First Person

July 11, 2014 4:50 pm

First person: ‘I live in an airplane’

Former electrical engineer Bruce Campbell’s address for the past 10 years has been a Boeing 727 in rural Oregon
Bruce Campbell©Chris Mueller

Bruce Campbell with his Boeing 727 dream home

I’ve lived in a Boeing 727 on my property in rural Oregon, near Portland, for 10 years. Airliners are retired and scrapped from the world’s fleet every day. These are glorious airspace castles. I thought, if nobody really wants them, then why can’t I have one?

My airplane home is 136ft long. I paid $100,000 for it, and another $120,000 to move it on to my land. It serves my every need: it has two galleys and three lavatories. I sleep on a futon; makes a nice sofa, too. My philosophy is that the aircraft was designed by people who sweated over every little detail. Don’t destroy it – just retain what’s already there.

I’m a former electrical engineer and the idea of living in a jet came about when I was getting ready to build my retirement dream home – I’m 64 now. I thought about building a geodesic dome or welding together shipping containers. I had no idea it was possible to buy an airliner. Then one day I was driving home from tennis with friends and I heard on the radio about a hairdresser in Mississippi who lived in a Boeing 727. It’s amazing I didn’t collide into anything. The moment I heard that, I knew I could do it too.

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My jet has a bit of celebrity history. It entered service for Olympic Airways in Greece in 1969 and carried Aristotle Onassis’s body from the city in which he died in 1975 to his home town where he was buried, with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and the Kennedy Onassis entourage on board.

The salvage company that sold me the jet flew it from Greece to Hillsboro airport near my home. We took off the wings and tail and moved the aircraft over public roads. The fuselage barely squeezed through downtown Hillsboro. My neighbours, who are nut farmers, allowed me to tow the aircraft up their driveway. A neighbour and I reattached the wings by hand using small pulleys and a little bottle jack, which took several days. The tail, though, was another matter: for that I had to rent a crane.

There is an endearing spiritual quality about jetliners but just from a clinical engineering perspective, a jetliner is a far superior structure to a conventional home. Between sticks and metal spikes, and aerospace technology, it was a no-brainer.

Bruce Campbell taking a shower©Chris Mueller

Bruce Campbell taking a shower

It’s still a project in progress, though. When it arrived, the plane had a scruffy, older-style Boeing interior. It didn’t have overhead compartments, just hat racks. I sold most of the seats since they weren’t in good condition and just cluttered up the cabin. I have no need for walls.

I’ve tried to retain the cockpit in its original form and have restored the landing and navigation lights. The anti-collision beacons are working. I haven’t installed a doorbell yet but I’ve got an escape slide intact and ready to go. The county building codes say you must have escape stairs in case of fire. My reply is: I’ve got an escape slide.

Electrical engineering is the love of my life, and there are intriguing gadgets everywhere in my 727. I still run into things that I’ve never seen, even though I’ve crawled through every nook and cranny of this aircraft, in places you just can’t imagine a human being could get, like the wings and inside the tail. There are little catacombs all over.

I want other people to appreciate how retired jetliners can be transformed into amazing homes, so I’ve set up AirplaneHome.com to spread the word. My next project will be a Boeing 747 400. It has 4,500 sq ft of aerospace exhilaration in the cabin areas, and crew sleeping areas tucked away in secret niches, which is very appealing.

My partner is Japanese and I live with her in Japan for part of the year, so I’d like to install the 747 in Miyazaki. At the moment, she doesn’t quite understand what it must be like to live in an airliner. She knows that I am in love with the concept, and we’re in love, so my feeling is that she’ll fall in love with it later. We’ll see, of course.

Photographs: Chris Mueller

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