I've decided I'd like a ride in whatever you buy:)

    My grandfather had an old V-tailed Bonanza in the 1960's and almost killed himself in it more than once. It was, however, him and not the airplane. I spent a lot of time in a number of different models of the Bonanza. As long as it was just me and a couple of friends, my personal favorite was the F33. I flew freight in an A36 and LOVED the huge doors. The extra seats would have been nice if I was using it as a people mover. It may be my imagination, but I always thought the V35 was more unstable around the yaw axis, but I still loved it and wish I still had grand dad's old airplane.

    Regarding the safety issue...I think the v-tailed airplanes are perfectly safe.

    Enjoy the hunt. It's half the fun!

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    1. Oh... this is good news. I'm thinking that pilot error may be the attack on the V-tail. Pilots often push that envelope. But... they used the A36 for freight? That's what I loved about the Aztec. Could carry anything and had the seats. Okay... this is the plane I'm going to buy. A36. Now... I need to find the extra money! Thank you so much for the comment!

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  6. I'll comment!

    I took an aircraft design class. While most of my attention was elsewhere, jk, I do remember my great and wisdowm filled professor disliking the v-tail concept very much. I believe he used some words to the effect of "pain in the butt"

    I have flown bonanzas for most of my time building during school ans absolutely love it. Despite the engine problems we had a couple of times (but was mostly operating errors)

    Anyway as for other v tails like fighters. I don't think it can be directly compared. Computers fly those things and have continuous micro inputs for all control surfaces to ensure that they get the performance requested for it.

    My question is (im sorry if this has been answered in previous posts) why v tail over conventional tail?

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    1. Ramiel, I found your post hiding in moderation. Thank you so much for your comment!! I like the simple answer... "Pain in the butt." That explains so much.

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  7. Karlene,
    I'm a fan of the Bonanza's having flown both the V-tail and the F33 in a previous life.

    I have no concerns about the V-tail, I believe if flown within limits you'll never have an issue.

    My only concern, and someone with more knowledge about Bonanza's should correct me if I"m wrong, but I believe parts can be pricey. If you find a good example though, that shouldn't be a show-stopper.
    My 2 cents.

    Brent

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    1. Parts can be pricy, but that is true of all airplanes. But mitigating that is that so many Bonanzas were built, and have since been parted out, that used parts are reasonably available for the budget conscious. In reality, fuel and labor are the expensive parts of airplane ownership, so why not put on brand new parts for a few extra $?

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    2. Thanks for your comment Brent! And D.B. I had heard that parts can be expensive but had not thought about the used parts. Thank you both!!

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  8. So I am pilot number 1 in this story, and I own and fly a V-tail (V35A). Being a safety-conscious pilot (and wishing to live, and to safely carry my family on vacations) I did some research - but only after falling first for the sexy ramp presence of the V.

    V-tails did have a problem, but only when flown outside of the envelope - the straight tail C/F33 and A36 models had more margin for error. With the 1988 AD, that margin in the V-tail is almost as good as the straight tails. That UT study looked at the ethics and who was to blame, I look at "is it fixed?" I conclude that it is, but I take extra care too stay away from the red Vne line. In fact, I almost never even intrude into the yellow arc, and my procedures are designed stay well inside the envelope.

    The V35A is fast, relatively economical, and handles very well. It rewards a pilot who flies it like a professional does. It can be finicky to load with the CG range (I use an app on my iPAD). The C and F 33 range have about the same CG range, while A36 has a wider range of loading situations, 6 real seats and big doors - and you pay 50% to 100% more for them.

    In low level turbulence the V35A will wag its tail a bit, which is one reason I cruise high, above the convection layer. The other reason is that I live in TX, and in summer it's much cooler up high. After a few hours I stopped even noticing the tail wag, it's very easy to end with some right rudder.

    In summary - concern about structural safety is not a reason not to buy a V-tail. The real reason to choose something else is the mission - how many people or payload do you need to carry? More than 4, or 3 adults with bags? Then get an A36. Are you going to fly over an ocean or spend significant time IFR over the mountains? Then get a twin (with enough single engine power margin to stay in single engine cruise at 12k, and plan on more proficiency requirements/cost).

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    1. Lol... Thank you Pilot one! I'm thinking that the mission will make my decision. Not price. I know I would fly it within limits, but the A36 is really more of what I need. Big doors to put books in and... 6 seats. Now, I just need to find the perfect plane. And the money. THANK YOU!!!

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  9. One thing to remember on this one is weight and balance. Had a friend try to kill himself in one, when, at gross and full tanks, took off on long X/C. As tanks emptied, he found himself full nose-down trim, pushing the yoke to the instrument panel, and still losing speed due to the nose-up attitude. Had just enough authority to roll it on its side, unload it, and build up enough speed to find a runway and land--at about 140mph. Anything slower would have nosed it up, and stalled/spun.

    Learned his lesson, and as a CFI he always insists new Bo owners do multiple W/B calculations so they understand before they go and do the same thing.

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    1. Jim, Thank you so much for the great lesson! We don't need to almost kill ourselves to learn...we can learn from others doing the same thing. And... this is one thing I will need to focus on as the previous 25 years I have had people to do my weight and balance. :)

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  10. My Bonanza experience is limited to one round trip from Oklahoma City to Sioux Falls, SD, in a V-35. My only observation would be that flying it, compared with the Arrows and Comanches I was accustomed to, was like riding in a limo on a smooth highway compared to an old pickup on a rutted dirt road.

    I loved the V-35, but I was never a very adventurous pilot. My flight school had a sign that said, "There are old pilots, and there are bold pilots, but there are no old, bold pilots." I always took that to heart.

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    1. David, I love that sign! And it's so true. So... I will heed this advice as I go forward with this decision. Thank you!!

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  11. DB hits the nail on the head, the mission is the critical element in deciding which Bonanza to own. Our family owned two V-35s and two A36s over the years. The V-35s were a bit faster but the tail wagging was annoying to the passengers. The AD compliance added a bit of extra cost to the annual as well. The A36s were like a big, cushy station wagon, loads of room with lots of power. We loved the single throwover yokes. On a cross-country, put it on autopilot, set the yoke vertically between the pilots, and have room to check charts (iPads now) or have a snack. The greater useful load and the better handling in turbulence gave the preference to the A36 for us. Dad lamented many times how he wished he had kept the last A36 we had, as they skyrocketed in price just a few years after we sold the last one.

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    1. Dave, I think I love you! I'm thinking anything wagging it's tail flying through the air is not the best thing. And love the fact that you've owned them and Dad wished he had kept it. Okay... I'm thinking officially the A36. Now we just need to find one! And maybe those prices will go down.
      Thank you!!

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    2. With an A36 budget, you'd be remiss in not considering some of the turbine singles, like a Pilatus or one of the Pipers, like a Matrix. I don't know the payoff point between turbine and recip, but the speeds are greater with the turbines and the useful loads are comparable.

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    3. Dave, this is a good point. Speed is not a necessity. But I will certainly add this to the point of interest. Mostly... the maintenance expense. Thank you for the added info.

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  12. Karlene,

    My apologies for the REALLY delayed reply here! I think "pilot #1" is probably correct. I think there were some legitimate safety concerns in the past that have mostly been addressed now. However, having flown both types of Bonanzas, I would have to say I still much prefer the straight tail. The V-tails are unique airplanes, but one characteristic I don't like is that in any turbulence, even very light chop you get on any warm day, they tend to yaw a great deal. This requires constant attention to the rudders and a flight of any length, you'll get tired of if very quickly. Particularly for people in the back seat, the yaw can be pretty uncomfortable if you aren't on top of it. All this said, I would buy the airplane you want to. Research it as much as possible, get a good pre-buy maintenance inspection, and get good training and you'll be fine in any airplane.

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    1. Daniel, Thank you for the added information. I think it's great you have flown both. I'm leaning toward the straight tail... I think it will be a better plane for me. Now... I just need to find the perfect plane. Let's keep our eyes open. :) Thanks!!!

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