American Bonanza Society Flies-In to Savannah GA

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The American Bonanza Society (ABS) convened its Spring 2013 Fly-In in the historic and elegant city of Savannah Georgia during the long weekend of May 16th through the 19th.  The more than 200 registered participants (pilots, spouses, friends and family) attended both social activities and training sessions designed around owning and flying the Beechcraft, and/or enjoying the charm found in old Savannah.  While I traveled to the Georgia coast to learn a bit about the iconic V-tailed single and the Society that supports its’ operation, I learned that there’s much more to this story than I originally thought.

To begin with, the name “American Bonanza Society” doesn’t speak of the entirety of the organization’s supported types.  You can trace the lineage of the Beechcraft Debonair, Travelair, Baron, and some modern variants  of the Bonanza back to the original V-tailed Model 35 Bonanza design.  These aircraft and their owners and pilots are supported by, and welcomed in the ABS too.  Here’s a look at some Bonanza history and its’ extended family tree, plus some notes from the Spring Fly-In.

The prototype Beechcraft  Model 35 Bonanza first flew in December 1945, shortly after World War II ended.  It was designed as a fast personal transport, manufactured mainly of metal but with some fabric covered control surfaces.  The easily recognized V tail was chosen partly for weight reduction and streamlining the design.  Retractable landing gear and room for four people and baggage put this aircraft in competition with the likes of the Cessna 195 and North American Navion.  Shortly after production began in 1947 all-metal control surfaces were adopted.  In 1959, the Model 33 Debonair was introduced, which was a Model 35 Bonanza variant with a conventional tail.  In 1968 the Model 36 Bonanza was rolled out; this was a slightly longer version of the original Bonanza, but again it carried a conventional tail.  The Beechcraft Model 45/T-34 Mentor was designed as a military trainer derived from the Bonanza’s basic design, but reduced to a twin-seat design with a conventional tail.  The ABS doesn’t include the T-34/Model 45 airframe in their organization, nor does it include another military variant of the Bonanza… the QU-22 manned unmanned reconnaissance version of the Model 36 used during the Vietnam War.

A twin-engined civilian transport that incorporated many Bonanza and Mentor design features was the Model 95 Travelair, which first flew in 1956.  In 1960, a redesign of this twin gave rise of the Model 95-55 Baron and its military counterpart, the T-42 Cochise.  In 1967, a turbocharged Baron, known as the Model 95-56 was introduced for a short four years.  The larger Model  58 Baron was introduced in 1969, and a pressurized Model 58P followed in 1975.

More than 17,000 Bonanzas of all models and variants have been built, including more than 10,000 V-tailed airframes.  Although the original Model 35 went out of production in 1982 and the Model 33 in 1973, the G36 version of the Bonanza is still in production today.  More than 700 Travelair Model 95s were produced between 1958 and 1968.  Almost 3700 Model 55/56 Barons were delivered before production ended in 1984 too.  More than 3000 Model 58 Barons have been built to date, and the top of the line G58 version is still in production.  Needless to say, most of the Beechcraft Bonanza-derived designs have fared well against their competitors.

The first two days of the Fly-In centered around Sheltair Aviation, the host FBO at the Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport, and the Hilton DeSoto hotel in downtown Savannah.  A total of 74 Bonanza-derived aircraft, including a dozen twins (Barons and a Travelair) graced the FBO’s ramp on Thursday; 78 Beechcraft (Beechcrafts?) would ultimately attend along with a handful of other brands of aircraft that brought members and sponsors to the event.  The final day focused on social events, including the Saturday night Awards Banquet highlighted by an appearance by aviation humorist Ralph Hood.

Inside the hotel, the ABS Air Safety Foundation and AIG Insurance sponsored a series of Beechcraft Pilot Proficiency Program (BPPP) classroom sessions which were spread over two half days, covering wide-ranging topics like “avoiding gear up and gear collapse mishaps”, single pilot resource management techniques, business aircraft risk assessment , understanding  the pilot-controller relationship, and several  maintenance related  subjects.  BPPP Instructor pilot and retired air traffic controller John Foster likened these sessions to “continuing education” for the Beechcraft owner and operator.  John presented a pair of sessions dealing with pilot-controller interaction to about 100 pilots who attended the forums.

A main goal of these BPPP sessions is embodied in the ABS Aviator Program.  As explained in ABS literature, “Although… members are very familiar and comfortable with the concept of lifelong learning in their professional lives, the beneficial philosophy of continuing education is not normally encouraged in personal aviation. Professional pilots are required to complete recurrent training frequently. There is ample evidence that the vastly better safety record of commercial aviation (when compared to personal flying) is a direct result of this “lifelong learning” requirement”.

The goal of the Aviator Program, which began in 2005, “is to make you a safer, more knowledgeable and more confident pilot. We hope that by identifying the wide variety of learning opportunities available, and by recognizing members who have gone far beyond the minimum requirements for maintaining proficiency, you will be encouraged to map out your own “lifelong learning” strategy and become even safer operating Beech airplanes”.  Each classroom session earned participants a number of points towards the Aviator’s goal of 100 annual points.

I learned a lot during my short time at the Fly-In at Savannah… that the American Bonanza Society supports a number of Beechcraft models, all of which have the original Model 35 Bonanza as the basis of their design.  All Bonanzas don’t have the iconic V-tail either.  The ABS is committed to safety and continuing education as much as any organization I’ve seen.  And there were a lot of owners and pilots eager to learn about their responsibility of operating their Beechcraft safely.

Ken Kula

Special thanks to ABS Executive Director Whit Hickman, BPPP Instructor John Foster, and Gary Gutkowski, Brandon Coleman and Bill Garghill of Sheltair Aviation for sharing their time and knowledge with me.

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Ken Kula

Assignment and Content Editor, writer and photographer A New Englander all of my life, I've lived in New Hampshire since 1981. My passion for all things aviation began at a very early age, and I coupled this with my interest of photography during college in the late 1970s. I spent 32 years in the air traffic control industry, and concurrently, enjoyed my aviation photography and writing adventures, which continue today. I've been quite fortunate to have been mentored by some generous and gifted individuals. I enjoy contributing to this great site, and working with some very knowledgeable and equally passionate aviation followers.

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