I previously had the opportunity to fly with Jim Cummiskey in his classic 1946 Swift in 2004, and still corresponded from time to time as we moved on to different jobs. In the meantime, Jim had completed his move to a new home in the mountains of Big Bear City, northeast of the Los Angeles basin, in the mountains northwest of Palm Springs.
Jim mentioned that he was now commuting in his A36 Bonanza from his home airport in Big Bear to his work in Seal Beach, via John Wayne airport (KSNA). He said to let him know when I was next in town for a tour of Big Bear via the Bonanza. My Warrior partner and I have been looking at options for a potential aircraft upgrade, and the A36 Bonanza has been one of our options to evaluate.
In December, Mary and I spent a great week celebrating Christmas with our family in southern California, enjoying the sun and warmth over the snowy Northwest winter. I had taken Jim up on his tour offer, and Mary and I met Jim at Signature Air, the FBO/corporate flight center at John Wayne airport. Jim walked us to his nearby parked A36 Bonanza, where Mary jumped in the wide open aft cabin of the Bonanza, and I maneuvered into the left front seat, while Jim took the instructor's right seat. Jim’s Bonanza is a 1976 model A36, with yokes attached to a bar across the main cockpit, and upgraded with a Garmin 530 com/nav suite, plus a Garmin 396 mounted on top of the glare shield.
Jim handed me the key and walked me through the Bonanza startup procedure, which was pretty standard, and I quickly had the Continental IO-520 humming smoothly. The throttle/prop/mixture controls have the standard Cessna/Beech push/pull knobs, with fine adjustment via rotating controls. After walking through the startup checklist, I called for taxi from John Wayne ground, and sequenced in between Southwest and American 737s to a run-up area, getting a feel for the throttle and brakes while taxiing.
Approval for our VFR departure came quickly, and I rolled onto Runway 19L and applied power, and we accelerated with the 3-bladed prop, took off and sucked up our landing gear, turning quickly left toward the old El Toro Air Station. The southern California weather was amazingly clear after some rain showers earlier in the week, which left us with great visibility as we then headed north toward Big Bear.
I climbed to 9,500 feet en route, with Jim giving me a heading to follow for some sightseeing once we started descending for Big Bear. I had previously flown only Beech Sierras, so I was enjoying my first taste of the solid feel of the Beech Bonanza. Pitch control seemed a bit heavy, but was adjusted easily using the thumb pitch trim switch on the yoke. Aileron control was quite smooth, also aided by aileron trim to take off any roll tendency due to wing fuel tank imbalances. Jim helped with suggested throttle and mixture control settings to optimize our fuel flow in the climb and level off. I was impressed with the smoothness of the engine/propeller combination, especially compared with my recent Warrior flying.
Big Bear City airport is at an elevation of 6752 feet, so we didn’t have much of a descent to contend with as we started approaching the mountains rising out of the valley northeast of San Bernardino, CA. Jim took over for a short time as I took some mountain photos as we crossed over the ridge line, turned over Arrowhead Lake, then turned en route to Big Bear Lake. We crossed over the partially frozen lake, and then took some turns to view the ski areas, quite busy after the 50 inches of snow that the Big Bear area received in the past week.
I took over approaching a long downwind, reducing power as I turned base, again using Jim’s suggested throttle/prop/mixture settings, then lined up on a short final. I paid special attention to lining up on the centerline, since the recent snow had built up 5-6 foot snow piles on the runway edges! The A36 was very stable on final, and I was able to eke out a decent first landing in a Bonanza as we touched down. Since Jim had no brakes from the right seat, I was careful as we exited the runway and gingerly taxied among the snow piles to Jim’s hangar for parking.
Jim, Mary and I disembarked and parked the Bonanza, and enjoyed a day of touring in the fresh snow and sunny skies of Big Bear. Jim and I shared flight responsibilities for our quick return flight to John Wayne airport, essentially a descent from the heights of Big Bear into the now hazy coastal skies over John Wayne airport. We kept our speed up as we descended, with approach control guiding us to final behind a Southwest 737 landing on runway 19R. We heard a great comment from approach control as we were cleared to land on runway 19L, “Southwest 737, you’ll have a Bonanza passing you on the left”. We were actually slowing and lowering our gear, but approach did note that we had 50 knots overtake on the 737 before we slowed to final approach speed, not shabby!
Jim, thanks for the opportunity to 'try before you buy' and fly your smooth Bonanza, as we look at potential options for a Warrior replacement.