September 25, 2018 | Matt
Once, in high school, we found the abandoned fuselage of a Cessna behind a church dumpster. We planned to take it, put it in the quad at school overnight, and enjoy watching the administration pace and fret. We thought we were creative for this idea (that never came to fruition), but we had nothing on this man named Bruce Campbell, who turned an abandoned airplane into a home.
Bruce Campbell, namesake of the Evil Dead actor, lives in Hillsboro, Oregon. When he found the body of a Boeing jetliner, he decided that it would fit just perfectly into a plot of land he had purchased with the intention of homesteading on it. Turns out the choice was not only economical, but would also bring him some degree of viral fame when the world learned about his recycling masterpiece.
Campbell, a retired electrical engineer, made one of the most unique homes in the world. He lives with many of the creature comforts you’d assume someone who lives in a plane in the woods would lack. He has also demonstrated to the world that you can definitely think outside the plane (or outside the house) when it comes to where and how you live.
Bruce And His Plane Hone
Bruce Campbell, sixty-four years old, used to be an electrical engineer. Old habits die hard – he has definitely put his engineering talents to work in constructing this very unique living arrangement.
The plane house is built on a 10-acre plot of land he bought for $23,000. Not a bad price for land. Certainly cheaper than buying a house in the city. Campbell definitely does not live in the city; the land is in a remote forested part of Hillsboro, Oregon.
Campbell has always been inventive, even as a kid. He was an inveterate tinkerer, who loved making useful things out of discarded objects. If that approach worked for killing time as a kid, why shouldn’t it work for building your own home? It certainly did work.
Campbell’s original plan did not involve a plane at all. No, he originally intended to build himself a house out of multiple hollowed-out freight vans. It seemed like it would work, and it probably would have. However, a fateful encounter with a story about a plane changed his mind, and his future. Campbell probably did not expect to become known the world over as the Plane House Guy. He was just trying to make himself a cheap place to live.
Bruce Campbell is not the first person to have made a home out of the body of an airplane. A Mississippi hairdresser named Joanne Ussery did the same thing, also with a Boeing 727. Ussery’s home burned to the ground, and she was left floundering for a new place. Instead of moving into another standard home, she chose to embark on a very different path and make a home out of a plane, on the shore of a lake.
When Campbell learned about her story, he was already partway through with carrying out his plan to build a home out of vans. He did an about-face, realizing that just using the plane’s fuselage was much simpler than cutting up and fusing together all of those vans. Living inside of a plane just has so much more of a romantic tang to it than living in a series of vans.
Money would pose a potential issue, though. He had to locate, purchase and transport an entire airplane. A defunct plane obviously costs much less than one that can still fly, but it’s not like going down to the hardware store and picking up some storage crates. Thankfully, he was able to afford it.
Buying the Plane
Campbell had to hunt around to find a plane suitable to be his permanent home. He found a candidate at Olympic Airways, at the Athens Airport. It was a Boeing 727, the same plane Joanne Ussery used to build her plane house. This one came with a $100,000 price tag. Add onto that price the cost of transporting a plane all the way from Greece to Oregon.
Of all the challenges involved in building the home, transporting it in the first place was probably the hardest part. In total, the transportation cost about $120,000 – more than the plane itself. All told, the aircraft cost about $220,000 to buy and ship.
However, it was worth it. Especially when you consider how much it would have cost him to buy a home, or to build a traditional one on his undeveloped land. If anything, he may very well have saved money. And what he sacrificed in convenience and money, he certainly has made up for both in the quality of his life and in the notoriety that came with living in a plane. Hard not to be a local character when you live in a 727 in the woods.
Yet More Transportation
Once the plane made the very long, very expensive journey from Greece to Oregon, it then had to be transported to Campbell’s land. No small feat, considering the fact that a Boeing 727 has a 108 foot wingspan. That doesn’t exactly make it easy to transport it down narrow roads through dense conifer forest.
Obviously, he couldn’t do it alone. Campbell had to recruit a small army of helpers to disassemble the plane, transport the plane to his land and then reassemble it. The wings had to be separated from the fuselage.
Thankfully, it’s not actually that difficult to put a 727’s wings back on the body once they’re removed. It would probably have been easier just to leave them off, but that kind of ruins the visual of living in a plane. Living in a fuselage isn’t quite as cool.
It would take a number of years for the plane house to be fully realized. However, it was worth the effort, time and money. The plane had to be made ready for the harsh Pacific Northwest weather, and also outfitted on the inside to be liveable. The end product was surprisingly cozy and comfortable. Inside, it looks like, well, a home.
Construction With a Cause
Part of Bruce Campbell’s motivation for undertaking this project is addressing what he saw as a wasteful tendency to dispose of disused aircraft, when they could be repurposed in much more useful ways. Instead of letting this 727 languish in storage, to eventually be thrown in a field somewhere to rust away, he turned it into a domicile. Much preferable to the airplane being “mindlessly scrapped,” as he put it.
He didn’t actually move into the plane until a few years after he brought it to his land. Indeed, he wound up finishing the freight van home and living there while he worked on the plane. Eventually, nature forced his hand when the vans suffered a mouse infestation. Not easy to sleep while you have a swarm of rodents scampering over and around you.
