Lockheed L-1011 Tri-Star does a fly-by of Kansas City International Airport. - Photo: JL Johnson. Not for use elsewhere.

Lockheed L-1011 TriStar does a fly-by of Kansas City International Airport. – Photo: JL Johnson. Not for use elsewhere.

The Lockheed L-1011 TriStar was a plane with a tragically short lifespan. It was expected to be a real contender against the Boeing 747, Douglas DC-10, and Airbus A300. It entered the market late, in large part due to delays resulting from difficulty at Rolls-Royce, the only engine producer for the TriStar. Despite this, it is one of just a few airliners that elicits strong emotion from people of all ages and walks of life. It was received with much fanfare.

In business, however, fanfare does not necessarily equate to economic viability. In roughly two decades, just 250 units were produced – including an incredible number of custom variants. Few operators held onto their L-1011s for long before passing them along to others or sending them to storage. By most accounts, the TriStar was a failure. During development of the only TriStar engine option, the RB211, Rolls-Royce was deemed what modern day observers would call “too big to fail.” It was nationalized to avoid catastrophic economic impact to the United Kingdom and to keep the costly program afloat. Following the cancellation of the series, Lockheed fully withdrew from the commercial airliner market to focus on military and other industries.

But struggles in development, lackluster sales, and frequent turnover did not get in the way of the passion shared by those who had in some way experienced the TriStar. It was and is one of the most beloved planes in AvGeek culture. The TriStar was an underdog. People love an underdog story, and that is just what this is.

Lockheed L-1011 TriStar registered N910TE lands in KC, MO. - Photo: JL Johnson. Not for distribution elsewhere.

Lockheed L-1011 TriStar registered N910TE lands in KC, MO. – Photo: JL Johnson. Not for distribution elsewhere.

TriStar Experience- The organization behind the L-1011’s restoration

The people behind TriStar Experience, an all-volunteer organization, have worked tirelessly for years to source and restore unique and special aircraft for the purposes of inspiring the next generation of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) workers. This L-1011 joins already completed projects such as the MD-83 N948TW, also known as Wings of Pride. Readers may recall that AirlineReporter was granted exclusive aviation media access of the arrival of TWA’s Wings of Pride in 2015.

The organization, a 501(c)3 non-profit, uses flyable jet aircraft for educational and experiential programs to inspire students into STEM fields of study. It seeks to support and cultivate those with interest to pursue aviation and aerospace related careers. Regardless of coursework or career, TriStar’s ultimate success is helping kids explore and achieve more than they thought possible. TriStar also supports other charitable groups with its operational jet aircraft.

Lockheed L-1011 TriStar N910TE parked at Kansas City International Airport Gate 14. Photo: JL Johnson

Lockheed L-1011 TriStar N910TE parked at Kansas City International Airport Gate 14 – Photo: JL Johnson

About this particular L-1011

I think we all can agree that L-1011s are special. But N910TE, built in 1974, is in a class of its own for a number of reasons. First, it was one of just two L-1011s which were specially configured for delivery customer Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA) with a forward lounge in an area which would have typically been for cargo. Secondly, after serving with a number of carriers, this plane was acquired by a non-profit which converted it into a flying hospital. The majority of the plane has been thoughtfully retrofitted to medical treatment and surgical areas. The plane served on missions all around the world, bringing efficient and much-needed care to those in need.

The plane was stored at Tucson International Airport in 2001 where it remained until TriStar Experience acquired it. Restoration and maintenance work began in January of 2016 and continued through July 15, 2017, the day of its second ferry flight attempt.

The flight crew poses with members of TriStar Experience. - Photo: JL Johnson

The flight crew poses with members of TriStar Experience. – Photo: JL Johnson

Regarding the L-1011’s flight crew:

“Who in the world would still be qualified to fly this?” It was a common question on social media on the day of the arrival, for sure. I had an opportunity to ask Mike Saxton, TriStar Experience Co-Founder this very question. To my amazement, he pulled a notebook out of his satchel, flipped a few pages, and showed me.

