the history of one lockheed l 1011 tristar

An Air Atlanta Icelandic L-1011 (reg: TF-ABM), taken in August 1993, with a pretty familiar livery – Photo: Ken Fielding

I probably spend too much time looking at photos of classic airliners online. I am guessing that I am not alone. One of my favorites is finding an aircraft/airline combination that just doesn’t match or is an oddball. Then down the AvGeek rabbit hole, I go to learn as much as I can about the history of the airplane. When was it born? Which airlines flew it? How many times did it change hands? Was it involved in any accidents? Is it still flying today, stored in a desert somewhere, or has it been scrapped?

When I first saw the photo above, with the obvious old TWA livery with temporary titles, that looked like an airplane out of a bad movie, I became instantly hooked (or maybe “obsessed”). I wanted to get to know this plane.

I quickly found out that this Lockheed L-1011 was serial line number 1221, which I have to admit would be a pretty boring name. As I started learning more about him, I named him Martin (for obvious reasons). He was first delivered to TWA in December 1981 and had quite an adventurous life.

Follow me down the rabbit hole to learn more about Martin’s history and where he is today…

Here is our boy, flying in full Air Atlanta Icelantic livery - Photo: Aero Icarus | FlickrCC

Here is our boy, flying in full Air Atlanta Icelandic livery – Photo: Aero Icarus | FlickrCC

Before I continue on with my little L-1011 historical adventure, I want to say that it is quite likely that I won’t have everything 100% correct. Some of the dates that I found do not fully align and sometimes it can be difficult to determine when an aircraft was owned vs leased. Plus some of the registration numbers used on Martin were also used on other L1011s, causing additional complications. I feel pretty confident that I got most of the details down, but just in case, let’s just say this is all “based on a true story.”

So, this is not actually Martin, but one of his brothers. It is how he looked when first delivered to TWA - Photo: Aero Icarus | FlickrCC

So, this is not actually Martin, but one of his brothers. It is how he looked when first delivered to TWA. – Photo: Aero Icarus | FlickrCC

Our friendly Lockheed L-1011-100 was registered N31033 and the first few on October 21, 1981. He was then delivered to TWA on December 21st of the same year. After serving TWA for over a decade, Martin was re-registered as SE-DPP and went to a much smaller airline in 1993 called Air Sweden.

He was one of two L-1011s that the airline had just taken delivery of, but unfortunately, our aircraft was repossessed by the bank before it could enter service. Bummer. I don’t think Martin ever sported the Air Sweden livery, but his sister ship (reg SE-DPR) did — as seen in the photo below.

This is actually the sister ship (reg SE-DPR), but gives an idea of the Air Sweden livery - Photo: Ian Abbott | FlickrCC

This is actually Martin’s sister ship (reg SE-DPR) taken in 1996 after it was stored in Arizona – Photo: Ian Abbott | FlickrCC

It didn’t take long before our TriStar friend found his way flying with the Air Atlanta Icelandic brand, using registration TF-ABM in May 1993. The lead photo in this story, showing Martin with the Air Atlanta/TWA hybrid livery, was taken in August of that year. Although it might look bad, I love those Frankenstein liveries that combine aspects of the old airline with the new.

The Istanbul Airlines livery is not too complicated, but love the "L1011" on the tail engine - Photo: Aero Icarus | FlickrCC

The Istanbul Airlines livery is not too complicated, but love the “L-1011” on the tail engine – Photo: Aero Icarus | FlickrCC

Through the 1990s, Martin served with quite a few different airlines, mostly while being leased out by Air Atlanta:

  • Shortly after Air Sweden’s demise in 1993, he was registered TF-ABM and flew for Caledonian Airways.
  • Near the end of 1994, keeping the same registration, the L-1011 flew with Tunisair.
  • For only about two months in 1995, he flew with Istanbul Airlines. The photo above shows the Air Atlanta lower cheat-line, oddly centered titles, and L-1011 on the tail, similar to what TWA sported.
  • In June 1995, Martin flew for Royal Aviation, which was based in Montreal. The L-1011 flew under the registration C-GRYU (link goes to picture).
  • In 1996, The TriStar was returned back to Air Atlanta and due to (what I assume was) a lack of demand, Martin was stored from November 1996 to October 1997. During this time, he was registered TF-ABD.
  • In 1998, he flew for Britannia Airways for about a month during the summer.
  • Ending out the decade, our L-1011 flew for Caledonian Airways once again, but under the TF-ABD registration vs the TF-ABM as before.
  • In May 2000, Martin flew for Sabre Airways for the summer and after he was returned to Air Atlanta in November 2000, the L-1011 was parked in the Arizona desert.

Martin in Caledonian Airways livery seen in 1999 - Photo: Ken Fielding

Martin in Caledonian Airways livery seen in 1999 – Photo: Ken Fielding

When most classic tri-holers get parked out in the Arizona desert, it doesn’t end well. Luckily Martin’s adventures weren’t over.

In February of 2001, he was sold to Kampuchea Airlines, based in Cambodia, and registered as XU-122. He was then leased to Star Air Jordan in early 2003 and registered in Sierra Leone as 9L-LDN. He was then stored at Sharjah, UAE in 2004.

I will admit that I was a bit surprised when I saw Martin ended up in Austria in May 2005, where he ran into some drama. His application to get registered in the country was refused. Although the exact reason is not fully clear, it seems like there were some shady things going down, and Martin just got mixed up with the wrong people.

In July 2005, he was sold to StarJet as EX-089 and departed for Abu Dhabi, UAE. Then he was stored at Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in October of that year. Another desert storage… I am guessing Martin figured things were close to being over.

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Our L-1011 in Tunisair titles – Photo: Aero Icarus | FlickrCC

Once again, he was spared! In September 2007, he was sold to Air Charter Express (in Ghana) as 9G-BSM. Then, in December he was sold to SAM Intercontinental and registered in Mali as TZ-MHI. There wasn’t a lot I could find, but I think around August 2009, he was based in the UAE and flew around the Middle East, including Iraq.

Martin's final resting spot, taken in 2018 - Photo: Kjell via

Martin’s final resting spot, taken in 2018 – Photo: Kjell via

Then, like that… it was all over. In November 2009, he landed for the last time at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (KPO) in Nairobi, Kenya. He has been sitting in the same spot for over a decade. The most recent photos that I could find of Martin, in 2018, (above) show he is quite neglected. Nairobi gets about 30 inches of rain per year and those open doors probably aren’t a good thing. Although a huge amount of money could probably get him airborne again, I am guessing that will never happen.


The good news is it looks like he is not alone. Martin is hanging out with other forgotten aircraft waiting for their final fate. And really, what is worse? Living out your life, where you can at least still be admired on a ramp of the airport, or being scrapped and never be seen again? Although it brings me legit sadness to see Martin in bad shape (after all this research, he has grown on me), it makes me happy to see any L-1011 that is still in one piece. He had quite the life… if only I could get him for an interview!

I want to give a huge thanks to my pal Ken Fielding, who not only has a lot of amazing airline photos on Flickr but for also providing so much detail about their history. He always inspires me to learn more about the aircraft that I love viewing so much! 

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EDITOR-IN-CHIEF & FOUNDER – SEATTLE, WA. David has written, consulted, and presented on multiple topics relating to airlines and travel since 2008. He has been quoted and written for a number of news organizations, including BBC, CNN, NBC News, Bloomberg, and others. He is passionate about sharing the complexities, the benefits, and the fun stuff of the airline business. Email me: [email protected]