A Very Brief Airplane Home Project Guide

10 June 2012


Please also read my FAQs. And check for updates here and in my FAQs later - I hope to refine and perhaps embellish both compositions, time allowing.


I'm not an extraterrestrial nor an android - I'm just an ordinary human being, with lots 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 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. That's the most daunting challenge. Then connect it to domestic water, sewer, and electrical power. You'll also need to perform some modifications to your aircraft. That's a relatively easy task - the required modifications are relatively simple.

Acquiring a jetliner:

I've only purchased one, so my experience is quite limited. But here's my recommendation: Contact several airlines and bone yards, and simply explain what you want. Almost anyone can purchase a retired or retiring airliner. You may bid on the bird you want along with other potential buyers, or the owner may set a price with a first come first served sales priority. They're not terribly expensive, depending upon characteristics and condition. I heard second hand that wide body L-1011's are currently available in the California bone yards (Mojave or Victorville) for very roughly $140K each. Plunk down your cash, put fuel in the tanks, and have your ferry pilot fly it away. Okay, it's not quite that simple, but that's the overview. I've also heard that airliners are expected to retire at the rate of one every six hours until 2020. Every six hours... That's a lot of big jets... (Those last two facts remain to be confirmed.)

There are numerous airlines, and numerous bone yards. I recommend starting with the airlines - see what they have, or have in the pipeline. You can find them with web searches, or perhaps simply call them and ask to be routed to the appropriate disposition department. Here's an airline example: AircraftDisposition.com. And here's a bone yard example: http://Groups.Yahoo.com/group/mojaveairport. (Join the group to access the information.) Peruse Airliners.net and other aviation related sites as well.

Should you consider purchasing an airliner from a stripping company, allowing them to remove some parts from your aircraft before you take possession, like I did? No. Period. No. Don't let any salvage company anywhere within 100 KM of your aircraft, even for a second. Irrespective of their honesty, or lack thereof, a fatal conflict of interest exists: They want to savage your aircraft as they pillage for anything of any value, leaving a grotesque broken hulk behind, whereas you want your aircraft to remain fully functional and beautiful. Their vision is in direct conflict with your vision. You can't fix that conflict of interest - it's inherent. So it's a fatal partnership. In ignorance, I tried it, and it was a mammoth mistake. So don't do what I did. Learn from my tears...

(However, see my FAQs for further considerations about very cheap projects involving salvaged aircraft.)

If the engines on your bird have significant remaining service, they'll ultimately need to be removed as a simple matter of rational economics. Retain an experienced crew, and have them sign a contract stipulating that the removal will be strictly per normal standards for airworthy aircraft, meaning they must observe the same standards and discipline as with maintenance of operational aircraft. And stipulate that only the basic engines will be removed - no ancillary components nor the nacelles may be removed nor damaged. Specify painful penalties for noncompliance - make it legally clear that you're dead serious about maintaining the full integrity of your bird.

And you'll want to clear the cabin of most of the rows of seats. It might be wise to do this prior to ferrying your aircraft (discussed below) so as to reduce the aircraft's mass, and thus improve ferry fuel efficiency and short field landing performance. Buyers for airliner seats, such as collectors, theme restaurant developers, meeting room facility managers (Rotary Clubs for example), local hanger owners, and others can be found. Advertise or auction them on the web if useful. But consider keeping at least a few rows for yourself. You might want to create a nostalgia alcove in your future home. And if they're in reasonable condition, they're perfectly suitable as domestic seating.

Land - your jetliner's future home:

You'll have to transport your airliner to your land. If you don't already own the intended land, consider options which offer substantial aircraft transport logistics advantages. Wide body aircraft can't be transported on roads - they're simply too large. No helicopter can lift even a narrow body aircraft - they're simply too massive. Here are some options to consider:

1. Acquire land near a beach, ideally with a sturdy large dock, with a clear towing path to your home site. A dock capable of supporting your jetliner as it's off-loaded from a barge would be a substantial benefit, but undeveloped beaches with relatively modest inclines can be made viable at reasonable cost. An airport which abuts navigable adjoining water, or nearly so, is necessary for barge transport. And the closer to your home site the better of course. But barges can carry cargo considerable distances, so study the tradeoffs for best economy and minimum risks. Favorable barge transport locations solve a great many problems, and largely free you to acquire any size aircraft your heart desires.

2. Acquire a large spread of land. Maybe in Wyoming, Montana, Arizona, Alaska, or anywhere large tracts are affordable. If the spread is large enough, and has a low approach and a flat runoff, you could bulldoze a temporary hard dirt landing strip to set your bird onto. Experienced ferry pilots can land a large jetliner at nearly empty weight onto surprisingly crude and short landing strips. It's a final flight of course - your landing strip needn't support take-off distance requirements. Optionally, consider contracting temporary use of a nearby ranch or farm owner's land. Your cash would benefit them, and short term use of a sliver of their property would benefit you. They'd probably find the adventure intriguing too, as my neighbors did (and still do).

3. Acquire land near an intermediate (or large) airport. If there's an open path from the airport to your home site, you could simply tow your aircraft to your land. You'll have to work with the airport administrators to determine whether their runway can support your airliner (my sense is that most can). You might also need to pay intervening landowners a one day (or night) crossing use allowance (hopefully they're reasonable people). Bone yards have landing strips too of course - perhaps desirable land within towing distance of a bone yard is available.

