Don’t let your ego write checks your experience can’t cash.
I was getting the keys to my trusty rented Warrior at the FBO when a confident young man and his buxom blonde companion brushed past me. They walked out to the ramp, arm in arm, and stepped up to a beautiful, polished, orange-striped V-tailed Bonanza. I watched through the window as the man did a cursory preflight: tires kicked, chocks removed, preflight done.
I took my keys and walked out onto the apron. The Beech taxied by me and turned left to head out to the departure end of the runway. I watched it go, jealous; what pilot doesn’t secretly covet the V-tail Bonanza?
I started my preflight the usual way, just aft of the left wing root, tracing my hands over the skin of the wings and looking for anything alarming. By the time I made it to the left wingtip I heard the deep roar of a big engine, and I turned around to see the Bonanza buzzing down the runway, maybe five feet off the ground, gear swinging up. The pilot stayed level and accelerated the full length of the runway, building speed until at the last second he pulled into a steep climbing turn. The Bonanza screamed up and to the left, arcing steeply into the air. I watched with interest, certain that I was about to watch this beautiful airplane stall and spin into someone’s house. U was waiting for the top to come over and the nose to slip down. Luckily, the Bonanza righted and departed to the South.
Now, I’ll admit that his departure looked cool. And I’ll admit that the pilot probably impressed his date. But the bulk of my impression was that he had more money than sense. Schaumburg is a flat airport surrounded by suburbs. There is no reason to be doing low-level aerobatics on departure. All it does is piss off the airport neighbors and give a black eye to those of us who try to fly right. And when this pilot inevitably screws up and kills himself, flying his V-35 like an F-18, he’ll make us all look bad and bring more bad PR to General Aviation. Like we need that.
Speaking of bad PR, what is with Bonanzas crashing? The recent mid-air collision in Virginia involved a Bonanza. AOPA profiled a series of accidents involving a blatantly irresponsible Bonanza pilot, now deceased. A Piper I used to fly, 121DL, was involved in a mid-air when a Bonanza pilot who was off frequency crashed into the traffic pattern and gashed open the Piper’s belly. Months ago, there was a plane crash at Lake in the Hills, close to my home airport. When I saw the news, I shook my head and said to myself, ”It’s always a Bonanza.” There’s even a Bonanza Pilot joke:
So a pilot dies and goes to heaven. While he’s waiting at the Pearly Gates, he sees a Bonanza swoop over at low altitude and crash, exploding into flames. The pilot is shocked to see a man climb from the wreckage and run off. The line advances and the man moves closer to the gates, and it happens again: a Bonanza swoops over and smashes just beyond the gates, showering debris into the skies. The same man gets out and runs away. The pilot is perturbed, and when he gets to the gates he has to ask Peter: what in the world is going on? ”Oh,” says St. Peter. “That’s just God. He thinks he’s a Bonanza pilot.”
There’s more to that joke than a cheap laugh. The problem is not with the Bonanza. The Bonanza is an awesome airplane. It is well-balanced, it has good manners, and it’s allegedly a joy to fly. Plus it’s hot. The Bonanza definitely meets the criteria for what looks good flies good.
The only problem is that it is a lot of airplane. It’s fast, complex, and demanding. You have to have the flying chops to stay ahead of the airplane. Speaking as a low-time, non-IFR private pilot, a Bonanza would be way too much airplane for me to fly safely right now. I need more experience, and I would need a lot of transitional training. If I had a plane like a Bonanza, I would want to fly it frequently enough not to get rusty. A lack of recency in a powerful airplane like the Bonanza is an insidious little problem for a pilot. If you haven’t flown in a while, it’s probably best to go with a safety pilot or a CFI.
So the problem is not the airplane, it’s the operator. Bonanza pilots seem to have more ego than us “regular” pilots. I base this assertion on radio manners, behavior at the FBO and that air of impatient superiority that so many Bonanza pilots carry around with them. I think that is somewhat reflective of the person who can afford a Bonanza: doctors, lawyers, businesspeople. The personality traits that make for a great doctor, lawyer, or executive do not make for a great pilot. The Bonanza is not called the fork-tailed doctor killer for nothing. It is the Porsche of the skies, the ultimate status symbol; but it is much less forgiving than a sportscar. A moment’s inattention, or a series of little gaps, can leave you so far behind the airplane that it’s hard to catch back up. And then you plow into my rental airplane in the traffic pattern*. Thanks.
Just like any other airplane, the Bonanza demands attention and does not forgive arrogance. The Bonanza pilot at Schaumburg had a beautiful airplane but terrible flying manners. The Bonanza is not to blame for her reputation; it’s the guy in the left seat. Whether it’s hard IFR, a disregard for authority, or simple testosterone-fueled hot-dogging, too many Bonanza pilot lets their ego write a check that their flying experience cannot cash. I hate to see such a beautiful airplane get a bad rap just because a few pilots have bad manners. So it goes.
*I am not the accident pilot…it was just my rental plane. Still.