Around 2005, when I was living in the Middle East, I got in touch with the owner of a cargo airline, operating two L1011’s. Both ex –Caledonian Tristar’s. The owner allowed me to join the crew for the next scheduled flight, which was bound for Chad after a quick fuel stop in what was then still Khadaffi-Libya. I had to report around midnight for the night flight and met the rest of the crew. An American captain, a young Belgian first officer and the rest of the crew from various other nations around the world.
It was thrilling to feel the Tristar take off from a cockpit seat for the first time! This felt like flying in the old days, long before I took my first flight in the 80’s. Now I have seen flight decks before and I also had flight time on wide body cockpits, but this was serious. After a quick bunkering stop in Kufra, we headed south towards Chad’s capital. The view was amazing and my lens fell in love with the mysterious Sahara landscape and Tibesti mountains.
Landing in ‘n Djamena felt like a wonderful piece of teamwork where now automated systems were still visually monitored. The Blue white bird finally landed in the first sub-Saharan green area and taxied towards a abandoned taxiway as NDJ airport lacked space for the L1011 freighter. The main tarmac was taken by the Air France A330. Later I met the AF crew in the only hotel in the hotel that all airline crews use. Ours included.
We were supposed to leave again that evening, but discharging the plane consumed more time than expected. And this crew was used to Africa-time…
We left the following morning early empty for our return flight to the Arabian peninsula. We just had to make a quick fuel stop again in Libya. This time our flight plan indicated Sabha airport for a fuel stop as Kufra airport was out of fuel. The captain reported to Sabha Airport directly as proper Air Traffic Control is lacking in this part of the world. After a second attempt to contact the tower and already being on approach, the Sabha tower reported asking why we were actually approaching.
Referring to our flight plan and giving Sabha our fuel levels, Sabha tower reported that landing was practically impossible since the runway was out of order and construction was going on. The crew was happy that the tower notified us at least a few minutes before touch down and so the engines were taken to their limits as we pulled up quickly. The only possible place to land was Kufra again. Kufra, the airport without fuel and with the Ramadan happening, no telling when the caravan of trucks would arrive from Bengazi. All better than crashing in the desert, we landed at Kufra and waited in the November Sahara sun. No unpleasant warmth in the dry desert climate.
While stranded at this Libyan tarmac, I risked all kinds of punishments by taking pictures in an area strictly forbidden to do so. But having the possibility to see all parts of the plane, I could hardly resist the temptation to bring out my camera.
A quick incentive by our crew, paid from a plastic bag, made the unexpected midnight arrival of the kerosene truck come to our Tristar first. Two hours later we were starting our engines and soon I would be flying over the Nile, back to the other great desert. The captain, well in his 70’s, was a bit tired and so the first officer invited me to join him and I actually helped him do some navigation on this Lockheed Tristar. And few hours later we landed safely and I had another story to tell at the bar. A few weeks later I joined the other crew for a flight to Bangladesh, which was just as adventurous and enjoyable.
Unfortunately, these birds are no longer flying.
I was lucky enough to fulfil my dream of flying the most beautiful of them all: the Lockheed Tristar.
Where's the aircraft now?
After the end of its passenger and cargo services, TT-DWE (cn 193N-1093) now resides southwest of Abu Dhabi with its engines still intact. The Tristar belongs to the Emirates National Auto Museum and there is rumors they are planning to refurbish the interior and open to the public with one option being a restaurant.
photo by Lars Hentschel
photo byJulian Mittnachtchel
This photo of Emirates National Auto Museum is courtesy of TripAdvisor