With a unique combination of beauty, grace and technology, the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar flew millions of TWA passengers from 1972 to 1997. Large-scale models of the aircraft greet visitors when they first enter our building at 10 Richards Road and again upon stepping into our main gallery. It was an impressive airplane. And as you've probably guessed, it has a story to tell.

A "Special" Debut
On May 10, 1972, TWA's first L-1011 (ship N31001) arrived at the airline's maintenance and overhaul base at Kansas City International Airport. The May 22, 1972 edition of TWA Today (the company's employee newspaper) would describe its reception as, "An army of TWAers, who paused from their labors to witness its arrival."1 The day, however, wasn't yet over as the plane then took a round trip "shakedown" flight to Indianapolis. Upon its return to the overhaul base, it flew its approach over downtown Kansas City and Kansas City's Downtown Airport, the home of TWA's first headquarters (and our museum today). There was extensive local media coverage and a press conference was given by TWA senior management, during the flight.

The headline in TWA Today announces the L-1011's arrival.

After reading this, our guide began to wonder. There must have been something really special about this airplane. TWA had received its first Boeing 747 just two years earlier and the nineteenth 747 had joined the fleet just seven months before the L-1011's arrival. How was it that the L-1011 garnered so much attention in the shadow of nineteen shiny, new 747s (destined to become the most heralded aircraft in commercial aviation)? Our guide was intrigued, so he looked at more articles and documents in our museum's archives and then tapped the best resources, our volunteers who knew the airplane inside and out.

The story that follows begins with the L-1011's development and how an overseas bankruptcy almost doomed the aircraft and its manufacturer before the first production model left the factory. Then, we'll tell you about the airplane's career at TWA, through documents, pictures and the words of our museum volunteers who flew it, worked the cabin and maintained it. Sit back. It's quite a story.

"...and drive carefully."
Lockheed Chairman Daniel Haughton (right) hands over the
"keys" of TWA's first L-1011 to TWA's Ed Zak.

Some History

To really gain an appreciation of this airplane and its successful 25-year existence with TWA, we need to go all the way back to its beginnings. While being brief is often a challenge for our guide, he'll try to keep it short and to the point. The L-1011 was manufactured by the Lockheed Corporation, in Palmdale, California (near Los Angeles). Lockheed and TWA were hardly strangers, as TWA successfully flew earlier Lockheed products, including the renowned Constellation. At the dawn of the commercial jet age,   Lockheed was dealing with issues related to its model 188 Electra turboprop (manufactured 1957-1961). These issues, unfortunately, included two fatal accidents, attributed to design flaws. While Lockheed was dealing with related financial, legal and perceptual issues, Boeing and Douglas were establishing firm footings in the commercial jetliner market. By the mid-1960s, Lockheed, anxious to build its own jetliner, proposed a three-engine, medium-long range, domestic, widebody aircraft that could also utilize medium-length commercial runways (such as those at New York's LaGuardia Airport). The model would be called the L-1011. The name "TriStar" was chosen through a company-wide contest.     

Lockheed committed to producing the most passenger and airline-friendly plane possible. Being their first passenger jet, research and development expenses to achieve these lofty goals would be high. At the same time, the newly combined McDonnell Douglas Corporation was building a competitor, the DC-10. McDonnell's conservative business approach and Douglas' prior experience with their DC-8 and DC-9 jet aircraft provided an early economic edge over Lockheed. The competition between the two would quickly turn heated, as airline customers would "play" the two companies against each other, thus eroding the profits of both. In moving forward, Lockheed felt they had a more desirable product, believing they could sell at least 500 L-1011s (the number needed to make manufacturing the airplane profitable). As it turned out, sales never even came close to 500, as only 250 units were produced. Other events during the plane's early days would create additional challenges.

Unlike the DC-10, Lockheed designed the L-1011 around a sole engine type, the British-manufactured Rolls-Royce RB.211. Lockheed believed the RB.211 to be the most advanced and quietest engine available. But, on Feb. 4, 1971 (literally months away from the L-1011's first scheduled deliveries), Rolls-Royce went into receivership, stating they lacked the money to continue building engines. With both their futures at stake, Rolls-Royce and Lockheed asked their respective governments for help. Help did arrive and Rolls-Royce resumed manufacturing the RB.211. This experience, however, cost Lockheed two valuable resources: time and money. Meanwhile, some airlines that had ordered the DC-10 were already flying the aircraft and Douglas was steadily improving the airplane's design, introducing international versions and a variety of engine options. Some argue that the Rolls-Royce delay was a key factor in the eventual demise of the L-1011. Nevertheless, Lockheed moved ahead, delivering its first L-1011s to Eastern Air Lines and TWA in 1972. Unfortunately, Lockheed was also creating its own problems from within. 

