Becoming only the third widebody passenger jet airliner to enter service, the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar was Lockheed’s step into the airline industry. Following on the wings of the Boeing 747 and Douglas DC-10, the L-1011 was the little-known airliner of its time.
The Lockheed L-1011 was born from a request from American Airlines in the 1960’s. American Airlines asked Lockheed and Douglas to make an airliner that would be smaller than the Boeing 747, but still able to carry a large amount of passengers to other countries. Lockheed took this as a great opportunity to jump back into the civilian airliner market after having issues with some of its military programs. The answer for Lockheed was the L-1011, a three-engine plane that would have enough thrust to take off from existing runways. Nicknamed the “WhisperLiner,” the L-1011 was quiet for its size, could carry up to 400 passengers, and had efficient operation. Sadly, American Airlines decided to go with the DC-10 since they were able to convince Douglas to lower its price. Lockheed was still able to find a buyer for the L-1011 by launching on orders from TWA and Eastern Air Lines. Sales were slightly hurt for the L-1011 when Douglas beat Lockheed to the market by a year due to power plant issues. The schedule for the L-1011 followed closely to the DC-10 but those power plant issues were a major blow to sales. The prototype for the L-1011 first flew on November 17, 1970 then delivered to Eastern Air Lines on April 26, 1972.
Over the years, Delta Air Lines became the L-1011’s biggest customer and Cathay Pacific became the largest non-U.S. operator when they acquired 21 L-1011s when Eastern Air Lines went bankrupt. Almost all airlines have retired the L-1011 from their fleets but it still sees use, even to this day, by small charter airlines, particularly in Africa and Asia.
Used by the Royal Air Force, the L-1011 serves to this day as a reliable military tanker and troop & cargo transport aircraft. In the early 1990’s NASA and Orbital Sciences used an L-1011 named Stargazer to launch Pegasus rockets into Earth’s orbit.
While it was not widely known, the L-1011 TriStar helped show that even when the market can be against you, your aircraft can still go on to be extremely useful.