5 Interesting Things About The Lockheed L-1011

It’s been over half a century since the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar first flew. The trijet first took to the skies on November 16th, 1970, and entered service with Eastern Air Lines on April 26th, 1972. Despite being five decades old, the plane was introduced with several creative innovations that helped the aviation industry adapt to a new era.

Lockheed L-1011 Tristar taking-off with mountains behind.
Even though it wasn’t the first to be introduced, the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar was one of the pioneering widebody jets, and numerous clever features can be found on the plane. Photo: Getty Images

There are several aspects that the L-1011 brought to passengers across the globe that we take for granted today. Moreover, the jet also had several unique features. From the cabin to the cockpit, here are five interesting points about the plane.

5. It had highly advanced pilot systems

The aircraft’s Avionic Flight Control system (AFCS) consisted of some of the most groundbreaking technology of the time. Pilots could make use of the speed control, navigation system, direct lift control system, and stability system. Additionally, the CAT-IIIB Autoland system helped the plane to land, even in poor weather conditions.

Due to the plane’s state-of-the-art autopilot system, the L-1011 was granted special clearance by the Federal Aviation Administration to land during severe weather. Altogether, the jet could perform blind landings in zero-visibility weather. While other widebodies had to be diverted to other airports, those flying on the TriStar knew that they would land where the plane was scheduled to reach.

The modern fly-by-wire automatic flight control system allowed the flight crew to merely dial altitude and course changes into the flight control system and the pilots could monitor their instruments. The plane could fly and land with minimal intervention and descend seamlessly onto the runway by locking into the airport’s radio beacons.

Lockheed L-1011
The L-1011 performed the first-ever transcontinental flight without the need for human hands on the controls when it conducted a four-hour and 13 minute trip from Palmdale, California, to Washington Dulles. Photo: Ian Abbott via Flickr

4. Lavatories were found at the back in a circular pattern

The TriStar had toilets wrapped around its rear bulkhead. These were placed under the intake of the plane’s number two engine. Passengers would have been disturbed by the blaring noise from the engine and put off by the sucking sound.

Carriers that put their WCs in this formation benefited by being able to fit up to five lavatories at the back of the plane. The L-1011 wasn’t the only aircraft to have such a configuration. Those who flew the DC-8 would have noticed a similar pattern on their trips. Yet, many widebodies have only up to four toilets at the back.

Ultimately, the TriStar had underfloor galleys. So, there was more room available on the main deck. Crew members on the TriStar often dubbed the semicircle of toilets Cannery Row. The name was inspired by the John Steinbeck book about a street lined with sardine canneries that later led to the renaming of Ocean View Avenue in Monterey, California, which the novel was based on.

3. The cabin had unheard-of luxuries

While the back of the aircraft didn’t sound like a pleasant experience, the passenger cabin had plenty of delights that had previously been a rarity. VIP provisions such as a full-sized hideaway closet for jackets could be found on board.

These features were backed by a below-deck galley that lifted culinary treats such as filet mignons and lamb chops via a pair of elevators. Additional touches included glare-resistant windows that helped improve the overall passenger experience.

Even though the engine caused a riot in the lavatory, the configuration actually reduced the sound in the main cabin. The extra-wide aisles and large overhead bins added the finishing touches for a spacious, comfortable setting.

Lockheed L-1011 TriStar Mockup Interior
Overall, it was a relaxing experience on board the Lockheed L-1011, with those on the aircraft enjoying the luxurious offerings. Photo: Getty Images

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2. Delta was the only major carrier to fly with five variants

Delta Air Lines flew the L-1011-1, -100, -200, -250, and -500. The Atlanta-based carrier was also the first firm to simultaneously operate three of the first generation commercial widebodies, with the Boeing 747 and Douglas DC-10 also in its fleet.

The TriStar had many fans, with the likes of TWA dubbing it one of the safest in the world, but it was Delta that was the largest customer, taking on 70 units of the type. The company even flew 56 of these planes during the same period.

The Lockheed L-1011-1 TriStar could reach a top speed of 552 mph (888 km/h) and reach a range of approximately 2,060 NM (3,815 km). Delta also flew up to 200 economy and 50 first class passengers on its routes.

Delta L-1011
The L-1011 TriStar brought Delta Air Lines its first transatlantic and transpacific services, opening new opportunities for the legacy carrier that remain part of its core network. Photo: The Delta Flight Museum

1. There is one still flying

During the 1990s, Orbital Sciences Corporation modified a TriStar to help with rocket-launching tasks. Currently operating as Northrop Grumman’s Stargazer, the plane still plays an important role in aerospace, taking part in recent missions.

“Pegasus, the world’s first privately-developed commercial space launch vehicle, is an air-launched three-staged rocket carried aloft by Northrop Grumman’s specially modified “Stargazer” L-1011 aircraft,” Northrop Grumman shares.

“Shortly after its release from Stargazer, at approximately 40,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean, Pegasus ignited its first stage, beginning its successful flight carrying TacRL-2 to its intended orbit.”

Northrop Grumman Stargazer
Flying with registration number C-FTNJ while in Air Canada’s fleet, the plane joined the space program with registration N140SC in 1992. Photo: NASA

An industry legend

In total, 250 Lockheed L-1011 TriStars were built between 1968 and 1984. The trijet could be spotted at airports all across the continents during its prime, helping usher in a new generation of long-haul commercial flying. It’s fantastic that the veteran still has a position in aviation over 50 years after it first flew.

What are your thoughts about the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar? Did you ever fly on the aircraft over the years? Let us know what you think of the plane and its operations in the comment section.