U.S. pioneer living high life on retired jetliner

Former engineer plans to salvage second jet for home in Japan

Reuters

Deep in the woods and rolling hills outside Portland, Oregon, where orchards dot the landscape, a Boeing 727 sits at the top of a steep dirt driveway encircled by towering pines. For Bruce Campbell, it is home.

Complete with wings and landing gear, which rests on pillars, it is where Campbell spends six months each year.

In 1999, the former electrical engineer had a vision: To save retired jetliners from the scrapheap and give them a new life.

Slightly built and with a charming smile, the 64-year-old Campbell sees the task as part of his goal in life.

“Mine is to change humanity’s behavior in this little niche,” he said as he stood beside the plane.

He lamented the need to power wash the plane’s exterior and to trim the dense foliage.

Campbell is one of a small number of people worldwide — from Texas to the Netherlands — who have transformed retired aircraft into homes, although a spokesman for the Aircraft Fleet Recycling Association was unable to say precisely how many planes are reused in this way.

AFRA, an organization of industry leaders that includes Boeing and focuses on sustainable end-of-service practices for airframes and engines, estimates 1,200 to 1,800 aircraft will be dismantled globally over the next three years, with a further 500 to 600 retired annually over the next two decades.

“AFRA is happy to see aircraft fuselages repurposed in a range of creative ways,” said spokesman Martin Todd. “We would want them to be recovered and be reused in an environmentally sustainable fashion.”

Campbell was in his early 20s when he paid around $23,000 for the 10 acres on which his plane rests. His original plan was to make a home from freight vans, but then he decided on a plane instead. A van still sits nearby in the undergrowth.

He purchased the Boeing 727 after hearing about a hairdresser in Mississippi who had done the same thing. Now, about $220,000, many years of work and several hard-learned lessons later, Campbell is ready to do it all over again, this time with a Boeing 747 he hopes to buy and move to Japan, where he spends the other half of the year.

“For him to be running electricity and flashing beacons is kind of amazing,” said Katie Braun, a pilot and flight instructor who came to see Campbell’s airplane abode after hearing about it in 2012.

“It makes perfect sense that they use those airplanes for something,” she said. “It’s a fascinating concept. I think it could take traction if people were more environmental.”

Onboard, Campbell leads a modest life. He sleeps on a futon, bathes in a makeshift shower and cooks with a microwave or toaster, eating mostly canned food and cereal.