In 1976, news surfaced that Lockheed had bribed members of the Japanese government to choose the L-1011 over the DC-10 for Japan's All Nippon Airways. The Japanese Prime Minister was convicted of violating Japan's foreign exchange laws. At Lockheed, both the board chairman and vice-chairman resigned. The fallout hurt Lockheed's reputation on many levels. Financially, it's estimated the scandal effectively cost Lockheed in excess of a billion dollars. Nevertheless, Lockheed continued manufacturing the L-1011. TWA, Eastern and Delta were the largest operators and the airplane proved to be popular. Despite these operational successes, Lockheed continued to hemorrhage money on the program and in 1981, it decided to stop selling the L-1011. TWA took delivery of its 36th and final L-1011 on May 27, 1982. The 250th and last TriStar produced rolled out of Lockheed's Palmdale factory in 1984. They would never again manufacture a commercial airliner. 

(TriStar trivia: The Lockheed Corporation was named after its co-founder, Allan Loughead. To prevent mispronunciation, the company name was spelled phonetically). 

Where to Start?
If you're one of our regular blog readers, you know by now that our guide's biggest gripe is there's never enough time to tell our visitors (and blog readers) all the things that excite him about the museum and its exhibits. And so it is with the L-1011 and its 25-year history with TWA. What to include or exclude? How best to compress this huge story into one brief but riveting blog article? Not easy. So, as he does at the museum, our guide will stop at our impressive L-1011 cutaway model and highlight points about the exterior of the plane, what's inside and what went on behind the scenes during TWA's ownership.

Technology and Beauty
Few things in life are as satisfying to behold as the marriage of high technology and beauty. Years before Steve Jobs would envision the iPhone, engineers and designers at Lockheed had it down. When an L-1011 sat at the gate, people noticed. Many were drawn to the tail. The rear engine's "s-shaped" intake duct and the exposed rear section of the engine blended the airplane's body and tail into one sleek structure. Up front, a stylishly curved nose seemed poised to challenge the air it would cut through at 500+ miles per hour. While the competing DC-10 was very similar in appearance, some felt it lacked the elements of the L-1011's smooth design. At the museum, we think every airplane is a thing of beauty, but the L-1011 was in a class by itself. 

Stacking up the L-1011 and the DC-10.
Similar... but different.

The Operation
On June 25, 1972, TWA's first L-1011 revenue flight departed St. Louis for Los Angeles. Flight 177 was flawless, arriving two minutes ahead of schedule. As the airplane approached Los Angeles, Captain Gordon Granger announced to the passengers, "I thought you might be interested to know that we have been on autopilot since takeoff roll and that we are going to make an automatic landing."2 Flight 177's passengers were learning about one of the L-1011's most celebrated features: the first commercial aircraft with full auto-land capability. Equipped with a highly advanced automated guidance system (certainly by 1972 standards), the L-1011 could literally land itself, most notably in the FAA termed "Cat IIIA landing conditions". This meant zero vertical visibility and just 700 feet forward visibility at touchdown. Captain Granger was one of many TWA pilots who would be impressed with the L-1011. In his book, A Life Aloft, retired TWA Captain Walt Gunn wrote:

"The autoland is embarrassingly smooth. A sense of guilt was felt when passengers commended me for the landing when credit should have been given to the computer-driven autopilot, with which I had little influence beyond monitoring its precision."3

Not to be completely upstaged, Captain Gunn also described his technique for manually landing the L-1011 and how it responded with a smooth landing, known in pilot parlance as a "grease job". In such cases, Captain Gunn could accept passengers' praise without the guilt! 

Retired TWA pilot (and museum volunteer) John Coleman also remembers the L-1011. John began his 26-year TWA career in 1966, working as an aircraft mechanic in the hangar at the current Downtown Airport (right by our museum!). In 1968, John became a TWA pilot, initially serving as a flight engineer on the Boeing 727 and then a first officer on the Douglas DC-9. He spent the latter part of his career as a first officer on the 727 as well. In the mid-1980s, John also qualified as an L-1011 flight engineer and eventually, an instructor. During his tenure as an instructor, he occasionally flew trips on the L-1011 as flight engineer.  

