Friday, June 20, 2014

The aircraft that should have been: Beechcraft Starship

Last week, shortly after I came out of my Pima Air Museum aircraft OD coma, someone asked me what my favorites there were. Of course I ticked off my usual list of post-lottery-win purchase choices--Corsair, B-26K, Stearman, etc.,--but in my haste, I forgot about one special aircraft that I found out in the dust of their back lot: The Beechcraft Starship. Only 53 were ever produced, and Beech recovered and destroyed most of them, but they had one here, sitting forlorn and neglected along the back fence.

Designed by Burt Rutan in the early 1980s, it was revolutionary for it's twin pusher props, forward canard control surfaces, composite construction (no metal) and all-glass cockpit. It also reportedly flew like a dream. But despite remarkable reviews, it never sold well in the bad economy of the immediate post-Carter years and Beech quit making them. eventually they recalled or repurchased most of them and incinerated them. Two or three still reportedly fly today, but most of the few survivors are in museums, just like N39TU here.
I'd always been a fan of this wonderful aircraft and it was worth my visit here just to see and touch this one. Pity that I couldn't take it home with me.


  1. There's one that flies out of the Long Beach airport on a regular basis.

    Very distinctive sound, and it always makes my head swivel when I hear it.

    I don't know if he's based there, or just flies in and out. It *might* be the one that flies chase for Scaled Composites.

    Beautiful airplane!

  2. Had one land at our airport while I was having lunch there. Very cool airplane! Didn't realize that it had not only been discontinued, but removed. One more reason to visit Pima.

  3. Anonymous12:43 PM

    Long time reader, first time commenter yadda yadda, but you just got me out of my shell with this guy. I've lived in the shadow of the local airport (a mile from the end of the runway) in Western CO for many years, and we have one of those fly in every couple months or so. I don't know where he's based at, but as drjim said, you can hear it coming and I always try to run out and get a look at it. Also had a Rutan Boomerang come through once, which was kinda fun.

  4. What's the advantage of the from wings/canards?

    Dann in Ohio

  5. That's one sweet-looking plane. Pity they didn't become successful.

  6. The stall characteristics are much more gentle.

  7. A lot of folks think they've seen a Starship when they've really seen an Avanti passing overhead. Anyway, the story was that the FAA aircraft certification people didn't have a clue about composite structures. By the time the FAA was done redesigning it by fiat, what was a fast and sprightly turboprop was a real dog.

    Beech bought up every one that they could find so that they could stop supporting the type.

    1. The one out here is definitely a Starship. It was a swept wing and canard, where the Avanti is a straight wing and canard.

  8. Pretty bird, and killed by the FAA certification time lag and the initial price...

  9. Brings back memories. Spring '84 senior year of college, term project was a group case study on Raytheon Aircraft. Was delighted to get the assignment, as my Dad had already had two Sundowners and two 35 FTDKs (although, IMHO, the 17 is the most beautiful/elegant piston powered Beech ever built).

    Much of the presentation was centered on how the Starship was going to revolutionize GA/executive transportation, make a ton of money for Beech/Raytheon, and revive the general aviation industry.

    What a shame.