didn't the Starship sell well?
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
First certificated all glass cockpit and FMS
First certificated all composite business class aircraft (still the only certificated
First certificated tandem wing (canard) aircraft.
First certificated business class twin turboprop 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 tail mounted stabilizer that pushes DOWN when the basic purpose of
an aircraft is to lift you into the air? But most
aerodynamicists I've spoken with argue that the canard's forward wing
is so heavily loaded that the resulting drag leads to no gain in
efficiency over a tail in back design. It also seems to be true
that pusher props are 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
and far less vibration than a tractor. The Starship is extremely quiet inside and
cabin noise levels seem more like a jet than a turboprop. Normal
conversations can be had without raising your voice and virtually no
vibration can be felt inside the airplane. 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 8 inches apart, yielding nearly centerline 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 good engine.
Also, from personal experience, I can safely argue that the canard
design yields a superior ride. Wings mounted at each end of the
fuselage, combined with the heavy wing loading of the canard ends up
dampening the bumps in bad air.
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
anemic 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 maintenance hog.
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 took place.
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 8+ years
I have owned NC-51, I have been able to depart on 784 out of over 785 flights (a
99.9% dispatch rate). I'll put that record against
any airplane in existence.
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
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 weight.
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
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
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.
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
many Starships were built?
53 - 3 experimental
airframes followed by 50 production airframes. The production
airframes were built at Beechcraft's Wichita, Kansas factory between
1989 and 1995. The first half of production (NC-04 - NC-28) were
designated "Starship 1, model 2000" while the second half of production
(NC-29 - NC-53) were designated "Starship 2000A". The
2000A's had a modified interior; 8 total seats (2 crew, 6
passenger) with a private
bathroom in the rear of the cabin. The original Starship 1 had
10 total seats (2 crew, 8 passenger) with a less private potty where the forward closet is
located in the 2000A. The 2000A also had increased performance
figures over the Starship 1. Many of the Starship 1's were
modified to 2000A status with Beechcraft kit P/N 122-9002.
are the advantages of the Starship design?
Stall resistant main wing.
all good canard designs, the Starship's forward wing (canard) is more
heavily loaded that the main wing. In fact, the Starship's
forward wing has almost twice the loading of the main wing; 72.68
lbs/sq ft vs.
37.13 lbs/sq ft respectively. The result is
that the forward wing stalls first while the main wing continues to
provide lift and aileron control. When the Starship's forward
wing stalls, it is a relatively benign event. At stall angle of
attack, the forward wing gently lowers itself to an angle of
attack that gets it flying again. Under many conditions it does
not even drop appreciably, but simply refuses to raise the nose to a
higher angle of attack. Under other conditions, you can get the
Starship into a pitch buck routine. Imagine holding full aft
elevator through forward wing stall and beyond. The forward wing
will stall, then it lowers itself to a flying angle of attack, then it
gains lift raising the nose again, then the forward wing stalls and
the cycle repeats. It's a bit like riding a very gentle roller
coaster. In a pitch buck at a low power setting the Starship
will exhibit this roller coaster routine while descending at an
average of about 1,000 ft per minute. Add power while holding
the yoke in your lap and the Starship will continue the pitch buck
while climbing at 1,000 ft per minute! The point of all
this is that the Starship is very safe when it comes to
stall/spin accident potential.
Reduced yaw during engine out.
Starship's aft mounted pusher props are about 8 inches apart, providing almost
centerline thrust from each engine. In the event of an engine failure
there is almost imperceptible yaw moment. No rudder
input is required by the pilot if the yaw damper is engaged at the
time of engine failure. Also, the Starship's autofeather feature
will automatically and instantaneously feather the dead engine. No need to step on the
good engine and feather the
correct prop; Just go to max power and fly the airplane
A super strong fuselage.
testing, Beechcraft dropped a Starship at 17 feet per second and the
fuselage incurred no damage. The test dummies in the Starship's
seats sustained lumbar loads of only 1,000 lbs. Crippling spinal
injuries are likely to occur at 1,500 lbs. Imagine dropping a
metal fuselage at the same speed.
Single pilot friendly
Starship is wonderfully easy to fly and stay mentally ahead of .
