FAREWELL TO THE BRILLIANT Lockheed L-1011 Tristar
By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.
24 Mar 14. With its three Rolls-Royce RB211-22B engines the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar made a formidable sight and very quiet sound as it coasted on the tarmac ahead of the maiden flight from Palmdale, California on the 16th November 1970. The aircraft would take wide-bodied commercial aircraft passenger flight into the dawn of a new age along with the other new large aircraft yet to come in the form of the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 and Boeing 747. Sadly even with its hugely efficient and quiet Rolls-Royce RB211-22 engines only 250 L-1011 aircraft were built between 1970 and 1983. Worse is that this was to be the last ever Lockheed commercial aircraft design.
None of this can take away the fact that the L-1011 TriStar was a great success in airline passenger service over a great many years and with the passengers that used it. It was reliable and efficient seeing service with many great airlines including British Airways, Pan Am, Delta, All Nippon, TWA, Air Canada and others. Governments including the UK acquired L1011 TriStar aircraft as well and its’ use in military service was not uncommon. This week, some 44 years since the very first Lockheed L-1011 TriStar actually flew, the Royal Air Force will bid a final farewell to an aircraft that has provided superb transport and tanker refuelling service since it first entered service with 216 Squadron back in 1984. What follows is a short and timely reminder of the impact that the Lockheed 1011 TriStar and particularly the development of its RB211 engines impacted on the UK aerospace industry.
First let me commemorate the L-1011 TriStar in Royal Air Force by reminding of the history. The Royal Air Force acquired a total of nine used L-1011 TriStar aircraft primarily to supplement the air to air tanker refuelling and the wider transport role. Six of these aircraft were purchased from British Airways with a further three acquired from US airline Pan Am. Converted for military use by Marshalls of Cambridge and supported by that company throughout the Royal Air Force service life the withdrawal of TriStar comes close on the heels of the retirement last year of the superb Vickers VC10. The retirement of the L-1011 TriStar also marks completion of the formal process of change in bringing the new age of Royal Air Force Airbus built Voyager transport and air to air refuelling aircraft into full operation.
The history of the Lockheed TriStar development is one that I suspect many old Lockheed and Rolls-Royce hands would care to forget. Against a background of intense competition between airlines and also between aircraft and engine manufacturers Rolls-Royce was to design a completely new aircraft engine that would be known as the RB.211. Also aimed at other US commercial aircraft manufacturers such as McDonnell Douglas for its planned DC-10 aircraft development it would be L-1011 TriStar that the RB.211 would make its name. Lockheed had itself been out of large commercial aircraft manufacturing for some time and the announcement in 1967 that it would develop what it then rather ironically called an airbus marked a return to the industry. With several other competitor aircraft developments going on timing was crucial and to that end Lockheed announced an in service target date for the L-1011 of 1972. Thrust was crucial and both McDonnell Douglas and Lockheed pressed for increasing levels of thrust. Rolls-Royce was pitted against both GE and Pratt & Whitney and to make matters even worse it is worth recalling that with aircraft priced in dollars, as they still are today, Rolls-Royce was seriously disadvantaged at least until the pound sterling was devalued in 1967 from $2.80 to $2.40.
Having been forced into serious price discounting and needing to face up to serious political argument that we today would call protectionist Rolls-Royce was forced into a long peri