Campbell moved into the plane full time, a bit prematurely – he did not yet have a building permit. This is when the project really started firing. Left without options, Campbell had to supercharge his effort to convert the plane into a liveable space. And living inside it gave him a much more intimate understanding of what he could get away with and what he couldn’t, and what he needed in order to be comfortable over the long term.
An Odd Lifestyle
Bruce Campbell is passionate about his living situation. In an interview with the Mirror, he remarked, “shredding a beautiful and scintillating jetliner is a tragedy in waste, and a profound failure of human imagination.” His imagination, however, has succeeded. He now lives in a plane.
He says he gets asked if living in a plane in the woods, alone, is lonely. He says that it feels totally normal to him at this point. He also has nothing but praise to heap upon the plane lifestyle, saying that the 727 has “engineering grace unmatched by any other structures people can live within.”
So how did he cope with actually outfitting the inside to be liveable? Well, pretty much by the seat of his pants. He did not have blueprints drafted up of what would go where, or how the space would be organized. But he had faith.
In a Business Insider interview, he said, “Next time you’re in a jetliner, close your eyes for a moment and remove all the seats, all the other people from your mind. Then open your eyes with that vision and consider the expanse of the living room. It’s a good environment; it really is.”
Even though the exterior of the plane is metal, it still requires upkeep. The forests of the Pacific Northwest are very damp, fecund places. Mold grows rampantly, meaning the plane has to be thoroughly cleaned about once every couple years to keep it presentable.
Bruce Campbell first washed the plane with high-pressure water spray, which is a tall order. Power washing the entire outside of the plane usually takes about four whole days of labor.
Add to that the complication of needing to also wash out the engines and the top of the plane. This requires using tall ladders, which definitely makes it a little bit more dangerous. One bad jolt from the hose could send him hurdling groundward. So why not just let the plane get covered in lichen? Wouldn’t that add to the ambiance? A mysterious green plane in the middle of the deep dark forest sounds like something out of a children’s book. But no, the squeaky clean effect is a more powerful one. The plane is kept up so well that it looks like it just landed in the middle of the field. It also probably keeps Campbell from slipping into full-time hermit mode.
Planes for Everyone
Now finished, the plane home looks surprisingly elegant, propped up above a well manicured lawn. Doesn’t it look inviting?
Bruce Campbell thinks that every single jetliner, once it leaves active service, could and should become a private domicile. He calls them “aerospace class castles.”
“If a conventional home is a legacy age family Chevy or Ford, an airliner is a fresh new Tesla or Porsche Carrera,” he boasted in his Daily Mail interview. Most people would probably take the familiarity of the Ford over the strange new world of the Tesla. But, who knows? Maybe, with time, people will come around to the idea. Especially considering how much it costs to buy a house in most major cities.
Campbell’s Boeing serves as what he hopes to be an inspiring test case. It is propped up on concrete, and even has its own driveway. Honestly, when you think about it, the things he says make a lot of sense. The planes are designed to be weather resistant, and are about the right size for a small number of people to live in. Maybe larger families can upgrade to the 747 model. It’s certainly not a quick fix, though. These things require a lot of work.
He Preserved The Original Components
Where it made sense, Bruce Campbell kept the plane’s original equipment, as he originally got it. The cockpit is still replete with most of its original instrumentation and controls. For all intents and purposes, it’s still an airplane.
It goes without saying that he removed most of the seats from the cabin. Sleeping across three seats may be the height of luxury on an overnight flight, but it’s no way to live year round. The cabin was refitted to be a much more human-friendly space. He also kept the original flight stairs, the bathroom and the LED lighting. He also did not remove all of the seats. Some things he had to replace, or build from scratch.
Living inside a plane has some benefits that might not be super apparent. One of them is that it’s extremely difficult to break in. Not just for humans, either. The interior of the plane is well sealed from marauding insects. There’s also the added x-factor of feeling like you’re living in the future. The sleek lines and light fixtures give the effect that you’re living in a space-age home. Which, in a sense, you really are. Is there such a thing as the stratosphere age?
When you step into Bruce Campbell’s plane home, you do so by walking up the original fold-down stairwell that the plane was manufactured with. Kind of like lowering a drawbridge.
The plane is a shoes-off “house.” Campbell, in order to accommodate his guests, built a shoe rack right by the door. The rack is full of many pairs of slippers, to be used by guests. Communal footwear is about as vanguard an idea as living inside a plane. But Campbell is all about recycling and reusing.
There’s a reason, though – cleaning the inside of the plane can prove to be very challenging. The less dirt can get tracked in, the less of a project the major cleanings have to be. Cleaning a plane is hard enough when it’s just passengers, much less when you live inside the thing.
The door (or descending stairwell) is also open to the public. Campbell is generally happy to give tours to anyone who wants to come see the plane. Part of his hospitality is surely his plane house evangelism. Wonder how many people have followed in his footsteps and bought their own planes. Probably not that many. But surely at least one or two.
Campbell stands inside the plane. He built an interesting feature into the original design. He ripped out the original floors and replaced them with translucent panels. Below them, you can see the plane’s superstructure. He uses the space for storage. It makes the home feel even more cutting edge than it already did.
