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Air Travel in Australia: Lockheed L-188 Electra

The Lockheed L-188 Electra, an American turboprop airliner built by Lockheed, was the first turboprop airliner built in the USA. A familiar sight in the skies over Australia in the 1960s, it first flew in 1957, and when first delivered had performance only slightly inferior to that of a full jet aircraft, but at a lower operating cost. In Australia TAA and Ansett each operated their two Electras initially on routes between Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, and to Port Moresby from 1959. They were then introduced to other domestic routes where they served with success and popularity until 1971. Qantas also operated four Electras at about the same time both across the Tasman and also to Mauritius where range became an issue.

The 1950s was a transitional period for Australia's two major domestic airlines Ansett-ANA and TAA and its international airline Qantas. The decade began with the carriers operating all piston engine aircraft and concluded with a number of turbo-prop powered types being introduced to the respective fleets. Among the new types was the Lockheed L188 Electra.In comparison with other aircraft types flown by Australia's major airlines, Electra numbers were comparatively small, with only 11 being operated between the three major carriers.

Despite their limited numbers, they proved to be a worthy, reliable airframe, bridging the gap between piston power and the forthcoming jet era. Built by the American Lockheed Corporation, the Electra came in response to requests, particularly from Capitol Airlines and American Airlines, for a short/medium haul airliner carrying 60-70 passengers over an average range of 700 miles (1300 km). American Airlines placed an order for 35 Electras in June 1955, followed shortly by an order from Eastern Airlines for anadditional 40 aircraft. Thus committed, Lockheed proceeded with final design work, resulting in the prototype being completed by December 1957.

Interior, Air California Lockheed Electra

The L188 project, as it had been known prior to the name Electra being bestowed on it, could boast some impressive features. A low wing aircraft, powered by four Allison 501 turbo-prop engines (similar to the power plants found in the C-130 Hercules and P-3 Orion), providing a cruising speed of 350 knots/650kmh at a altitude of 28,000 feetandcarrying 80 passengers .Additionally, range wasincreased to well in excess of 2,000 nautical miles/3,700 km, allowing the aircraft to operate direct Melbourne-Perth services.

Both Australian domestic airlines added a third Electra to their fleets by September 1960. These six aircraft maintained their dominant role for the next few years until the arrival of Australia's first commercial jet aircraft, the Boeing B727, in October 1964. As more jet aircraft were introduced, the Electras began to be phased out, with Qantas being the first to wind down its fleet between 1965-1970 and TAA withdrawing their L188s through 1970-1971. Ansett (from November 1968 renamed Ansett Airlines of Australia) chose another career for its Electras when, in 1972, they were converted in the US to a freighter configuration.

After 25 years of service with Ansett, the Electras were withdrawn from service in 1984, closing a era which illustrated the aircraft's flexibility and strength to operate in both passenger and freight roles. Interestingly, the Electra is to date the last commercially built aircraft by Lockheed to be operated by Australian airlines.

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