The members of Led Zeppelin once had their own private Boeing 720 to tour across North America in the middle of the 1970s. The jet, dubbed The Starship, was modded to meet every requirement of the rock band.
A grand investment
The unit held registration N7201U and was the first Boeing 720 built. It was initially delivered to United Airlines in October 1960. However, the 138-seater saw its most famous action following its purchase for $600,000 in 1973.
According to I Love Classic Rock, new owners Bobby Sherman and Ward Sylvester splashed $200,000 into the project. By the time the new configuration was over, the main cabin featured a 30-foot-long couch that ran along the right side of the plane, as well as a TV and video cassette player. The superstar passengers could also have a shower on board. This helped lessen the need to live out of hotels and suitcases while traveling from town to town across North America.
Peter Frampton, who leased the plane after the mid-70’s success of Frampton Comes Alive! Tour, said it was the closest thing to Air Force One. He loved the luxury of the jet, which had a lounge with a shag-carpet and swiveling leather chairs. There was also a brass-covered bar with a built-in organ. The musician said it was all about fighting for a seat at the bar.
The rock and roll lifestyle
There was undoubtedly plenty of alcohol to go around at the bar. Road manager Richard Cole highlights the top quality champagne that was onboard.
Cole said the following, as reported by The New York Times:
”In those days, we went through a phase where we only drank ’64 and ’66 Dom Pérignon. If we found a good deal we’d have one of the assistants buy several cases and store it on the plane.”
Nonetheless, the first paying passengers on The Starship were the band members of Led Zeppelin. The group jumped on in July 1973, and during this period, they were one of the biggest bands across the globe. In true rockstar fashion, they toured with style, and there was plenty of excitement on their travels.
The band painted their name across the fuselage and treated the master suite like an hourly rate motel. There was also a lot of intoxication while in the skies, as Cole called the jet ”a floating gin palace.”
Full of drama
There was plenty of drama amid all the buzz. For instance, Led Zeppelin’s drummer, John Bonham, once tried to open the aircraft’s door while flying over Kansas City “because he had to pee,” according to a flight attendant named Suzee. The musician even sat in the co-pilot’s seat and assisted in flying the jet on a transcontinental trip from New York to Los Angeles
Meanwhile, John Paul Jones took on the onboard keys. He would entertain those traveling on the aircraft with pub song renditions.
The rockstar lifestyle on board the Boeing 720 didn’t last forever. Notably, the oil embargo In the middle of the 1970s brought operations with the plane to a halt. By the time fuel prices became affordable again, there was no longer as much of a requirement for the aircraft. Subsequently, Sylvester and Sherman were forced to sell up.
Sylvester concludes the following, according to The New York Times:
“It was hard to make the argument that the Starship’s fuel was part of the national defense.”
The Starship then went through several ownership changes from 1977 through 1979. However, it, unfortunately, went into storage at Luton Airport at the end of the decade. It finally was dismantled for parts in July 1982.
Altogether, this Boeing 720 represents a groundbreaking era in pop culture history. Rock photographer Neal Preston, who had all-access for Led Zeppelin’s tours, summarized the plane with the following.
”If you were operating at the top echelon of the record business, you had to have the Starship.”
Throughout the decade, many legendary musicians took to the skies with The Starship to perform across the cities. Below is a list of some of the other artists and the tours that were conducted with the plane.
- Elton John: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road Tour / Elton John Band Tour 1974 / Louder Than Concorde Tour
- Alice Cooper: Billion Dollar Babies Holliday Tour
- Bob Dylan and The Band: Bob Dylan and The Band 1974 Tour
- Deep Purple: Burn Tour / Stormbringer Tour
- The Allman Brothers Band: 1974 Tour / Win, Lose or Draw Tour
- The Rolling Stones: Tour of the Americas ’75
- Peter Frampton: Frampton Comes Alive! Tour
The Starship no longer exists today. However there are undoubtedly many memories that were made thanks to the plane. Along with the dramatic incidents that happened on the aircraft, many game-changing concerts occurred as the jet transported several iconic musicians from city to city.
What are your thoughts about The Starship aircraft and the operations that it conducted during the 1970s? Have you ever flown on a Boeing 720 plane over the years? Let us know what you think of the jet in the comment section.