This is another reason why he insists on socks and slippers – he wants the floor to remain translucent, and unscratched. Clear floors are not exactly the typical design most people use for their homes. But in this case, the strangeness matches up nicely with the general surreality of living inside of an airplane.
It is clear that Campbell has put a lot of thought, and a lot of work, into the aesthetics of his space. He has also struck a nice balance between allowing it to still look like a plane, without it looking overwhelmingly like one. It’s somewhere between “airport terminal” and “luxury home.” Appropriate.
The plane is still not finished, either. Bruce is always tinkering and improving. For example, he still has yet to install a permanent shower. Hopefully the plane will grow more and more impressive with time. We are sure that it will.
Living The High Life
As you can see, Campbell does not live a spartan lifestyle. The inside of his home is, despite the abundance of belongings, surprisingly spacious. He has worked out systems to give himself all the amenities you’d expect of a standard home, efficiently organized into a narrow space.
Instead of sleeping on a normal mattress, Campbell sleeps on his futon. In lieu of a full kitchen, he prepares his food with a toaster and a microwave. His diet consists largely of cereals and canned foods. Much of the equipment he uses, he he made himself. The inveterate tinkerer.
Much of his time is still occupied by working on the plane. Since he is retired, he has more than enough time to devote to improving his living space. As mentioned before, the shower is currently still a temporary one he set up shortly after moving into the plane. Hopefully he will eventually install something a little more comfortable.
He managed to keep one of the original bathrooms in working order. Permanently using an airplane bathroom might seem hellish, but keep in mind that he doesn’t have to deal with turbulence, or bumping into people’s elbows on the way back to his seat.
Water and Power
The airplane had to be retrofitted with electricity and running water. After some endeavoring, he was able to figure out a system.
He dug a trench outside the plane, from which he rerouted a well power line. He combined an old meter base with the power cable, and installed a new circuit breaker cabinet in the plane with PVC conduit, a telecom cable and a water pipe. With this system, he can have a constant supply of clean running water.
Living in a plane in the woods apparently doesn’t have to be an uncomfortable proposition. And when you do live in a plane in the woods, you have the ultimate trump card at any social event where people are one-upping each other with stories.
As alternative housing becomes more and more popular, the idea of plane housing might actually catch on. It takes a little more work than living in a van, but it’s certainly preferable to living in one of those houses the size of a closet. Especially when you can have things like full running water and plexiglass floors. Parties there must be amazing. Everyone wearing their formal slippers and standing in a single file line down the middle of the living room.
The highlight of the plane may be the cockpit. Bruce Campbell kept on a lot of the original equipment that came with it. Both pilot’s chairs are still intact, as is much of the instrumentation. It serves as Campbell’s reading and entertainment room. The big windows make for a lot of natural light and some pretty views, as well.
“It’s a great toy. Trick doors, trick floors. Hatches here, hatches there. Star Trek movies in a Star-Trek like setting,” he said in his Business Insider interview. The way he talks about it, it seems like it’s his favorite part of living on the plane.
“Having lots of little toys enclosed in a very big toy is nirvana.”
A pilot and flight instructor named Katie Braun visited the Campbell homestead in 2012 and had some praise to heap upon it. “For him to be running electricity and flashing beacons is kind of amazing… It makes perfect sense that they use those airplanes for something. It’s a fascinating concept. I think it could take traction if people were more environmental.”
People will probably be more motivated to live in an airplane for the bragging rights over commitment to alleged environmental benefits. But whatever floats their boats. Or planes.
The Command Center
Campbell spends the majority of his time onboard the plane. He has a computer station set up, where he does his work. His work mostly consists of planning improvement projects for the plane.
“I think most people are nerds in their hearts in some measure. The point is to have fun,” he claimed in his Daily Mail interview. Of course, an engineer working on engineering projects in his own home, indefinitely, does sound like a dream come true for him.
It is conceivable that at some point, Campbell will run out of things to improve in the plane. At which point, maybe he will have to buy a second one. Fuse them together, make a plane snake to live in. If he can do it with vans, why not with planes?
Actually, he is planning on getting a second plane house. A 747 this time, that will be parked in Japan, where he spends about half his time. Go figure that the guy who lives in a jet is also a jetsetter. The 747 is a larger plane than the 727, which will pose all kinds of daunting / fun challenges for him to apply his engineering passions in the service of.
The plane’s electrical system allows all the original lights to still function, just like they did when it was flying passengers back and forth. The plane at night, when the lights are on, looks like it’s taxiing for takeoff. It’s both fun and functional – the lights are strong enough to illuminate the surrounding lawn.
The plane’s interior is also lit. Meaning Campbell is free to work, read, etc throughout the night without fear of the power cutting out. He kept the plane’s original LED lights. Which may not be as pleasant as incandescent bulbs, but are more environmentally friendly. Which means Campbell is all about them.
There is actually an organization, called the Aircraft Fleet Recycling Association, that is dedicated to re-purposing old aircraft for uses like this. According to them, something like 600 aircraft are dismantled every year around the world. That’s a lot of potential homes.
The organization doesn’t know exactly how many planes have been turned into homes. But Campbell’s isn’t the only one. There are multiple others, including one person who turned an old jetliner into a boat house. Of them, Bruce Campbell has gotten the most press. Probably because he’s so passionate about convincing others to follow in his slippered footsteps.
