MIAMI – Today in Aviation, Lockheed L-1011 TriStar (N301EA) enters commercial service in 1972 with Eastern Air Lines on its Miami-New York route.
Eastern Air Lines, AKA Eastern, was a major American airline from 1926 to 1991. Before its dissolution, it was headquartered at Miami International Airport (MIA) in an unincorporated area of Miami-Dade County, Florida, US.
A Bumpy Start
The then-Lockheed California Company (now Lockheed Martin) delivered the most technologically advanced commercial jet of its day, the L-1011 TriStar, to its first customer, Eastern Air Lines, in April 1972, after six grueling years of design and some unexpected setbacks.
The L-1011, like other legendary passenger airliners before it, encountered formidable obstacles on its way to its first flight. Design problems arose as a result of competing airlines’ differing needs. The engine’s manufacturer was afflicted by financial difficulties. In addition, a recession fueled by the world’s first oil crisis reduced demand for commercial planes.
The L-1011, like its parent company, weathered the hurricane. With the help of a government loan guarantee, more than 4,500 jobs were saved in the end. After its revenue flight on April 26, 1972, Eastern Air Lines began the scheduled operation of the L-1011 on April 30 with a smooth flight from Miami to New York in what was to become a type service known as luxury among the clouds.
The L-1011 was designed in the mid-1960s to carry 250 passengers on famous transcontinental routes. It featured unheard-of amenities including glare-resistant windows, full-sized hideaway closets for coats, and a below-deck galley that used two elevators to bring “filet mignon and lamb chop dinners” up to the main cabin.
Thanks to a special engine arrangement that minimized cabin noise, passengers enjoyed flying on the type. Its extra-wide aisles and overhead bins were enjoyed by flight crews. TriStar’s pilots, on the other hand, had access to the aircraft’s most exciting feature: an advanced fly-by-wire automatic flight control system (AFCS).
The L-1011 would fly and land on its own, descending effortlessly onto the runway by locking in to an airport’s radio beacons. Tristar pilots simply had to dial altitude and course adjustments into the flight control system and track their instruments.
Veteran test pilots Anthony LeVier and Charles Hall flew 115 crew members, staff, and reporters from Palmdale, California, to Dulles Airport outside Washington, D.C., on May 25, 1972, with the TriStar’s AFCS feature activated from takeoff roll to landing. The first cross-country flight without the use of human hands on the controls was a watershed moment. The technology of fly-by-wire was here to stay.
The Whisperer Liner
The FAA granted the TriStar special permission to land during severe weather conditions due to its impressive autopilot functionality. Passengers on the L-1011 could rest assured that they would land exactly where they were supposed to land, unlike other wide-bodied jets that had to be diverted to alternative airports.
Eastern Air Lines dubbed the L-1011 the Whisperliner because of its quiet takeoffs and lack of noise in the passenger cabin. Development lasted until 1983. The L-1011 fleet had a remarkable in-service reliability rate of 98.1%.
However, the financial difficulties proved to be too much to tackle. Lockheed built a total of 250 TriStar aircraft, with the L-1011 serving as the company’s last commercial passenger jet. However, the business ended on a high note, having produced “the most intelligent airliner ever to fly,” as one pilot put it.