The Beechcraft Starship is a
futuristic-looking aircraft designed by Burt Rutan's
Scaled Composites, and produced by the Beech
Aircraft Corporation. It is a six- to eight-seat
Development cost $300 million, and began in 1979
when Beechcraft identified a need to replace the
King Air model. After a brief hiatus while the
company was bought by Raytheon, full development
began in 1982 when Beechcraft approached Burt Rutan
of Scaled Composites, a leader in the field of novel
composite aircraft design. Much of the design work
utilised computer-aided design, using the CATIA
While in development at Scaled, the 85%-scale
prototype was the Model 115, and Beechcraft referred
to the production version as the Model 2000. The
Model 115 first flew in late August 1983. However,
this aircraft had no pressurization system, no
certified avionics, and had a different airframe
design and material specifications than the planned
production Model 2000. This aircraft has since been
The first full-size Starship flew on February 15,
1986. Prototypes were produced even as development
work was continuing -- a system demanded by the use
of composite materials, as the tooling required is
very expensive and has to be built for production
use from the outset. The program was delayed several
times, at first due to underestimating the
development complexity involved and later to
overcome technical difficulties concerning the
The first production Starship flew in late 1988.
The Starship was notable for several reasons. First
was its all-graphite composite airframe, using
high-tech materials instead of aluminium. These
materials were in frequent use to varying degrees on
military aircraft, but no civilian aircraft
certified by the FAA had ever used them so
extensively. Composites were chosen in order to
reduce the weight of the airplane which,
unfortunately, still came in over its target weight.
Second was its canard design, with the lifting
surface aft of the horizontal stabilizer. The
aircraft lacks a rudder, with yaw control instead
provided by small fins on the wingtips.
Third was its use of a pusher design, in which the
turboprop engines were mounted facing the rear and
pushed, rather than pulled, the aircraft forward.
The pusher design offers a quieter ride, since the
gusts of wind and air off the tips of the propellers
no longer strike the side of the aircraft, as they
do on conventionally configured turboprops.
The aircraft also features a 16-tube "glass cockpit"
supplied by Rockwell Collins Avionics.
Commercially the aeroplane was a failure, with
little demand. Only 53 Starships were ever built,
and of those only a handful were sold. Many of the
remainder were eventually leased.
Reasons for the lack of demand probably included
price, performance, and economic conditions. The
list price in 1989 was $3.9 million, similar to the
Cessna Citation V and Lear 31 jets, which were 89
and 124 knots faster than the Starship at maximum
cruise, respectively. The Piper Cheyenne turboprop
was faster and sold for $1 million less. (Aviation
Week, Oct. 2, 1989).
In 2003, Beechcraft deemed that the aircraft was no
longer popular enough to justify its support costs,
and has recalled all leased aircraft for scrapping.
The company is also said to be aggressively trying
to buy back privately-owned Starships, though some
Starship owners say they have never been contacted
by Raytheon about this.
Most of the Starships are being ground up and burned
at the "boneyard" at the Evergreen Air Centre. The
planes have little aluminium for recycling. A few
have been bought up by private owners who regard
them as lovable failures, much like the infamous
Recently, Starship Model 2000A NC-51 was used as a
chase plane during the re-entry phase of Burt
Rutan's SpaceShipOne. Several Starships have been
donated to museums since the official
decommissioning program began, with the Kansas
Aviation Museum receiving the first aircraft in
August of 2003.
Why the Starship sell well
1) Revolutionary design.
The aviation community accepts new concepts slowly and evolution is
generally preferred over revolution. While many potential buyers were
awestruck by the Starship's beauty, most chose to sit on the fence for a
few years to see if the Starship proved to be a viable design. The
Starship was radically different from conventional aircraft when
introduced in the mid 1980's and heralded four revolutionary technologies:
a) First certificated all glass cockpit and FMS
b) First certificated all composite business class aircraft (still
the only certificated composite wing)
c) First certificated tandem wing (canard) aircraft.
d) First certificated pusher
We all now know that the glass cockpit is superior to steam gauges and
that composites are superior to metal for airframe construction. The
canard vs. conventional configuration is still a topic of heated debate,
however. All I can say is, why in the world would you want to have a
stabilizer that pushes DOWN when the basic purpose of an aircraft is to
lift you into the air? I know, it's stability, stupid. But you get the
same stability with a canard design while gaining about 5% in efficiency.
It's also debatable that the pusher configuration is any better than a
tractor design and it's generally accepted that a pusher is no more
efficient than a tractor. That's because the airflow to the props is
disturbed by the fuselage and wing ahead of them. But a pusher definitely
creates a much quieter cabin than a tractor. The Starship is extremely
quiet inside and the cabin noise levels seem more like a jet than a
turboprop. Normal conversations can be had without raising your voice. A
pusher design also allows the propellers to be mounted very close together
because they don't have a fuselage between them. The Starships props are
only inches apart, yielding nearly centreline thrust from each engine.
During an engine out situation in the Starship, yaw is virtually
unnoticeable and is completely countered by the yaw damper, if engaged; No
need to step on the dead engine.
This section is based on my experience as the owner / pilot of Starship
NC-51 and with conversations I have had with other Starship owners,
Raytheon employees, RAS employees and other aviation professionals who
know the Starship program intimately. I am interested in sharing what I
have experienced and heard. It is not my intention to criticize Raytheon,
RAS or their management.
