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.
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.
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.
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
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.