Trijets are a peculiar thing. They offer a certain novelty that traditional twin or quad jets don’t, that being their distinctive look.
The trijet era was initiated by the introduction of the British made Hawker Siddeley Trident, and shortly after its American competitor, the Boeing 727. Both had certain unique qualities. The HS Trident had an offset nose wheel, primarily to accommodate the amount of avionics beneath the flight deck. The 727 had a rear seat of passenger stairs built directly into the tail of the aircraft.
These were not the only narrow body trijets however, with the Russian manufacturers wanting to get in on the action. In the late 1960s, Yakolev produced the Yak-40, which developed into the Yak-42. These were fairly small aircraft, mainly aimed towards regional traffic. Tupolev also created a slightly larger competitor to the 727, the Tupolev Tu154. Whilst it’s generally considered that passenger trijets still in service are rare, the Russian examples are somewhat rarer. They seldom fly into Western Europe owing to noise regulations, and having seen a handful of Tu154s flying, I’m not surprised.
It was only until the 1970s that a trijet design was considered for a wide body aircraft. Two designs competed against each other, the Lockheed L-1011 Tristar and the McDonnell Douglas DC-10. Ultimately it transpired that the DC-10 was the more popular aircraft. That being said however, for its time, the L-1011 was an incredibly sophisticated and technologically advanced aircraft.
Development of the DC-10 led to the creation of the MD-11, quite possibly the most iconic of the Trijets. The MD-11 took to the skies in 1988, offering more range, greater maximum take off weight and more seats. The MD-11 also featured a “glass cockpit”, eliminating the need for an on board flight engineer.
Whilst the L-1011 has pretty much been retired by every airline that had them in their fleet, it’s only been within the last few years that MD-11s were retired from passenger service, with KLM being the last airline to operate the type. Biman Bangladesh were the last operator to fly the DC-10 in passenger service. In both instances, farewell flights for enthusiasts were arranged. These days, however, the DC-10 and MD-11 find themselves busy with work from cargo airlines and air forces, with replacements steadily being phased in.
It’s impossible to ignore the impact that trijets have had on aviation. Their unique shape offers a distinctive amount of variety when looking across an airfield. Whilst I never got the opportunity to fly on one, I always enjoyed seeing the odd one or two at Manchester - there was a time where Lufthansa Cargo used to send them quite frequently.
A handful of companies have started producing memorabilia cut from trijet aircraft. MotoArt PlaneTags (alas, not something we stock here at Part Of A Plane) have cut tags from a former Aeroflot MD-11 as well as a Hawaiian Air L-1011 Tristar. Recently we were treated to the release of a former United Airlines DC-10 by Aviationtag, which has been well received by the community and been widely popular. We’d certainly like to see more added to the trijet range, particularly something else cut from a Lockheed example.