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Air America Memories
- Lockheed L-1011 TriStar Articles: Volume 4 -
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Special thanks to Mike Addams for contributing this article. If only I could find a photo of an Air America TriStar, it would be best! All information posted here is believed to be correct, but without any guarantees. For comments or corrections, please email Ryosuke Yano.

Of all L-1011's I have traveled on, N304EA (msn 1005) is rather special to me. I flew aboard it twice when I was in high school. December 1987 and January 1988. Air America. Los Angeles-Detroit-Los Angeles. $198.00 round trip. Return flight was fun as flight attendants let me roam around and go down into lower galley. Took pictures and they gave me safety cards...which Air America printed the ship number right on the front cover. The aircraft was in questionable condition, but flights were perfect as expected...have many more memories from this airplane. Saw it years later working on the ramp at LAX. it was with Rich International...operating for Royal Tongan I believe...

To me...the thought of N304EA still flying all these years after 1987/88 when I rode on it on Air America...is amazing...because I really remember it as being really run down. The same goes for N762BE.....I worked for a DC-10 carrier (unfortunately) but we had Hawaiian L-1011s over at our place often, up until they replaced them with ex-American DC-10s...and 762 was really looking scuzzy. But it went on to Rich International...etc.

But back to 304...I was 17 at the time...was going to Detroit from Los Angeles...to visit an old school friend for the Christmas/New Year holiday...why not stay in sunny LA at home for holidays? Crazy? NO...I had to take this opportunity to fly on Air America`s L-1011s. Paid only $198.00 round trip...Not bad...My parents took me to LAX to meet the departure (if I had my old OAG timetable on hand right now I could give you the flight number). I think it was 915...It arrived at LAX from HNL on it scheduled service...at about midnight...a full load of what I think was Y362 came off the plane...Plane was parked out of view at the Northwest Terminal. Then at about 1AM...50 of us boarded for the nonstop once-a-week flight to DTW.

Entering the L-1011 was pleasant as it was night...and very soft dim spot lighting was cascading down from the grid ceiling. Darkening the cabin more were the re-covered Eastern seats done in brown and burgundy and gray. The first class section was gone...all economy...The Eastern bulkhead was still in place with the sun style design on it. I found my seat...J side right behind the wing...sat down...and immediately noticed that the two window plastic screens had been "punched in" like as if someone had gotten mad and hit them...Well, I stood up and looked forward and aft...all the windows were like that...I wondered about it...didn't know about the technical aspects of windows at the time...Appeared to me as if there was a decompression. I was kind of concerned about it...

Engine start was at the gate (air start). The 3 Rolls Royce RB211s vibrated into life...safety demonstration was done and we whined up and began to short taxi to runway. Departed normally...out over the dark pacific...turning back toward the east...and over Long Beach and the glittering tapestry of lights. Captain Robbins came on and said our flying time to DTW would be 3:30. I had been slightly sick...so dosed myself with cough medicine...which made me really bubbly and talky to the women next to me. I found out Air America had a habit of putting 50 L-1011 passengers together on pairs...but why? To take your mind off things? To make the flight seem more full? Who knows...Well, we finally began our decent through the faint break of dawn...entering thick cloud...after the famous DTW right bank, we landed very smoothly to the south. In cold wet weather, we taxied to the DTW international arrivals building...awful place...in fact, the whole place is awful! My friends, up bright and early, saw the L-1011 but couldn`t`t find the gate, as its was a really messed up building...finally they found me. Well, I stayed there for New Year...and then woke up bright and early one morning to go to the airport...for a 6AM departure to LAX.

Bitter cold but clear skies upon arrival at 5 am at ticket counter...Asked Air America for a rear cabin window..."I am sorry, that is full." Yeah right...They didn`t`t want to have weight in the tail is what I think it was...as I later discovered that no one was sitting back there. So they slapped an old Total Air bag tag on my suitcase and gave me a window A side right behind the wing. Went to the gate...boarded the flight at 05:30AM...wierd because the crew wasn`t`t even on plane. At first, not even the flight attendants. Same nice lighting on board...same punched in window screens...same passengers from previous flight...

