The twilight of the L1011. Refueling U.S. Navy aircraft as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. Photo -U.S. Navy photo by Cmdr. Erik Etz

The twilight of the L1011 – refueling US Navy aircraft as part of Operation Enduring Freedom Photo: US Navy by Cmdr. Erik Etz

While 2014 may have been the end of commercial DC-10 services, many forget that the RAF (Royal Air Force) has been operating Lockheed L1011s (called “TriStars” in their parlance) as air-to-air refueling aircraft. Unfortunately for trijet enthusiasts, today marks the end of their service in the RAF. Even worse, they will be broken up in Bruntingthorpe.

As the resident Trijet Enthusiast – I was hoping for a little more notice from the RAF as to when the last RAF Tristar flight would happen. Thankfully, we have someone else who will be able to take the last flight and produce a fine report for AirlineReporter.  As we await that final dispatch, let’s take a look back at the L1011 – an historical aircraft that even could have changed the pace of the Cold War.

The first L1011 sitting in Lockheed's Palmdale facility. Photo -

The first L1011 sitting in Lockheed’s Palmdale facility – Photo:

Much like the DC-10 (sans military involvement) the L1011 started with a request from American Airlines for a widebody airliner smaller than a 747 that had similar, if not identical, range. The L1011, unlike its competitors, was a much more optimized design. Though mechanics and engineers disliked an engine being hidden in an S-duct in the aft fuselage behind the pressure bulkhead, it was more aerodynamically efficient. The aircraft was one of the first to feature a truly independent autoland system (it was, indeed, the first aircraft the FAA certified for Cat-III-C autolandings), even automated descent control. This aircraft was on the bleeding edge of technology. So advanced, in fact, that the original and long-term goals of the L1011 were to manufacture it as a “jumbo twin”.

Unfortunately, its Rolls Royce RB211 engines were also ground breaking. Though Rolls Royce had been working on their signature triple-spool turbofan since 1965, this was the first aircraft to feature it. For around $533,000 (U.S.) per engine, Rolls Royce was offering unheard of efficiency and thrust, as well as lighter and stronger composite fan-blades.

Unfortunately, the composite fan-blades led to massive delays with the engine. If that was not enough, a foreign exchange issue that involved Lockheed revenue sharing on the project sent Rolls Royce into bankruptcy. Clearly, they recovered, as the RB211 became one of the most successful turbofan engines, as well as industrial generators. It did, however, delay the L1011 by two years (unheard of in those times).

When the first L1011-1 flew on November 17, 1970 (from the Palmdale facility), it was pretty much flawless. Despite Lockheed’s troubles over the years, they designed an amazing plane. Unfortunately, an amazing plane came at an amazing sticker price. Airlines could get a 747 for slightly more, or a DC-10 for a good deal less. Also, Lockheed rather misread the market and was too slow in offering a high gross-weight long-range version of the L1011 to compete with the DC-10-30. Compared to 446 DC-10s, only 250 L1011s were ever made.

An Eastern Air Lines L1011 departing Miami. Photo- Torsten Maiwald

An Eastern Air Lines L1011 departing Miami – Photo: Torsten Maiwald

Eastern Air Lines was one of the most prolific operators of the type (and was a launch customer, along with TWA). Unfortunately for them, they were also the first to lose one of the type shortly after its introduction into service. Unlike the DC-10 accidents of the same era, Eastern Flight 401 was a fault of ambiguous electronics/human error. Nothing that would tarnish the type’s overall perception with consumers or earn it any onerous nicknames.

The L1011 was designed with so much redundancy that there are even some bright sparks in its relatively small history of incidents and accidents. In the case of Eastern 935, the quadruple-redundant hydraulic system allowed all passengers to walk off the aircraft with nothing more than a few new grey hairs.

The L1011 was an aircraft that was a bright point in an era of challenging reliability issues. I am sure I can find numerous A&P mechanics that will bitterly complain about some aspect (such as using a unique type of self-locking screw). Despite that, the service record was impressive. The L1011 was an aircraft of firsts and great engineering – it was merely a victim of product positioning and Rolls Royce.

