12/06/1957: Maiden Flight of the Lockheed L-188 Electra

The Lockheed L-188 Electra took to the skies on this day in 1957, two months ahead of schedule.



December 6, 2023

DALLAS - Today in Aviation, the Lockheed L-188 Electra turboprop took its first flight in 1957, two months ahead of schedule.

The Californian plane maker Lockheed designed the aircraft after a request from American Airlines (AA) in 1954. The airline wanted a 75- to 100-seat domestic short- to medium-range airliner.

In June 1955, AA placed an order for 35 of the type. By the time of the airliner's first flight, the order book stood at 144.

The L-188 entered service with Eastern Airlines (EA) on January 12, 1959, after a pilot strike at AA delayed its entry into service with the launch customer. Early customers included Braniff Airways (BN) and Northwest Airlines (NW).

EA operated up to 40 L-188s between 1959 and 1978. Photo: Jon Proctor (GFDL 1.2 or GFDL 1.2), via Wikimedia Commons.

Initial Problems

However, the type's entry into service was not plain sailing. Passengers complained about noise in the cabin, which led to redesigning the aircraft's engine nacelles and positioning.

Tragically, three aircraft were lost between February 1959 and March 1960. Two of the accidents saw the aircraft break up in mid-air.

This came as a massive blow to Lockheed. The manufacturer initially imposed speed restrictions as various design changes to the aircraft's wing were made. These restrictions were lifted in 1961.

KLM was the launch customer for the upgraded L-188C. Photo: RuthAS, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Following the redesign, the Electra would become a popular and reliable airliner. An upgrade came in the form of the L-188C, which had improved payload range and performance.

It entered service with KLM (KL) in 1959. Lockheed would build 170 Electra's before production ended in 1961.

Featured Image: American Airlines was the launch customer for the Lockheed L-188 Electra. Photo: National Air and Space Museum