Keeping Up The Grounds
The time that Campbell isn’t planning improvement projects or working on implementing them, he often commits to cleaning the inside and exterior of his home, and to maintaining the land around the plane. He keeps the lawn surrounding the plane mowed, and the plants around the lawn kept under control.
He mows weekly and also picks weeds from under the plane. He wants the whole area to look presentable always.
It is clearly his pride and joy. He’s been working on it for decades. He was in his twenties when he bought the land in the first place. And as described, getting the plane has been a huge investment of time, energy and money. However, he seems happy with it. As does AFRA.
“AFRA is happy to see aircraft fuselages re-purposed in a range of creative ways,” said Martin Todd, an AFRA spokesman. “We would want them to be recovered and be re-used in an environmentally sustainable fashion.” His plane house is not just novel, not just comfortable – it’s also a test case for a possible precedent of plane fuselages being made into affordable housing. Not everyone has Campbell’s engineering savvy, but it’s conceivable that it might be a good option for some.
A Plane With A Purpose
The Daily Mail asked Campbell why he was so passionate about putting old aircraft to use in ways like this. He responded that it’s the environmentally responsible course of action, much preferable to simply destroying the otherwise useful structures or letting them rot. He also pointed out that aircraft are extremely durable. They are able to withstand harsh storms and earthquakes, making them a very sensible choice for habitation, especially in areas where natural disasters pose a potential threat (which is everywhere).
Campbell also boasted about how clean the inside of his home usually stays. “The interior is easy to keep immaculately clean because they are sealed pressure canisters. They could last for centuries.
It is Campbell’s belief that when all the environmental and practical benefits of living in old airplanes are laid out, more and more people will opt in. He believes that it could become a worldwide phenomenon. If his viral popularity is any indication, people may be more interested than you might suppose. Whether it’s just out of curiosity for Campbell and his strange lifestyle or if people are actually considering following suit, is unknown. Plane homes are becoming more common, but they are certainly not yet commonplace.
Here we see Bruce Campbell’s food preparation area, which roughly resembles a kitchen. He does not have a stove or a traditional pantry. He heats his food with a toaster and a microwave, and stores his food in plastic storage bins. The system appears to work for him. He eats a lot of canned food, which could certainly become tedious. However, he lives close enough to civilization that it’s not hard to stock up on supplies when he needs them, or go have a meal at a restaurant if he gets tired of cereal and beans.
You can do a surprising amount with what’s pictured. He’s not going to be preparing any fully fledged, ostentatious meals, but he is definitely able to feed himself. As many intrepid dorm room cooks can attest, you can make some really delicious food without much more than a microwave and some spices. The kitchenette also has running water.
The biggest downside must certainly be every single guest who comes over for a meal making a joke about “airplane food.” Or maybe Campbell has a favorite derivative he keeps in his back pocket for tours. His entire lifestyle really does beg for puns. As evidenced by most of the headlines written about him.
It Still Kind Of Looks Like A Plane
As dramatic as the facelift he gave the plane is, it’s still a plane. He doesn’t try too hard to hide it, either. All the plane’s original windows are still intact, and he kept a few of the original seats. It does kind of add to the ambiance. Instead of asking guests and himself to suspend their disbelief that they’re not inside an airplane, he just went with it.
The two rows of seats are more of a visual flair than an actual functional piece of furniture, though you can definitely sit in them. They are meant to be a reminder of what the space was converted from. Kind of a wink and a nod to the home’s past as a 727.
The plane does have a unique past. It was the plane that flew Aristotle Onassis’s body to Greece to be buried, with Jackie Onassis and family onboard. That claim to fame has since been overshadowed by Campbell’s stewardship.
Aristotle Onassis was a shipping tycoon who married Jackie Onassis in 1968. He died in 1975, two years after his son was killed in a plane crash. In his time, he was one of the wealthiest men in the world. He also amassed the largest shipping fleet on the planet.
In His Element
Campbell is clearly in love with his plane house. Here, he’s playing around in the cockpit area. This photo gives you a sense of just how big the cockpit was, and how much sophisticated instrumentation was onboard. Most of it has been preserved as it was.
Campbell says about the idea of re-purposing airplanes to live in:
“When properly executed, the remarkable appeal of a retired jetliner as a home springs from the magnificent technology and beauty of the sculptured structure itself. Jetliners are masterful works of aerospace science, and their superlative engineering grace is unmatched by any other structures people can live within. They’re incredibly strong, durable, and long lived. And they easily withstand any earthquake or storm. Their interior is easy to keep immaculately clean because they are sealed pressure canisters, so dust and insects can’t intrude from the outside. And they’re highly resistant to intruders. So the human hearts inside feel wonderfully safe and comfortable. And their interiors are exceptionally modern and refined, and provide a wealth of unique amenities, superb lighting and climate control, and overwhelming storage space. Once the rows of seats are removed, their profound appeal as a family living environment becomes immediately obvious.”
Since he has running water and electricity, and a makeshift shower, hygiene is not a problem for Campbell. He’s seen here brushing his teeth at a small sink he installed next to his washing machine. Presumably, he has a non-electrical method of drying his clothes. The Oregon weather must make that a challenge.