To maximize space, airlines tried to utilize “below deck” areas of the L1011. Of course neither PSA nor Court Lines ever really managed to make lower-lobe lounges and air stairs work, but they were an interesting marketing idea that only was ever tested on the L1011 in the west. The lower-lobe galleys were a little more popular, unfortunately. Flight attendants were not a fan of being stuck down below during meal preparation. Regardless, the late 1960’s was a time of rapid innovation and Lockheed was clearly game to try anything to sell a flagging aircraft.

Those of us on the west coast probably encountered more L1011s based out of Delta’s long-gone Portland hub. The only L1011 I ever got to fly on was from Calgary to Toronto with Air Transat. Air Canada had already phased theirs out by the time I became a serious plane nerd, and even then, they never came west of Toronto.

Most of them retired from commercial service in the early part of the last decade. The RAF, however, acquired their first L1011s in 1984; all of them second hand.

An RAF TriStar refuels U.S. Navy F/A-18s over Afghanistan. Photo -Cmdr. Erik Etz, U.S. Navy U.S. photo 081009-N-7665E-004

RAF TriStar refuels US Navy F/A-18s over Afghanistan – Photo: Erik Etz, US Navy photo 081009-N-7665E-004

All the RAF TriStars were of the -500 variant. Fourteen feet shorter than the L-1011-1, it also was capable of carrying 8000 gallons more fuel. The nine aircraft came from British Airways and Pan American World Airlines. The TriStars entered service two years after Operation Black Buck, which is a shame as they would have made a huge difference.

In service with the RAF the TriStar was used not only as a tanker, but transport, and even medical evacuation aircraft. They have been part of every NATO and coalition action since the Gulf War, up to and including Odyssey Dawn. In service with N0.216 Squadron, they will be replaced by Airbus A330-based Voyagers. The Voyagers will be based out of RAF Brize Norton, like the Tristars before them.

I am aware that the Las Vegas Sands Corporation has two L1011s, but they are listed as stored- and one of them is at Don Muang Airport in Bangkok- rumored to have been damaged in the flooding a few years ago. It is highly unlikely they will take to the air again- but if they do, hopefully someone will sell seats!


CONTRIBUTOR - SEATTLE, WA. Bernie has traveled around the world to learn about, experience, and photograph different types of planes. He will go anywhere to fly on anything. He spent four years in Australia learning about how to run an airline, while putting his learning into practice by mileage running around the world. You can usually find Bernie in his natural habitat: an airport. Email:
Photo Tour of the Turkish Airlines Flight Training Center

Sad to see the end of this beautuful airliner. I have many happy memories of travelling on this type via Air Canada, Air Transat and Worldways Canada to destinations in the south and Europe from YYZ. The Worldways aircraft was/were equipped with the lower level lounge which was quite amazing to see. What about the Orbital Sciences L1011-500 which it uses to launch it’s Pegasus rockets? Has this aircraft been retired?

No ! And in fact, I watched it take off from Goodyear Airport )west of Phoenix AZ) just yesterday !!!

It was parked close to the FBO, and appeared to be in superb condition. Freshly painted, and not an oil stain to be seen on the airframe or the engines. The real treat was to witness it start those beautiful RB.211’s, taxi out, and take off !!! The Tristar has always been my favourite widebody tri-jet, and to get to see one still flying… well, the “spot of the year” (so far). Though about the only planes that could possibly top it would be to see a VC-10 or Super VC-10 flying again, or (do we dare dream) a Concorde. Photos available, though only taken with my (Galaxy Note 5) cell phone. Email to ru********@co*.net

Great piece about a classic airliner…my first L-1011 trip was at age 6, DTW-ATL-MCO and my last sector was in my early ’20s ATL-SLC…like the DC-10 sorry to see the L-10 fade away…

Michael Restivo

Sad to see the Tristar gone. I was fortunate to have flown the tristar with Hawaiian Air and TWA. My first wide body flight was on one and I remember the flights well even though I was younger. A great airplane and great flights that i will always remember. Long live the Tristar!!!!

Amazing, the L1011 is the winner by about a month….. best airliner out there….

The L-1011 might not be dead yet. Airchieve is reporting that a new upstart airline in LAS called American West Jets is getting ready to start flying a quartet of them. They already own the Sands Resort L1011-500s and want to add some more. As with all other planned upstarts you need to take it with a grain (or wheelbarrow full) of salt but it would be nice to fly on one again. I was fortunate enough to get several thousand hours in the right seat on them – my all time favorite aircraft.


