The Beechcraft Starship is a futuristic-looking United States turboprop-powered six- to eight-passenger seat business aircraft. The design was originated by Beechcraft in January 1980 as Preliminary Design 330 (PD 330). Burt Rutan was subsequently retained to refine PD330 and one of the significant changes he instituted was the addition of variable geometry to the canard (he holds a patent for this). Rutan's California-based design and fabrication company Scaled Composites was then contracted to build scale-model prototypes to aid in development.
Work began in 1979 when Beechcraft identified a need to replace the King Air 200 model. After a brief hiatus while the company was being 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 system.
While in development at Scaled Composites, 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 a different airframe design and material specifications than the planned production Model 2000. Only one Model 115 was built, and it has since been scrapped.
The first full-size Starship (the Model 2000) 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 stall-warning system.
The first production Starship flew in late 1988, after over $300 million in development costs. Those working in the program have stated that much of the development delay was due to the new owners' ongoing vacillation and lack of assurance over whether to continue with the new-concept project.
The Starship was notable for several reasons:
Commercially, the aircraft was a failure, with little demand. Only fifty-three Starships were ever built, and of those only a handful were sold. Many of the aircraft were eventually leased by Raytheon, which allowed the company to control their distribution and operational life. Raytheon considered the cost of supporting a commercial fleet of just 53 aircraft with necessary parts and flight training to be prohibitive. Leasing the aircraft allowed Raytheon to effectively recall and ground most of the fleet at the end of their initial leases.
Some reasons for the lack of demand:
End of the program
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 was also said to be buying back privately-owned Starships, though some Starship owners say they have never been contacted by Raytheon about this. Raytheon's spin-off, Hawker Beech Corporation, continues to offer technical support by phone but no longer offers parts support to current Starship operators. Rockwell Collins has maintained full support for the AMS-850 avionics suite. In March 2008, the third of the five remaining Starships completed RVSM certification returning the aircraft's service ceiling to the original FL410 limit.
Almost all of the recalled Starships have been ground up and incinerated at the "boneyard" at the Evergreen Air Center located at the Pinal Airpark in Arizona. The planes have little aluminum for recycling. A few have been purchased by individuals who regard them as lovable failures, much like the infamous Ford Edsel. 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 decommissioning program began, with the Kansas Aviation Museum receiving the first aircraft in August 2003. Starship NC-42, flown by the architect David Schwarz for many years, is now at the Museum of Flight in Everett, Washington. Starship N214JB is displayed at the Southern Museum of Flight adjacent to the Birmingham International Airport in Alabama. Starship NC-27, N74TD, is on static display at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museumin McMinnville, Orgeon.
As of autumn 2008 only six Starships continue to hold airworthiness registration with the FAA. Three Starships are based in Oklahoma, one in Washington, one in California, and one is still registered to Raytheon Aircraft Credit Corporation in Wichita, Kansas.
Data from Beechcraft Starship 2000A Performance, Specifications & Equipment
Published in July 2009.
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