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Lockheed L-1011

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L-1011 TriStar
An ATA L-1011-500 landing at Frankfurt, 2005.
Role Wide-body aircraft
Manufacturer Lockheed-California Co.
First flight November 16, 1970
Introduction April 26, 1972
Status In service
Primary users British Airways (historical)
Trans World Airlines (historical)
Delta Air Lines (historical)
Eastern Air Lines (historical)
Produced 1968-1984
Number built 250
Variants Lockheed TriStar (RAF)

The Lockheed L-1011 TriStar, commonly referred to as just L-1011 (pronounced "ell-ten-eleven") or TriStar, is a medium-to-long range widebody passenger jet airliner and was the third widebody passenger jet airliner to enter operation, following the Boeing 747 and the McDonnell Douglas DC-10. Like the DC-10, the TriStar is a three-engine jet airliner. Between 1968 and 1984, Lockheed manufactured a total of 250 TriStars. After production ended, Lockheed withdrew from the commercial aircraft business due to its below-target sales.

Design and development

In the 1960s, American Airlines approached Lockheed and competitor Douglas (later McDonnell Douglas) with the need for an airliner smaller than the 747, but still capable of carrying a large passenger load to distant locales such as London and Latin America from company hubs in Dallas/Ft Worth and New York. Lockheed had been largely absent from the civil airliner market since the late 1950s following problems with its L-188 Electra, which had suffered a number of crashes early in its career due to wing vibration. However, having experienced difficulties with some of its military programs, Lockheed was keen to re-enter the civil market, and its response was the L-1011 TriStar. The aircraft was originally conceived as a "jumbo twin", but a three-engine design was ultimately chosen to give the plane enough thrust to take off from existing runways.

Prototype TriStar in a Lockheed hangar on November 16, 1971
Prototype TriStar in a Lockheed hangar on November 16, 1971

The design featured a twin-aisle interior with a maximum of 400 passengers, a three-engine layout, low noise emissions (in the early 1970s, Eastern Air Lines nicknamed the L-1011 "The WhisperLiner"), improved reliability, and efficient operation. The main visible difference between the TriStar and the DC-10 that emerged at Douglas is in the middle/tail engine; the DC-10's engine is mounted above the fuselage for more power, while the TriStar's engine is integrated into the tail through an S-duct (similar to that of the Boeing 727) for improved quietness and stability. A major differentiator between the L-1011 and the DC-10 was Lockheed's selection of the Rolls-Royce RB211 engine for the L-1011. As originally designed, the RB211 turbofan was an advanced three-spool design with a carbon fibre fan, which would have better efficiency and power-to-weight ratio than any competing design. This would make the L-1011 more efficient, a major selling point.

American Airlines opted for the Douglas DC-10, although it had shown considerable interest in the L-1011. American's intent in doing so was to convince Douglas to lower its price for the DC-10, which it did. Without the support of American, the TriStar was launched on orders from TWA and Eastern Air Lines. Although the TriStar's design schedule closely followed that of its competitor, the DC-10, Douglas beat Lockheed to market by a year due to delays in power plant development. In February 1971, after massive development costs associated with the RB211, Rolls-Royce went into receivership. This halted L-1011 final assembly, but by then it was too late to change engine suppliers (to either General Electric or Pratt & Whitney).

Logo of the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar
Logo of the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar

The British government agreed to approve a large state subsidy to restart Rolls-Royce operations on condition the U.S. government guarantee the bank loans Lockheed needed to complete the L-1011 project. Despite some opposition, not least from the then Governor of California Ronald Reagan, the U.S. government provided these guarantees. For the rest of the RB211 project, Rolls remained a government-owned company.

The TriStar's internal Lockheed model number is L-093. The prototype first flew on 17 November 1970. The crew for that flight was H. B. Dees (pilot), Ralph C. Cokely (copilot), and G. E. Fisher (development engineer). The L-1011 was certified on 14 April 1972 and the first airliner was delivered to Eastern Air Lines on 26 April 1972. In an effort to further publicize the new plane, an L-1011 was taken on a world tour during 1972 by famed Lockheed test pilot Tony LeVier.

The earlier versions of the L-1011, such as the -1, -100, and -150 can be distinguished from the later models by the design of the middle engine nacelles. The earlier version nacelle has a round intake, whereas the later models have a small vertical fin between the bottom of the middle engine intake and the top of the fuselage.

