Using words and photos to describe something as amazing 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). Above is the video of the adventure — enjoy!
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
I think it is quite obvious that I grew up loving aviation. As a child, when the Beechcraft Starship first was developed, I was instantly in love. Over 25 years later, it is still one modern and beautiful looking aircraft. The story of the Starship is sad and ends with only five still flying around the world.
I have had a lot of great (and sometimes crazy) flying experiences, but this is the one I have been pining over for a long time. I was very lucky to find Robert Scherer who owns NC514RS. He also holds most of the remaining Starship parts to make sure the the ones left remain flying for a long time.
I had the honor of meeting Robert and his airplane while at Oshkosh 2010. We were all set to fly from Aspen to Orange, CA in January of this year, but it did not work out. I took my flight from Seattle to Denver and was waiting for my connect to Aspen, but the weather had different plans and my flight was cancelled. Luckily I was able to hitch a ride back to Seattle, but my dream of flying of the Starship would have to wait.
So, it is time once again to give this a try. I have my tickets and we are all set to fly from Aspen to Orange, CA on Robert’s Starship on Sunday. Of course, I will be documenting every step of the way via photos, video and social media. The weather looks great and I gave myself plenty of time to get there, so let’s hope this time will work out.
I have been very surprised how many people have emailed me with suggestions and personal stories of the Beechcraft Starship. There truly is a great following and people love this plane. I thought I might be one of the biggest fans out there, but I might have some competition for that title.
Shortly after my first post I started getting emails suggesting I contact the same person: Robert Scherer. He owns Starship NC-51 (N514RS). He also bought left over Starship parts and runs Starfleet Support (no, not a Star Trek thing), which provides parts to the remaining flyable aircraft. I was also told that Scherer is a pretty cool guy and has a genuine love for the Starship. My readers were right!
NC-51 - Primary chase for Scaled Composites' Tier One Program. How cool.
I tracked down his contact information and sent over an email. He replied that he would be more than happy to help me out in my quest. AWESOME (I know I use that word a lot, but I REALLY mean it this time)!
NC-51 is one cool Starship. It has been used as the chase plane for Spaceship One, White Knight 2, and is even signed by Burt Rutan (the father of the Starship – click that link, pic of Rutan at the door of NC-51).
Scherer is based out of Aspen, CO (ASE) and routinely flies over to Orange, CA (SNA). I have been invited to go with him on one of his flights in the next few months.
When he flies this route, he leaves ASE and heads to Meeker (EEO) for cheap gas. This is a low level, 15 minute flight over some beautiful terrain. Then he goes around 34,000 feet to fly from EEO-SNA. Want to see what the first leg of the flight looks like? Scherer has a video of one of his flights from ASE to EEO. Um…yes please.
N514RS ready for take off from Mojave, CA
This blog has given me quite a few amazing opportunities since I started it in July 2008, but I have to say this one excites me the most. You can be sure there will be lots of video, photos and Tweets from this wonderful experience.
A HUGE thanks to Robert Scherer for giving me and my readers this great opportunity!
NC-51 over Tehachapi Mountains photo by Chad Slattery
I have started a new quest: fly on a Beechcraft Starship. It won’t be easy and I might not be able to, but I am at least going to try. There are five that are currently flying and my goal is try to get a seat on one of them.
I think like most aviation enthusiasts, I have always had a big fascination with the Starship. Seeing one hanging up at the Future of Flight (which I am at often) has fed my motivation to learn more about this amazing aircraft.
Development for the Beechcraft Starship was started in 1979. In the early 1980’s Beechcraft contracted with Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites company to help build proof-of-concept models for the new aircraft. The first full scale test was flown on February 15, 1980 and the first production Starship flew on April 25, 1989.
The aircraft was unique at the time for using carbon fiber, having a canard design, lack of central vertical tail and pusher engine configuration. At the time carbon fiber had not be used on many aircraft and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had a hard time certifying the plane. Playing it safe, the FAA required the Starship to increase its structural supports , which added overall weight to the airframe. The Starship was supposed to have a max cruise speed of 352 knots and fly for over 2,500 nm, but after the modification, the speed was reduced to 338 knots and a range of only 1,575 nm.
The added weight, economic slowdown and high tax on luxury items at the time meant that Beechcraft was only able to sell seven Starships in its first three years in production. The last Starship was produced in 1995 and then in 2003 Beechcraft determined it was not cost effective to support a small number of planes and started destroying the ones left.
Starships waiting to be destroyed. How sad. Photo by: Derek Hellmann
Different sources state different numbers of how many are actually flying. I have found anywhere from three to nine. However with more research it looks like there might be six still flying, one of which is in Mexico somewhere. That leaves me with five StarShips I can hopefully hitch a ride on:
Stage one was to track down which planes are still around. Stage two will be to try to contact the owners of these planes and talk them into giving me a ride in their plane, which I can blog about. Will it happen? Maybe, but even if it doesn’t, I will enjoy learning more about the plane. Either way, I will be sure to blog about this experience.
Of course if anyone has any connections to the owners of one of the planes, I would love to touch base with you (da***@ai*************.com).