The crew of the ferry flight was as follows:

Mark Kenny- Pilot in command. Current full-time 747 captain for Orbital ATK.
Howard “Dusty” Spain- Co-captain. Former L-1011 Captain for TWA
Dave Mattingly- Co-captain. Former L-1011 Captain for Delta Air Lines.
Mark Messler- Flight engineer. Current engineer at Orbital ATK.
Martin Pike- Airborne flight mechanic.
Lin Weeks- Onboard safety.

The L-1011’s future

BONUSPARTS TO PLANES: THE STORY OF JET MIDWEST AND A SHUTTERED AMERICAN AIRLINES (TWA) MRO

For the next few days, the L-1011 will remain at Kansas City International Airport’s shuttered A terminal, gate 14. KCI [as the locals refer to MCI] terminal A was closed a number of years ago and is not open to the public. Soon the plane will be towed to the maintenance, repair, overhaul area of KCI which was initially occupied by TWA. TriStar Experience is anxious to begin using the plane in its STEM programs in cooperation with local schools and non-profits, just as it does with TWA Wings of Pride at the downtown KC airport.

To learn more about TriStar Experience, its mission, and to consider donating to the organization, visit tristarexperience.org.

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SENIOR CORRESPONDENT – LEE’S SUMMIT, MO. JL is a self described “medium shot” at a non-aviation industry Fortune-500. He’s a semi-frequent traveler, social media addict and avid planespotter. A proud Midwesterner, he’s based in Lee’s Summit, MO, a suburb of Kansas City. Email: jl@airlinereporter.com

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16 Comments
Robert

Great story. Nice to see an L-1011 again. We used to fly them to Hawaii and back. Good memories.

Dety Casey

Love the L-1011. My dad worked at Lockheed and helped build these planes. Sure do miss him and the planes!

John Chapman

I am indescribably happy to see this rare and lovely bird saved in this way – and actually flown to her new home!
In British Airways I was hugely lucky to fly Tristars as a First Officer, Flight Engineer and Captain.
The Tristar had a sort of aura of pride and joy for all of the flight crews and cabin crews who flew her – like none other!
Happy Days!
Congratulations and Best Wishes to all those involved with this restoration and the great achievement of this ferry flight!
John Chapman.

Nice to see another aircraft from the past flying again. I very much enjoyed reading about this particular aircraft. Back during my days of crisscrossing the country on business I had many rides in the L-1011, including with TWA, Eastern and Delta, but mostly Delta.
Although I wasn’t especially fond of the L-1011 over other airliners of the day (I loved them all), a few things come to mind. First, as a passenger, I thought the configuration of the overhead bins in the cabin was rather odd. They seem to have been designed by someone who did not understand the concept of gravity. As I recall, they had two shelves, the lower one being smaller than the upper one. They were only large enough to hold maybe a hat on the lower shelf and a coat on the upper. I didn’t think they were very functional as items tended to fall out when the door was opened at the end of the flight. They can be seen (closed) in the L-1011 brochure on this website under Related Airlinereporter Posts. Every L-1011 I flew on had identical bins, so they were obviously not something subject to airline specifications, but they did give the cabin a very spacious look. Of course, seat pitch was much greater than it is today, so any carry-ons would fit easily under the seat in front of you without taking away much leg room. Remember, those were the days before passengers aimed to stuff all their earthly possessions into the overhead bins.
As an aeronautical engineer, I was always curious about the differences between the center engine installations of the DC-10 and the L-1011. I remember reading an article in a prominent aviation magazine of the day on this subject. Both Douglas and Lockheed engineers had carefully analyzed each installation configuration and concluded that the one they picked was much better than the other. The S-shaped duct of the L-1011 seemed to me to be a disadvantage due to inlet losses and unequal pressure distribution at the engine inlet, although the engine thrust vector was much more aligned with the aircraft CG. Engine installation, maintenance, and removal would be better for the DC-10 since the L-1011 engine is buried deep in the aft fuselage. Of course, maintaining and handling either centerline engine would be much more difficult when compared to simple wing pylon installations.
I was surprised that only 200 L-1011s were built. I wonder if the Eastern Airlines L-1011 crash in the Everglades was the beginning of the end for both Eastern and the L-1011.
Thank you for publishing this article. I look forward to reading more about this aircraft in the future.

