|The aircraft to be preserved: msn 193B-1066|
Kansas City’s Wheeler Downtown Airport will soon score a first when a Lockheed L-1011 flies in to become a permanent part of the Airline History Museum.
An almost pristine example of one of the most beloved modern airliners will fill an important gap in the museum’s collection, allowing it to show the evolution of passenger aviation from the 1930s to the wide-body jet age.
Officials say an L-1011 has never landed at the downtown airport before, and this is one of only two operable planes of that model left in the U.S.
“We wanted to save her from being chopped up,” said pilot Paul Pristo of Arizona, who bought the aircraft and donated it to the Kansas City museum. “We want to give her new life as a 300-seat auditorium.”
The plane will be used in an educational program for school groups and adults, said Paul Sloan, the museum’s executive director.
The public is invited to watch the L-1011 arrive at the airport about 2 p.m. next Sunday. It will be parked outside the museum at Hangar 9 — it’s too big to fit inside. Tours of the plane will be free that day.
This particular plane was once flown by Kansas City’s hometown Trans World Airlines. But it never served the downtown airport, as Kansas City International Airport opened in 1972, the same year the L-1011 began service.
They don’t make planes like this one anymore. In fact, it was the last passenger plane Lockheed made.
A vintage TWA promotional placard at the airline museum brags about it as “Kansas City’s first big jet,” offering daily 8:30 a.m. ambassador service to Los Angeles.
“This is what an airplane should be,” the placard proclaims.
Museum member Larry Denning of Liberty agreed, and he should know. He used to pilot this very plane.
“It was a smooth airplane to fly,” Denning said. “And the passengers loved it. It had a lot of headroom.”
The L-1011 was the top of the line in electronics at the time. The doors were electric instead of manual. The coat closets whisked hangered garments away into storage. The galley was below the cabin level, which was serviced by elevators. Also, the plane had an automated landing system that kept it at an even pitch, making descents more pleasant for the passengers.
Those elevators still work, as do the video screens, which will be used by the museum to show educational films about aviation. The plane still has its three, 42,000-pound Rolls-Royce engines.
This plane had been refurbished for commercial use, but that deal fell through and it was sitting in a hangar in Roswell, N.M. Larry Brown, a founding member of the airline museum, located it and began the process of trying to acquire it.
It was way beyond the museum’s budget, but over many months of negotiation the owner reduced the price to $100,000. Pristo, who previously had donated a Lockheed Constellation “Connie” to the museum, agreed to buy the plane.
The museum still needs to raise about $14,000 to cover the costs associated with preparing the plane for the special-permit ferry flight to Kansas City. The 1½-hour trip will consume about 5,000 gallons of jet fuel.
The L-1011 evokes an era — not that long ago — when flying was still special, when the trip was almost as important as the destination.
“Everybody took a shower before a flight,” Denning joked of those days. “No one wore flip-flops.”