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My Quest to Ride on a Beechcraft Starship: The EPIC Flight

The 51st Starship N514RS sits in Aspen, CO (ASE) before our flight.

The 51st Starship N514RS sits in Aspen, CO (ASE) before our flight.

For many reasons the Raytheon Beechcraft Starship is a unique aircraft. It is hard to imagine that the initial design phase for the Starship started in the late 1970’s. To say that the Starship was ahead of its time is an understatement and even today, it is one impressive machine. The aircraft holds the record for quite a few “firsts:”

* First composite corporate aircraft
* First certified all glass cockpit
* First certified canard wing aircraft
* First certified pusher design

The innovations caused a lot of skepticism from the FAA who was in charge of certifying the aircraft as safe to fly. Due to some overzealous precautions, the Starship ended up 2500lbs heavier than originally planned. The hope was the Starship would have a max cruise of 352kts and able to go 2500nm, but instead it had a max cruise of 338kts and with a range of 1575nm.

Since the Starship is a pusher aircraft, it keeps the cabin quiet.

Since the Starship is a pusher aircraft, it keeps the cabin quiet.

So, why wouldn’t a plane so ahead of its time sell well? There is no simple answer. When the Starship first went on sale in 1989, it was a tough economic market and few companies and individuals were looking for a private business aircraft. The Starship was priced about the same as entry level jets and many people were wary of the radical design. After three years of being certified, only 11 Starships were sold. Raytheon, which purchased Beechcraft in 1980, was looking for creative ways to build confidence with potential customers and offered free maintenance for the aircraft.

Even with the upturn in the economy in the early 1990s and with the assurance of the maintenance program, Raytheon sold only produced 50 for sale (which only about half were sold) and 3 were built for the certification program. It would have made sense for the company to continue to invest in the Starship, but instead, they pulled the plug. Not only did they stop producing Starships, but they also tried to buy back all that were sold to have them destroyed. Luckily, not every owner agreed and today there are still five Starships that remain flyable, another five that are on display at different locations, 24 have been destroyed and the rest are used for different purposes.

The Starship has such gorgeous lines. The Aspen background doesn't hurt either.

The Starship has such gorgeous lines. The Aspen background doesn't hurt either.

During a sleepless night in April 2010, I sat watching Starship videos and thought of the idea to start my quest to get a ride in a Beechcraft Starship. I thought it was a pretty lofty goal and wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out, but I wanted to give it a shot. However, with a lot of luck, I was able to connect with Robert Scherer, owner of NC-51 (reg: N514RS – get it? (51) NC-51 (4) for (RS) Robert Scherer – nice).

Robert and I were able to meet up at Oshkosh 2010 and he graciously gave me a tour of his Starship NC-51. Even though she was stuck in the corner of a hangar, she looked beautiful. Then, in January 2011, Robert invited me to take a flight from Aspen to Orange County, CA, but when I got to Denver, my flight to Aspen was cancelled due to snow — sigh.

Aspen – Pitkin County Airport (ASE) looks great. Check out all that heavy metal. Can you find the Starship (click for larger).

Aspen – Pitkin County Airport (ASE) looks great. Check out all that heavy metal. Can you find the Starship? (click for larger)

Then another opportunity arose on the 16th of October. After having issues with the snow last time, I did not want to take any chances, so I decided to arrive a day early and spend the night in Aspen, even though Robert was heading out early afternoon on Sunday. Since we weren’t heading out until 1pm on Sunday, it gave me a chance to check out the Aspen – Pitkin County Airport (ASE) earlier in the morning.

Just seeing the Starship through the fence when I first arrived was exciting. I had the chance to take photos around the Starship on the tarmac before it was time to board. There are six very nice seats in the back of the aircraft, but the two best are up front, and I had dibs on the right seat.

The Starship dashboard looks good unlit. I was excited to get into the right seat.

The Starship dashboard looks good unlit. I was excited to get into the right seat.

Finally, it was time to power up those beautiful Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-67A turboprop engines. From a fan’s point of view, one small downside of the Starship is you can’t watch the blades start up and really, you can’t hear them either. I was wondering when Robert was going to start the engines and he told me they were already going. Sure enough; I checked the instruments and they were running. I took off my headphones and the air coming out of the dash board was louder than the engines — pretty awesome.

The Starship has a built-in electronic checklist and Robert went step-by-step checking everything to prepare the Starship for flight. I had seen photos and knew the Starship had a glass cockpit, but I had to keep reminding myself that they were produced in the early 80’s, not more recently. I became so distracted with the instruments, that I didn’t realize we were on the move — heck yes!

