Type: twin-engine pusher business aircraft 85% scale demonstrator
Program: Next Generation Beech Aircraft (NGBA) (proprietary)
Powerplant: 2 x PT6 turboprop engines
First flight: August 1983
In the late 70s, the Beech Aircraft Company was on top of the small business aircraft market. The company's King Air twin had achieved about a 50 per cent market share. The remainder of the business turboprop market was divided among Cessna, Piper, Mitsubishi, Swearingen and Rockwell. Unfortunately, the company's best-selling King Air design was about 15 years old. With such a large market share, Beech executives reasoned that they could only lose market share in the future unless they took a dramatic leap forward. So in 1979, Beech decided to begin work on a new pressurized, all-composite twin-engine business turboprop, a brand new generation of aircraft based on latest building materials technology and a bold new, innovative design. Thus began the most ambitious new development project in the history of general aviation, what would become the Beechcraft 'Starship'.
The leading design had its engines mounted in the rear to reduce cabin noise. It had an aft-positioned main wing on which to mount the engines and balance lifting forces. A conventional rudder would have made a huge sounding board for the propellers, so instead, control of the yaw axis and vertical stabilizer function was assigned to tip-sails on each wingtip. The King Air's large cabin had always been a major selling point, and the new Beech design had an even larger one, approaching the size of a medium jet's. Increased size brought increased weight, and the decision was made early on to build it using innovative new composites for its favorable strength-to-weight ratio.
Full development began in 1982, when Beechcraft approached Burt Rutan and his company, Scaled Composites, in Mojave, California, to participate in the final configuration study. The world's acknowledged expert in tandem wing, all-composite pusher aircraft at that time was Burt Rutan. The result was the design for 'Starship', with its variable sweep forward wing, all composite construction and rear-mounted Pratt & Whitney turboprops. While Beech began preliminary design of the full-size prototypes, Scaled Composites was engaged to build an 85 percent scale proof of-concept prototype to flight-test the configuration.
While in development at Scaled, the 85% scale prototype was known as the Model 115-6.85 or SCAT-1, and Beechcraft referred to the production version as the Model 2000. Interestingly, although Beechcraft's name is forever associated with the lines of the handsome and futuristic 'Starship', Rutan apparently input quite enough of his own design for him to hold no less than two patents: one for a variable geometry high lift system incorporated in the Beech Starship (U.S. Patent Number 4,641,800, foreign patents also held), and above all one for the very Rutan Model 115 Starship configuration (U.S. Patent Number Des. 292,393, foreign patents also held — see artwork below).
The proof of concept was completed in record time, and made its first flight in late August of 1983. A little over a month later, the new aircraft, then dubbed the Starship, was introduced at the National Business Aircraft Association Convention in Dallas, Texas. When the proof of concept Starship made its first appearance, it seemed to many people like a very real aircraft. It was as large as a 90-series King Air, looked good in the air and clearly performed well. To the uneducated observer, it appeared one could put an interior in it, tweak the design here and there and begin a certification program. Sadly, this wasn't the case. The proof of concept aircraft had no certifiable systems and no pressurization. It was not even built out of the intended materials. It was essentially a large flying wind tunnel model designed for a program of 100 test flight hours or less, although it flew five times that long.
The SCAT-1 was scrapped circa 1992, but even this sad destiny allowed Beechcraft technicians to learn one more useful lesson. Indeed, a major problem with composite aircraft is lightning, as no one knew initially what it would do to a composite airplane. So when the Model 115 was chopped up by Beech, they mounted pieces of the wings vertically on top of a hangar. Some time later a huge night-time thunderstorm came through and the next morning the ramp area was covered with what appeared to be cotton. No one knew what it was, until someone noticed one of the wings on top of the hangar was gone; it had been hit by lightning and became fluffs of fiber glass blowing in the wind...
The proof of concept Starship's appearance at the Dallas convention gave the impression Beech was much further along than it was, and gave credence to an optimistic schedule the company had announced for certification: the end of 1985. However, by early 1984, many subcontractors still had not come close to delivering their components on time, and there was concern some might not be able to deliver at all. If there was to be a 'Starship', Beech realized it would have to develop it by itself. This resulted in substantial delays while Beech gained experience with the properties and manufacturing techniques required of resins, fibers, adhesives, composite honeycombs and sealants unique to composite aircraft.
Population: 1 [N2000P] (c/n 0001)
Crew/passengers: 11 seats