The integrated avionics and Flight Management System (FMS) reduce
pilot work load and provide enhanced situational awareness allowing
him./her to concentrate on flying the airplane at all times. The
flight computers handle all of the mundane chores that used to require
an E6B. Detailed fuel data, Vnav advisory info, 10 second
advance airspeed prediction and a litany of other information is
always available at a glance or the press of a button. When a busy
controller rifles off a new course, altitude, frequency and airspeed,
the Starship pilot just enters the numbers into the appropriate
instruments and reads them back directly from the panel; No need
for a pen.
No metal fatigue
becomes less strong (fatigues) over repeated stress cycles. A
metal airplane effectively loses a little bit of it's original
strength every time it flies. A very old metal airplane with a
lot of flight cycles, if stressed to it's original design limitations,
might break up in flight. But composites don't fatigue. So
after 25 years of flying, the Starship should be just as strong as the
day it rolled off the assembly line.
No structural corrosion
airplanes corrode, especially if they are based near the ocean.
Such corrosion can eat into an aircraft's structure, weakening the
airframe over time. The Starship's composite structure does not
corrode. So it's possible that a Starship could fly for a
thousand years while based at the Bonneville salt flats.
Super smooth ride
mentioned above, the Starship handles like a big Mercedes sedan and
has an unbelievably smooth ride. The Starship's great ride is
particularly evident in turbulence. The stiff metal wings on
other aircraft transmit turbulence loads to the fuselage with little
dampening. But the Starship's composite main wings flex
noticeably in bad air, absorbing energy and smoothing out the
ride. The tandem wing configuration also helps iron out the
bumps. Sometimes the Starship seems to gently rock along it's
lateral axis as it makes it's way through turbulence; A bit like
a ship on the ocean.
Starship's pusher props, composite fuselage and interior sound absorption
system create a cabin that is unusually quiet for a turboprop
aircraft; Noise levels inside are closer to a jet and cabin
conversations can be had at normal voice levels. In the cockpit,
most of the ambient noise emanates from the avionics cooling fans,
environmental fans and outside airflow. It's so quiet up
front that you can actually hear the hobbs meter clicking off tenths
of an hour.
Efficiency, speed & altitude
with all the design modifications foisted upon Beech's original
design, the Starship still outperforms the King Air 350. The
Starship is 26 kts faster (338 vs. 312) and flies 6,000 feet higher
(41,000 vs. 35,000). And get this, the Starship's cabin is
12" wider and 6.5" higher than the King Air 350!
it like to fly a Starship?
might look at a canard aircraft like the Starship and ask yourself if
it flies like a conventional airplane. With the exceptions
outlined above regarding the superior ride in turbulence, the Starship
flies like any other airplane in the sense that the control inputs are
the same. But flying a Starship is a wonderful experience. The voluminous flight deck
is beautifully laid out for single pilot operations. The sound
and feel of the engines and airframe are at once powerful and
poetic. The composite structure and the twin 1,200 hp Pratts
sing a duet of strength and security; A Starship pilot feels as
safe as babe in his/her mother's arms. The machine feels like the
melding of a magic carpet and a Mercedes Benz. She's strong,
smooth and majestic.
also kind of fun checking in as a Starship with ATC, controllers
always respond with enthusiasm. One can't help daydream about
returning to earth in a real Starship, generations in the
the ramp she gathers more stares than a girl in a bikini. To me,
nothing could be better than flying a Starship. When I'm very
old, I'll dream about it every night.
is Raytheon scrapping it's fleet of Starships?
regards to your Starship query, we are indeed decommissioning the
fleet. We made the business decision that because of the low
number of aircraft in service, and the specialized parts necessary to
keep the aircraft flying, that it did not make sense from a business
standpoint to continue to support the aircraft."
would Walter Beech think?
refinements for a future Starship II:
certify the Starship according to Beechcraft's original structural
design; Filament wind the fuselage; Shed 2,500 lbs and fly faster, further.
the props with turbo fan engines, thereby eliminating
fuselage/wing wake issues.
all but the inside 2 vortex generators on the forward wing.
Starship aerodynamicist John Roncz claims that only the 2 inboard
VG's are necessary to keep airflow attached to the trim
tabs; The rest are completely unnecessary. According
to Mr. Roncz, the Starship would gain 10 to 15 knots with this
simple design change.
the 800 lb. flap system. Deploying the flaps reduces the
Starship's stall speed by only 5 knots. Without the extra weight
of the flap system the difference might be only 3 knots.