An Air Atlanta Icelandic L-1011 (reg: TF-ABM), taken in August 1993, with a pretty familiar livery – Photo: Ken Fielding

I probably spend too much time looking at photos of classic airliners online. I am guessing that I am not alone. One of my favorites is finding an aircraft / airline combination that just doesn’t match or is an odd ball. Then down the AvGeek rabbit hole I go to learn as much as I can about the history of the airplane. When was it born? Which airlines flew it? How many times did it change hands? Was it involved in any accidents? Is it still flying today, stored in a desert somewhere, or has it been scrapped?

When I first saw the photo above, with the obvious old TWA livery with temporary titles, that looked like an airplane out of a bad movie, I became instantly hooked (or maybe “obsessed”). I wanted to get to know this plane.

I quickly found out that this Lockheed L-1011 was serial line number 1221, which I have to admit would be a pretty boring name. As I started learning more about him, I named him Martin (for obvious reasons). He was first delivered to TWA in December 1981 and had quite the adventurous life.

Follow me down the rabbit hole to learn more about Martin’s history and where he is today…

Here is our boy, flying in full Air Atlanta Icelantic livery - Photo: Aero Icarus | FlickrCC

Here is our boy, flying in full Air Atlanta Icelandic livery – Photo: Aero Icarus | FlickrCC

Before I continue on with my little L-1011 historical adventure, I want to say that it is quite likely that I won’t have everything 100% correct. Some of the dates that I found do not fully align and sometimes it can be difficult to determine when an aircraft was owned vs leased. Plus some of the registration numbers used on Martin were also used on other L1011s, causing additional complications. I feel pretty confident that I got most of the details down, but just in case, let’s just say this is all “based on a true story.”

So, this is not actually Martin, but one of his brothers. It is how he looked when first delivered to TWA - Photo: Aero Icarus | FlickrCC

So, this is not actually Martin, but one of his brothers. It is how he looked when first delivered to TWA. – Photo: Aero Icarus | FlickrCC

Our friendly Lockheed L-1011-100 was registered N31033 and first few on October 21, 1981. He was then delivered to TWA on December 21st of the same year. After serving TWA for over a decade, Martin was re-registered as SE-DPP, and went to a much smaller airline in 1993 called Air Sweden.

He was one of two L-1011s that the airline had just taken delivery of, but unfortunately our aircraft was repossessed by the bank before it could enter service. Bummer. I don’t think Martin ever sported the Air Sweden livery, but his sister ship (reg SE-DPR) did — as seen in the photo below.

This is actually the sister ship (reg SE-DPR), but gives an idea of the Air Sweden livery - Photo: Ian Abbott | FlickrCC

This is actually Martin’s sister ship (reg SE-DPR) taken in 1996 after it was stored in Arizona – Photo: Ian Abbott | FlickrCC

It didn’t take long before our TriStar friend found his way flying with the Air Atlanta Icelandic brand, using registration TF-ABM in May 1993. The lead photo in this story, showing Martin with the Air Atlanta/TWA hybrid livery, was taken in August of that year. Although it might look bad, I love those Frankenstein liveries that combine aspects of the old airline with the new.

The Istanbul Airlines livery is not too complicated, but love the "L1011" on the tail engine - Photo: Aero Icarus | FlickrCC

The Istanbul Airlines livery is not too complicated, but love the “L-1011” on the tail engine – Photo: Aero Icarus | FlickrCC

Through the 1990s, Martin served with quite a few different airlines, mostly while being leased out by Air Atlanta:

  • Shortly after Air Sweden’s demise in 1993, he was registered TF-ABM and flew for Caledonian Airways.
  • Near the end of 1994, keeping the same registration, the L-1011 flew with Tunisair.
  • For only about two months in 1995, he flew with Istanbul Airlines. The photo above shows the Air Atlanta lower cheat-line, oddly centered titles, and L-1011 on the tail, similar to what TWA sported.
  • In June 1995, Martin flew for Royal Aviation, which was based in Montreal. The L-1011 flew under the registration C-GRYU (link goes to picture).
  • In 1996, The TriStar was returned back to Air Atlanta and due to (what I assume was) a lack of demand, Martin was stored from November 1996 to October 1997. During this time, he was registered TF-ABD.
  • In 1998, he flew for Britannia Airways for about a month during the summer.
  • Ending out the decade, our L-1011 flew for Caledonian Airways once again, but under the TF-ABD registration vs the TF-ABM as before.
  • In May 2000, Martin flew for Sabre Airways for the summer and after he was returned to Air Atlanta in November 2000, the L-1011 was parked in the Arizona desert.
Martin in Caledonian Airways livery seen in 1999 - Photo: Ken Fielding

Martin in Caledonian Airways livery seen in 1999 – Photo: Ken Fielding

When most classic tri-holers get parked out in the Arizona desert, it doesn’t end well. Luckily Martin’s adventures weren’t over.

