For the second time in two days, aviation history was written with what was almost certainly the last flight of an aircraft type in UK skies. On Friday, 26 April, the last airworthy BAC 1-11 in Europe was delivered to the Classic Air Force in Newquay, while a day later, on Saturday, 27 April, Atlantic Airways’ final Lockheed L-188 Electra, G-LOFC, left Coventry-Baginton Airport bound for a new life in Canada.
Conceived as a four-engine turboprop to challenge the Vickers Viscount, the prototype Lockheed Model 188 Electra flew for the first time on 6 December 1957, after initial orders had been received from American Airlines (35) and Eastern Airlines (40) in June and September of 1955 respectively. By the time of that first flight a total of 129 firm orders were already in the book.
Type certification followed on 22 August 1958, and Eastern Airlines took delivery of its first aircraft on 8 October 1958, albeit revenue service did not begin until the following January.
The initial production variant was known as the Model 188A and was followed soon after by the Model 188C which boasted an increased fuel load and a higher take-off weight.
The Electra got off to a bad start, however, suffering three fatal losses in the 15 months from introduction. While the cause of these accidents was discovered and a fix employed, the type’s image had already been damaged irreparably as a passenger carrier, and just 170 aircraft were built between 1957 and 1961 when production ceased.
Lockheed is said to have lost some $112m as a result of the Electra programme, however, the L-188 was used as the basis for a design to fulfil a United States Navy requirement for a maritime aircraft – what we now know as the Lockheed P-3 Orion – which was produced on a larger scale.
The Electra served airlines in 30 countries across the globe and was operated in a military capacity by the Argentine Navy, Bolivian Air Force, Ecuadorian Air Force, Honduran Air Force, Mexican Air Force and Panamanian Air Force.
Some 40 L-188s were modified as freight carriers by a Lockheed subsidiary from 1968. The aircraft were given reinforced cabin floors and were fitted with either one or two large cargo doors on the port side of the fuselage.
G-LOFC, the last Lockheed L-188 Electra to fly with Coventry-based Atlantic Airlines, was built as construction number 1100. After delivery to American Airlines as N6123A in 1959, she served Air California as N289AC between 1967 and 1969. After almost ten years in storage at a number of locations she was finally set to work again in 1977 as N665F with Fleming Airways, Cam Air and Spirit of America before being returned to storage from 1988 to 1991 in Tucson, AZ. This time she was resurrected by ALM Antillean, which she served for four years before her arrival at Atlantic Airlines on 15 June 1995.
During ‘FC’s last few months of service, she has been used to performed daily services between the DHL hub at Leipzig, Germany, and Katowice in Poland. Indeed, she was only on the ground at Coventry for some 12 hours after completing her last working service with Atlantic Airlines before setting off on her way towards her new home in Canada, where she will join the Buffalo Airways fleet, made famous across the world by the TV series ‘Ice Pilots NWT’.
Just after 1030 local this morning, her engines were started for the last time on UK soil and she taxied out to receive a well-earned water-cannon salute.
The skies, needless to say, were grey and there was a real nip in the air, though ‘FC will have to get used to much colder than the UK has to offer in her new life.
A short back-track down Runway 05 allowed the small gathering of well-wishers an opportunity to get a little closer to her than they otherwise might, before she turned on the piano keys, powered down the runway and climbed gently away.
After levelling out and executing a right turn, it was clear that there would be one further element to her Coventry farewell.
Turning on to ‘base’ leg, the undercarriage was down and she was flown all the way down the approach to just a matter of feet above the deck, at which point the power came on, the nose was pitched up and she was on her way, smoke billowing markedly from her four Allison 501-D13 turboprop engines as she did so.
A total of 11 different Lockheed L-188 Electras have served with Air Atlantique’s Atlantic Airlines and Atlantic Cargo subsidiaries since the arrival of G-LOFA on 8 November 1993, and the type has served the company well.
Moving forward, West Atlantic – which born out of a 2008 merger between West Air Europe and Atlantic Airlines – will utilise a combination of British Aerospace ATPs, Boeing 737-300Fs and is reportedly set to acquire a number of Boeing 737-400Fs.
Following G-LOFC’s departure, all 15 remaining airworthy Electras are resident in Canada and the prospects for seeing any flying outside of North America again must be remote in the extreme, although there are a couple of what could only really be described as ‘hulks’ remaining at Coventry.