Taxi time in the Starship at Aspen.

Taxi time in the Starship at Aspen.

As we taxied out, Robert was testing the all the control services and whoa — the canards started  moving. I didn’t realize this previously, but they sweep about 35 degrees depending on the flap settings. This whole time I had been trying to reign in my giddiness, but it was pretty difficult after finding out the canards moved (do not worry, I got it on video, which I will be sharing in a future story).

When we went full throttle and took off from Aspen, you couldn’t wipe the grin off my face. This is what it’s all about — flying. It is hard to describe what it’s like flying in an airplane you have admired for most of your life.

The canards are quite large and make photos of Aspen even better.

The canards are quite large and make photos of Aspen even better.

Flying out of Aspen provided some pretty nice views. Whenever I take photos from an airplane, I try to get a part of the aircraft in the shot to give a true sense of flight. The Starship makes it easy; one can get shots out the front with the canards or look back and get a shot with the wing.

Although the Starship is a smaller aircraft, it flies up with the big boys. The pressurized cabin provides a very comfortable climb to 32,000 feet. We were hoping to avoid turbulence, but it got a little bumpy after we reached altitude. Although most people do not enjoy bumps, this provided me with the opportunity to see how the Starship handles turbulence. In the Starship, it’s like riding a wave, not as much of the jerky bouncing and due to the flexing of the carbon fiber main wing, the high wing loading of the forward wing and the fact that your seated between the two wings.

We start our decent over Powell Lake.

We start our decent over Lake Powell.

Our flight plan included a stop in Page, AZ (PGA) for fuel. Now, the question was, should we go on a normal and boring approach into the airport or fly over Lake Powell up into Page? Yea, let’s go up the lake… what a great call!

Although I was enjoying every second of flying above the lake, I was bummed that there weren’t more boats down below to enjoy it as well. Could you imagine relaxing on your boat on the lake and then all of a sudden having a Beechcraft Starship fly overhead? Even if you were not an aviation fan, that would be quite a cool thing to see.

If photographs are worth a 1000 words, this has got to be worth at least 10,000. Flying over Lake Powell, on our way into Page, AZ.

If photographs are worth a 1000 words, this has got to be worth at least 10,000. Flying over Lake Powell, on our way into Page, AZ.

When we landed at Page to get fuel, two pilots with Great Lakes Airlines came out and watched us taxi. One of the airport workers came running out and broke out his camera. It felt like we were superstars and Robert explained this is quite common. One of the pilots was elated, saying he never thought he would actually see a Starship. Robert was very gracious and welcomed them both to go check out his aircraft while we headed inside for some shade.

After about an hour on the ground, it was time to continue our journey to Orange County, CA. Right after we took off, we made a turn right over Glen Canyon Dam, and damn, does it look small from the Starship.

Cruising at 32,000 feet to Orange, CA (SNA).

Cruising at 32,000 feet to Orange County, CA (SNA). Notice that the yellow "stick" Starship on the right has canards.

Back up to about 32,000 feet, heading towards our destination: SNA.  The rest of our flight was smooth and uneventful — well as uneventful as flying in a Starship can be. Even after the three hour flight (we had head winds over 90kts), I was in awe of this plane.

The Starship is more than just a unique aircraft. For those who love aviation, it is a golden jewel. Since I have started writing about the plane, I have received many emails from folks sharing their stories about their experiences with Starships; from those who have seen them fly overhead to previous owners who explained that they have regretted giving up their Starship. Many folks have even had false sightings, where they think they see a Starship, but really it is a similarly configured Piaggio P.180 Avanti.

A huge thank you to Robert and his family for allowing me to hitch a ride. It was truly an amazing experience that I will not soon forget.

ALL 60 PHOTOS OF MY STARSHIP FLIGHT

My Quest to Ride on a Beechcraft Starship:
IDEA | CONNECT | TOUR | FLIGHT-PLAN | FAIL | FLIGHT | PHOTOS | VIDEO

21 comments to My Quest to Ride on a Beechcraft Starship: The EPIC Flight

  • Excellent!! I followed your flight that day on flightaware and have been awaiting this post ever since. The photos are outstanding. I followed the Starship from the proof of concept by Rutan through its certification. As you said truly ahead of its time and still relevant today. As always it’s sometimes hard to be the first with new technology. Just one small correction, the dam is actually Glen Canyon Dam that forms Lake Powell. Hoover Dam is a little further downstream near Las Vegas.