Here is a link to the article:

Orbital has one the Stargazer it acquired from Air Canada, it is used to air launch Pegasus rockets for satellite deployments.

Richard Bussiere

I flew on these frequently in the early 80s on TWA, ironically flying from Boston to Los Angeles to support the Lockheed S3B project at Lockheed”s Rye Canyon facility. And yes, they were a nice reliable SAFE bird.

Jon Evans

I flew several times on the L-1011 with TWA St Louis to Laguardia in the early 80’s. I remember being amazed of it’s size and also extremely loud sitting in the rear with all the other smokers. Funny to think that there was a time you could smoke on a plane.

Robert Roe

Nice article. I flew on many L1011’s and each had it own quirks. Unlike the DC10 which was quiet, L1011 engines whined and belched smoke on startup. One of the more interesting side notes is the flight profile. The aircraft flew with a nose elevated position. This upward tilt always made walking the cabin interesting.

The main reason was the design flaw in the wing. They found they needed to alter the attack of the wing as it caused too much drag in level flight. The solution for a new wing fix would only occur after the contract for 250 wingsets had been fulfilled.

I did have the chance to go on a Worldways/PSA aircraft with the lower deck lounge. It was an interesting concept. PSA received 2 aircraft with the deck then cancelled the remaining 3. Lockheed built 5 “plugs” which filled in the cabin gap so the aircraft could be converted. The 3 converted aircraft found homes with LTU I believe and after Worldways I am not sure what happened to the other 2. But somewhere at Lockheed 2 plugs are still sitting available.

I flew a lot of miles all in 1st class on the Delta L1011’s. They were a very nice airplane for the time on the coast to coast flights. Since i have flown on about every aircraft of the jet age that Delta has owned I have fond memories of most.Some were a lot better than others of course.This was before the day of the baby jets when flying was not a bus experience.

I loved the L-1011 and my first flight on one was from Winnipeg (YWG) to Toronto (YYZ) in 1973; I know you said that they never ventured into western Canada so this must have been a pretty rare occasion.


An amazing aircraft! It will be missed.

In regards to potential future use I don’t imagine it would be easy for anyone to keep such a small fleet of jets in operation that were never made in a large quantity anyway. Especially these second generation models like the Tristar that incorporated more sophisticated but now obsolete electronics. I don’t think Lockheed have a guy sitting in a corner office ready to provide any after sales support for four aircraft either. The scrapped RAF jets may provide a few extra years worth of spares though. Does a mechnanic need to maintain a certain level of proficiency to maintain an aircraft like the Tristar or can any aviation mechanic pick up the specifics easily?

Thanks for the great report. I’ve missed the L-1011 for years. Learned to love it in the West. True or not, it gave the feeling of more ‘elbow room’ than the DC-10.
Mention of the CAT-III capability is nice. I once saw a (LH?) L-1011 approach PDX’s short, x-wind runway twice during a truly horrible storm. (The end of that Northern approach is difficult for any aircraft, but this pilot got close. In both cases, he executed a GA. After the second attempt, the radio chatter was, “We have had enough of this! Which way to Seattle?” (One should note that this runway is rarely used, short for large aircraft and includes a difficult ‘dip’ over the Columbia River dyke, perhaps 5-6 seconds before touchdown. When the runway is used, it is mostly light, late-night freight. The GA ‘escape route’ when ~~southbound is single-engine flyable for singles and light twins, but would be a challenge. A heavy with all burning would likely make it, but with 1/2, 1/3 or 1/4 INOP, the odds are questionable. The L-1011’s GA and climb was impressive! When ordered to TOGA, is had spunk.

Having worked the L10-100 and 500 with ATA as an FA for 6 years this makes me so sad. I often pull up Youtube videos people have taken of takeoff rolls and start ups just to hear the RR engines again. Brings back so many great memories. That plane is a beast and we worked them hard. Climbing out of Kuwait empty at full power was a blast… nothing like it. Goodbye L10 🙁


I remember as a very little kid when me and my family went on vacation to Puerto Rico in December of 1973 and we drove to the “new” Newark Airport (EWR) for our departing flight I was expecting to see the familiar Eastern’s four engine DC-8…..until I saw for the first time the Eastern L1011 and flew on it both ways (EWR-SJU-EWR). I was blown away!! I am glad I got to fly in the L1011 quite a few more times with Eastern and lastly with Delta.