Campbell is living proof that with enough expertise and drive, you can convert unlikely structures into homes. It stands to reason that he could perform the same feat with other sorts of vehicles. He did intend to convert freight vans into a similar home. Others have converted shipping containers into full-time residences as well.
As more and more people look to escape city life, and are driven from major urban centers from skyrocketing rents, alternatives like this make sense.
These things aren’t super available to people who don’t have some kind of understanding of engineering and homesteading. If you’re interested in your own plane house, or a similar situation, Campbell himself might be able to help you.
How To Do It
On his website, Campbell offers some words of encouragement and advice to would-be plane dwellers. By his account, it’s an achievable dream:
“I’m not an extraterrestrial nor android – I’m just an ordinary mortal human being with a full array of ordinary human frailties. If I can do this you can probably do it too. However, as with all human endeavors success depends upon your will, knowledge, experience, and a host of other factors. And yes, alas, money is one of them. But perhaps money’s not as big a factor as you suspect.
You need to acquire two things: An airliner and suitable land to host it. Then you need to transport your airliner to your land, which is the most daunting challenge. Then connect it to domestic water, sewer, and electrical power using the usual robust 1/4 turn or push and latch airport ramp connectors. You’ll also need to perform some rather minor modifications to your aircraft, all of which are relatively simple and easy. Then you can zestfully enjoy your life in your absolutely scintillating, extremely long lived and almost maintenance free aerospace quality home at a very high level of dignity, strength, safety, security, beauty, and pure exhilarating fun.”
Ready-Made Superior Houses
Campbell says that airplanes are basically pre-made homes, that take a minimum of modification to become full-time residences. He also goes so far as to say that they’re superior to traditional houses, in terms of materials and design.
“Wood is, in my view, a terrible building material,” he told Business Insider. “It biodegrades – it’s termite chow and microbe chow. Or it’s firewood; depends upon which happens first.”
“To me it makes no sense at all to destroy the finest structures available and then turn around and build homes out of materials which are fundamentally little better than pressed cardboard, using ancient and inferior design and building materials.”
They also come already manufactured with electrical, plumbing and climate control systems that are perfectly suited for long term use, without modification. On his website, he cautions people not to leap to the false conclusion that a plane would take massive retrofitting to make it liveable. By the way he tells it, they are basically plug-and-play houses, ready to move into with just a few modifications and tweaks. You do need some education to make that transition, but it’s maybe not as dramatic as you might suppose. If the will is there, there is a way. And the way is allegedly not all that hard.
Your New Home?
Campbell writes quite lyrically about his plane’s virtues.
In my experience it’s terribly difficult for many people to understand that airliners need only minor modifications to be transformed into truly beautiful and superb homes. For many people aerospace infrastructure design is rather unfamiliar in nature and thus there’s a natural tendency to assume that most of the aircraft’s infrastructure, including plumbing, electrical, lighting, climate control, and other infrastructure, should be dismantled and removed, then replaced with familiar conventional home type infrastructure – many people imagine that the aircraft must be very substantially torn down and then rebuilt using conventional domestic materials and methods. But this notion is wholly mistaken and tragically wasteful.
Abandon provincial thinking – in this arena it’s woefully counterproductive. Airliners support, in their original beautiful form, most of life’s domestic needs. And they do so extremely efficiently and elegantly at an aerospace class quality level which is impressively distinct from common domestic class infrastructure design and fabrication. Jetliners are flying aerospace class homes. And when retired only rather minor modifications are necessary to transform them into gorgeous aerospace class static homes – homes of immense strength, immunity to almost any environmental event, impeccable integrity, and gleaming sleek beauty. Keep your bird intact – don’t desecrate its glorious design and execution simply because you feel some inner urge to convert your bird into a more conventional state – into a ‘properly provincial’ home. Sanzan baka desu, hontou ni…”
On To The Next
The 727 is his pride and joy, but it’s also not the end of the line for Campbell. He has plans to construct an even more impressive test home from a Boeing 747.
“Provincial homes can be quite nice. But they simply can’t match the sheer exhilaration and existential thrill of a gorgeous shimmering sleek aerospace class castle. Many people understand this deep in their hearts or envision it easily. But it’ll become especially clear when a well executed example of a fully intact and functional (except thrust) 747-400 home becomes available and open for tours and social events. And in my estimation such an example will spark a renaissance of thought about how to utilize this remarkable resource and thus likely lead to numerous additional superb airplane home projects.”
The new home will not be built stateside. “This example home is urgently needed to provide a compelling illustration which can be easily emulated. My dream is to accomplish this with the Airplane Home v2.0 project using a Boeing 747-400, hopefully starting in earnest in early 2018.
I also hope to execute this or subsequent projects on or near the shores of Kyushu where it’ll serve not only as a private home but perhaps also a crucial tsunami lifeboat for the local community. Perhaps later many such home / lifeboat projects will follow in many tsunami hazard areas in Nippon.”