  • Rob Goodman

    Bravo. Well worth the wait.

  • Congrats! That must have been a fantastic experience. Thanks for sharing all of it.

  • Drew V

    Looks like a very unique experience and a lot of fun! I bet you were singing “nothings gonna stop us now” the whole way!

  • What a great story, David. The Raytheon Beechcraft Starship is indeed a wonderful and unique aircraft. You were very lucky to fly with one of the five Starship that remain flyable.

    I kindly invite you to share this on the http://www.PT6Nation.com, a community of PT6 fans, operators and pilots. Everyone will love it!

    Best,
    Vincent.
    PT6 Nation Community Manager

  • Simply fantastic David! I must say that I am extremely jealous of your experience, but at the same time I am so glad you shared it in such detail for all of us to see! From the first time I saw a Starship in 1998 at my home airport (KASH) in Nashua, NH (NC-32 and Robert S. has my photos of it at http://www.rps3.com/Pages/Starships%20NC-31%20to%20NC-40.htm) I have been in love with the aircraft. It killed me when the Raytheon reclaimed the leased aircraft and pretty much destroyed most of the fleet… save for those like NC-51 and a handful of others along with the mothballed aircraft down in Marana, AZ. I can only hope that more Starships come back to life thanks to to the efforts of Robert and his foresight to purchase most of the parts inventory from Raytheon. But for the meanwhile, I will always be looking for N514RS overhead or on the ramp and enjoy that warm spot in my heart that the Starship creates.

  • Jeff

    Excellent post. I frequently see a Piaggio P180 flying into and out of KMRY and always enjoy it’s unique sound and fantastic look. I used to mistakenly think it was a Starship but realized my error. I’ll keep looking for the “real deal” Starship. Maybe one of these days !
    Cheers from the left coast.

  • What do you do when your dream comes true? Dream #2 gets a promotion. :-)

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  • […] as taking a flight on a Beechcraft Starship is not enough. On October 16th I had the opportunity to take a ride on NC-51 Starship owned by Robert Scherer from Aspen, CO (ASE) to Page, AZ (PGA) and finally Orange County, CA (SNA). […]

  • Gordon Polson

    I saw a Starship a few years back when it flew into one of Boeing’s aircraft shows here in Seattle. I had only seen pictures before but up close I thought it was one of the most exquisite designs I have ever seen. Since then a Starship flies into Boeing field on the odd occasion and I can detect it from the unique sound of it on approach over our house. I never tire of seeing it and I am so jealous!
    Gordon Polson

    • There is one that hangs at the Future of Flight at Paine Field. First time I went there, I didn’t realize they had one (it is on loan from the Museum of Flight) and my jaw dropped. I have been in love with that plane every since first learning about it on Flight Simulator in the early 90s.

      David

  • john dallas

    Wow!! you have me beat. I have exchanged emails with Robert and he sent me pictures. I am in Zepheyhills, Fl. and I saw a Starship fly over my house near the airport here and it appeared it landed. I went to the airport but could not see it. Someone else here said he saw one around Port Charlotte. I saw this one at least three times fly over but don’t know where its from. If anyone knows of it here I would like to go and see it. Like everyone else who sees it I also am in love with it. Thanks Dave. Regards, John

  • Kevin Deery

    David, I also agree! What a wonderful relating of your experience. How fortunate you were. I’m another lifelong airplane nut and had a beautiful sighting about nine or ten years ago. Living in Pecos, NM, about an hour before sunset, I heard a very unique sound I hadn’t heard before and ran outside with my trusty binoculars, expecting something unique. My jaw dropped! The Starship was heading north, about 3 to 5 thousand feet above me. (Pecos is about 7+) That gorgeous sound reverberating in the air, but what REALLY made it extra special (aside from the lovely golden light) was the fact it was……PULLING CONTRAILS! It was just so beautiful! I’ve seen some pretty wonderful aviation sights, (XB-70 takeoff close and personal and then seeing it later after the test flight come in and land right over our heads, followed by the B-58 chase…and the “last” flight of the SR-71 when it took off around 4am, looking straight down the runway as it approached and went overhead, on it’s way to do the speed run from L.A. to Chicago later on that morning…) but the Starship sighting is right up there with these other moments. There were also some light broken clouds in the area that also added to the visual beauty, as it passed in, out, and thru them. Simply stunning! Thank you again David, for sharing your ride so well and of course….THANK YOU BURT! for designing it in the first place! Warm regards for everyone’s great airplane moments…-Kevin

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