Dan Goldzband

Joe, it’s a wonderful airplane and I loved them, but it was a financial disaster for Lockheed. There is a Harvard Business School case on it and it makes it clear that, for some unexplained reason, the board of Lockheed green-lighted the project when a simple review and analysis of the numbers would make it evident that financial failure was inevitable. But the board only knew about defense projects, where profit is guaranteed, so they did not know how to make a commercial decision.

My guess is corporate ego. They didn’t want to be left behind by Boeing or Douglas. Same with Convair and the 880/990.

Peter Mac

You’re ignoring the success of the Electra. Great airplane but again bad timing. The Electra has lived on though as the P3 Orion for the US Navy and others

Marcos Pereira

Thank you to your marvelous comment. I used to Fly in TAP’s Tristar 500 hundreds and I’ve been reading a lot about this one of kind bird. Your comment added a lot Knowledge. Greetings from Rio de Janeiro, Brasil.

Orbital ATK has a 747????

Haven’t found a picture, but the last bullet on this page mentions a 747:
https://www.orbitalatk.com/flight-systems/aerospace-structures/military-aircraft-structures/

Mike Harbour

So just to make sure, the chance to return to the air also remains with this bird like the Wings of Pride Mad Dog?

From the WoP piece:
“It will be kept in flying condition and pending various FAA approvals may be used to provide flights to patrons who supported the acquisition and re-livery before being used for educational purposes.”

If so, that’s pretty darned incredible!

JL Johnson

MIke, yes you are spot on. Assuming funding is available they intent is for both to remain airworthy with the option to use for other sorts of missions. There have been a lot of talks about using WoP for honor flights, for example. But like all things, it comes down to cold hard cash, or in the case of non-profits, the lack thereof.

Case AlKhunaizi

It is good to to see this smart designed aircraft back on air.
And it is very bad when you see a valuable and peace of mind job didn’t seceded
Worked an this aircraft as aircraft technician and it is the best in safety amongst all aircraft
Congratulations for team members restored it

Steve Rodnon

I was one of the first people to be trained on this magnificent aircraft as a flight engineer at Delta Air Lines.
I later flew it as first officer, and still later flew it as Captain on both domestic and international routes.
Out of all the airplanes I flew for Delta the Lockheed L1011 was my favorite especially the 500 model.
I was truly sad to see it leave. I am ecstatic that this group has restored this great airplane.

Jonathan Skaggs

I first was flew as a passenger on an Eastern L-1011 in 1979. I was sad when Eastern went out of business. Also sad the Lockheed company stopped production of the L-1011. There was an earlier post about the downfall of the L-1011 may have been the Eastern Airlines crash in Florida. That crash, Eastern flight 401 on Dec. 29, 1972, was determined to be caused by Pilot Error by the NTSB. From everything I’ve read, the L-1011’s safety record was tremendous. I don’t believe it ever had a crash due to mechanical errors. All crashes of the plane were caused by Pilot Error or Weather related issues.

Paul Fauth

Flew on the last TriStar flight by Cathay from Narita to Kai Tak. At that time I was on at least two International flights per week. Always looked forward to Cathay flights, particularly TriStar flights. Some how the TriStar was intimate but roomy. Only comparable place was upper deck on 747 SP. Today the A380 and 787 are simply too vast. Would hate to be consigned to cattle class on either.

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