I flew twice on an L-1011, a round trip from Winnipeg to London (YWG-LHR-YWG) in 1977, Air Canada. It was fantastic! That plane started my interest in commercial aircraft.

Charles Ramsey

I loved the L1011 as everyone has. I used to book a flight on the L1011 if I had a choice. The time did not matter but the Aircraft was such a dream to fly on. I remember flying out of Dallas to several on my destinations on AA. Those were the days it was really fun to fly.

The Lockheed L-1011 has been called the TriStar since it was introduced, not just by the RAF. Also, a DC-10 flown by Fedex flew over my house last night. I would call that commercial service.


is the tristar has discontinued production. its different models and the interior of the same if mailed I will be too obliged.

Flew many Eastern L- 10’s between ATL and MCO during the 70’s and 80’s going to grandma’s house when a 7th grader could safely travel alone. Far and away the sweetest ride I’ve ever had. I too, miss the sexy sound of those
RR engines on takeoff. Closest thing to it that I’ve ever heard is when 42 cars in a pack come out of turn 2 at Daytona. I’d love to see the Tristar fly again… with Eastern markings!


You’re acting like a kid couldn’t travel alone today. But they can and do all the time. There is absolutely nothing which could or has chaned that. Planes have not become slums in the sky or anything like that and likely never will. In fact, the only thing that has become worse then are the kids themselves. They crappiness and dorkiness since the 1970s and 80s is not wanted by the still-as-good-or-better adults around them so we sure don’t want them alone too close to us unless they are an exception to the average kid and aren’t annoying.

Not sure what it was in my post that obviously offended you. Sorry. From your surly demeanor command of the language, I’m going on gut that I’d much rather be seated next to one of my children than you. I’m sure that they would render far more pleasant and intelligent conversation. Now, KFO.

Sorry Mark, I didn’t mean you, but that NOLECORE>

Grumpy old man.

My favorite airliner almost gone from the skies. I had the pleasure of taking the last Delta L1011 to the desert on a retirement flight. I was lucky to participate in the event but sad to see the aircraft end its service with Delta as one of the last large carriers of the type. Check out the Delta retirement website with hundreds of photos from the flight and information regarding the retirement flight to Victorville.

William o Trent

Hey, Scott. We worked together in the 1011 program at Delta. Our airplane was far superior as a pilot’s airplane than the 767 I had to retire on. I flew the 1011 as FE, copilot, flight instructor, check airman and FAA designated examiner for about 19 years. Didn’t keep close track of hours but estimate 13,000. It is the aircraft I miss most from my 35 year aviation career. I’ve commissioned an oil painting of ship 728 outbound passing Diamondhead for ATL. When it’s done, if we can make contact, I’ll send you a pic. Hope all is well. Bill

I’ve worked on all the Tristars, immaculate designed for engineers unlike other manufactures. Missing it. Best build aircraft ever

Gee, I admire you, for us in South Africa didn’t had that opportunity. We just did the maintenance, but building these aircraft must’ ve been a different story.

Burgess W Woods

Sorry to see L-1011s go, had help build them in Palmdale 1972,1979 to 1981.solid build, 747s were basic build and had vibration,DC-10 also the same.Both shake while taxing on runways.L-1011s 100s,200s and 500s did not,iron birds they were,it was a honor help build them.

A very accurate account of the 1011. I flew it for TWA late 1980s into the 1990s. From a pilot’s standpoint, it was nothing less than marvelous, it’s auto pilot, stability, handling, systems, everything but the Rolls engines. They were comparatively temperamental, especially starting up, prone to “Hot Starting”. With different engines and if Lockheed was better at marketing, it would have made a fine stretched airliner and become much more numerous and well known.

It’s autoland system did have Catagory-111-C certification as noted by the author permitting approaches to 50′ decision height, RVR 1200. I made approaches to both London and Paris when I was the only one on the approach.

