The Lockheed 1011 Tristar took off for the first time 52 years ago. The jet, which also flew at LTU, was a technical milestone – yet an economic failure.
“The big holiday boom is coming. Already, most flights are operated for non-commercial purposes. And the trend is growing.” These words could well have come from the spring of 2022 as a harbinger of the first holiday summer without severe Covid restrictions. They actually come from an advertisement by the aircraft manufacturer Lockheed – for the planned introduction of the 1011 Tristar in 1971.
The three-engine wide-body aircraft completed its first flight in November 1970. However, nothing came of the announced start of operations in 1971. The first Lockheed 1011 Tristar delivery was in April 1972 to Eastern Air Lines. However, the reason for the delay was not Lockheed in the US, but in the UK.
Because Lockheed commissioned Rolls-Royce to develop a more efficient and quieter engine for the Tristar: the RB211. But the British engine manufacturer had first technical difficulties, then financial problems and even had to be temporarily nationalized to save it. So the RB211 came about a year late.
This put the Tristar at a disadvantage compared to its main competitor, the Douglas DC-10. It was first delivered in August 1971 by American Airlines. The airline wanted a new medium-haul large jet model, but not as huge as the four-engine Boeing 747.
DC-10 ready faster and cheaper
Both Douglas and Lockheed decided to build three jets for American and other potential customers. While the DC-10 relied more on conventional technology, quick time-to-market and a lower selling price, the Tristar was planned from the start as a technological breakthrough.
L-Ten-Eleven, as it is also known, particularly shone in the field of avionics. The machine, with two pilots and an engineer in the cockpit, had an advanced autopilot system. It was the first aircraft to be certified for automatic landing.
2-5-2-Configuration in the economy
The Tristar had room for up to 400 passengers, but usually sat with significantly fewer seats. The largest operator, Delta Air Lines, relied on about 250 seats in two classes. A 2-5-2 configuration was found in the economy class of some operators.
In the first version, the Tristar had a range of just under 5,000 kilometers. Lockheed and Rolls-Royce increased it slowly. As a result, it gained a larger share of the DC-10 market, which had a choice of proven engines from General Electric or Pratt & Whitney. The latest version of the Tristar, the L-1011-500, made its first flight in the fall of 1978 and now has a range of nearly 10,000 kilometers.
German operator Tristar was also with LTU. While Condor relied on Boeing 747s and Bavaria Germanair on Airbus A300s, LTU ordered the first version of the Tristar with initially 330 and later 358 seats in 3-4-3 seating at a unit price equivalent to 81 million German marks. In June 1973, the first plane arrived in Düsseldorf.
Tristar LTU’s first destination was Ibiza. In the 1980s, the long but shorter L-1011-500s, which only had 288 seats, were added for routes such as Sri Lanka. Routes such as Düsseldorf – Munich – Recife were also offered. Finally in 1996, after a total of 23 years, LTU decommissioned its last Tristar.
Only 250 copies were produced
Tristar had an impressive safety record. According to the Aviation Safety Network, only ten planes were destroyed in the accidents, which killed 551 people. One of the aircraft lost was D-AERI LTU, which burned out during maintenance at Düsseldorf in 1991, no one was injured.
Despite all the merits of the aircraft, the demand for the Tristar was not sufficient. In total, Lockheed built only 250 examples. So the technically advanced model was an economic failure. As a result, the manufacturer withdrew from civil aircraft construction and concentrated on the arms business.
One airworthy, one underwater
Today, only one Tristar is airworthy. The jet, registered N140SC, was rebuilt for Orbital Sciences, now part of Northrop Grumman, to launch small payload rockets into low Earth orbit from aircraft.
Another Tristar is seen underwater. The aircraft, registration CS-TMP, was sunk in Jordan as a diving attraction.
You can view photos of the Lockheed 1011 Tristar in the image gallery above.