Also in action at LTU: How the Lockheed Tristar Started and Failed

The Lockheed 1011 Tristar first took off 52 years ago. The aircraft, which also flew at LTU, was a technical milestone, and yet an economic failure.

«The great boom of the holidays is coming. Most flights are already operated for non-commercial purposes. And the trend is increasing.” These words could well have come from the spring of 2022, in anticipation of the first summer vacation without the strict restrictions of the Covid. In fact, they come from an announcement by the aircraft manufacturer Lockheed, for the introduction Planned version of the 1011 Tristar in 1971.

The wide-body three-engine aircraft completed its maiden flight in November 1970. Nothing came of the announced start of operations in 1971, however. The first delivery of the Lockheed 1011 Tristar was not until April 1972 to Eastern Air Lines. However, the reason for the delay was not at Lockheed in the US, but in Great Britain.

Delays by Rolls-Royce

Because Lockheed had commissioned Rolls-Royce to develop a more efficient and quieter engine for the Tristar: the RB211. But the British engine maker first ran into technical difficulties, then financial problems and even had to be temporarily nationalized to save it. So the RB211 was 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 to American Airlines. The airline wanted a new large mid-haul jet model, but not as large as the four-engine Boeing 747.

DC-10 ready faster and cheaper

Both Douglas and Lockheed opted to build three jets for US and other potential customers. While the DC-10 relied more on conventional technology, a quick time to market, and a lower selling price, the Tristar was planned from the start as a technological breakthrough.

The L-Ten-Eleven, as it is also known, particularly shone in avionics. The machine, with two pilots and an engineer in the cockpit, had an advanced autopilot system. It was the first aircraft certified for automatic landings.

2-5-2-Settings in the economy

The Tristar had room for up to 400 passengers, but generally sat with far fewer seats. The largest operator, Delta Air Lines, had about 250 seats in two classes. A 2-5-2 configuration was found in the economy class of some carriers.

In the first version, the Tristar only achieved a range of just under 5,000 kilometers. Lockheed and Rolls-Royce were slow to increase this. As a result, a larger share of the market went to the DC-10, which had a choice of proven engines from General Electric or Pratt & Whitney. Tristar’s latest version, the L-1011-500, completed its maiden flight in the fall of 1978 and now has a range of nearly 10,000 kilometers.

a german operator

With LTU there was also a German Tristar operator. While Condor relied on Boeing 747s and Bavaria Germanair on Airbus A300s, LTU ordered the first Tristar version with initially 330 and later 358 seats in 3-4-3 at a unit price equivalent to DM 81 million. In June 1973 the first aircraft arrived in Düsseldorf.

LTU’s first Tristar destination was Ibiza. In the 1980s, the long-range but shorter L-1011-500s, which had only 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 dismantled its last Tristar.

Only 250 copies ever built

The Tristar had an impressive safety record. According to the Aviation Safety Network, only ten of the planes were destroyed in accidents, killing 551 people. One of the lost aircraft was LTU’s D-AERI, which burned up during maintenance in Düsseldorf in 1991, with no one injured.

Despite all the advantages of the aircraft, the demand for the Tristar was not enough. In total, Lockheed built only 250 copies. So the technically advanced model was an economic flop. As a result, the manufacturer withdrew from building civil aircraft and concentrated on the arms business.

One airworthy, one underwater

Today only one Tristar is airworthy. The aircraft, registered N140SC, was converted for Orbital Sciences, now part of Northrop Grumman, to launch rockets with small payloads into low-Earth orbit from aircraft.

Another Tristar can be seen underwater. The aircraft with the registration CS-TMP was sunk in Jordan as a diving attraction.

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In the image gallery above you can see photos of the Lockheed 1011 Tristar.

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