The Lockheed Electra has the distinction of being the only large United States transport aircraft to be built with turboprop engines and - like the Bristol Britannia in the UK - was to find its bright prospects ruined by airframe problems and the oncoming jet age.|
The type emerged from an American Airlines requirement for an aircraft to compete with Capital Airlines' new Vickers Viscount turboprop. Amerian ordered 35 aircraft and Eastern followed suit with an order for 40. The L188 was a much larger aircraft than the Viscount, with seating for 100 passengers, and was powered by four Allison 501 engines.
By the time of the first flight, on December 6, 1957, orders for 144 aircraft had been received and Eastern was the first to put it into service on domestic routes in January 1959. American's operations were delayed by a pilots' strike but, no sooner had it done so, in January 1959, than one of its aircraft crashed. Two further crashes, involving Braniff and Northwest aircraft, led to detailed tests which discovered a major design defect in the engine mountings.
Lockheed redesigned the aircraft and the Modified Electra II returned to service in February 1961. The later L188C increased fuel for long range routes but only 55 were built. The crashes, and the introduction of such types as the Boeing 720 and 727, effectively killed off the type and just 170 were built in total.
Despite this the basic soundness of the design was vindicated with its selection by the U.S. Navy as its maritime reconnaisance aircraft. The P3 Orion is still in widespread service and is the most produced aircraft of its type.
Today the Electra is still in limited passenger airline service around the world, although one well-known operator Reeve Aleutian in Alaska folded in 2001. The type has also found favor as a freighter, with Atlantic Airlines in the UK operating several of the type across Europe.