Shell, AirFlow Truck Company introduce their long-awaited Starship

The Starship truck took 3 years and 18,000 hours to build.

Three years in the making – and 31 years since its initial design was drafted – the Starship was born on Monday night at the Technology & Maintenance Council’s Annual Meeting & Transportation Technology meeting in Atlanta.

The Starship is a futuristic-looking, but completely road legal, Class 8 tractor-trailer unit built through a collaboration between Shell and AirFlow Truck Company. Designed with super sleek aerodynamic panels made of carbon fiber, the truck features a full suite of advanced technologies as Shell and AirFlow worked to design a truck that would improve freight efficiency as measured by ton-miles.

Bob Sliwa, president of Newington, CT-based AirFlow, said it took 18,000 hours to build the vehicle, which he drove from Newington to Atlanta for the show. “This is not a converted truck,” he said, “this is a 100% bespoke.”

The tractor features a Cummins X15 engine with 6X2 configuration and a 2.5 ratio. The 6-cylinder engine produces 400 horsepower and 1850-foot pounds of torque. The vehicle has both a downsped axle and engine to reduce fuel usage, the latest safety technologies and auto tire inflation system to name just a few characteristics.

Dan Arcy, global OEM technical manager for Shell, said the truck also has both front and side radar, stability control and a solar array on the trailer. The 5,000-watt solar array on top of the trailer provides energy through a 48-volt battery pack to power interior accessories and reduces the energy load.

The body of the Starship Project tractor is a bespoke aerodynamic design made of carbon fiber. This includes the side skirts, hood, and front end. A custom Department of Transportation (DOT)-approved wrap-around windshield was designed specifically for the truck.

Arcy also noted that the truck has an “active front grille” that opens and closes to allow in air as needed.

Shell’s Meghan Pino, Shell Rotella global brand manager, said the company provided technical consultation on the engine and drivetrain components and made lubricant recommendations. The engine runs on Shell Rotella T6 Ultra 5W-30, which is a low viscosity API FA-4 engine oil that has been formulated to provide better fuel economy, improved high and low temperature performance and meets the requirements for many low emissions engines. Additional low viscosity full synthetic oils are used throughout the vehicle, including Spirax S6 GXME 75W-80 transmission oil, Spirax S5 ADE 75W-80 differential oil and Spirax S6 GME 40 wheel hub oil. In addition, Shell Rotella Extended Life Coolant will provide excellent high-temperature protection and heat transfer. Shell Rotella Diesel Exhaust Fluid, a high purity diesel exhaust fluid, will also be in the truck. 

“We seek projects such as the Starship initiative to keep Shell at the leading edge of technology development and energy efficiency,” said Bob Mainwaring, technology manager for innovation, Shell Lubricants. “The transportation industry is constantly changing, and our goal is to be at the forefront of innovation by collaborating with companies like AirFlow and others to develop creative solutions that provide benefits for years to come.”

Sliwa says it took 3 years to build the truck, but his original design for it was drafted in 1987. He had previously built the “Bullet Truck in 2012, which ran coast-to-coast hauling freight at 65,000 pounds gross vehicle weight and averaged a record 13.4 mpg.

“[Shell] saw my website in 2013 and contacted me,” he said. “On April 1, 2013, I thought it was an April Fool’s Day joke.”

It wasn’t, and Sliwa, who was an owner-operator, noted that back in the 1980s he was putting skirts on his trailers, joking that it just took him “35 years to become an overnight sensation.”

The Starship Project will undertake a cross-country run in May that will begin in California and end in Florida carrying a real load of cargo in May: clean reef material destined for a new reef installation off the coast of Florida later this summer.

Pino said that NACFE will document the trip and provide a report to validate the performance of the vehicle.

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Brian Straight

Brian Straight covers general transportation news and leads the editorial team as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler.

One Comment

  1. I’m an owner operator I have a few trucks and one thing I learned in this business you can get a lot of good sweet talk but the bottom line is what’s the miles per gallon and how much does a machine cost

  2. Well, I suppose if I had only light freight or never crossed the Rockies or Appalachians and never needed any horsepower…

  3. Running the southern half it will get good fuel mileage like the other driver said put max weight on an run the top half across the mountains then see what it gets.

  4. Wow! The original design was drafted in 1987! Congratulations, this looks awesome. And we applaud the use of carbon fiber! We’re going to be talking about innovations like this at our Future of Composites in Transportation event at Navy Pier Chicago in June, perhaps the Starship can stop by on its travels.

    Elizabeth Meaney, JEC Composites