After losing her home in a fire, Jo Ann Ussery had a quirky idea: live on a plane.
She bought an old Boeing 727 that was destined for the scrapyard, had it shipped to land she already owned, and spent six months renovating it, doing most of the work herself. In the end, she had a fully functional home, with over 140 square meters of living space, three bedrooms, two bathrooms and even a hot tub – where the cockpit was located. All for less than $30,000, or about $60,000 in today’s money.
Ussery — a beautician from Benoit, Mississippi — had no professional connection to aviation and was taking an unusual suggestion from her brother-in-law, an air traffic controller. She lived on the plane from 1995 to 1999, when it was irreparably damaged after falling from the truck transporting it to another location nearby, where it would be open for public viewing.
Although she wasn’t the first person to live in an airplane, her impeccable execution of the project had an inspiring effect. In the late 1990s, Bruce Campbell, an electrical engineer with a private pilot’s license, was impressed by her story: “I was driving home and listening to [o rádio] and they had the Jo Ann story, and it was amazing that I didn’t go off the road because my focus was so completely on that. And the next morning I was making calls,” he says.
A 727 in the woods
Campbell now lives in his own plane — also a Boeing 727 — for more than 20 years in the woods of Hillsboro, Oregon: “I’m still on Jo Ann’s shoulder and I’m grateful for the proof of concept.” He has no regrets: “I would never live in a conventional house. – but otherwise it’s a jet plane for me any time.”
That’s not to say he wouldn’t do it differently: “I made a lot of mistakes, including the worst one: partnering with a salvage company. Avoiding this and using superior transport logistics greatly reduces costs,” he explains.
His project cost $220,000 in total (about $380,000 in today’s money), of which nearly half went towards purchasing the aircraft. He says that the plane belonged to Olympic Airways, from Greece, and was even used to transport the remains of the tycoon owner of the airline, Aristotle Onassis, in 1975: “I didn’t know the history of the plane at the time. And I didn’t know it had an old 707 style interior. It was really awful compared to modern standards. It was functional, but it looked old and rough. Perhaps the worst choice for a home.”
As a result, Campbell had to work on the plane for a few years before he could live in it. Interiors are simple, with a primitive shower made from a plastic cylinder and a futon couch for a bed.
During the deadliest part of winter, Campbell traditionally retreats to Miyazaki, a city in southern Japan with a subtropical climate, where he owns a small apartment. But the pandemic has made that difficult, and for the past three years, he’s lived in 727 year-round.
Intending to set up a plane at home in Japan as well, in 2018 he says he almost bought a second aircraft – a 747-400 – but the last-minute deal fell through because the airline (which Campbell won’t reveal) decided to keep the aircraft in service for longer than expected: “We had to put the project on hold and it’s been like that until today”, he says.
Campbell often welcomes visitors and even offers free accommodation on the aircraft, while in the summer it hosts larger public events with fairground rides.
“The artists perform in the right wing, the guests dance in front or behind the wing in the forest, which for the big shows is filled with all kinds of recreational places. They’re not Disneyland-level — just portable cabins with different curiosities and little recreations, but they’re fun.
If you think living on a plane is already extravagant, how about living on two? That’s the plan of Joe Axline, owner of an MD-80 and DC-9, placed next to each other on a lot in Brookshire, Texas. Axline has lived in MD-80 for more than a decade – after getting divorced on April Fools’ Day in April 2011 – and plans to renovate DC-8 and equip it with recreational areas such as a cinema and music room. He calls his grand plan “Project Freedom”.
“I have less than a quarter of a million dollars on the whole project,” says Axline, who has very little running expenses because he owns the land and has built his own water well and sewer system: “The only thing I have left is electricity,” he adds.
For years, he even shared a plane with his kids: “The kids are gone now, so it’s just me. Living in a house, you have a lot of space, but it’s all wasted space. My master bedroom is 3 meters by 5, which is not a bad size for a bedroom. I have two TVs in it, lots of room to roam. My living room is a good size, the dining room seats four, I can cook enough food for a bunch of people if they come. I also have a shower and a bathroom, so I don’t have to get off the plane to go to the bathroom. The only thing I don’t have here that I would have in a house are windows that open,” he explains, adding that he only opens the plane doors to let in fresh air.
The planes are visible from nearby roads, and Axline says that many drivers – out of curiosity – end up stopping: “I have three or four people every day. I call them tourists,” he says.
“They walk by and think, it’s so cool. Most of the time I wave at everyone. I mean, if you have some time, I’ll give you a tour. And if I didn’t make the bed that day, who cares? Let’s see how real people live.”
Axline was also interested in a Boeing 747 – living in the “Queen of Heaven” is the plane owner’s biggest dream – but decided against it when faced with shipping costs.
“The plane itself cost about $300,000, but the shipping cost was $500,000. Half a million dollars to transport it. That’s because you can’t drive it down the highways, you’d have to rip it, cut it, slice it and then put it back together again.”
Airplane “do it yourself”
There are other notable examples of airplanes converted into homes. One of the first is a Boeing 307 Stratoliner that once belonged to billionaire and film director Howard Hughes, who spent a fortune renovating the interior into a “flying penthouse”.
After being damaged in a hurricane, it was turned into an extravagant motor yacht and finally purchased in the 1980s by Florida resident Dave Drimmer, who renovated her extensively and renamed her “The Cosmic Muffin”. He lived in the plane-boat hybrid for 20 years before donating it to the Florida Air Museum in 2018.
American country singer and Nashville Hall of Famer Red Lane, who had a background as an airplane mechanic, lived for decades in a converted DC-8 he salvaged from the scrapyard in the late 1970s. passed away in 2015, he has no regrets either: “I never, ever woke up in this place wishing I was somewhere else”, he revealed in a TV interview in 2006.
Those looking to spend a night or two on a plane home have a few options in the form of hotels; in Costa Rica, the Costa Verde hotel boasts a fully refurbished Boeing 727 – complete with two bedrooms and a terrace overlooking the sea.
In Sweden, Jumbo Stay is a hotel built entirely inside a Boeing 747, located at Arlanda Airport in Stockholm. And if you just want to party, there’s another Boeing 747 that can be hired for events of up to 220 people, at Cotswold Airport in England, about 100 miles west of London.
If you want to leave transient housing behind and come to life inside a fuselage, however, you have to be ready for the challenges: “You have to have a passion for wanting to do this, because there will be so many problems that you will have to deal with the fact that that can get overwhelming,” says Joe Axline, who lists sourcing the right airframe and locating it among the biggest hurdles.
Perhaps this is why several visitors to Bruce Campbell over the years have expressed an interest in embracing this lifestyle, but none have ever turned the dream into reality: “I think it’s very difficult for people: some of my guests have left convinced that wanted to do that and I sent them instructions to help them step by step, but none of them went ahead,” he says.
But don’t let that put you off, adds Campbell: “My main advice is to do it. Don’t let anyone shake your confidence. Work out all the logistics and just do it.”
Source: CNN Brasil
Bruce Belcher is a seasoned author with over 5 years of experience in world news. He writes for online news websites and provides in-depth analysis on the world stock market. Bruce is known for his insightful perspectives and commitment to keeping the public informed.