Places

Man Leads the Charge in Recycling Airplanes to Be Used as Homes

By Robin Mei - December 20, 2016
Credits: Image: Mirror.co.uk

A Dream Is Born

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In Hillsboro, Oregon, there is a retired electrical engineer who likes to think big and make his creative plans come to life. Bruce Campbell, 64, bought a four-hectare (10-acre) stretch of land deep in the Hillsboro woods for $23,000. He was a man with a plan.

Campbell has always been a tinkerer and as a toddler he had a knack for creating something new out of old materials. In the case of the purchased land, he was looking to construct himself a home out of several freight vans. And then he found out about a different kind of dwelling someone else managed to build.

Plans Start to Change

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About 20 years after his initial freight van idea, Campbell got word of a Mississippi hairdresser named Joanne Ussery who purchased a Boeing 727 and converted it into her home. This followed her more ‘traditional’ house having burned down, so after that unfortunate event she took the plunge and erected a fully functional airplane abode next to a lake.

A massive airplane as a home piqued Campbell’s creative curiosity, plus he also thought it was a much more exciting project than his original idea. The freight van concept was already in motion, but he shifted his attention to purchasing a plane he could park on the land he already owned.

The Big Boeing Purchase

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Finally, in 1999, Campbell had enough cash to buy himself a Boeing 727 from Olympic Airways, based out of the Athens Airport in Greece. The price? A hefty $100,000, and that was before he even moved the thing.

That daunting feat turned out to be the biggest challenge Campbell faced trying to make his dream home become a reality. Coordinating the move and ironing out the many details added an additional $120,000 onto the project’s cost, bringing the total up to $220,000. Despite the expenses, in Campbell’s mind it was money well spent and, eventually, he would prove himself right.

Parking a Plane in the Woods

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Obviously, this was a monumental project, but Campbell could not wait to jump in and get his engineer’s hands dirty. First, he had to move his Boeing into the deep woods of Oregon. He enlisted several men to disassemble the plane’s wings so that it could be placed on the remote piece of land he purchased.

The wings were removed so that they could be re-attached by Campbell once the airplane was positioned. He always thought this Boeing project would be an ongoing “work in progress,” but over time it began to transform into so much more.

Lessons Learned

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As he took the first steps forward into his labor of aircraft love, Campbell looked at his project as something fun to work on. He did know that he wanted to show that airplanes of this size could be repurposed as functional living spaces instead of being hauled off to the scrapyard when they were finally grounded.

The first few years of the rebuild, Campbell focused on the fuselage. He also made the decision to move into the forest and set up shop in the nearby freight vans he had worked on earlier. After mice decided to move into the vans with him, Campbell began camping in the Boeing. Living there, he developed a deeper sense of what the aircraft could become.

Combining the Worlds of Art and Science

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Campbell gave an interview with British publication The Mirror in which he explained: “Shredding a beautiful and scintillating jetliner is a tragedy in waste, and a profound failure of human imagination.” Unlike what some people might think about an airplane dropped in the middle of a forest, Campbell also said that it felt completely natural to him, saying that aircraft possess an “engineering grace unmatched by any other structures people can live within.”

Throughout this construction saga, no plans were ever used for what was to become of the plane’s interior. Instead, Campbell envisioned what he wanted and went off that entirely. Speaking to Business Insider, 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.”

The Unveiling

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As he was preparing to unveil his Boeing home to the rest of the world, Campbell first had to clean up the exterior by pressure washing the dirt and grime off. It might sound simple, but it definitely is not.

The job can take up to four days and has to be done every two years. Tall ladders are required to spray down the top of the plane, as well as all of the engines. It’s also not the safest job in the world, what with the heights involved (not to mention swinging hoses in the mix) but Campbell looks at it as a worthwhile venture. Take one look at his masterpiece and you’ll see why.

 

Castles in the Sky

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“If a conventional home is a legacy age family Chevy or Ford, an airliner is a fresh new Tesla or Porsche Carrera,” proclaimed Campbell in an interview with the Daily Mail. He feels all aircraft are ready to become an “aerospace class castle” after their time in the sky is over, and they’re simply waiting for the right person to come along.

As it stands today, the Campbell creation is sitting atop concrete pillars set up under its original wheels, and it now has a driveway leading up to it. With all the work that’s been done on it, it’s impossible to miss for anyone taking a trek through the area.

Picking What to Keep Around

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The cockpit of the plane has most of its original instruments and controls still in place, a conscious effort on the part of Campbell to leave as much of the Boeing as he could untouched. The interior is a different story and is now refurbished for everyday living.