L-1011-150 TriStar of Air Transat (Canada) in 1995
L-1011-150 TriStar of Air Transat (Canada) in 1995

The L-1011 was the first widebody to receive FAA certification for Cat-IIIc autolanding, which approved the TriStar for completely blind landings in zero-visibility weather. It also had a unique Direct Lift Control (DLC) system, which allowed for smooth approaches when landing. DLC helps maintain the descending glideslope on final approach by automatically deploying spoiler panels on the wings. Thus, rather than maintaining the descent by adjusting pitch, DLC helps control the descent while maintaining a more consistent pitch angle, using four redundant hydraulic systems; production also utilized a unique "autoclave" system for bonding fuselage panels together. This made the L-1011 extremely resistant to corrosion.

Lockheed bribed the members of the Japanese government to subsidize ANA's purchase of L-1011s. The resulting political scandal led to the arrest of Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka. Within Lockheed, board chairman Daniel Haughton and vice chairman and president Carl Kotchian resigned from their posts on 13 February 1976. Tanaka was eventually tried and found guilty of violating foreign exchange control laws, but was not charged with bribery, a more serious criminal offense.

The Soviet Union at that time lacked a wide-body airliner. Development of their own Ilyushin Il-86 was delayed, so in mid 1970s the Soviets started negotiations to buy 30 TriStars and licence-produce up to 100 a year. The talks collapsed as US President Jimmy Carter made human rights a US policy factor. The TriStar was also listed by the Coordinating Committee as embodying advanced technology banned from potential enemies.

Delta Air Lines L-1011-500 TriStar
Delta Air Lines L-1011-500 TriStar

Manufactured in Lockheed facilities in Burbank and Palmdale, California, the TriStar faced brisk competition with the 747 and, even more directly, the DC-10, which it closely resembled. Trans World Airlines heralded the TriStar as one of the safest airplanes in the world in some of its promotional literature in the 1980s when concern over the safety record of the DC-10, which was flown by most of its competitors, was at its peak. However, 446 DC-10s were sold compared to 250 TriStars, partly because of the TriStar's delayed introduction but particularly because a heavier, longer-range version was not initially offered. Under state control, costs at Rolls-Royce were tightly controlled, and the company's efforts largely went into the original TriStar engines, which had needed considerable modifications between the L-1011's first flight and service entry. The competition, notably General Electric, were very quick to develop their CF6 engine to higher thrust, which meant that a heavier 'intercontinental' DC-10-30 could be brought to market. The flexibility afforded to potential customers by a long-range DC-10 quickly put the L-1011 at a serious marketing disadvantage. Rolls-Royce went on to develop the high-thrust RB211-524 for the L-1011-200 and -500, but this took many years.

Lockheed needed to sell 500 planes to break even, but in 1981 announced production would end with delivery of the 250th and last plane on order in 1984. The TriStar's failure to achieve profitability caused Lockheed to withdraw from the civil aircraft business.

Operational history

The L-1011 used an INS (Inertial Navigation System) to operate its navigation needs. This included aligning the navigation system by entering current coordinates of longitude and latitude. The INS could only hold nine waypoints in its memory. Waypoints were entered using their longitude and latitude coordinates, also.

Civil aviation

L-1011-500 TriStar of British Airways in the aircraft livery colours created by advertising design firm Landor Associates, upon the short fuselage long range Tristar back in 1986.
L-1011-500 TriStar of British Airways in the aircraft livery colours created by advertising design firm Landor Associates, upon the short fuselage long range Tristar back in 1986.

Delta Air Lines was the type's largest customer. Cathay Pacific eventually became the largest non-U.S. operator of the type by acquiring many of the Eastern Air Lines examples when Eastern Air Lines went bankrupt, operating as many as 21 aircraft.

Most major airlines have retired the type from their fleets. Cathay Pacific retired its L-1011 fleet in October 1996, replacing the fleet with Airbus A330-300. TWA withdrew its last TriStar from service in 1997. Delta retired its TriStar fleet in 2001, replacing them with the Boeing 767-400ER.

The L-1011 still sees use by smaller start-up carriers, particularly in Africa and Asia. These operators mainly do their business in the ad hoc charter and wet leasing businesses. ATA Airlines (formerly known as American Trans Air) fleet included over 19 Tristars, but operations dwindled to only three L1011-500s prior to the company's shut-down in April 2008.