The lifeboat idea is yet another novel reason why living inside of an airplane might be the smart money. Campbell, on his website, elaborates on the idea:
“The concept of a jetliner as a lifeboat is unusual but sound. It’s difficult to perceive because we naturally associate aircraft as objects which sink rather quickly. But intact jetliner cabins are sealed pressure canisters and, sans fuel, their fuel tanks (primarily the wings) are especially well sealed and durable flotation canisters. Both provide a great deal of buoyancy. Jetliners which impact water in accidents usually suffer high impact force damage which breaches the fuselage, so water flows inside and they sink. (And sometimes they contain partial fuel loads, and thus the wings are less buoyant even if they survive impact mostly intact.)
But fully intact static jetliners, particularly if modestly pressurized and equipped with water pump adjuncts, and especially when the fuel tanks are dry and thoroughly sealed, should float indefinitely unless badly damaged by massive, sharp, and swiftly moving waterborne debris (however, floating debris seem less likely to puncture the fuel tanks due to their strength and geometry relative to debris flows). With proper tethering which allows vertical rise and flexibility but not substantial horizontal drift they should perform as reliable lifeboats. Placed along Nippon shores one can imagine a perspective from space of Nippon itself as a ship, and the numerous aircraft on its shores as the ship’s lifeboats. It’s a compelling vision. Because it’s probably a sound concept.”
A Grander Vision
Campbell is unabashed in his conviction that airplane houses might wind up saving people from being killed by weather events. It’s hard to disagree with him when you see his logic.
“About three jetliners retire from active service every day. If many are placed on Nippon shores they could save numerous lives over time. They certainly can’t eliminate all tsunami tragedies. But they could provide an effective and reliable escape option for many people who live or work in nearby shoreline areas and are thus especially vulnerable. And this can be accomplished economically using a readily available resource which, currently, is usually just discarded as if garbage. Mottainai… Potentially life wasting mottainai… So I believe the tsunami lifeboat benefit should be carefully considered as the overall merits of this project are weighed.”
His plan for the new airplane home is an ambitious one. With a broad range of goals.
“I wish to site an intact (except engines) retired Boeing 747-400 aircraft near Miyazaki to serve as my private home. But the aircraft will provide frequent support for the community as well in the form of full press support, public tours, including student group tours, special events such as unique classes or social gatherings, and, my favorite, Concert on a Wing events, ultimately complete with choreographed aircraft illumination systems, including special dynamic adornments.”
Campbell’s last update on the project was posted in 2016, during which time things were well under way.
“I’ve spent very roughly 40% of my time in Nippon since 2009, leaving my 727 in the hands of trusted friends. I savor the company of loved ones and cherished friends there and enjoy very charming and rewarding recreation, including lots of exhilarating tennis and mini-volleyball. But there’s more on my agenda too…
I’m attempting to establish enough traction to execute a Boeing 747-400 home near Miyazaki City. The hurdles are enormous even though some logistics for siting an intact wide body aircraft on private land look favorable. I must forge at least two key alliances: A partnership with an airline firm in which their normal proud livery will remain in full public view for as long as they desire the notoriety in exchange for favorable terms of acquisition of one of their retiring 747-400 aircraft. And partnerships with government officials and civic leaders to provide a tangible long term connection between the aircraft and the regional community, perhaps including regular group tours or similar community and visitor programs, Concert on a Wing events, and other community support, again in exchange for favorable terms of acquisition and flexible use of the property.”
He has a very detailed plan for how he will go about building the new airplane home.
“I will not allow any component salvage intrusion on the aircraft, except perhaps disciplined service procedure removal of the engines – I will never repeat the tragic mistake which so terribly damaged my 727 project. Instead I seek to share expenses by sharing rewards. In a land where I already owe a great deal of gratitude.
I’m lucky to have skilled and energetic private team support for the project at this time. And some momentum. But I must find success in forging the partnerships described above if the project is to proceed.
When in America I continue restoration and refinement of my 727 home. Money is a less constraining matter lately, but I’ll still perform a lot of work personally and there’ll be other pace limitations. So patience will remain a necessary factor. But at least some progress should become visible unless Airplane Home v2.0 traction builds to an all consuming level. As I hope…
Either way, I hope I can find success. Because these great ships, gleaming pinnacle class symbols of mankind’s achievements, richly deserve a very long and noble second life. A compelling demonstration of that reality is desperately needed to help humanity expose a terrible blind spot caused by a failure to explore its way out of a deep hole of profoundly wasteful provincial thinking.
So that these great ships can serve truly full lives. Standing tall and proud. Almost forever…”
Whole Communities Of Jet Homes
We’re familiar with trailer parks. But jet parks? Campbell envisions areas set up just to host clusters of airplane homes.
“Imagine that the expansive green land area adjacent to that airstrip (not shown in the images in those links) was developed into numerous individual plots for wide body aircraft homes – perhaps one hundred or more spectacular jetliner homes, each on its own three to five acre plot. Such projects would conserve a superb human resource and at the same time create truly unique and scintillating communities of aerospace class homes. They would represent the proper evolution of aircraft bone yards, whose time should have passed long ago, into beautiful jetliner home communities, whose time is long, long overdue. I hope to at least witness such a project within my lifetime.