It’s a project that is still under construction and will be for some time yet. A shower was built inside, but other standard equipment such as the LED lighting, too-small airplane bathroom, flight stairs and some of the seating have all been restored. What does Campbell’s dream home look like now?

Welcome, One and All

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Making your way onto the grounded airliner-turned-home is eerily similar to what boarding the plane on the tarmac of a hectic airport ‘back in the day’ would have been like. You need to use the fold-down stairs, except instead of cement they’re sitting on the forest floor.

A shoe rack awaits visitors at the top of the stairs, and it’s filled with slippers for guests to put on when they arrive. Maintaining this house is a lot of work, so socks and slippers help ease the hours spent keeping it looking tidy.

No Shoes on the Glass Floor

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Don’t even think about trying to sneak in wearing your outdoor shoes or boots — this plane has a plexiglass floor which Campbell takes great pride in. He may live alone, but he still has his own high standards to maintain.

Campbell practices what he preaches when it comes to the no-shoes rule, and being able to see what lies under the floor adds to his creation’s overall aesthetic.

The Simple Life

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It might have a lot of space to spread out, but Campbell keeps things pretty simple inside his 727. His bed is a futon, heated meals get cooked in a microwave or a toaster and he eats more than his fair share of canned food and cereal.

Here you can see Bruce relaxing on his futon, with many of his life possessions around him — many of which have had some tinkering performed on them. Renovations are ongoing, and the bathroom is next on his list.

The Running of the Water

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At the tail of the plane, you’ll find the shower, although the craft shas two of its original bathrooms still in place. Running water and power for the plane to help provide heated water for the shower is provided by a trench Campbell dug that reroutes a well power line.

He put his engineering skills to use by taking a meter base and attaching an old power cable inside the plane with PVC tubing, telecom cable and a water pipe. Presto! He can brush his teeth and shave with clean water.

A Nerd's Paradise

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Every home needs somewhere to relax and take in some leisurely activities, so Campell converted the cockpit to fill that need. In it you’ll find all of the original instruments, and it’s yet another part of the plane that is always being updated and improved.

Life in a plane is like a little piece of heaven on Earth for anyone who considers themselves a tech nerd, as he pointed ou in an interview with Business Insider. “It’s a great toy. Trick doors, trick floors. Hatches here, hatches there. Star Trek movies in a Star-Trek like setting.”

An Engineer at Work

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Speaking with the Daily Mail, Campbell related how everything aboard his plane provides him with a sense of joy. “I think most people are nerds in their hearts in some measure. The point is to have fun. With that mantra in mind, he spends a lot of his time in front of his computer, planning out the next steps of the plane’s reformatting.

There’s no better way to figure out what works and what doesn’t than to test his design theories in real time, and that’s another reason Bruce loves his ever-adapting hands-on life in the 727.

Turning on the Lights

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Along with running water, every home needs some lighting and Campell has taken care of that, too. When you’re in a forest, lighting definitely comes in handy for a variety of reasons.

What it means in this case is the 727 can keep functioning into the nighttime hours, allowing Bruceto continue his research and work on his plans until the wee hours of the morning if he so chooses. All of the plane’s original LED lights have been repaired, which are more environmentally friendly than traditional household lighting.

Keeping It All Clean

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Living in a forest, there’s also some exterior yard maintenance to look after. On top of keeping the interior clean, Campbell also keeps a close eye on weeds and the health of the grass the plane sits on.

Every week the lawn gets mowed (and keep in mind it’s not a small lawn). He likes his plane to look impeccable for all of his guests, inside and out.

Innovation for the Environment

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It was a question the Daily Mail and their readers really wanted to know the answer to: Why the push to re-purpose aircraft? Campbell has always thought it’s a major benefit to the environment, and that planes are built to last long past their time on active duty.

“Their interior is easy to keep immaculately clean because they are sealed pressure canisters. They could last for centuries,” he explained. It might be a hard sell right now trying to convince people that planes can make good homes, but he thinks once the general public learn of their eco-friendliness, their minds will be changed.

The Kitchen

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You’d be forgiven for thinking that life on a grounded airliner might lack some modern-day amenities, but that’s not necessarily the case. In Campbell’s situation, he’s not far from a city where he can easily make supply runs to.

The plane has a kitchenette stocked full of all of the basics he needs for cooking. He’s not having to eat the usual airplane food so that’s an added bonus, but admittedly there are no gourmet meals being put together in this kitchen.

Take a Seat

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In case you’re wanting to still feel like you’re mid-air without the worries of crashing, there are still some rows of the original seats kept in perfect condition that guests are welcome to get comfortable on. You’ll never see this 727 in the sky, but the seats help remind people of what they’re standing in.