Another engine start at the gate...with a rather strong tail wind...and a lot of typical smoke from the RBs...the smoke from the number one engine blowing forward in mass quantity, scaring the couple in front of me, who thought we were on fire! I told them not to worry, that everything was normal. I looked out the window, and saw an American Trans Air L-1011 being catered in the predawn darkness by United. I noticed it had the now familiar blue stripe added to the lower fin. Another ATA TriStar was there also, but with sans stripe...

N304EA rumbled to life...engines whined up and off we went...looking out at a light frost on the wing, the flaps were extended. Then they were retracted, and were extended again...Oh boy...I hope everything was ok! It was followed by a safety briefing by the same crew...and we departed. The climb out was...strangely gradual...due to maybe Chicago? We passed over the whole Chicago area, brilliantly lit up in the darkness...at a strangely low seeming altitude...oh well it was quite a site anyway! We were racing the sunrise.

I started talking to the flight attendants...they were all about 21 it seemed...working their way through school. They told me lots of stories, including a one about St. Elmos fire dancing on the windshield on a ferry flight out of Frankfurt. Ball lightening going down the aisle once. They gave me safety cards...which were boldly imprinted with 304 on them. I also found some in red from 703 (N703TT). They were basic Delta cards with Air America on them....The drawing of the plane on the inside had the Delta widget on it still...(oops!) They gave me a complete tour of 304...showed me the old reel movie system in a closet by the aft lavatories. Played on phones from flight attendant stations...and then took the grand tour of the lower galley during flight, and took pictures. Sat down and had a breakfast a la United...with the same woman I sat with on the previous flight! Then the sun began to rise as we cruised directly over the Grand Canyon. It was truly a beautiful sight. I went up to sit in the first row on right side...first two windows...to look out at the Canyon...and take pictures. Had a really good time on this return flight...we made a beautiful smooth landing at LAX in the nice morning sun, and smog, but it was good to be back home where it was warm and sunny. We taxied back to the Northwest terminal, and it was undergoing major construction. So we had to shut down in the alley and be towed in on the gate. It took forever, but what took even longer was to get the bags...they had a makeshift baggage claim area, and it was a real mess. They had cheap contract labor working the ramp for Air America...so you can understand why everything took so long. I was really tired, but my day was only beginning...because my parents figured since we lived 60 miles northwest of LAX, and we were already almost halfway to Uncle John's house out near Ontario. We would be going over there for the day. Well it was a long day...

Several years later, working on the ramp at LAX, saw Rich International becoming a frequent visitor. We shared a taxi-alleyway with the Bradley Terminal, and saw a lot of interesting planes. Well 304 started to show up, and I was able to stand right under the port wingtip as the aircraft hummed to life and began its taxi. Every one else would run inside whenever a TriStar would fire up, but not me! I asked the ramp people where these RI planes were going to and they told me it was operating a service on behalf of Royal Tongan Airlines. Other ships were N319EA N300AW (former ANA) and 313? But standing there under 304's wingtip made me think one thing; I wonder if the plastic window inserts are still pushed in?

First off...Air America used the original Eastern Airlines coffee pots. They said Eastern around the neck...complete with the logo.

In 1990, I arrived at the employee parking lot at LAX only to discover N304EA parked on our pad, without any markings on it. It really made me wonder. Well couple of days later it was wearing Pan Am markings...really confusing...then it went to Pan Am markings with Air America titles. I found out later it was for use in filming a movie and stood in for a what was supposed to be a Pan Am 747.

Later in that year...I saw an Air America TriStar at the Van Nuys Airport, California. I couldn`t`t even imagine it landing or even taking off from there. It was missing its engines. Later on, I heard that Air America had been liquidated, and the rumor had it that they did not have a maintenance director for a long time and they got busted by the FAA and lost their operating certificate. I am not sure, but I really would have liked to see that L-1011 depart Van Nuys Airport...

This article was posted on: October 13, 2000

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