John Coleman takes a break from our chat to
pose with one of the museum's L-1011 models

"It  was the technology,"  John says, adding that the L-1011 really was a bridge to the high technology seen in today's jetliners. John mentioned the aircraft's ability to automatically identify and correct system faults (thanks to a bank of computers sitting in a bay below the cockpit). John also recalls the clear, well-placed instrumentation, as well as the spaciousness and excellent outside visibility offered by the cockpit. We at the museum are fortunate to have John and his great experience available to our visitors and us. Our guide thanks John (and Captain Granger and Captain Gunn) for giving us a glimpse into the cockpit.

Under The Hood
As the old saying goes, "If you really want to know how something works, ask someone who has to fix it." Museum volunteer Larry Chalberg is that someone. Larry's 34-year career with TWA began in 1966, as a technician in the instrument shop at TWA's Kansas City maintenance and overhaul base. After a short stint in Los Angeles, he returned to Kansas City, working as an aircraft mechanic at the overhaul base and eventually "on the line" at Kansas City International Airport. Larry well remembers the workings of the L-1011, first encountering it in Los Angeles. He recalls that an L-1011 spending the night in Los Angeles was sometimes ferried to nearby Burbank Airport for overnight modification work (Lockheed owned the Burbank airport at the time, using it for L-1011-related work). He occasionally rode along on the ferry flights as an observer in the cockpit. Recalls Larry, "It was amazing to watch it auto-land. The pilots had to be aware not to instinctively touch the control column (possibly disabling the autopilot). The landings were incredible."

Larry also remembers the airplane as, "mechanic friendly." Changing out many components and instruments in the cockpit was quick and easy. He also remembers the comprehensive diagnostic process performed by the airplane's built-in test equipment computers (known as BITE). The plane's Rolls-Royce Engines were easily accessible, including the tail (#2) engine, which could be accessed from the ground (see the L-1011/DC-10 illustration from an earlier section and you'll get the idea). Larry recalled one evening in Kansas City when an L-1011 needed a main gear tire and brake change. According to Larry, "The whole operation was a breeze and took thirty minutes. It took longer to get the parts over to the airplane than it did to perform the job!"     
Larry Chalberg knew the L-1011 well, having worked on
it numerous times during his career with TWA.

Making it Tick
After speaking with John and Larry, our guide was motivated to find out even more about what made this plane tick. For that he sat down with museum guide Art Lujin. An electrical engineer by training, Art's 25-year TWA career included working on many L-1011 systems. (A note: Art's years with TWA (1992-1997) coincide exactly with the period TWA flew the L-1011). Art's first big assignment at TWA? Spending several weeks with Lockheed engineers and technicians in California, learning the plane's systems and avionics. 

"It was ahead of its time", Art recalled. In addition to the auto-land system, Art remembers other impressive features of the L-1011, such as its Direct Lift Control (DLC). DLC accomplished smooth descents by automatically adjusting the rate of descent without significant changes to the pitch (angle) of the aircraft. This was accomplished by the inner-wing spoilers being deployed in conjunction with the flap settings. Yet another example of how the L-1011 was engineered for both passengers riding and pilots flying it.  

Art remembers constant modifications and improvements made to the L-1011 during its service with TWA. Auto-land in Cat IIIA conditions was improved to Cat IIIC, which effectively allowed landing with zero visibility, vertically and horizontally (at airports equipped with compatible instrument landing systems). Art also mentioned that after an initial "break in" period, the Rolls-Royce engines proved to be reliable and efficient. "The L-1011 was my favorite of all of TWA's airplanes," was how Art summed up our conversation. 

A View From Inside
While just a relative handful of people piloted or worked on the L-1011, millions of TWA passengers flew in it. And it's here that things get quite interesting. Museum visitors can view seven L-1011 scale models, including the aforementioned "cutaway" model, restored by volunteer Dennis McCarthy (read how Dennis did it in our blog article: "Our Model Citizens"). This model illustrates the interior configuration of TWA's first L-1011s. With 30 seats in first class and just 176 in coach (well below Lockheed's maximums), TWA and Lockheed designed a roomy and comfortable interior. The dreaded "middle section" in economy class was made more desirable by having only four seats, separated by an extended width armrest in the center (no need to play "dueling elbows" with your row mate). TWA proclaimed you were "never more than one seat from the aisle."

If casual was your thing, the L-1011 was your plane, as both first and economy class had lounges. And if absolute casualness was what you were seeking, ten center row seats in first class allowed you to swivel and rock. For meal service, flight attendants could place a table between two pairs of swivel seats to allow you to gather 'round the dinner table. Now, if all of this seems to good to have been true, our guide has provided pictorial evidence below (thanks to our Archives folks). It might be a good idea to memorize these pictures and recall them the next time you find yourself jammed into a middle seat, between a chatty adult and his or her belligerent child. 

Don't fill up on the bread! First class mealtime table dining,
1972, L-1011 style.

Lounging and mingling in first class. Note the swivel seats
in the center of the cabin.

A pleasant day in economy class, as well. In this Lockheed mock-up cabin,
a small coat closet (lower left) separated pairs of middle section.TWA opted
 to go with wider armrests.
Our L-1011 cutaway displays the economy
 class forward lounge area.

Change, of course, is inevitable and it came quickly to the L-1011's interior. Operational and revenue considerations forced TWA to periodically reevaluate seating. The interior would undergo several revisions. Over time, the first class swivel and rocking seats gave way to permanent, forward-facing seats. Lounges in both first and economy class were removed and the 206-passenger capacity would eventually expand to as many as 275, including the introduction of a five-seat center section (goodbye, wide armrest). Not all was gloomy, however. The size of the L-1011 (and Boeing 747) allowed TWA to introduce a roomy Ambassador (business) class cabin, starting in the 1980s. 

And... The Galley!
Galleys typically aren't a noteworthy part of an aircraft, but on the L-1011, they were. On the models TWA flew, the galley was below the passenger seating level, effectively in the "belly" of the airplane. While our guide likes to feel he can describe most anything in words, he'll get some help from the picture below:
Photo courtesy of Jon Proctor
Yep, sandwiched (pardon the pun) between cargo and luggage containers was a 1,350 cubic foot galley. Lockheed designers wanted to keep meal preparation activity away from the passengers, thus allowing for more space and less commotion in the cabin. Two elevators ("lifts") transported food carts and crew members between the galley and main level of the airplane (note the lifts in the background). By the way, the picture itself is special. That's TWA employee Jon Proctor, inspecting the galley on TWA's first L-1011 during its first days of service in June 1972. John served as an on board DCS (Director of Customer Service).:

(More TriStar trivia: Lockheed designated each transport as a "lift", so as to not confuse it with the term "elevator", which was a part of the exterior tail section of the aircraft).

The lift ascended to a central cabin service center, one of three galley areas in the cabin. Initially, food carts were parked on "mushrooms" (locking pins to secure the heavy food carts in place) at each primary exit. Trays were then hand-carried to passengers, keeping the aisles clear of carts. This procedure was eventually ended when more mobile and efficient "Singl-Serve" carts were used. This also allowed the removal of additional economy class galley space, allowing for more passenger seating to be installed.  

Flight Attendant Perspectives
No tour of TWA's L-1011 would be complete without chatting with some of our volunteers who worked the cabin. You may recall meeting Pam Blaschum and Joe Ballweg in our recent article about TWA's flight attendants ("Presenting The Case For TWA's Flight Attendants"). Since they both worked on the L-1011, we sat down for a few minutes and chatted.

"I loved that airplane", were the first words from Pam, adding that she often bid L-1011 trips. The smooth rides and landings were what she remembers most. Among her favorite stories is the time she and another flight attendant were sitting in nearby jump seats with limited outside visibility. The plane had just made one of its characteristically smooth landings and as Pam tells it, "Betsy was across from me making announcements, etc. As we cleared the runway and started toward the gate, I leaned as far forward as I could and asked, 'When are you going to make the landing announcement?' Her reply was, 'As soon as we land.'" Pam also recalls the distinctive deep bass-like roar of the Rolls-Royce engines when they spooled up for taxi and takeoff.

Joe Ballweg especially remembers the L-1011's lower-deck galley. He commented that on meal flights, one of the flight attendant crew members would be stationed in the galley full-time, preparing meals. That role was bid by crew seniority and some crew members would always take it. Occasionally, if it appeared the assignment was falling to a "junior" flight attendant, a re-bid saw a crew member with more meal preparation experience assume the role. While impressed by the L-1011, Joe expressed his preference for the Boeing 747. Said Joe, "Both planes were amazing, but I personally preferred the 747. Although much larger than the other Boeing products we flew at the time, I felt more of a sense of familiarity and consistency when working on the 747." Joe's comments again reminded our guide of the unique coexistence the L-1011 and 747 maintained during their careers with TWA. Preferences of one over the other were numerous and varied, both among passengers and employees.      

And So it Was
On September 3, 1997, Captain Rob Bottoms commanded TWA flight 840, from Los Angeles to New York's JFK airport. It was the final flight for TWA's L-1011, marking the retirement of the aircraft's 25+ year lifespan at the airline. It was a career any retiree would look back upon with pride. While originally designed for medium-long range domestic service, Lockheed eventually developed models that could fly internationally. Additionally, TWA and Lockheed worked together to modify several TWA domestic L-1011s, allowing them to fly internationally as well. TWA's L-1011s would thus become a common sight in Europe and the Middle East. For many years, the L-1011 and Boeing 747 worked together, creating a formidable fleet of international aircraft (ultimately joined by the Boeing 767 in the late 1980s).   

A busy afternoon at JFK in 1988. Three L-1011s and five 747s are
poised to begin their evening journeys.
(photo courtesy of Capt. Mark Berry: 

Domestically, L-1011s dominated TWA's coast-to-coast services and later helped to build service between the Northeast and Florida. Starting in the 1980s, they became common sights at TWA's St. Louis hub, serving high-density domestic markets. It's also worth noting that for many Kansas City-based TWA employees, the sight of an L-1011 at the gate in St. Louis was always a welcomed sight, as it meant more space available seats and a good shot at getting home that day! They also could look forward to a smooth and comfortable flight. 

Airplanes are funny things. They often take on a life of their own, transcending their model names and numbers. And so it was with the L-1011 TriStar. This was indeed a special airplane.

On a Final Note
As noted, Lockheed's sales projections for the L-1011 were half of what was hoped. Ending production in 1984, the company lost a substantial amount of money on the program. Lockheed would return to its primary businesses of developing military aircraft and defense-related aerospace systems. In 1995, Lockheed merged with the Martin Marietta Corporation. In contrast, sales of the competing McDonnell Douglas DC-10, and its derivatives, would number over 600 (including the DC-10, KC-10 military tanker/transport and the later-generation MD-11). Operational issues with the DC-10 and competition with Lockheed took a toll on McDonnell Douglas as well, one of the factors leading to its merger with Boeing, in 1997.  

TWA would fly 36 of its own L-1011s from 1972 through its retirement. One year after the last L-1011 flew, TWA retired its Boeing 747. These two originators of the widebody era defined a unique and special place in TWA's history. Many of us at the museum were privileged to be a part of that era and our guide has been pleased to share some of it with you.  
Our L-1011 cutaway model occupies a prominent place
in our museum's main gallery, next to the 747.

Want to Know More?
Though lengthy enough, this article only told some small pieces of this airplane's great history and its service to TWA. There's much more to know. If you're interested in learning more, our guide would suggest two great articles as a starting point:     

For Your Information
"Spring has sprung" at the museum, as Kansas City awakens from another winter. Activity at our museum and the Downtown Airport is picking up as the weather gets nicer. We hope you'll take advantage of the pleasant days ahead and come see us. We have more than ever to show you! 

A reminder that the museum's Hangar Dance will be held on April 29, 2017, in the Signature Aircraft Services hangar, adjacent to our museum. This is our largest fundraiser of the year and is a really great evening. We hope you'll join us. Find more information at:

Article written by Wayne Hammer
Edited by Larry Dingman
Additional editing and information provided by Jon Proctor
Copy editing by Pam Tucker
A special thanks to our museum's Archives staff, for their assistance in producing this article.

1 TWA Today, vol. 35, No. 11 / May 22, 1972. 
2 TWA Today, vol. 35, No. 14 / July 3, 1972. 
3 A Life Aloft - From DC-3 To 747, by Capt. Walt Gunn, c 1987, Wings Publications