Raytheon had lousy timing when it came to the Starship. The aircraft was
introduced to an anaemic market in 1989 during the height of an economic
recession. You couldn't give away an executive aircraft during this
period, let alone successfully promote an all new design. So Starship
sales got off to a very disappointing start.
But by 1995 the economy had become robust and corporate expenditures for
new aircraft were in a cyclical upturn. Just as important, the Starship's
all glass cockpit and composite structure had become accepted as superior
art by the aviation community. This is precisely the period when Raytheon
could have made a success of the Starship. In 1995 Raytheon should have
"put the pedal to the metal" to promote the Starship's superb safety
record and exceptional ride. But instead, Raytheon opted to pull the plug
on Starship production. Bad timing, again.
Unfortunately, Raytheon priced the Starship at almost $5,000,000. This was
way more expensive than the King Air that the Starship was intended to
replace and was virtually the same price as an introductory jet at that
time. 3.5 to 4 million dollars would have been a more realistic price
point for the Starship.
c) Free Maintenance
To help boost Starship sales, Raytheon management had the brilliant idea
of offering free maintenance to buyers. In the end, this program probably
had more to do with Raytheon's decision to discontinue the Starship than
anything else and helped falsely earn the Starship a reputation of being a
Raytheon Aircraft Services (RAS) was responsible for doing the "free"
maintenance for Starship owners. To understand what happened, it's
important to point out that RAS is a separate company from Raytheon.
As with any service business, aircraft maintenance has its slack periods.
But when RAS facilities had slack periods in the early 90's, many of them
found Starships on the ramp to work on. They would work on the Starships
whether they needed it or not and many of these airplanes were still owned
and operated by Raytheon.
Even if the Starship was owned by a private party, owners didn't care how
big the invoice was because Raytheon was paying the tab. With nobody
questioning the invoices, one can imagine the scale of the billings that
Periodically, Raytheon would ask RAS to explain why the Starship fleet was
so expensive to maintain. And naturally, RAS would respond that the
Starship was a very complex airplane that was difficult to work on.
Raytheon accepted these claims and continued paying the maintenance bills.
But in reality, the free maintenance program was a billing machine for RAS
and nobody at Raytheon had the incentive to figure it out and end it..
So free maintenance resulted in record billings to Raytheon, souring
management's view of the Starship and frightening prospective customers.
Raytheon management bought the RAS line that the Starship was complex and
difficult to work on, eventually putting the red ink to bed by killing
As an aside, my Starship is not maintained by RAS. NC-51's maintenance
costs have been lower than I originally budgeted for a King Air B-200. In
the 7+ years I have owned NC-51, I have been able to depart on 698 out of
over 700 flights (a 99.7% dispatch rate). I'll put that record against any
airplane in existence.
3) The FAA
Before the Starship came along, the FAA had never certificated a composite
airframe, so they were naturally very cautious when approached with the
Starship design. In an effort to err on the safe side, the FAA essentially
told Beech that although their design looked good on paper, the design
would have to be significantly strengthened to receive certification.
Beechcraft did so, adding significant additional structure to both the
fuselage and wing. Of course, this added quite a bit of weight to the
aircraft, so other components had to be beefed up as well, adding yet more
In the end, the Starship's max ramp weight rose by over 2,500 lbs to
15,010 lbs. All of these trips back to the drawing board had another
detrimental effect; Certification, production and customer delivery of the
first airframes kept slipping, slipping, slipping, into the future.
The original design was to be less than the FAA's 12,500 lb. limit for non
type rated operation. But the redesigned Starship ended up requiring a
type rating to fly, and many owner operators were intimidated by the
prospect of going through the type rating process. Those pilots chose
other aircraft such as Beech's venerable King Air instead, which could be
flown with a simple twin engine rating.
The higher weight of the Starship also reduced Beech's projected
performance claims for the Starship. The Starship was supposed to have a
max cruise speed of 352 knots, a useful load of 4,599 lbs, stall at 79
knots and fly for over 2,500 nm at max range power. But after the FAA was
done beefing up the airframe, those numbers became 338 knots, 4,710 lbs,
89 knots and 1,575 nm respectively. But even with the extra weight and
reduced performance, the Starship still outperformed the King Air B-200.
This is an amazing thing, and speaks volumes for the strength of the
Starship's original design.
How many other aircraft designs could even fly after such a weight gain,
let alone climb to 41,000 feet? All this while actually increasing the
useful load by 111 lbs. The Starship is a truly great aircraft, even with
her extra heft. Imagine how fabulous the Starship would have been if the
FAA had certificated her original design.
Two 895kW (1200shp) Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A67As, driving five blade
constant speed McCauley propellers.
2000 - Max cruising speed 622km/h (335kt), economical cruising speed
546km/h (295kt). Initial rate of climb 3225ft/min. Max range 2630km
(1634nm). 2000A - Max cruising speed 621km/h (335kt), economical cruising
speed 570kt (307kt). Initial rate of climb 2748ft/min. Range with reserves
2000 - Empty equipped 4484kg (9887lb), max takeoff 6531kg (14,400lb).
2000A - Empty equipped 4574kg (10,085lb), max takeoff 6758kg (14,900lb).
Wing span 16.60m (54ft 5in), length 14.05m (46ft 1in), height 3.94m (12ft
11in). Wing area 26.1m2 (280.9sq ft).
Flightcrew of one or two pilots. Standard passenger layout for eight in
2000 or six in 2000A.