The little red plane is fast, lightweight, banks like a motorcycle in turns, and handles like a sport bike. Feeling a lot like I was 18 and on a motorcycle with no specific plan other than adventure, my wife Susane and I climbed into the bright red 1947 Bonanza. With round gauges, RNAV, a yoke-mounted GPS in its proper place, and a stack of paper sectionals, WACs, and low altitude enroute charts on the back seat, the cabin environment was comfortingly familiar.
It was November and rainy, but there were occasional open spaces in the layered clouds at the Tacoma Narrows Airport, Washington. The weather forecast was good at Redding, California, with sunshine farther south. The 67-year-old Bonanza, refitted with 260 horses, climbed through a hole in the clouds at close to 2,000 feet per minute at 115 knots, even with 70 gallons of fuel, our baggage, and my wife and I aboard. No muss, no fuss.
At 20 inches and 2,250 rpm we settled into a nice 155 knot cruise at 11,500 feet. My wife handed me a Starbuck's latte in an insulated metal cup.
Skimming along on top of the high clouds over Oregon was beautiful - better than a motorcycle and every bit as, if not more, beautiful than the open road on a sunny day. The sun was bright, the clouds dreamy beneath us and the whole world in front of us. After a fuel stop in Fresno, we crossed over and flew east over the desert. About eight hours of flight time out of Tacoma, flight-following deposited us on base a Tucson International Airport, Tucson, Arizona. Thunderstorms were building to the east.
The resort in Tucson, on the edge of the desert, was more than perfect - infinitely better than the flop house hotels I stayed at in my youth when on a motorcycle. Hundred-year-old adobe construction, cactus, rock hills and just the right amount of people. Friends were easy to make and when convective stuff over Texas delayed us, we enjoyed a couple extra days in the desert. Hot tubs on the east and west dice of the large property were perfect to watch the sun rise and set. Who is in a hurry?
The eventual flight to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was through clouds and rain east of El Paso, Texas, so we diverted to the north and flew a course parallel to our charted course. The night flight into Baton Rouge was a dream of light on a clear night, and ATC flight-following brought us to the runway, which was almost invisible in the sea of lights. The following day, it took only 3.5 hours to fly to Lakeland Linder Regional Airport near Tampa, Florida. The only complaint en route was the bothersome MOAs and Restricted areas that needed attention and limited direct routing. Even the Victor airways had restrictions.
The idea for this trip came about as a result of a novel series (Pirates, Scoundrels, and Saints) that I am writing. I needed to revisit the places mentioned in the novels. The logistics took a bit of time to figure out - complicated by my day job as a lawyer in my modest office in Gig Harbor, Washington. Also, solidly on Medicare at 65, I wondered if a medical issue would arise, so the last few ears I have been flying a rented Cessna Skycatcher Light Sport Aircraft. When the plan of flying from Seattle through the Caribbean to Caracas, Barranquilla, and up though Central America and Mexico matured, it was clear I had to fly something else. My first choice was a nice rented aircraft. I discovered I could rent a Cessna in San Juan and fly to the U.S. Virgin Islands, or I could rent and fly to the Bahamas out of Miami. Try to rent a plane to fly to Columbia and let me know how it goes for you. With a renewed 3rd class medical in hand, I had to buy an airplane. It was a long process. The finding of the 55V in California, owned for almost 50 years by horse rancher Dan Nelson, was completely unexpected. I had searched for newer planes but didn't like what I found.
The transition from Skycatcher to the Bonanza didn't take long. I had owned everal high-performance retractable gear aircraft and found didn't miss the glass cockpit. Tound gages do work fine. If you are experience, the Bonanza is simply an easier plane to fly than the little Cessna. In fact, I think the Bonanza is one of the easiest planes to fly and one of the most fun. How did Bech figure all that out in 1947?
On our flight to Lakeland, Florida, I met Frank Seymour, vice president of the Sheltair FBO chain. He had just bought a 2014 Bonanza, the one shown in the picture next to 55V. We traded Bonanza stories, both f us concluding the plane was great. He took the accompanying picture.
As of this writing, 55V resides in a hangar at Sheltair Lakeland. Our plan is to fly it to Gran Turk, the Dominican Republic, on to Antigua, Grenada, and Martinique. There we'll hangar it in Puerto Rico for a couple of months until I work enough to afford to fly it across South America, up through Central America and Mexico to Tucson, where it will stay until I return it to Seattle in May 2015.
The tentative plan for the fall of 2015 is to fly it to Bueno Aires and explore South America in its summer months, visiting Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Peru at minimum, returning 55V to Seattle in May of 2016. In the summer of 2017, if able financially, we are thinking of flying the northern route to Europe and explore Europe and then Africa, unless Africa is too dangerous.
Are we crazy to make these plans in a 67-year-old plane? I don't think so. It runs and flies great. Beech did an incredible job at its design. Also, I have spent much of my life with the kids and grandkids having adventures and working part time. The '47 model makes for a great ride at low cost, and being bright red is an absolute favorite at every airport. The speed of the plane allows fast travel to places inour itinerary, and the big jets get me back to my office to work and pay the bills. I figure I may be able to retire at 85f. Susane, who is in her mid-fifties, has caught the flying bug and is a good co-pilot and about ready to solo in a Cessna 152.
You only go around once, and being goofy and adventurous are key element to making life fun. My life, like most of our lives, is partially filled with difficult work that requires effort and integrity in order to produce excellence and help other who are less able. Flying 55V changes the focus from work and the world's problems to playing and living a carefree life for short periods of time. And as beautful as Frank's new G36 Bonanza is, for this trip I prefer the 1947 with round gages and piano key switched - it makes the trip seem more carefree and "groovier".