The two L-1011 aircraft delivered to PSA were configured with internal airstair doors that led into an entry hall in what was normally the forward lower baggage hold. This was intended to allow operations from airfields in Latin America that did not have terminal buildings with Jetway type gates. These two aircraft were later in service with AeroperĂș and Worldways Canada.

Commercial aerospace

Orbital Sciences's L-1011-100
Orbital Sciences's L-1011-100 "Stargazer" releases Pegasus rocket.

In the early 1990s, Orbital Sciences began to use a converted L-1011-100 named Stargazer to launch Pegasus rockets into orbit around Earth. This venture effectively rendered the small Scout rocket obsolete. This aircraft was also used in support of the X-34 and X-43 programs. NASA performed aerodynamic research on Orbital Science's L-1011 in 1995.


The TriStar has also been used as a military tanker and passenger/cargo aircraft. The Royal Air Force has nine aircraft of four variants. The aircraft are ex-British Airways and Pan Am L-1011-500s. All of the aircraft serve with No. 216 Squadron, and are based at RAF Brize Norton. The TriStar will remain in service with the RAF until early in the next decade, when it is scheduled to be replaced by the Airbus A330 MRTT under the Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft (FSTA) program.


A Delta Air Lines L-1011
A Delta Air Lines L-1011


The L-1011-1 was the first production model of the L-1011, designed for short and medium-range flights. This type was purchased by Air Canada, ANA, Cathay Pacific, Eastern and other operators with regional trunk routes requiring a widebody aircraft. Pacific Southwest Airlines purchased two L-1011-1 models with lower deck seating. This variant was also the only wide-body ever to have the option for a full-height built-in airstair incorporated into the design, although it remained an option on other variants.


The L-1011-50 was an upgraded version of the L-1011-1 with an increase in maximum takeoff weight from 430,000 pounds (200,000 kg) to either 440,000 pounds (200,000 kg) or 450,000 pounds (200,000 kg). Fuel capacity was not increased. The -50 was available only as a conversion package for the L-1011-1 and was never built new.


The L-1011-100 first flew in 1975 and featured a new center fuel tank that increased the aircraft's range by nearly 930 miles (1,500 km). It was purchased by several airlines with longer-range routes, such as TWA, Air Canada and BEA.


The L-1011-150 was a development of the L-1011-1 with maximum takeoff weight increased to 470,000 pounds (210,000 kg). It was available only as a conversion for the L-1011-1.


The L-1011-200 was introduced in 1976. Although otherwise similar to the -100, the -200 uses Rolls-Royce RB.211-524B engines to improve its performance in hot and high-altitude conditions. Gulf Air used -200 models to replace its earlier generation Vickers VC-10 fleet.


The L-1011-250 was an upgrade developed for late-model L-1011-1 aircraft and all L-1011-100 and L-1011-200 aircraft. It increased maximum takeoff weight to 510,000 pounds (230,000 kg) and fuel capacity from 23,600 US gal (89,335 l) to 31,632 US gal (119,735 l). This variant also used the upgraded RB211-524B4I engine, which could be easily upgraded on the existing RB211-524B powerplants of the L-1011-200 but required a re-engining on the L-1011-1 and L-1011-100, which used the original RB211-22B. The upgrade allowed the L-1011 to match the performance of the long-range McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30. Although it was applicable to all L-1011 models, it was only used by Delta Air Lines on six late-model L-1011-1 aircraft.


The L-1011-500 was a longer-range variant first flight tested in 1978. Its fuselage length was shortened by 14 feet (4.3 m) to accommodate higher fuel loads. It also utilizes the more powerful engines of the -200 series. The -500 variant was popular among international operators and formed a significant portion of the L-1011 fleet of Delta and British Airways.


A total of 36 Lockheed L-1011 airplanes were in commercial service in February 2009 with operators Sky Gate International Aviation (2), Kallat El Saker Air (1), Euro Atlantic Airways (1), GlobeJet (1), Antrak Air Ghana (1), Luzair (3), Air Charter Express (1), and Gee Bee Air (1) and others. Currently the RAF is operator nine L-1011 aircraft.

The Airline History Museum at Kansas City has obtained for its permanent collection one of the last two operational L-1011s in the U.S.

Incidents and accidents

As of August 2008, the L-1011 was involved in 56 incidents, including 10 hull-loss accidents, with 534 fatalities.

