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Lockheed TriStar Delta

Lockheed L-1011 TriStar

The Lockheed L-1011 TriStar is a three-engined widebody airliner seating up to 400 passengers. It was the third widebody airliner to enter service and it competed head-on with the McDonnell Douglas DC-10. The TriStar became the last airliner Lockheed produced.

During the 1960s Lockheed, builder of the famous piston-engined Constellation, was eagerly looking for an opportunity to return to the market for commercial airliners. The aircraft maufacturer had missed the first decade of jet age. In the late 1950s it developed the L-188 Electra turboprop instead of a jetliner and since production of this ill-fated airliner ended in 1961, Lockheed didn't produce any airliners apart from a small number of 'civilised' Hercules military transport planes. The loss of the American contest for a supersonic transport (SST) also meant a major blow. An American Airlines specification for a 'Jumbo Twin', a widebody airliner smaller than the Boeing 747, seemed to offer a chance for a come-back.

Competing with the DC-10

After discussions with potential customers the Jumbo Twin became a Jumbo Trijet. Lockheed designed an aircraft that became in many ways identical with the competing McDonnell Douglas DC-10. Both aircraft are fitted with three high-bypass turbofan engines, seat around 300 passengers, have about the same fuselage diameter and have exactly the same wingspan. The main visual difference is the S-like inlet of the TriStar's tail-engine compared to the straight duct of the DC-10 tail. Lockheed offered only one engine type, the Rolls-Royce RB.211, while McDonnell Douglas offered DC-10 customers a choice between General Electric and Pratt & Whitney engines.

Late 1967 Lockheed and McDonnell Douglas started a fierce competition battle for customers. Douglas initially won an American Airlines order for 25 DC-10s on February 19 1968. The second round was won by Lockheed. On March 29 1968 Lockheed announced orders and options for a total of 44 TriStars by Eastern Airlines (33 orders plus 11 options), TWA Trans World Airlines (25 plus 25) and Air Holdings Company, a British firm established to sell or lease TriStars to non-US airlines (30 plus 20). That day Lockheed announced the full go-ahead of the TriStar programme. McDonnell Douglas officially launched the DC-10 on April 26 1968 when United Airlines ordered 30 DC-10s and took options on 30 more.

Financial trouble

The Lockheed L-1011 TriStar flew for the first time on 16 November 1970 from Palmdale in California. The TriStar was considered to be technically more advanced than the DC-10, but Lockheed suffered delays because of financial problems. The manufacturer was already weakened by the C-5A Galaxy programme. This project was based on a fixed price contract so that Lockheed had to pay serious cost overruns from its own financial resources.

Another financial setback was the cancellation of the military Cheyenne helicopter by the US Army. In the meantime Rolls-Royce faced difficulties with the development of the RB.211 turbofan. During tests the innovative carbon fibre blades of the front fan of the engine appeared not to be bird-proof and showed corrosion, leading to breaking-off blades. The blades were substituted by more traditional titanium ones, but these added weight to the engine.

Furthermore Rolls-Royce had underestimated the necessary development time of the new engine and priced the engine below its real cost-level. These circumstances led to the financial collapse of the British engine manufacturer in February 1971. The British government, however, took control over Rolls-Royce and revived the company. But it wanted to continue the RB.211 development only if Lockheed was prepared to pay a higher price for the engines. Lockheed had no choice, because it would face much longer delays and high modification costs to replace the RB.211 by another engine.

Government support

The series of setbacks forced Lockheed to lay off 6,500 workers, but after this it was still short of money. In the Summer of 1971 it gained support from the US government, which didn't want to lose a company with so much experience in building military aircraft as Lockheed had. In August president Nixon signed guarantees for loans up to 250 million dollar. In addition in September Lockheed signed contracts with banks, Rolls-Royce and the launch airlines for a 650 million dollar financing package. Lockheed and the TriStar were saved now, but the problems had not contributed to the airlines' faith in the aircraft. One of the big early TriStar customers, Delta Air Lines, even ordered a number of DC-10s to be sure of having widebodies in its fleet at the beginning of the widebody era.

Lockheed TriStar Saudia

First delivery

The first 'Ten-Eleven' was delivered to Eastern Airlines and introduced on the airline's Miami - Atlanta - New York service on 26 April 1972, eight months behind the first delivery of the DC-10. The TriStar sold only slowly during the rest of the 1970s. To stimulate sales Lockheed bribed Japanese politicians. In order to influence All Nippon Airlines (ANA) to purchase the TriStar Lockheed paid approximately 1.8 million dollar to the Japanese prime minister's office. The scandal, which came to light in 1976, forced the then-prime minister, Kakuei Tanaka, to resign. Judicial processes carried on for a decade.

Lockheed L-1011-1, -100, -200

Several versions of the Lockheed TriStar were built. The TriStar-1, -100 and -200 all had the same fuselage length but were different in range and engine-variants. Conversions based on these three versions resulted in three new variants: TriStar-50, -150 and -250. These variants were never built new.

Lockheed L-1011-500

The L-1011-500 is a short-fuselage, long-range version of the TriStar, with increased wing span. Lockheed aimed the L-1011-500 to airlines wanting to replace Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8 aircraft and airlines for which the DC-10, 747 and standard TriStars were too big or lacked range. The TriStar 500 was flown for the first time on 16 October 1978 and the FAA type certification was issued six months later. British Airways took delivery of its first aircraft on 29 April 1979. A total of 50 aircraft was built of this version. Some ex-BA aircraft were converted to transport/tankers for the Royal Air Force and some ex-Pan Am aircraft to transport aircraft, also for the RAF.

Proposed developments

Lockheed considered several TriStar versions that were never built. The L-1011-300 was a 30 ft (9 m) stretch to a total length of 207 ft 4 in (63,2 m) seating 410 passengers. This version was proposed to All Nippon Airlines, which was in need of a high-capacity airliner for domestic use. After ANA chose the Boeing 747SR (Short Range) Lockheed stopped the development. The L-1011-400 was a proposed short-range version of the L-1011-500 for 200-250 passengers and lower weights. The L-1011-600 'BiStar' was a twin-engined proposal, based on the L-1011-500. A combination of the L-1011-200 fuselage and the L-1011-500 wing would have resulted in a 'L-1011-500 Stretch'.

Lockheed built 250 TriStars and delivered the final production aircraft in 1984. The closure of the assembly line marked the end of Lockheed as a builder of passenger airliners. Since the year 2000 the TriStar has almost disappeared from the aviation scene. A small number has been converted to freighters, but as a cargo plane the type is far less popular than the DC-10.

TriStar Photos

TriStar Rich International


TriStar-500 Delta


TriStar Royal Jordanian



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