While it may have cruised at a relatively high angle of attack as noted in another post, it was the fastest airliner of it’s time, cruising at mach .85, also it’s most fuel efficient cruise mach number.

Bobby Sammons

I had the pleasure of helping to build the L10, worked on them as a Structural Assembler A (if I remember the job title right) on the first 5 barrel sections until I transferred over to transportation where I got to move those big birds around. Saw them take off and go all over the world to show them to customers or potential customers. One of my best memories was seeing all 10 of the flight stalls being full with aircraft in varying airline livery, plus two on the east side of the flight test hanger. Was working outside the structural test side of the flight test hanger when they broke the wing on the iron maiden, if I remember right it failed at something like 150% of design load limits. It is one of greatest, if not the greatest, commercial aircraft to ever fly. It will be missed by all of us that know it!

Bill cull

Like most of the comments posted here I was lucky enough to fly on many L1011 flights on Delta and TWA. Always tried to book trips on that bird. I flew as a passenger so much that I was able to identify the personalities unique to each L1011 by serial number. On my first Delta L1011 flight the right engine had to go thru more than one restart attempt before it would come up to speed. That bird was S/N 706. I flew the bird several times and it would occasionally exhibit this problem. In every case once started the bird was perfect for the trip. Once I was in the cabin of 706 waiting for a daytime departure from Atlanta. I could tell that the passenger sitting next to me was kind of a snob and didn’t want to talk. Just before the engine start up I turned to him. I only said “I’ll bet that right engine has trouble starting”. As the sequence to start the engines proceeded, old 706 was not going to let her right engine light. I looked at the snob next to me . his wide eyed face had a quizical look. After several restart attempts, They pulled the Delta 706 back to the gate. This was about the only time we had to deplane and wait in the terminal for another aircraft. The L1011 was my favorite airplane of all time. Old 706 was scrapped 6 years ago.

I flew an ATA L1011 on a trip to Australia and New Zealand in 1996. What a wonderful experience that was! The plane was huge and I thought,very quiet and also, somewhat intimate. My friend and I were very comfortable everywhere the plane flew us!

I also loved the L1011 watching them start up the sound is nothing like anything else well built bird. I am in Palmdale, Ca and drive by the birth place of the L-1011 and it’s empty..

My Question is Lockheed could get back into passenger aircraft again and re start up the Palmdale Location everything is there. and focus on either build a L-1012 aircraft or an aircraft like the 737 the market is there.. i would love to see a new Lockheed take to the sky’s

I worked on the Tristar from the first day it was put into service. I was a avionics and general aircraft mechanic. The autopilot system was far and away the best at the time and even years after. I was later a Flight Engineer on the tristar and understand why pilots loved it. It would get into airports that most aircraft could not. At times it was difficult to work on but that made it even more fulfilling when the problem was repaird.

James Freeman

I was fortunate to have worked on the first thirteen L1011’s before I left Lockheed in ’72. As my aircraft career ended in ’06 I can’t help but look back at times I spent insalling interiors in those fabulous planes engineered ahead of their time. My only regret is, I never got to fly on one.I continued to work on these machines of the sky when I returned to my home state of Alabama. I finished my career at Mobile Aerospace refurbishing cockpits for FedEx, but I just couldn’t help remincing of my days at Lockheed.

great airliner. only beaten by a vc 10 surely that was the best & most elegant

Thank you for a great article about this once great plane. Yes technology did improve, but the sentiment about these planes remain. All of a sudden I feel very old.
Thank you Bernie.

Geoff Bell

Nice article. Truly a great aircraft. My first experience was at Gulf Air. I was part of the support staff in Bahrain and later Abu Dhabi. Really enjoyed those days back in the eighties. Used to fly regularly BAH-LHR-BAH. Golden Falcon service was the best in the Gulf at the time. Great memories and a good team of people and helpful Lockheed Rep on station.

Thanks for the trip down memory lane.y father was the EAL rep at the Palmdale facility during the 70s. I used to go to work with him on days off from school. Pretty cool for a young plane need. Fad is gone now but reading this reminds me of all of the adventures I got to take in Palmdale and around the world on these great planes.

