The Lockheed L-1011 TriStar was the third widebody passenger jet airliner to reach the marketplace, following the Boeing 747 "jumbo jet" and the Douglas DC-10. The Tri-Star was first designed after American Airlines went to Lockheed and to McDonnell Douglas, asking for a large size, large range airplane to be built for them, but, perhaps ironically, American never flew the Tri-Star, deciding on ordering the DC-10 instead. American wanted a plane that was smaller than the 747's it already owned, but capable of flying to far away places such as London, and their destinations in the Caribbean and Latin America from Dallas and New York.
First flown on November 16, 1970, the twin-aisle TriStar was considered a technological marvel of its day, featuring low noise emissions, great reliability, and efficient operation. Although the TriStar's design schedule closely followed that of its fierce competitor, the DC-10, the DC-10 beat it to market by a year because Rolls-Royce, the maker of the TriStar's RB211 turbofan engines, filed for bankruptcy. The British government would only bail out Rolls-Royce if the U.S. government would guarantee Lockheed's loan. The first TriStar was finally delivered in 1972.
Designed for a maximum seating of 400 passengers, the TriStar utilized a new engine layout: in addition to Rolls-Royce turbofan jet engines on each wing, a third engine was located dorsally below the vertical stabilizer. Manufactured in Lockheed facilities in Palmdale, California, the TriStar faced brisk competition with the Boeing 747 and, even more directly, the Douglas (later McDonnell Douglas) DC-10, which it closely resembled. The TriStar had a better safety record than the DC-10, and Trans World Airlines heralded the TriStar as one of the safest airplanes in the world in some of its promotional literature in the 1980s when concern over the safety record of the DC-10, which was flown by most of its competitors, was at its peak. However, the DC-10 outsold the TriStar nearly two to one, partly because of the TriStar's delayed introduction.
Nevertheless, a number of airlines flew the TriStar, including Aer Lingus, Air Atlanta Icelandic, Air Canada, Air India, Air Lanka, All Nippon Airways, Arrow Air, British Airways, BWIA, Cathay Pacific, Court Line, Delta Airlines, Eastern Airlines, Fine Air, Gulf Air, Hawaiian Airlines, Iberia Airlines (1 example), LTU, National Airlines, Pan Am, Peach Air, PSA, TAP Air Portugal Trans World Airlines, United Airlines (bought over from Pan Am), Royal Jordanian and Saudi Arabian Airlines. TWA withdrew its last TriStar from service in 1997.
The Tristar has also been used as a military tanker and cargo aircraft. The British Royal Air Force has nine aircraft of four variants in service at the moment. Two of the aircraft are designated K1's and are pure tankers. Another four are KC1's and can be either tankers or cargo aircraft. Three are pure cargo aircraft, two C2's and a solitary C2A. The C2A differs from the C2's by having military avionics and radios fitted upon its purchase. The RAF's Tristars were bought in the immediate aftermath of the Falklands War to bolster the long range capability of the RAF in the transport and tanker arenas. All of the aircraft serve with No. 216 Squadron, based at RAF Brize Norton.
The aircraft have seen service in three conflicts. Two were deployed to King Khalid International Airport, near Riyadh in Saudi Arabia during the 1991 Gulf War as tankers, with the rest used for transport between the Persian Gulf and UK. The two aircraft deployed received nose art naming them Pinky and Perky! During the 1999 Kosovo War, Tristars deployed to Ancona in Italy, again as tankers, with four aircraft involved. Their most recent wartime role was again over the skys of Iraq. The RAF deployed four Tristars during Operation Telic, to a so far undisclosed location.
The Tristar will remain in service with the RAF until the end of this decade, when it is schedualed to be replaced under the Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft programme.
A longer-range variant of the standard-length L-1011 was developed in the late 1970's. Designated the L-1011-500, the fuselage length was shortened by 14 feet to accommodate higher fuel loads.
Lockheed manufactured a total of 250 TriStars, ceasing production in 1984. Lockheed needed to sell 500 planes to break even. Failing to achieve profitability in the civilian airliner sector, the TriStar was to be Lockheed's last commercial aircraft. Airlines played Douglas and Lockheed off each other, driving the prices of both planes down, and the end result was Douglas' merger with McDonnell and Lockheed's departure from the commercial aircraft business.
The aging L-1011 was still in use by some airlines at the start of the 21st century, and in the late 1990s, NASA performed aerodynamic research on modified L-1011s.
Public domain images from NASA