Bureaucracy hurdles are always a factor of course. They vary by region and culture from a relatively minor consideration to an overwhelming one. Excellent planning substantially reduces bureaucracy problems, but in my Boeing 727 project case speed may have been beneficial too – it progressed quickly from proposal to the local bureaucracy to actual move, so the excitement associated with its novelty remained fresh until transport of the aircraft was complete. So perhaps major bureaucratic problems didn’t develop primarily because there wasn’t much time for them to evolve – everyone remained intrigued as the project proceeded quickly, leaving little time for unwarranted fears about possible future problems to develop.
And that’s a good thing, because jetliners can, and should, be transformed into wonderful homes – retirement into an aerospace class castle should be every jetliner’s constructive fate. They should never be mindlessly scrapped – in my view shredding a beautiful and scintillating jetliner is a tragedy in waste and a profound failure of human imagination. And the time for humanity to recognize this is long, long overdue.”
Read the Warning Label
As mentioned before, Campbell is generally open to giving visitors tours of the 727. However, it comes with a litany of safety precautions visitors are asked to read and consider before they commit.
“All visitors must agree to do so entirely at their own risk and expense. This is still an unconventional construction site with significant and unusual safety hazards. So all visitors must read, understand, and fully agree to all relevant safety and legal disclaimer information.
My grounds are genuinely dangerous, so please study the risks very carefully and exercise immense care while here. Be aware that your visit must be entirely at your own risk – I disclaim any and all liability for any losses, even including from hazards which lie well outside even industrial or construction area safety codes or practices. In part hazards include heavy support structures which are precarious so remain well clear of any structure which could possibly fall or shift. And many surfaces, including the turf, though they may look tractive, are often remarkably slippery – sometimes wet black ice class slippery. I have decades of experience here of course and am very cautious but nonetheless have suffered significant injuries. My grounds are just plain dangerous – unusually so. And sometimes with powerful stealth, particularly during moist conditions.”
A Home With A Learning Curve
The fine print continues.
“Wooden support structures could become unstable under certain circumstances. It’s best to remain generally clear of them. Don’t apply any force to any part of them because falling wood beams, which are very heavy, could kill. The hard metal stairs leading to the interior of my aircraft are a bit steep and can be somewhat slippery at times. All stairs can be dangerous – falls on stairs can cause serious injury or death. The interior is not yet equipped with a full set of final floor panels so care must be exercised while negotiating areas with loose, weak, or missing floor panels to avoid a fall. My property, including the area around my aircraft, is often slippery in many areas, and there are numerous hard metal objects, some with sharp edges, on my site – a slip on wet grass which results in a fall to a sharp or hard metal object could be very serious or even fatal. The wings have no safety railings. If you elect to walk on them stay clear of the edges, significantly slanted areas, and the movable ailerons (which are not rigged so would abruptly rotate down) to avoid a fall.”
So, while the plane home does confer a whole host of benefits, as described before, it is still a somewhat unusual living environment that comes with its own set of problems.
Want to see the plane for yourself? Bruce has some steps for you to follow.
“Whenever I’m in Oregon you’re welcome to schedule an interior tour of my aircraft during which you may capture personal media. Please contact me via email to arrange a date and time. (About 13:00 or later in the afternoon is often best for me.) And please remind me one day prior to your visit date.
Or you may visit my grounds unannounced to capture outdoor media or fly a drone during any daylight time – you’re not obliged to advise me of outdoor only visits. But if so please depart my grounds by dusk since unscheduled visitors who linger into darkness make me uncomfortable. (But you may fly a drone after dusk if you can pilot it safely.) I often welcome unscheduled guests inside but only scheduled guests are assured interior access.
Other visitors might arrive at any time so guest time sharing might be involved. Or press production work which usually demands most of my focus might occur during your visit.
Due to global connections I sleep at odd times and nap often. If asleep when you arrive wake me vigorously with firm knocks on my aft door at the top of my air stairs or call my cell phone or both until you rouse me. Please do wake me boldly so I can provide full cabin and flight deck access for you.”
Visits Can Be Interesting
If you do drop in, probably best to give him some advance warning. Though it’s apparently not mandatory.
“I’m genuinely happy to provide full, cheerful, and flexible access but guests stream through my personal home almost daily and often sans an appointment so it’s impractical to try to segregate my private life from my aircraft’s public role. So visits are intimate – please allow me to live in my usual highly informal and chaotically sequenced life as we share my home. In recent times my cabin’s a bit untidy and I’m often engaged in fabrication, investing, v2.0 project, or communication work which I often multitask with guests.”
It’s pretty remarkable that Bruce is willing to be on-call for complete strangers. That’s the depth of his commitment to his mission. If you want to catch a slice of Bruce’s unfiltered life, you can apparently just show up at his door and ask. It will surely be a memory you are not likely to forget anytime soon.
That freedom does come with some risks for the visitor other than the physical dangers described previously. Campbell goes on to warn that your candid view of his life may get very candid, indeed.
Bruce In The Raw
On his website, Bruce warns that if you come calling, there’s a chance you’ll see him naked.
