Lockheed Martin Wanted To Build An ‘A380’ In The 1990’s

Previously we discussed how Boeing wanted to build a competitor to the Airbus A380 back in 2008. Plus, the Russians were working on a double-decker plane (with escalators) before that.

But as it would turn out, they were late to the party. Aerospace manufacturer Lockheed Martin planned on building a super A380 back in 1996. And by super we mean it would have been one of the largest aircraft ever to fly.

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The Lockheed VLST. Photo: NASA / Lockheed

Introducing the Large Subsonic Transport

In 1996, Lockheed Martin believed that bigger was better. Their evidence was:

  • Airports had limited slots and could only have so many aircraft land per day.
  • Air traffic growth was increasing at a rapid pace, with countries like China starting to make huge orders for aircraft.
  • Heavy lift aircraft for the US military were approaching the end of their lifespan, and thus Lockheed wanted to be in a good position to win the contract.

Therefore whatever aircraft they brought to the table would need to carry 600-800 passengers in comfort, be configurable as a freighter and have a military application.

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In their presentation (which can be read here), they outlined several options (and concepts) that were available on the market. ‘Competition’ to the Lockheed LST one would think.

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Options in 1996 for Very Large Subsonic Transport. Source: Lockheed / NASA

Their solution was the Large Subsonic Transport, or officially the Lockheed Very Large Aeroplane.

And Lockheed was not kidding around when they said it would be big.

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The Lockheed Very Large Subsonic Transport. Photo: Lockheed / NASA

It would have had four engines, folding wings (like the 777X) and carry over 1.4 million pounds (635,000 kg).

How many passengers would it carry?

Lockheed took the time to configure this design for up to 900 passengers in two classes.

NASA
Lockheed configured the aircraft to sit 900 passengers. Photo: Lockheed / NASA

Passengers would be sat in a 3 – 4 – 3 – 4 – 3 configuration, with some rows being 17 seats across. This makes a reconfigured 10-seat across Boeing 777 look decidedly cozy!

And the aircraft had two decks, with around 450 passengers on each deck.

Lockheed Martin also took the time to show off how a cargo variant would work.

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The freighter version of the VLST. Photo: NASA / Lockheed.

And yes, those are intermodal shipping containers, the same that is found on large cargo ships. Being put in a plane. 16 of them. And it still had room for passengers on the upper deck.

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Intermodal shipping container. Photo: Pixelbay.

But how did it match up compared to the biggest military aircraft of the time… the Lockheed C-5 Galaxy?

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The Lockheed VLST compared to The Boeing 747. Photo: Lockheed / NASA

This size difference would go on to create some problems, but we will get to that in a minute.

Where would it fly?

The aircraft was imagined to fly several long distance and popular routes, many of them now flown by A380s. Some mentioned in the document were:

  • London to Hong Kong, Singapore, and Tokyo
  • New York to London, Frankfurt, and Paris
  • Tokyo to San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Honolulu

But in the document, they list the design having only a range of 3,200 nm (5,900 km) fully loaded. For comparison, the distance between New York and London is only 2,999 nautical miles (5,555 kilometers). This would mean the aircraft would struggle to fly onwards to Frankfurt, with a distance of 3,350 nm (6,205 kilometers).

NASA
The various different designs of the Lockheed VLST. This version has two engines in the wings and two in the tails Photo: Lockheed / NASA

They estimated that up to 280-370 of these aircraft would be sold across the world, mostly in Asia. Each plane was to cost in the region of $200-300 million USD (Cheaper than the A380 cost of $445 million USD).

Why was it never built?

The document did, however, list several problems with the design:

  • The sheer air vortex of this aircraft would mean that fewer planes could land after them. There would have to be a longer wait time for other planes to land / take off.
  • It would be very nosy.
  • It would require longer and wider runways and taxiways.
  • A very long time would be needed for the aircraft to be boarded, serviced and unloaded, plus new ground support cars would need to be designed and built.
  • Gates had to be redesigned when the A380 came into service. For this aircraft, entire airports would need to be rebuilt.
  • How to design emergency evacuation for passengers? On a normal plane, you are no more than a few meters from the nearest exit. This aircraft you could be 10s of meters, with many passengers between you. The systems must also be designed for if two of these aircraft crashed into one another, up to 1,600 passengers.
  • Building the structure of the plane itself would be cutting edge. Lockheed was also unsure how it would be controlled in flight.
  • If it landed in the water, it would sink like a stone.
  • A research and development cost of $8-15 Billion. Lockheed Martin openly admitted that it would take the partnership of several firms to build these aircraft, with them partnering up with either Boeing or Airbus.

Would you fly on this aircraft? Let us know in the comments.

2 comments
  1. I would fly on the A380 any days.
    Also Lockheed Martin should stay where they are, military aviation, and so Sukhoi, where both company have their big strength (really like their F-16 and Su-35).
    And for the fact that it was cheaper than the A380, it has more limitation than the A380, as you mentioned, shorter range and airport redesign (terminal and runway for instances).

  2. Much of the work at Lockheed Martin was done in 1994-95. You can find more information on this subject in the cover story to the March 1995 edition of Popular Mechanics “Incredible Giants of the Sky”. The concept of the “double-bubble” fuselage is currently being considered for an MIT laminar flow airplane (e.g.,http://web.mit.edu/drela/Public/N+3/Final_slides.pdf). One of the options for the Lockheed Spanloader was to use it as a flying tanker. It would carry crude oil from the U.S. to Japan, and fly in ground-effect for much of the flight.

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