In February of 2001 he was sold to Kampuchea Airlines, based in Cambodia, and registered as XU-122. He was then leased to Star Air Jordan in early 2003 and registered in Sierra Leone as 9L-LDN. He was then stored at Sharjah, UAE in 2004.

I will admit that I was a bit surprised when I saw Martin ended up in Austria in May 2005, where he ran into some drama. His application to get registered in the country was refused. Although the exact reason is not fully clear, it seems like there were some shady things going down and Martin just got mixed up with the wrong people.

In July 2005, he was sold to StarJet as EX-089 and departed for Abu Dhabi, UAE. Then he was was stored at Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in October of that year. Another desert storage… I am guessing Martin figured things were close to being over.

Our L-1011 in Tunisair titles – Photo: Aero Icarus | FlickrCC

Once again, he was spared! In September 2007, he was sold to Air Charter Express (in Ghana) as 9G-BSM. Then, in December he was sold to SAM Intercontinental and registered in Mali as TZ-MHI. There wasn’t a lot I could find, but I think around August 2009, he was based in the UAE and flew around the Middle East, including Iraq.

Martin's final resting spot, taken in 2018 - Photo: Kjell via AirHistory.net

Martin’s final resting spot, taken in 2018 – Photo: Kjell via AirHistory.net

Then, like that… it was all over. In November 2009, he landed for the last time at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (KPO) in Nairobi, Kenya. He has been sitting in the same spot for over a decade. The most recent photos that I could find of Martin, in 2018, (above) show he is quite neglected. Nairobi gets about 30 inches of rain per year and those open doors probably aren’t a good thing. Although a huge amount of money could probably get him airborne again, I am guessing that will never happen.

The good news is it looks like he is not alone. Martin is hanging out with other forgotten aircraft waiting for their final fate. And really, what is worse? Living out your life, where you can at least still be admired on a ramp of airport, or being scrapped and never be seen again? Although it brings me legit sadness to see Martin in bad shape (after all this research, he has grown on me), it makes me happy to see any L-1011 that is still in one piece. He had quite the life… if only I could get him for an interview!

I want to give a huge thanks to my pal Ken Fielding, who not only has a lot of amazing airline photos on Flickr, but for also providing so much detail about their history. He always inspires me to learn more about the aircraft that I love viewing so much! 

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF & FOUNDER - SEATTLE, WA. David has written, consulted, and presented on multiple topics relating to airlines and travel since 2008. He has been quoted and written for a number of news organizations, including BBC, CNN, NBC News, Bloomberg, and others. He is passionate about sharing the complexities, the benefits, and the fun stuff of the airline business. Email me: [email protected]

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21 Comments

Loved reading about Martin’s life history! I too enjoy looking at pictures of classic airliners. Thanks for your work on this and for sharing with us AvGeeks!

Hey Andrew,

The pictures are the best part :)!

David

BILL HELBIG

David,
Great article except for the incessant use of the wrong pronoun. Airplanes can be temperamental but they’re beautiful and looked at as something to value above all else. That’s why they’re referred to as a she, not a he. Good grief David, have you joined the pc crowd as well?? I about had a heart attack when I saw you refer to the L1011 as a “he”!! Next thing you know you’ll be using terms like flight deck and flight attendants! Isn’t anything sacred any more? What would Ernest Borgnine have to say if he read your article!! Think I’ll call one of my stews from the cockpit phone and have her bring me up some warmed nuts!!!

Hey Bill,

Sorry to almost give you a heart attack there! Not trying to be PC, yet I am not one who tries to offend. I know calling vessels “she” is still very common even to this day. Believe me, I was not trying to make any big statements, just after learning about Martin’s stories, he just came across as a dude. Maybe that makes me sexist… heck if I know anymore, but I at least did’t call the plane “it” :).

This also goes in my personal life. Between my wife and I, we have three cars — two are ladies and one is a guy. Could I break it down and tell you exactly why? Not really. It is just what it is.

As always Bill, we might not always agree on everything, but I appreciate you sharing!

David

Marcel Viens

If only Martin could tell his own story, imagine how amazing that would be. I figured at some point in the chronology I’d read about some time spent with Delta since they had the largest fleet of L-1011’s. He would have been well cared for with Delta.

Hey Marcel,

I was curious and out of the 250 L-1011s build, 70 of them made their way to Delta, 41 to TWA, and 40 to Eastern. So, Delta did have a huge chunk of them. Although I have lived in Seattle most of my life, a big chunk of my family lives in Florida, so my memory of the L-1011 is mostly in those WhisperJet colors!

