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Lockheed Engineer’s Big Party for Beloved Plane Takes Off

Times Staff Writer

Albert Michaels’ heart soars when he thinks about the L-1011 TriStar jetliner.

The 70-year-old Lockheed engineer considers the wide-bodied plane so beautiful that he keeps pictures of it on the walls of his Van Nuys home.

He thinks that the three-engine aircraft is so safe that he schedules his annual vacations so he can travel on airlines that still use it.

But when a co-worker mentioned how he missed the good old days between 1968 and 1983 when the L-1011 was being built in Burbank and Palmdale, it was Michaels’ imagination that began to fly.

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Why not have a reunion for everybody who helped build the TriStars?

So Michaels has booked a Woodland Hills hotel for May 26-27 and is arranging speakers and exhibits for a reception and dinner-dance. He has invited about 15,000 engineers, mechanics and riveters who worked on the aircraft over the years to drop by.

“It’s the best and the most beautiful thing in the sky,” Michaels said. “It was designed and built by a marvelous team of people.”

Michaels plans to publicize the reunion in the Lockheed employee newspaper, which is mailed to workers and retirees. He plans to issue personal invitations to Lockheed executives and various airline officials.

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Tickets to the reception and dinner-dance will cost $10 and $35 each. Michaels said Lockheed won’t be asked to contribute to the reunion’s cost.

That’s probably best--particularly since the L-1011 lost the company more than $2.5 billion and pushed Lockheed to the brink of bankruptcy.

When high oil prices and a recession led to a worldwide slump in air travel, orders for the $50-million TriStar plummeted. By the time the 250th and final L-1011 rolled out of the hangar in the summer of 1983, the aircraft had failed to earn a penny for Lockheed.

It earned a place in the hearts of those who helped build it, however. They think that the plane was the victim of bad timing, not poor design.

Quiet and comfortable, the TriStar can carry up to 340 passengers.

“Many thousands of people had a little piece of that work,” said Jim Ragsdale, a Lockheed spokesman. “They are fiercely loyal to that airplane.”

Warner Center Marriott officials said Michaels’ get-together shapes up to possibly be the largest reunion ever held at the hotel.

“Al’s hoping for 700 people. We’re very excited about it,” hotel executive David Iwata said Wednesday. “We’ll have models of the plane at our front desk. Depending on the size of the group, we may do some crazy things, like have airline seats for them to sit on.”

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Ironically, Iwata said, studying aircraft and keeping track of airline equipment is a hobby of his. And the L-1011 is one of his favorite planes too.

“That airplane was probably built before its time,” he said. “From an avionics standpoint, it was a superior product. The timing just wasn’t right.”

Michaels said he thinks that the timing of his reunion is perfect. After the event, he plans to retire from a Lockheed career that started in 1942. These days, he helps modify and maintain old L-1011s.

“If this reunion doesn’t kill me first, I’ll wind it up soon,” he said. “The years go by so quickly.”


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