Rudder control in the Starship is accomplished through control surfaces on the massive winglets. Pitch is managed through the canard up front. (Photo by Rod Reilly)
Rare Airplanes in Flight
Beech 2000A Starship
The collaboration between Beechcraft and unconventional airplane design company Scaled Composites, led by Burt Rutan, is evident when looking at the Beech 2000A Starship. Even today, decades after its introduction, the airplane appears futuristic. Attached to its fuselage are a canard and massive winglets, all with control surfaces. In place of the tail section is a small inverted fin. Powered from the rear by two Pratt & Whitney PT6A-67A turboprops, each producing 1,200 shp, the Starship shoots through the skies at speeds as fast as 385 knots.
It is unfortunate that this beautiful yet unconventional airplane didn’t have a chance to succeed. After deciding to stop producing the airplane, Beechcraft recalled and destroyed nearly half of the fleet. If you are not among the few lucky enough to have spotted one at your local airfield, it is well worth visiting one of several museums that have Starships on display to take a closer look at this functional piece of art.
In addition to the Starship’s avant-garde design, the materials used in the turboprop — which seats up to eight people — were on the leading edge in the early ’80s, when the airplane was developed. It is made of primarily carbon-fiber composites, materials that were just starting to be used in civilian airplane structures at that time. The Starship has also been credited as the first civilian airplane to employ an all-glass cockpit — Rockwell Collins’ Pro Line 4 AMS-850. While very high-tech at that time, the system now looks like a puzzle of little screens, compared with the large multifunction screens that make up today’s clean cockpit layouts.
Fifty-three Starships were produced before Beechcraft decided to cease production in 1995. And not only that, but a few years later, the Wichita, Kansas-based company ceased all support for the airplane as well. Yet, for the few Starship operators out there — according to owner and operator Robert Scherer, there are only four — the lack of support doesn’t appear to be too much of an issue. At least not yet.
Scherer has found his airplane, serial number 51, to be very reliable. However, to ensure that he will be able to continue flying his Starship, he accumulated a sizable inventory of parts. Scherer bought out Rapid Aircraft Parts’ supply of Starship parts and purchased four airframes for spares. Scherer doesn’t hoard the parts; he makes them available for other needy Starship owners to purchase.
Convincing mechanics to work on the airplane has also been easy for Scherer. “On the road, any jet shop can do Starship maintenance,” he said. “Most mechanics are excited to work on a rare aircraft. But frankly, she never seems to break down. In 15 years I’ve had to have only a couple of things fixed when on the road. But those were non-Starship items, like a starter generator and a cabin air ventilation fan.” The biggest issue Scherer faces now is that, as of next year, Rockwell Collins has decided to discontinue its updates for the FMS-850 avionics. So Scherer is currently in the process of researching alternatives to enable continual database updates.
In addition to the unique design features, Scherer loves the Starship for its stable handling characteristics, high-altitude capabilities (its service ceiling is 41,000 feet) and wide cabin, which he says is several inches wider than that of the King Air B-200. He also says the cockpit is “spacious and well laid out.”
Were it not for maintenance problems in early Starship models, which gave it a bad reputation and prevented sales, the turboprop may just have become a huge success. — Pia Bergqvist