A Review of The Starship Diaries, by Dallas Kachan
“It would be hard to live a better dream than to be able to fly solo around the world in a Starship without a schedule. Like many others who will read The Starship Diaries, it made me want to drop everything, find a Starship and go tomorrow!”
– Burt Rutan, President of Scaled Composites, Designer of SpaceShipOne (first civilian spacecraft)
Aviation pioneer Burt Rutan sums it up, above. Reading this book makes you want to run out and buy one of those radical twin turbine Beechcraft Starships (if you still could!) and head to to replicate the amazing adventures of author Dallas Kachan.
Romance. Adventure. Near-death experiences. Cool aviation technology. Exotic cities and cultures around the world. They’re all here. All the ingredients of a great book, or a great movie.
The Starship Diaries chronicles the adventures of a Silicon Valley survivor who buys a Beechcraft Starship and travels around the world, meandering around the planet over the period of two years. In the 400 pages of the book, the author has near-misses in the air, including nearly running out of fuel over Fiji. There’s a great detailed story of damaging landing gear in the middle of Russia (in a chapter titled, aptly, “A Place FedEx Couldn’t Find”), 150+ footnotes detailing the science of flight and the airspace systems around the world, and all kinds of detailed historical, geographic and present-day descriptions of his 38 destinations with fascinating travel adventures at each.
It’s a surprisingly epic book for a journey that never actually happened.
Author Dallas Kachan found success in Silicon Valley. That’s true. And the wealth of detail in the book about each of the 38 destinations around the world visited is true, all thoroughly researched. The technical detail about flying is quite factual, and the author maintains even the travel stories actually happened. The only part that didn’t actually happen was the flight itself. Kachan used Microsoft Flight Simulator to fly each leg of the 38-flight adventure over the course of the same two years as in the book, using real-world weather and traffic.
Be this as it may, the end product is an utterly engaging and convincing chronicle, entertaining and educational—especially when it comes to describing and relating corners of the planet most people don’t know much about.
The following is the flight log:
DATE TO/FROM DAY NGT TOT
11/1/2000 San Jose, California to Honolulu, Hawaii 6.0 0.0 6.0
12/26/2000 Honolulu, Hawaii to Lihue, Hawaii 3.5 0.0 3.5
1/3/2001 Lihue, Hawaii to Palmyra, Kiribati 4.0 0.0 4.0
1/18/2001 Island tour near Palmyra 0.6 0.0 0.6
3/3/2001 Palmyra, Kiribati to Nadi, Fiji via Pago Pago, Am. Samoa 4.6 2.6 7.2
4/17/2001 Nadi, Fiji to Auckland, New Zealand 4.2 0.5 4.7
4/17/2001 Aukland, New Zealand to Invercargill, New Zealand 4.6 0.1 4.7
4/20/2001 Stewart Island tour 0.6 0.0 0.6
5/13/2001 Invercargill, New Zealand to Melbourne, Australia 5.4 0.0 5.4
5/20/2001 Melbourne, Australia to Tibooburra, Australia 4.8 0.0 4.8
6/22/2001 Tibooburra, Australia to Alice Springs, Australia 7.9 1.6 9.5
7/18/2001 Alice Springs, Australia to Weipa, Australia 4.8 0.0 4.8
7/29/2001 Weipa, Australia to Palu, Indonesia 5.0 0.0 5.0
8/4/2001 Palu, Indonesia to Tarakan, Indonesia 4.0 0.0 4.0
8/16/2001 Tarakan, Indonesia to Manila, Philippines 5.0 0.0 5.0
8/30/2001 Manila, Philippines to Hiroshima, Japan 3.0 1.5 4.5
9/11/2001 Hiroshima, Japan to Wakkanai, Japan 4.8 0.0 4.8
9/17/2001 Wakkanai, Japan to Shanghai, China 4.2 0.0 4.2
10/22/2001 Shanghai, China to Chengdu, China 5.5 0.0 5.5
10/28/2001 Chengdu, China to Kathmandu, Nepal 4.4 0.0 4.4
11/2/2001 Kathmandu, Nepal to Hotan, China 2.7 0.0 2.7
11/18/2001 Hotan, China to Novosibirsk, Russia 4.6 0.0 4.6
11/30/2001 Novosibirsk, Russia to Moscow, Russia 5.9 1.0 6.9
12/15/2001 Moscow, Russia to London, England 3.9 1.3 5.2
12/21/2001 London, England to Caernarfon, Wales and back 1.0 0.5 1.5
1/20/2002 London, England to Venice, Italy 3.8 0.0 3.8
2/10/2002 Venice, Italy to Ibiza, Spain 4.0 0.0 4.0
2/25/2002 Ibiza, Spain to Casablanca, Morocco 3.8 0.0 3.8
3/20/2002 Casablanca, Morocco to Tamanrasset, Algeria 4.0 0.5 4.5
3/26/2002 Tamanrasset, Algeria to Mbandaka, Congo 5.4 0.0 5.4
4/13/2002 Mbandaka, Congo to Livingstone, Zambia 4.2 0.0 4.2
4/17/2002 Livingstone, Zambia to Cape Town, South Africa 4.7 0.0 4.7
5/26/2002 Cape Town, South Africa to São Tomé via Lubango, Angola 8.0 0.0 8.0
6/11/2002 São Tomé to Praia, Cape Verde via Bamako, Mali 8.7 0.0 8.7
6/20/2002 Praia, Cape Verde to Natal, Brazil 5.1 0.1 5.2
7/2/2002 Natal, Brazil to St. Kitts, Caribbean via Cayenne, Fr. Guiana 8.2 1.0 9.2
8/3/2002 St. Kitts, Caribbean to Bermuda, Caribbean 3.5 0.0 3.5
8/5/2002 Bermuda, Caribbean to Toronto, Canada 3.8 0.0 3.8
8/28/2002 Toronto Tour 0.6 0.1 0.7
8/31/2002 Toronto, Canada to Wawa, Canada 2.9 0.0 2.9
9/1/2002 Practice landings at Wawa 0.9 0.0 0.9
9/9/2002 Wawa, Canada to Brandon, Canada 3.1 0.0 3.1
9/9/2002 Brandon, Canada to Shoal Lake, Canada and back 0.8 0.0 0.8
10/3/2002 Brandon, Canada to San Jose, California via Boise, Idaho 6.4 0.0 6.4
183.4 14.3 197.7
So how does it read? Kachan is a former journalist, and it shows. His prose is economical, descriptive and engaging. Here’s an evocative description of the sky over Africa from a hotel room at the end of a long day:
That last evening there was a decidedly gray sky. Yet, over time, a spectrum of muted colors formed outside the window. I went to investigate and found that while the majority of the overcast sky above still evoked shades of gun metal, an open band at the horizon had developed and allowed an impossible blend of pale blue and muted yellow to stream through as the sun descended out of sight. The city and jungle were both airbrushed in a thin pastel by this warm wash of light. In that unreal glow, it became apparent how these clouds, which had lingered almost the entire time I’d been in Mbandaka, were indicative of what the rainforest meant to the world. If the rainforest were indeed the lungs of the Earth, these clouds, it almost seemed, were the slow motion breathing of the world.
In this passage, the author is blackmailed at an out-of-the-way pit stop in Africa:
“You need security?” asked the young guy at the airport in charge of refueling. “If you’re going to stay, it’s good idea.”
“Yes. Bad people on the island. We’ve had planes broken into. You never know what people do, especially a plane like this.” He grinned, but I wasn’t sure whether to read his smile as conspiratorial or quietly threatening.
Was I, in fact, being coerced? Had I walked into a street gang-style protection scam? If I didn’t pay, would be guaranteeing the plane would be vandalized? I was going to decline, but thought about the consequences of refusing his offer.
“Don’t worry, we take good care of her,” he said after I handed over a fistful of U.S. dollars. “My brother Figueiredo come here tonight with his gun and stay here all night and make sure no one get close. You’re in good hands.”
He smiled. I didn’t.
Some of the best passages in the book are reflections on the world. In this excerpt, the author is flying at night over the ocean to South America:
The sun sunk low in the sky. As always, when flying westward, its pastel descent became a more protracted affair than usual. In time, however, the sky darkened. It became a still, starry night, far away from the lights of any city. Occasionally, I could make out what had to be the lights of lonely container ships far below.
Above, the Milky Way could clearly be seen. In many mythologies, the Milky Way was thought to literally be the road to heaven. The ancients supposedly thought thousands of departed souls held torches to light the path. To the Greeks, it was milk, and to the ancient Romans it was a trail of wheat scattered across the sky by the goddess of the harvest.
I found it logical that early man might associate stars with departed souls. From there in the cockpit, it seemed the only think that could be more daunting than contemplating the number of stars in a midnight sky could be the mystery of death. The inconceivable reality that stars represent, i.e. a manifestation of the size of the universe, would likely be incomprehensible to the early thinker. Better to just associate stars with that more tangible, everyday mystery of life and death than consider the possibility that the universe out there—that array of stars so numerous to the naked eye as to actually become blurry in sections—could represent a reality so broad and vast that all of humanity might be relatively insignificant in comparison. To a pilot, the sky at times can seem as familiar as a familiar landscape, but on dark nights and inside the clouds its alien nature reemerges. Again then it becomes a surreal and dangerous place across which humans may move, but only with care and wonder. Pilots going out into these conditions need to hesitate before they power up for their takeoffs. They need that moment to run through the first critical moves of the flight, to shift their thoughts away from the ground and summon the concentration necessary to navigate the strange sky ahead.
Who would be interested in this book? The Starship Diaries is both an aviation and travel adventure. So while it’s obviously intended to appeal to pilots and aviation enthusiasts, it’s also intended to interest those interested in travel literature—standing up as a legitimate travel and adventure story even for readers without an aviation background (for instance, our wives.)
Why would pilots and virtual aviators buy this book? Pilots love adventure stories with technical details, and there’s no shortage of adventure and aviation-related lore in this story. Why would travel readers buy this book? A quick thumb through reveals extensive and accessibly-written geographic, political and social detail, stories of exploration and revelation, and interesting conversations with people in exotic locations all around the world.
Finally, this book also stands as a memorial of sorts to the Beechcraft Starship aircraft itself at the center of the story. The Starship line has just been retired, and the unfortunate circumstances of this futuristic aircraft’s demise make this book particularly compelling to those who either worked on or followed this remarkable aircraft. (Details of the Starship fleet’s current status can be read in a special section of the publisher’s website dedicated to the book and the Starship: www.starshipdiaries.com/status.html