“Also please accept that incidental nudity occasionally occurs. My home’s sleeping and shower areas are fully open (not walled) within my cabin, I don’t shade my cabin windows, I wear no clothing during naps or some other times, especially when weather conditions are hot, and I sleep and shower as the day’s logistics dictate rather than on a predictable schedule. I don clothes when clearly aware of guests, unless showering, but guests frequently arrive impromptu or only approximately scheduled, or my tasks lag, or inattention occurs due to focus on other matters – real life is chaotic. So please be pragmatic as a simple matter of time utilization efficiency. I want guests to feel completely comfortable but frankly I don’t view this matter as important enough to render my home less accessible, transparent, and convenient to visit. So exercise a little caution if kids are with you or you’re uncomfortable with nudity. Otherwise please recognize that life in a highly transparent home is a great deal more practical if none of us are neurotic about nudity – if it occurs please just disregard it and enjoy your visit as usual.”
Oregon has highly variable weather. Depending on what time of year you visit Bruce, you may encounter the stereotypical gloom, or it may be brilliantly sunny.
“My aircraft is nestled in a highly shaded forest environment and is often much colder than visitors expect, but can also be hot during sunny periods – it might be as cold inside my aircraft as outside, or quite hot. So I recommend layered clothing to provide extra warmth but with the option of removing layers so you can adjust to your ideal comfort level.
Please don’t spin your tires on my dirt road due to serious erosion which can result. My road is initially narrow and steep so you might need a little momentum to crest the first portion. A practice entry or two might be necessary to acquire a sufficient feel for it to be able to negotiate it sans tire spinning. In heavy moisture or snow conditions it might be impassible for many vehicles. If so please locate a safe place to park and walk rather than attempt to drive up my road.”
Rest assured that the interior of the plane will live up to Bruce’s portrayal as a little slice of climate-controlled, sealed heaven.
Come One, Come All
Campbell has opened his home for anyone who’s curious enough to visit.
“All ages are welcome so long as safety can be maintained and the shoe related sterile procedure can be managed properly. (But I have no used diaper provisions so please manage their disposal yourself.) Pets are welcome too but must remain outside – they’re not allowed to board my aircraft.
Utterly casual minimal value clothing is best for my rural environment. Please wear sport shoes or similar with soles which grip surfaces very well (heels, even of modest height, or hard sole shoes are utterly incompatible and a serious safety risk so don’t wear them). Otherwise any style of expendable clothing is perfectly fine.
Shoes are absolutely never allowed inside my aircraft. But don’t remove your shoes outside nor on my air stairs – don’t soil your socks and then enter my cabin. First enter my cabin via the aft air stairs door, then remove your shoes while on the entry carpet, which is a dirt exposed surface. But don’t touch the entry carpet with your socks – instead step onto the transparent floor panels with your socks, leaving your shoes on the entry carpet. It’s a sterile procedure: Manage your shoe removal so that nothing which ever touched a dirty surface touches the transparent floor panels of my cabin.”
A Plane With History
Visitors may be interested in seeing the plane not only to marvel at Bruce’s engineering accomplishments, but also to step into a piece of history. The plane was the same airplane that transported the body of Aristotle Onassis back home to Greece, after he died in France from respiratory failure. He passed away on March 15, 1975. His wife Jackie Kennedy Onassis traveled with his body back to Greece.
Campbell breaks down the math behind acquiring such a plane:
“I paid $100K for my aircraft, but that was in 1999. The costs of staging site rent, wing and tail removal, moving, and other logistics totaled very roughly another $120K. So the total cost of my project thus far is very roughly $220K.
My logistics costs allocated roughly as follows:
$17K to move my aircraft from the airport across a road to the staging site next door.
$20K for staging site rent (about 4 months).
$21.6K to remove the wings and tail.
$25K to move it to my home site.
$20K in ancillary and miscellaneous costs.
But very roughly 30% of those costs were mud and weather delay costs – the price of executing the project in Oregon during a La Nina winter. And another very roughly 20% were learning curve costs – the price of choosing inappropriate vendors in some cases and inefficient methods in some cases. One of the few logistics costs which was superbly handled was the move from the staging site to my property – I found a wonderful pair of vendors and they executed the move immaculately and with truly excellent cost control. If you get good advice from those of us who’ve been down this road, execute your project during the summer or in a dry climate, find excellent support vendors, can retain an inexpensive staging site for wing and tail removal, and, if a salvage company is involved, arrange removal of their items on your home site, you could reduce the logistics costs to a far, far lower level.”
Your Future Home?
If you want your own, Campbell can give you some idea of how much it might cost:
“The bottom line: You might be able to create a Boeing 727-200 or similar home, perhaps entirely intact except engines, for about $100K if everything’s very well managed and executed. Maybe about $50K if everything’s exceptionally well managed. And a substantially salvaged bird project could be executed for much less. But have cash reserves – you dare not cut it too close and get caught in a financial bind that necessitates abandonment.
Exploring the minimum cost side further, a basic fuselage stripped of any components of value to the aviation industry could be acquired for very roughly $15K or perhaps much less depending upon the model and size of the aircraft, scrap metal prices, their transport costs, labor costs, and secondary factors. And a basic fuselage still provides the fundamental attributes needed to make an aerospace quality home if the salvage company which strips the aircraft isn’t brutal and thoughtless with their work and you’re reasonably adept at re-rendering areas which are stripped down to a skeleton level such as the flight deck, equipment bays, galleys, and numerous other smaller areas. ”
Are you going to live in a plane? Probably not. But it’s still a good idea.
Matt lives in Southern California. He is interested in politics, history, literature and the natural world.