Understandably, the majority of the seating had to be removed so that Campbell could make the plane the home that it is today.

The Make-Believe Pilot

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The cockpit is one of the spaces on his 727 that Campbell loves to get his creative juices flowing, and it’s the spot where he is able to chill out after a long day of looking after his home. Surrounded by all of the plane’s instruments, it’s a games room for those with a wild imagination.

It’s not hard to imagine what it must be like for a pilot to be sitting behind the controls of such a massive machine mid-flight, and losing oneself in the moment is part of the reason for leaving the cockpit as untouched as possible.

Laundry Service

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It’s a concern many people would have when considering taking the drastic plunge of living in a renovated airliner, and it’s one based around basic hygiene. There’s clean water onboard, and a washing machine to keep clothes smelling fres.

Yes, it does take a little thinking outside of the box to make this set-up work, but Campbell is proving anything is possible when you put your mind to it — ncluding never missing a laundry day, even in the middle of a forest.

Daily Personal Upkeep

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Bruce likes to keep his plane and his property clean as a whistle so it probably doesn’t come as much surprise he takes care of himself in much the same way. He’s definitely no Grizzly Adams when it comes to appearance, that’s for sure.

He’s in a remote location, but that doesn’t mean Campbell has cut himself off from the outside world. Like most other folks, he’s showering, shaving and keeping himself presentable. He just does it in a home that used to fly.

Why an Airplane?

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A major benefit to living in an airliner is the basic construction of the plane itself, and the use of metal as the primary construction material. Chatting with Business Insider, he said that “wood is, in my view, a terrible building material. It biodegrades – it’s termite chow and microbe chow. Or it’s firewood; depends upon which happens first.”

He also feels that traditional homes focus more on appearance than on true practicality, sacrificing the strength of the building in the process. “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 methods.”

Logic Comes First

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Talking with Bruce Campbell, you’ll come to realize how serious he is about his 727 home. People will occasionally ask him if the plane had crashed in the woods and he simply stepped in to fix up what was left of it.

He feels questions like that take away from the scale of what had to be done in order to get the plane where it is and to the state that it is in now. His engineering brain can find some of the questions asked him to be a little illogical, but some people are a little more ‘Spock’ than others.

Proud of the Work

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Pictured in his Boeing home, Campbell is outwardly proud of everything that he’s accomplished with this forested marvel. This home is now where is heart is, and he’s surrounded by the tech and toys he loves to experiment and create with.

This isn’t all he has swimming around in his mind, though, and there are other plans he has in the works for future projects that are bigger in scale.

Life Outside of the Woods

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His Boeing is home for Campbell for six months of the year, and to get a change of scenery he makes Japan his residence for the other half of the year. It’s a much different lifestyle compared to what he’s used to in Oregon.

While in Japan there are still projects that keep him busy, but one, in particular, has all of his focus right now.

A 747?

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It might seem that Campbell is a glutton for punishment considering how much time and effort has gone into his Oregon plane, but he’s working on the same idea for a location in Japan. This time it’ll be with an even larger airliner — a Boeing 747.

He’s already done his part in helping the environment in one location he calls home, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise he wants to do more of the same for his second residence over in Japan.

 

Winning People Over

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Campbell is approaching this with the mindset that he can help make a difference when it comes to saving the environment. He craves innovation on all fronts that can help humanity, and he’s putting his work as an electrical engineer to use in doing what he can to help.

“My goal is to change humanity’s behavior in this little niche,” he has said. Turning old planes into something new is an idea that he loves, and he wants the entire world to know more about it

Why Park a Plane in Oregon?

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People wonder why Campbell came to choose Hillsboro, Oregon, as the location for his 727. First, he loves the region’s scenic surroundings. Second, he was offered a job there after graduating in the 1970s. On his website, he further offered this: “I like the area and it’s very green and Oregon is a little independentminded which appealed to me. It’s a country setting, it’s very nice. It’s more than enough for the aircraft”

Campbell never rushed into buying a home, waiting until later in life to make the commitment. He wasn’t looking to get anchored down financially to a mortgage, and when he did have the cash in hand to take the homeowner plunger he had s little something different in the works. “I had stopped thinking in provincial terms and I had thought like a free bird engineer,” he told the Daily Mail.

Visitors Welcome

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People from across the country stop in to visit the Oregon 727, and it’s something Campbell has no problem with. He has slippers there for a reason, after all. Appointments can be scheduled through his website for anyone who wants to see firsthand what it’s like to live on an airplane.