David

Marcel Viens

At Delta we had so many versions of the Tristar. A little known fact is that after EA 401 went down in the Everglades, we discontinued calling it an L-1011 for many years. We competed with their fleet of the same aircraft on so many similar routes so we only called it the Tristar. A lot of cabin crews lovingly referred to it as the “Tritanic” due to its size.

We had the -100, -500, and -250. When we started flying to Europe we picked up -500’s that had flown for Pan Am, United and then Delta. We called those the PUDs. I believe we also got some from Air Canada. When Eastern ceased operation we picked up L10’s from them. We also picked them up from TWA. We had so many versions but the interiors of each version were maintained immaculately and each version had the same seating layout making it easier for reservations and airport agents.

Thanks for your most interesting article on Martin. And while I’ve always thought of aircraft as being feminine gender, I think it’s perfectly alright that Martin is a guy. During the L1011’s time we added males to the passenger cabin and females to the flight deck. So why not Martin!!!

Great story, thank you! Many happy memories of flying on L1011s.

Hey Stewart,

Thanks for reading the story! I remember as a kid staring out the window at that third S-shaped engine and just so curious how they did that. It was purely magic back then, and still a bit magical today.

David

Ken Fielding

You’re welcome David (and thanks for the plug…)

Martin, really? You could have gone with Martina…

Hey Ken,

I know I have told you this before, but thank you again for not only putting all your wonderful photos on Flickr, but also adding in so much detail about the plane. To be honest I thought this story was going to be super quick since you did much of the work, but I got so invested in learning more and then side-tracked with sister plane with Air Sweden and these other airlines I never heard about before, that it took me hours. And also thank you for letting me share your photos via AirlineReporter to our followers!

All that said, I was so worried about getting some of Martin’s history wrong and that being pointed out, but I didn’t realize the he/she was going to cause some concern with folks. I am not trying to make any political statements, just after reading his story, he just seemed like a dude. Most airplanes feel totally like women to me, but not Martin. Hopefully that doesn’t make me sexist… or weird :). But I think if I went the “she” route, Martina would have been an awesome name.

David

Jillian Johnson

David,

This story made me go through a range of emotions. Thank you for sharing Martin’s journey with us. He/she was clearly loved for many years (and in many countries!)

Best,
Jillian

Thanks Jillian,

Glad to hear that I am not the only one to get emotional with Martin’s history! I just wonder what would have happened if he was approved to be registered to Austria. It didn’t look to be a safety thing, but more of an owner thing. He might have gotten more of the proper care he needed and flew longer! Oh well, he still did pretty well for himself considering :).

David

BILL HELBIG

The L1011 was vastly superior to the DC10 in the way it was built and it’s technology. There was a great race between Lockheed and Douglas as to who would beat the other to market. Douglas would beat Lockheed to market with the 10 but the race compromised the design of the 10 resulting in catastrophic crashes years later, due to these design flaws. If you recall the cargo door blowing open in flight, UAL 232 in Sioux City crashing in a corn field with virtually no flight controls working, and AA’s DC10 literally losing an engine on takeoff out of ORD. Lockheed relied on Rolls Royce for the 1011’s engines but unfortunately RR went bankrupt during the development of the 1011 which contributed greatly in production delays. Sure the 10 had greater range but so what. I’d rather fly on a better designed and technologically superior airplane any day!! It was a beautiful and graceful airplane among the wide body fleet. David sure brought back some memories with this article.

Hello Again My Friend,

Like many aviation fans, I have watch and re-watched so many of the airline crash shows. Unfortunately the DC-10 had quite a few at the beginning. The one I always remember with the L-1011 was Eastern Air Lines Flight 401, ultimately caused by cockpit mis-management, but also a silly lightbulb and that technology that was so new. I know some prefer the look of the straight engine with that DC-10/MD-11, but I am all about the S-duct. I think the L-1011 is probably one of the most beautiful airplanes ever to fly!

David

Anyone who likes old airliners so much that he gives them human names is okay in my book!
Too bad Martin couldn’t spend the rest of his days in an aircraft museum. I hope that a museum somewhere is keeping a Tristar… they’re elegant!

This landing video from 12/13/2019 shows Martin hanging out still:
https://youtu.be/WN3LBRbvGEY?t=277

Super cool find Patrick — thanks for sharing. Glad to see he was still kicking it about nine months ago!

David

Robbie Shaw

Enjoyable read – and pics Well done:

Robbie Shaw

Glad you enjoyed it Robbie!

David

Hi there,
Great article. Could you do the same for the VIP L1011-500 that was recently broke down? Also, I m surprised no one s trying to collect funds to save some of these classic beauties…
Thanks!

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