by Jared Jacobs, Owner-Pilot
Aircraft being the high-value, highly complex mechanical assets that they are, I am certain that buyer’s remorse is a real condition owners can potentially find themselves in. While Editor Rebecca Jacobs and I could very well be in the honeymoon phase of ownership, we currently find ourselves in the exact opposite state – with a case of what I am calling “buyer’s rejoice” (insert eye roll here).
As I write this, we are exactly one month into (co)ownership of our beautiful 1970 F33A Bonanza. Over the last month, 121RW has been discussed daily, visited frequently, and flown about 10 hours (despite the arctic vortex that shut down the Midwest for a week and a half).
If you are reading Twin & Turbine, chances are you have purchased an airplane (or multiple) and hopefully have fond memories of the experience. I imagine we also have some readers new to the world of general aviation or with life-long dreams of buying an airplane of their own (especially in a post-COVID era). In any case, Rebecca and I think there is value in continuing to share our story and perspective as first-time purchasers, whether to resurface memories for some or .inspire others. You can expect an update from us every two or three issues. Also, for tips for first-time searchers, see this month’s Editor’s Briefing – page 2.
Why the Bonanza
Naturally, when our search began at the end of last summer, the biggest question that needed answering was, “Which aircraft is right for us?”
To start, we gathered advice from everyone we could think of in our
aviation circle – owner-pilots, salespeople, instructors, A&Ps, etc. We are super fortunate to be connected to many knowledgeable and experienced pilots both personally and professionally. We then established our mission and prospective aircraft in the September 2020 Editor’s Briefing (“The Search is On”). In that article we explain that we really needed a cross-country machine with a capable IFR platform and listed a few of the obvious models that would meet that criteria – Mooney M20J, Cessna 210 and Beechcraft Debonair/Bonanza. Thanks to dozens of reader responses following that article, a few other aircraft were considered for the shortlist, but in the end, it was all going to come down to the almighty dollar. As first-time owners, we definitely did not want to overextend ourselves. However, when the prospect of a partnership became a real possibility in December, the budget and wish list started to more closely align. Co-ownership was a true gamechanger.
Let me pause here and confess that of the aircraft I listed above, there was one that already stood out as “the” airplane for us…the Bonanza. In our hearts, we are Beechcraft people. We wear the scarlet “B” with pride. Rebecca was raised in the back seat of an F33 and later an A36. And my first real pilot job was flying and demonstrating Bonanzas and Barons for Beechcraft. Looking back on our initial search, we were always comparing the other aircraft to the Bonanza. And now that we own one, I can’t tell you the number of people who have told me, “I always knew you would end up with a Bonanza.” It was less simple for us to arrive at this apparently obvious conclusion, but with the clarity of hindsight, I know that we made the right decision for us.
Why This Bonanza?
Our acquisition story of 1RW (“Introducing 121RW,” T &T March 2021) is absolutely an example of the stars aligning. But coincidence is far from the only reason that we ended up with this aircraft. As soon as I saw the listing, I knew deep down that the aircraft was right for us.
First, we knew that we wanted a straight-tail Bonanza due to the number of question marks currently surrounding the future availability of the V-tail’s ruddervator skin material. I also knew that for our long cross-country flights, we wanted the airplane to have at least an IO-520 to cover the distances faster. If you do a little research, you will learn that the straight tail model 33 earned the title of Bonanza in 1968 when the E33 was first offered with the upgraded “A” designation for the IO-520 engine. Two years later, the F33A would begin its 24-year run as the only straight tail, short body, big engine Bonanza. Today, the market for F33A’s is very hot, so finding an aircraft in the budget that met our criteria was going to be tricky. But finding one of the earliest examples of an F33A (the sixth ever built, for instance) made 1RW a perfect fit.
While earlier model F33A’s were more likely in our price range, there were a couple features of these aircraft that I wasn’t sure about initially. The 1970 version of the F33A most notably has the small baggage door and the large hat shelf in the baggage area. By 1971, Beechcraft would remove the shelf to expand the cargo capacity and install the large baggage door found on the F33A for the rest of its production. When you first look at the baggage area, it does seem like there is quite a bit of wasted space. But in reality, we can fit four roller bags standing straight up before needing to place any additional items on top, which is more than adequate for our needs. Another early model feature I was hesitant about was the 14-volt electrical system that was later swapped out in favor of a 28-volt system. After a little bit of research, though, it was clear that this wasn’t necessarily a bad feature, just different – especially in the age of modern avionics and LED lighting that lessen the electrical load.
The main hidden benefit of the early F33A’s is the CG and payload superiority. It is a bit of a “Goldilocks” situation. The maximum takeoff weight was increased thanks to higher engine power, but before heavy components made their way into the specification list. Later-model F33A’s are notorious for having difficulties carrying even one adult passenger (or heavy cargo) in the rear seats before the CG moves too far aft once fuel is burned from the tanks. This can be attributed to avionics components mounted in the tail and heavier interiors and insulation. I have seen it said on forums that any F33A with an empty CG forward of 81 is desirable. The empty CG of 1RW is at 79.6.
Add on the tip-tanks that were recently installed (further increasing the max takeoff weight from 3,400 lbs. to 3,600 lbs.) and we have a useful load of 1,446 lbs. which leaves us a full fuel payload of 762 lbs! To put all of this into layman’s terms, we can take four average adults, 80 lbs. of baggage, fly 7.5 hours, and remain completely within the weight and CG envelope. For later model airplanes, there is almost no amount of money that you can throw into the airplane to correct the aft CG issues. Our seller was so proud of the CG and useful load that he put it directly in the listing because it is a true selling point for people who know what they are looking for.
The ownership history of 1RW was also a huge selling point. For 37 of its 50-year history, the aircraft was owned by a chief pilot of a large flight department. This owner clearly knew how to take care of an airplane based on the impeccable maintenance logs. In addition to regularly overhauling/replacing the routine wear items, consistent and frequent upgrades were made to the airplane. Throughout the years, nearly every component of the aircraft was addressed: engine (from the original IO-520-B to the -BA with heavy crankcase and VAR crankshaft upgrades, cooling baffles and GAMIjectors) paint, interior, engine monitor and fuel totalizer, thick windscreen and windows, and of course, avionics. The most recent owner continued the trend by adding D’Shannon 20-gallon tip tanks and engine floorboards, a full outfit of exterior LED lights, a Garmin G5 standby display (allowing for the removal of the vacuum system), and an upgrade to the Aspen Evolution 1000 PRO MAX PFD.
Big-ticket upgrades are easy to pick out from an aircraft listing, but actually being able to lay our hands on 1RW and get to know its owner and history led to a great gut feeling that ultimately helped us make the big purchase decision – a feeling that was confirmed when the pre-buy inspection report came back with only minor suggested repairs.
Only the Beginning
Our journey into aircraft ownership has been well documented in
T &T Editor’s Briefings to this point, and we have only just begun. Stay tuned as Rebecca and I continue to provide updates and insight behind the joys (and hopefully limited trials) of our experience. We are confident these articles have the potential to inspire buyer’s rejoice for seasoned and aspiring owners alike!