The Starship

The Starship was a former United Airlines Boeing 720B passenger jet, bought by Bobby Sherman and his manager, Ward Sylvester, and leased to touring musical artists in the mid-1970s.

The Starship, N7201U (S/N: 17907), was the first B720 built. It was delivered to United Airlines on October 1960 and then purchased in 1973 by Contemporary Entertainment.

English rock band Led Zeppelin used the plane for their 1973 and 1975 North American concert tours. During the 1972 tour and in the early part of the 1973 tour the band had hired a small private Falcon Jet to transport its members from city to city, but these aircraft are comparatively light and susceptible to air turbulence. After performing a show at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco in 1973 Led Zeppelin encountered bad turbulence on a flight back to Los Angeles. As a result, the band's manager Peter Grant resolved to hire The Starship for the remainder of the tour.

The plane was the same type as used by commercial airlines, but its owners allowed it to be specifically modified to suit the whim of their clients. Sherman and Sylvester invested $200,000 to reduce its seating capacity to forty and to install into the main cabin a bar, seats and tables, revolving arm chairs, a 30 foot long couch (running along the right hand side of the plane, opposite the bar), a television set and a video cassette player, complete with a well-stocked video library. An electronic organ was built into the bar, and at the rear of the craft were two back rooms, one with a low couch and pillows on the floor, and the other, a bedroom, complete with a white fur bedspread and shower room. The exterior of the plane was re-sprayed with Led Zeppelin emblazoned down the side of the fuselage and the band's famous Swan Song Apollo logo was painted on the tail.

Flying on The Starship, Led Zeppelin found that they didn't have to change hotels so often. They could base themselves in large cities such as Chicago, New York, Dallas and Los Angeles and travel to and from concerts within flying distance. After each show, the band members would be transported direct by limousine from the concert venue to the airport, as depicted in the Led Zeppelin concert film, The Song Remains the Same. The Starship was again used throughout Led Zeppelin's 1975 US concert tour, this time featuring a different red and blue paint scheme with white stars similar to the United States flag, and with a smaller "Led Zeppelin" logo on the fuselage. According to Peter Grant, at one point during this tour Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham sat in the co-pilot's seat and flew the plane all the way from New York to Los Angeles.

Both the 1973 and re-painted 1975 versions of The Starship can be seen on home video footage included at the end of "Stairway to Heaven" on disc 2 of the Led Zeppelin DVD.

English rock band Deep Purple also hired the Starship for their 1974 U.S. Tour. They can be seen arriving in the jet with the band's name emblazoned on the jet in the DVD for the infamous California Jam rock festival, entitled Live in California 74. In an interview with Circus magazine in 1974, Deep Purple's Jon Lord explained: "It's a 707 put together by a firm in L.A. that Sinatra, Dylan and The Band just used and Elton John uses. It has a lounge, a bedroom, a shower, a fire place and a study. It's supposed to look as little as a plane as possible."

Also known to have hired the plane were The Rolling Stones, The Allman Brothers and Alice Cooper. Peter Frampton was the last to charter The Starship in 1976. As early as Alice Cooper's 1974 tour the aircraft was beginning to show signs of engine difficulties, and for Led Zeppelin's 1977 US Tour, it was permanently grounded at Long Beach Airport. The band was forced to find a comparable alternative, and tour manager Richard Cole eventually chartered Caesar's Chariot, a 45-seat Boeing 707 owned by the Caesars Palace Hotel in Las Vegas.

The Starship went through many owners from 1977 through 1979 until it went into storage at Luton Airport in London. It was then parted out in July 1982.

References in popular culture

In the 2000 film Little Nicky, it is mentioned at the end of the film that the two satanists purchased Led Zeppelin's old touring plane, but it crashed since they forgot to get a pilot.


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