Great article Bernie! And, wonderful followup comments. I went to undergraduate school is St. Louis in the late 70s/early 80s and became a TWA frequent flyer. STL was TWAs major US hub and L10s were a frequent site. However, it was not until I moved to San Francisco thereafter that I started flying the L10 often. As an indoctrinated TWA frequent flyer, I continued to use the airline as often as possible. At that time, TWA used the L10 on it’s 3 transcon services to BOS, JFK and IAD as well as to STL out of SFO. It was quite a sight sitting in the TWA Ambassador Club in the morning seeing 4 L10s lined up side-by-side at adjacent jetways at SFO terminal 1. It was always 3 class service and I believe the best transcon product at the time (way better than United/American) — and, I was lucky enough to fly first and business class often coast to coast on the L10. The plane was a beast, super roomy and an amazing flight experience but unfortunately it had the worst overhead compartments in history (albeit before the days of heavy carry on usage). The overheads were only on the sides, leaving the middle of the plane appear cavernous (which was great); however, the compartments were angled and if opened, things could just pour out. But we all put up with them because we loved the flying experience on the L10. I always felt like the L10 was a Mercedes and the DC10 was a Chevrolet, by comparison. And, she was a beauty to look at….

mark mesler

There is still another Tri_Star flying in the us for Orbital Sciences and is not due to retire until 2020.
The RAF fleet of aircraft have been purchased by a private operator and are going back into service in the private sector. The L-1011 that was the flying hospital will fly again in the near future for the last time in original TWA livery.

Mark Mesler

I’d always seen Tristars in and outbound at LAX growing up in the late 70’s through the 90’s, Delta was the very last domestic operators until just after 911. Fond memories of the huge hangers of the Tristar plant in Palmdale, CA where my aunt retired from as a production line employee.

The L1011 was by far my favorite airplane to fly on commercially though I only had the opportunity a half dozen times. Once I was flying from Albany, NY to Orlando, FL with a plane change in Atlanta, GA. For some crazy reason, there were only 5 or 6 passengers on the flight. We each had our own Flight Attendant! I walked all around the cabin and got a good feel for its size and comfort as well as its smooth flight. With so few people on board, it seemed like an auditorium. Most other flights I took were relatively full and being a big guy (I’m 6’3″ and about 220 lbs.), I found the L-1011 to be the most comfortable plane with the most leg room and most comfortable seats. It also greatly reduced the feeling of claustrophobia I used to suffer from. It’s too bad I’ll never fly on this wonderful plane again. Too often I fly a 737 in which we are packed in like sardines; I usually can’t wait for the flight to end.


The L1011 was my airplane of choice for business and pleasure flights back in the late 70’s and early ’80s. Flying out of Atlanta, it was pretty easy to consistently catch a ride on one. I never had an L1011 flight cancelled due to bad weather. That was a huge benefit, especially if I had to make a close connecting flight. I especially recall one trip when I was flying from Maui to Atlanta while dodging around several heavy weather fronts. It was definitely a white knuckle flight bouncing all over the sky for the last 45 minutes, but when it came time to set her down on the runway, it was smooth as silk. I think the pilot probably had his eyes closed. Does anyone happen to know anything about a fellow named Stuart W. “Stu” Smith? He was Director of L1011 Sales in the mid 1970’s and later Vice President of Commercial Sales for Lockheed in the late 1970’s. Any information on him would be greatly appreciated.

I had the good fortune to be a Delta Platinum Medallion from 1993 to 1997 and flew the long haul flights between ATL and LAX many, many times. I loved everything about this airplane. Great memories of the FC service and the infamous sundae cart!

The Delta people were just lovely, too.

Air Canada flew their tristars into Winnipeg on a semi regular basis in the mid seventies. Pretty sure there was a Winnipeg-London overseas flight back then. As a young lad my buddies and I would ride our bikes to south side of YWG and watch aircraft of the day land. I recall seeing ac L1011 from time to time. Also remember Northwest Orient DC 10 arriving every weeknight just after dinner. It would depart first thing next morning. They were both beautiful airplanes!

David H. Copp

I would love to hear from one of the experts in this forum about the fabled redundancy of the critical systems in the L1011. For example, I recall that the hydraulic system was quadruple redundant. Among other things, if one system was non-op, perhaps for maintenance, the plane was still legal to fly.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *