Lockheed had decided to re-enter the civil aviation scene following its late 1966 rejection in the race to build a supersonic transport, initially attracted to a brief from American Airlines for a large efficient short-medium haul airliner using the new technology turbofan engines then in development. The resulting Tristar was technologically superior to the competing McDonnell Douglas DC-10, but its development costs severely stretched both Lockheed and the engine designer Rolls-Royce. Nevertheless initial sales, to the major Trunks Eastern, TWA and Delta as well as a batch to Air Holdings for sale outside the USA, were promising. One of the smaller trunk airlines, Northeast Airlines, had also rather optimistically ordered a pair but their failing financial position and ongoing merger talks (initially with Northwest) led to their order being cancelled in 1970. By this time orders for new Tristars were getting hard to come by but Lockheed was able to replace the lost Tristar order quickly when it received the first new order in over a year - from PSA.
The letter of intent for PSA to purchase a pair of Tristars with reservations for three more was announced on the official rollout of the prototype Tristar on September 1, 1970. PSA planned to fly the massive widebody on the short 284 nautical mile route between Los Angeles and San Francisco from 1972. There was an expectation of heavy growth on the intra-Californian routes in the early 1970s and the Tristars were to be configured for 297 passengers with eight abreast economy seating. Working in the Tristar's favour was that PSA percieved that the RB211 engines for the aircraft were well suited for the more frequent cycling the short routes demanded.
The February 1971 collapse of Rolls-Royce shook PSA's faith in the Tristar but following further analysis and the stabilisation of Rolls-Royce PSA returned to the type and raised its firm order for the type to five aircraft. Two were to arrive in 1974 which one aircraft each year to 1977.
PSA's unique requirements for the Tristar meant that its aircraft introduced several unique features. The high-density commuter style operations over short routes meant baggage was less important and PSA's aircraft were equipped with a underfloor lounge (replacing part of the baggage hold and galley) which could itself seat 16 paying passengers. This necessitated a structural addition on the outside of the airframe as an external fairing was added under the forward fuselage to protect passengers seated in the lounge area in the event of a nosewheel collapse. Further lounge areas were also added on the maindeck. The lower level lounge also had an entrance door which could facilitate the boarding of over 100 passengers and their carry-on bags. The Gemini model featured in this thread has the access door but not the under fuselage fairing.
Below: The lower lounge as completed
Even before the new Tristars went into service (in the new 1973 PSA fruit stripes colours) there were clear signs that the aircraft would no longer work for PSA. The October 1973 fuel crisis saw the price of fuel rise from 9-11 cents a gallon to 33 cents a gallon and PSA's fuel supplier Shell also cut supplies by 20% for good measure. The Tristars operations had been priced at the pre-1973 scale and would never work at the new figures. It was too late to back out now though and PSA readied itself for its first L-1011.
The unique features of PSA's Tristars can be seen clearly in the below photos:
The first aircraft, N10112, entered service on August 1, 1974. The second aircraft, N10114, went to the Farnborough airshow in the UK for promotional purposes before she too entered service, on October 28. Needless to say the Tristars did not prove a success. Even if the fuel prices had been lower it is hard to see how such a large aircraft could have fitted well to such short stage lengths and quick turnaround operations. As the future showed on several occassions large aircraft can almost always be beaten on these sort of routes by increased frequency operations with smaller aircraft (in this case 727s). The pair of Tristars only lasted in service for six months and were withdrawn in April 1975. Plans to return them to service in June never came to fruition and both aircraft were parked at San Diego before being sent to Marana for storage.
PSA cancelled its remaining orders with Lockheed and the relationship between the two got acrimonious. Lockheed found itself struggling to sell new Tristars in a market flooded with overcapacity and in which there was a surplus of barely used Tristars available on the seconds market (not to mention its failure to compete effectively against the long-range DC-10-30). The three PSA aircraft that were never delivered, but had been finished and painted, eventually went to the German charter airline LTU in March 1977 following an October 1976 deal. LTU returned its existing pair of aircraft in order to have three Tristars all fitted to the same standards. LTU used the trio for ABC (Advanced Booking Charter) operations across the Atlantic. The underfloor lounge was kept (as was the lower level external access door) and allowed LTU to up passenger capacity to an impressive 330!
PSA's two delivered Tristars were eventually returned to Lockheed in 1978 and sub-leased to Aero Peru until 1982. PSA's unique lounge configuration made them difficult to sell on and it wasn't until 1985 that the pair joined Worldways of Canada. Worldways ceased operations in November 1990 and that was the end of the pair's airline careers. N10112 was converted into a flying hospital for Operation Blessing International Relief and was tored at Tucson in 2000. Registered as P4-MED she was still their in good condition as of early 2015.
I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: