The flying qualities of the A36 are legendary for excellent harmony of forces and smooth response. The short V-tail and Model 33 Bonanzas may have slightly lighter control force, but the A36 more than makes up for that with enhanced pitch stability. The longer fuselage length and big horizontal tail provide very precise pitch control that lends itself to smooth and predictable approaches and landings, not to mention lower workload when hand flying. If you are flying by yourself with plenty of fuel, the CG will be pretty far forward and the stick force in the landing flare with flaps down can be a little high, but if you use your thumb on the pitch trim switch and roll in nose up as you reduce power to land, it works perfectly.
Beech changed to a 28-volt electrical system in the late 1970s and that made everything better, from easier engine starts to more power for lights and accessories, and very importantly allowed higher landing gear and flap extension speeds. That may not be enough to woo you away from a very well-maintained earlier A36, but be sure to check out the electrical system and limit speeds when shopping.
Another very important flying quality of the A36 is its ability to handle shorter runways and strong winds. We have often used Bonanzas with the rear doors removed as photo platforms so the photographer can shoot without the distortion of windows. It's perfectly legal to fly with the back doors off. I and other Flying magazine pilots have been amazed by how the A36 will run away from most other, often more powerful or faster airplanes, on takeoff and initial climb as we try to maintain formation. I'm not sure exactly why that is true, but Beech has gotten the propeller and wing combination just right. The A36 has its runway limits just like any airplane, but in the high performance category of piston singles it does a great job in and out of shorter runways. Its fat tires and good propeller clearance also allow the A36 to comfortably use sod or other unimproved runways. The rugged air-over-oil landing gear struts absorb the runway's lumps and bumps, and there is plenty of clearance for the gear doors so they won't snag as they can on some airplanes.
For much of its production life the A36 was tied for the lead in piston single cruise speed, but now other more powerful airplanes or turbocharged models have passed it. However, the 165 to 170 knot typical cruise speed remains usefully fast on acceptable fuel flows. The old rule of thumb was 15 gallons per hour to true around 170 knots, and that still works today. Lean of peak operation knocks a few knots off of that cruise speed but can reduce fuel flow by two or three gallons per hour.
Pilots who can no longer justify the operating costs of a twin, or even a turboprop, can live with 170-knot cruise. Yes, you will miss the extra knots but the operating economics of the Bonanza will make it easier to accept. And the comfort of your surroundings and the pure pleasure of the flying qualities make time spent in a Bonanza more joy than drudgery. And for a pilot moving up from a more basic single, the Bonanza has proven that its cruise speed has satisfied generations of pilots.
Most pilots do -- or at least should -- think of the A36 as a five-hour airplane to dry tanks. That means you should plan to stay in the air no more than four hours. For most of us four hours is more than enough between breaks to stretch and hit the head. But there are still many pilots who cherish the nonstop above all else, and the A36 can deliver with a range of optional aftermarket tip tanks. Depending on which set of tanks you choose, you can stretch your sit time to seven hours or more.
When shopping for a used A36 all of the usual caveats apply. Be sure to have the airplane examined by a knowledgeable Beech mechanic. You don't necessarily need to buy a perfect airplane, you just need to know what you are buying and how much immediate maintenance investment to expect. The airframe itself is very straightforward with few problems that aren't obvious. The landing gear does require correct rigging, and parts can wear over time so that system deserves special attention.
The Continental IO-520 and 550 engines that power the A36 are efficient and smooth running and can have very long lives, or not. Most engine maintenance issues involve cylinder or valve wear and those are usually easy to find with a basic pre-purchase inspection. Years ago there were some issues with engine crankcase cracking, but most of those older design crankcases should have worked their way out of the fleet by now.
If the engine on an A36 you are considering is due for replacement it can be very cost effective to upgrade from the original IO-520 rated at 285 horsepower to the 300 hp IO-550. The engines are nearly identical externally so the 550 fits right into the 520 space with the most minor of modifications. Continental offers trade-in credit on a 520 for a factory rebuilt or factory new 550 so there is little cost difference when replacing the engine. Not all propellers approved for use with the 520 can be used on the 550, so be sure to check that out. However, the new Hartzell propellers are considerably better in performance and durability so a change to the Top Prop is valuable in any event. The 550, particularly with a new Hartzell three-blade, will give you a few more knots speed for a little more fuel, plus better takeoff and initial climb. And, subjectively, I think the 550 runs just a tad smoother.
But back to the flight to quality and our economic concerns. Will the A36 hold its value? Can I get my money back for new engine and avionics? All I can say is that nobody knows. But what I am certain of is that the A36 is the most tested and proven choice you can make in a used single today. And that is worth a lot..