Turning Point

Patric Rowley, Wichita, Kansas

Photo courtesy of John Allen

It’s hard to think of the Bonanza as anything but immortal. After all, it’s a design that has endured for almost six decades, gaining in popularity year after year. Today, it is still an important part of the Beechcraft product line and, without any evidence to the contrary, it appears that it is very much a part of the company’s continuing future. Raytheon plans to produce 71 new Bonanzas this year.

But there was a time when the Bonanza became a question mark in the minds of those who were managing the destiny of Beechcraft airplanes. In fact, Beech management was seriously entertaining the idea of ending production of the Bonanza, thus closing one of the more exciting chapters in the history of general aviation.

What happened to cast this dark shadow on the airplane that got off to such a rousing start? And what happened to turn around the Bonanza in a way that would make it the most successful airplane ever to be introduced in its performance category?

This is a condensed version about the turning point in the history of the Bonanza and of the time when no one knew whether it would survive.

In 1946 the Bonanza was a great idea waiting to happen. World War II had just ended and the winds of change were howling. Millions of veterans returning to civilian life brought with them new ideas that would transform the face of the nation and the world.

The enormous pent-up pressures of demand for civilian goods, as well as the broad advances in technology motivated by the war, were like a mighty body of water straining against the cracking walls of a great dam. There were millions of homes to build, new highway systems to design and construct and a burgeoning new market for all kinds of consumer goods.

The American public, deprived of new cars for four long years, was ready to resume its romance with the automobile industry.

One of the newest concepts to be brought back from the war was the idea of an aircraft that would figuratively share the garages of America with the automobile–a sort of everyman’s airplane, a modern-day version of Henry Ford’s mass-produced Model T. It would, the concept espoused, be used for business transportation and even as a kind of recreational vehicle.

Millions of people all over the world had witnessed the dramatic spectacle of great fleets of bombers, fighters and transport airplanes. During the war, the speed, utility and versatility demonstrated by the dozens of types and models of war planes fired the imagination of the public.

In World War I, they were singing, "How you gonna keep