Notable incidents and accidents

  • The 1972 crash of Eastern Air Lines Flight 401 in the Everglades as a result of the flight crew's failure to monitor the flight instruments during a malfunction of the landing gear position indicator system was the subject of two TV movies, Crash and The Ghost Of Flight 401.
  • In August 1980, a fire destroyed the L-1011 used for Saudia Flight 163 on the ground after the pilots made an emergency landing at Riyadh's International Airport due to fire in the rear of the aircraft. Delays in initiating the evacuation of the aircraft resulted in the deaths of all 287 passengers and 14 crew.
  • On 23 December 1980, Saudi Arabian Airlines Flight 162, a tire on an L-1011 exploded, penetrating the passenger cabin. The plane lost cabin pressure and two passengers fell out of the plane.
  • In 1981, an Eastern Airlines L-1011 suffered a massive failure of its number two engine. The shrapnel from that engine inflicted damage on all four of its hydraulic systems, which were close together in the tail structure. However, fluid was lost in only 3 of the 4 systems, because the shrapnel impacted, but did not puncture the lines for that fourth system. The fluid which remained pressurized in that 4th system, enabled the captain to land the plane safely, with some limited use of the outboard spoilers, the inboard ailerons and the horizontal stabilizer, plus differential engine power of the remaining two engines. There were no injuries. That additional 4th hydraulic control system (compared to 3 such systems on the DC-10), saved the plane and all on board.
  • In August 1985, Delta Air Lines Flight 191 crashed while approaching Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport in micro burst conditions. The crash killed 8 of 11 crew members and 128 of the 152 passengers on board as well as one person on the ground.
  • On 3 May 1986, Air Lanka Flight 512, an L-1011 TriStar was destroyed on the ground in Colombo, Sri Lanka, after a bomb exploded in the rear cargo hold severing the tail and killing 21 people.
  • On 30 July 1992, TWA Flight 843 aborted take-off shortly after liftoff from JFK en route to San Francisco. The aircraft came to rest, upright and on fire, on grass-covered soil, about 290 feet to the left of the departure end of runway 13R. There were no fatalities among the 280 passengers on board, but there were 10 minor injuries during the escape from the aircraft. The L-1011 was destroyed in the fire.


L-1011-1 L-1011-200 L-1011-500
Cockpit crew Three
Seating capacity 253 (3-class) 263 234 (3-class)
Cabin width (interior) 226 inches (5.7 m)
Length 177 feetinches (54.2 m) 177 feet 8 inches (54.2 m) 164 feet 2 inches (50.0 m)
Wingspan 155 feet 4 inches (47.3 m) 155 feet 4 inches (47.3 m) 164 feet 4 inches (50.1 m)
Tailspan 71 feet 7 inches (21.8 m)
Height 55 feet 4 inches (16.9 m)
Wing area 3,456 square feet (321.1 m2) 3,456 square feet (321.1 m2) 3,541 square feet (329.0 m2)
Empty Weight 224,579 pounds (101,867 kg) 231,600 pounds (105,100 kg) 232,749 pounds (105,573 kg)
Maximum take-off weight 430,000 pounds (200,000 kg) 466,000 pounds (211,000 kg) 510,000 lb (231,000 kg)[20]
Maximum landing weight 368,000 pounds (167,000 kg) 368,000 pounds (167,000 kg) 368,000 pounds (167,000 kg)[21]
Max speed Mach 0.90
Cruising speed Mach 0.86 normal cruise / Mach 0.84 long range cruise
Range fully loaded 4,610 miles (7,420 km) 4,610 miles (7,420 km) 6,340 miles (10,200 km)
Service Ceiling 35,000 feet (11,000 m) 36,000 feet (11,000 m) 43,000 feet (13,000 m)
Engines (3x) Rolls-Royce RB.211-22 Rolls-Royce RB.211-524B


Popular culture

The airplane used on the ABC television series Lost is a dismantled L-1011 formerly belonging to Eastern Airlines and later Delta Air Lines.

The Wesley Snipes' action movie Passenger 57 features extensive depictions of a former Eastern Airlines L-1011 in the livery of the fictional Atlantic International Airlines.

The Los Angeles-based Indie band El Ten Eleven derived their name from the aircraft.

See also

Related development

Comparable aircraft

Related lists

External links

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Published in July 2009.

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