As time passes, the visitors are increasing in numbers. “It happens frequently; it happens almost every day now and I encourage it,” he tells the Daily Mail. He takes pride what he’s achieved, and somewhat boastfully has declared they can see for themselves “one of the finest structures mankind has ever built.”

Life as a Tourist Attraction

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Having your home on the must-visit lists of tourists in the area can come with its share of awkward encounters. This includes having a handful of onlookers come aboard while Campell was in the middle of showering.

About 75% of the visitors to his plane pre-book a time through his website, while the rest wander onto the property at any time of the day. He doesn’t mind this at all since it allows him to meet and chat with people he otherwise would never have the opportunity to.

Winging It

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It’s not just about guided tours of the 727 now, either. Campbell has begun hosting events on the property, including concerts by Tokyo-based singer Yuko Pomily and additional artists between June 30 and July 3, 2018. With the right wing of the aircraft as the backdrop, performers were set up on the lawn for attendees to enjoy.

The series was advertised on his website as “A new concert option: Superb music rendered from a wing of a scintillating aerospace home” and instructed people to dress for the forest. In other words, comfortable clothes and skip on the tuxedos. Tours of the plane were also made available.

Partying on the Wings

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It’s not all about sitdown music experiences either. Campbell allowed a Portland-based company called Murderboat Productions to convert his property into a huge outdoor dance floor between September 7th and 9th, 2018.

Turbulence: A Dance Party at a 727 in the Woods featured DJs spinning on the wings of the plane, and the licenced event was completely sold out.

A Dreamer's Social Life

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Campbell loves life in his aviator’sdream bachelor pad, and it’s not one he wants to change. Love definitely takes a backseat to his projects, there’s no question about that. “I will not marry and will not generate kids. I’m 68 so it’s too late anyway, but I simply never desired to be married or have kids. I enjoy romance and love and I indulge in it as much as civilization will allow,” he proudly proclaimed to the Daily Mail.

Campbell has never wanted to live in a traditional house, so his feelings on relationships might not come as much of a surprise. He gets along great with his neighbors, and he still needs time for his next stage of big plans

Preparing For Japan

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Campbell does split his time between Oregon and Japan, and while living in the woods in an airplane is a dream come true for him, he wants to bring that same experience overseas. This time around, it’ll be with a 747-400.

Campbell writes on his website that he wants to “spark a renaissance of thought about how to utilize this remarkable resource.” He’s doing this through the events he has been hosting and the tours he gives. All of this goes towards his big-picture goal of getting others to consider retired airliners as their future homes.

A Plane for the People

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This engineer with a brain that just doesn’t know when to turn off has plans to begin another renovation job on th plane sometime in 2018. This time around, the location will be the island of Kyushu, a place where both he and the locals will all be able to use his creation.

Amongst other functions, this plane is planned to act as a tsunami shelter for places like Kyushu that are always under the threat of severe weather patterns. Campbell already knows aircraft are designed to withstand extreme weather in the skies, and now he wants to ut that functionality to use on the ground as well.

The Boeing History

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Campbell’s Oregon home is a Boeing 727-400 model, which the Boeing company manufactured between 1960 and 1984. It was designed so that it could land at smaller airports that only had shorter runways, and was intended for short and medium-length flights.

Amongst all of the planes in its production fleet, this particular aircraft is the model Boeing built with three engines that could seat up to 189 passengers. Delta Airlines holds the title for being the last major U.S. carrier to use the model, putting their final plane to rest in April 2003. Northwest Airlines, a division of Delta, grounded their 727-400 later that same year

A Plane's Darker Side

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The Boeing 727 Bruce Campbell now calls his home had lustrous history during its initial life  carrying passengers. One of those travelers was very well known, while the other, unfortunately, was dead.

Jackie Kennedy Onassis, the former First Lady of the United States, flew aboard the plane when she accompanied the body of her deceased husband, businessman Aristotle Onassis, to Greece. The tycoon passed away in France from respiratory failure on March 15, 1975.

A Limited Few

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It’s a very select group of people spread across the globe who have remodeled a retired airliner into a place someone would want to call their home. These individuals can be found in Costa Rica, Texas and the Netherlands, and Aircraft Fleet Recycling Association spokesperson Martin Todd says this group “is happy to see aircraft fuselages re-purposed in a range of creative ways. We would want them to be recovered and to be re-used in an environmentally sustainable fashion.”

There are estimates that 1,200 to 1,800 aircraft will be scrapped around the world in the next three years. In the next 20 years, somewhere between 500 to 600 will be retired. The AFRA focuses on making the public aware of the sustainability of aircraft and their engines, and all of these soon-to-be-retired planes could all be homes one day — especially if people start to follow the lead spearheaded by Bruce Campbell