If you can establish good transport logistics with any of the three methods described above, you might want to consider siting more than one airliner, because once the logistics are established, transport costs for the second (and subsequent) airliners are relatively cheap. So if there's ample land around your location, consider coordinating with other parties to establish a little (or large) airliner home group. Needless to say, such a home development park would be about as unique as it gets, and a great deal of fun. But perfectly practical too.

4. Lastly, most narrow body aircraft can be transported on many ordinary roads. That's how I moved my 727-200 to my property. But it's not an easy process, and since the wings and tail (and probably radome) must be removed prior to road transport, then reattached later, some rash (or worse) is likely to befall your aircraft. I view road transport as a last choice option. But if it's your only reasonable option, review the details of my experience on this site, then consider your location. If the process looks viable for you, and the costs are acceptable, there's no reason to be deterred. I cut the wings and tail off of my jetliner before realizing that a nondestructive service procedure for removing them exists. I recommend the service procedure of course - it obviously yields a far better final result, with very roughly the same level of labor overall. The scope of this document is too limited to discuss road transport considerations in full detail. If you decide to pursue it, study my experience as described on this site thoroughly, then if suitable, contact me for more information.

Financing:

Use cash. A conventional home mortgage simply isn't possible, so in general you'll have to finance your project yourself. However, it might be possible to partner with some firms or organizations which could leverage promotional value from your project. If you're quite the talented wheeler and dealer, you might be able to engage multiple constructive partners to minimize your out of pocket expenses. You'll have to decide how much of your personal privacy you're willing to forfeit, or how much advertising you're willing to tolerate on the tail of your bird for example. Be careful with partnerships of course - sometimes it's best to just pony up your own dough so that you can maintain a reasonable level of personal control and privacy. How much you'll need depends upon the scope of your project, whether you already own suitable land, and transport logistics. Fuel for flying your bird from its origin point to your land or a nearby destination is not cheap, especially if the distances are considerable. Fuel for transport of your aircraft might cost more than the aircraft itself. So don't overlook that expense during initial planning.

Domestic conversion - the metamorphosis of a jetliner into a home:

In my experience it's terribly difficult for most people to understand that airliners need only minor modifications to be transformed into truly beautiful and superb homes. For most 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 fully removed and replaced with familiar conventional home type infrastructure - most imagine that the aircraft must be very substantially torn down and then rebuilt using conventional domestic materials and methods. But while very common, this notion is wholly mistaken.

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 quite distinct from common domestic class infrastructure design and execution. Jetliners are flying aerospace class homes. And when retired, only rather minor modifications are necessary to transform them into ground based aerospace class homes.

1. Connection of ramp service ports to conventional water and sewer lines is genuinely trivial, and is very easy to implement in such a way as to be fully immune to earthquake damage. No changes to existing plumbing are necessary, except that minor and very easily implemented modifications to lavatory toilets must be made to provide compatibility with continuously connected sewer service, and to insure thorough flushing. Plumbing systems must be augmented modestly to accommodate an added domestic water heater, a modified (and possibly expanded) galley (kitchen), and to add laundry machine, utility sink, and shower plumbing. These are all quite easy, and no destructive wall, floor, or ceiling tear down is necessary because aircraft are designed for easy access to original infrastructure passageways and other substructure. In other words, it's comparatively easy to access areas behind walls, floors, and ceilings for inspection, maintenance, modifications, and repairs.

2. External connection of electrical power should utilize the aircraft's original ramp connector when practical. Otherwise an external power connection must be added, a straightforward task.

3. Electrical systems must be augmented to provide a conventional domestic circuit breaker panel and numerous 120 Vrms and 240 Vrms 60 Hz electrical outlets and connection boxes. But airliners have numerous very easily accessed built in wiring passageways and other infrastructure benefits which make this task comparatively easy. And as mentioned above, no wall nor other destructive tear down is necessary.

4. A 60 Hz to 400 Hz power converter must be installed to enable operation of all the aircraft's electrical systems, including its very extensive and highly efficient and elegant interior and exterior lighting systems. These power converters are readily available, reasonably economical, and easy to install in the aircraft's equipment bay. And no modification of the aircraft's original highly protective circuit breaker panels and related systems is necessary.

5. If wired telecom or Internet line connections are desired, earthquake proof external port connections for them can be easily installed adjacent to any other service connection, such as the water or electrical service ports.

6. Climate control involves little more than the addition of a domestic type heat pump to provide a source of warm and cool air. Almost no modification to existing climate control ducts and process control infrastructure is necessary. The domestic type heat pump air delivery duct must be mated to one of the engine turbine bypass ducts, or more likely to a trunk duct closer to the aircraft's distribution and control ducts, and the turbine bypass ducts for all the other engines must be sealed. The heat pump can be of conventional design, which is very simple and easy to install, or a more efficient ground water thermal sink type, which requires plumbing to a buried water line, a relatively easy task. Or optionally, if domestic water is from a rural well, that water could be used directly as a thermal sink for the heat pump, substantially simplifying the design and installation of the system. The aircraft is a sealed pressure cannister, so outdoor air can't naturally enter, nor can stale indoor air escape. So if the heat pump can't do so, a separate fan must be installed to force some filtered outdoor air into the aircraft regularly. The aircraft is equipped with outflow valves which the aircraft's systems can open as appropriate. If not already part of the aircraft's structure, appropriate air filters and heat exchangers should be added.

7. Access stairs or similar from ground level to entry doors must be acquired or built unless your aircraft is equipped with air stairs. Most aren't. Wheel equipped airport ramp stairs retire from time to time, and could probably be acquired to serve your home. Custom built stairs and other options can address this need too. In many locations you'll probably need both a forward and an aft staircase to satisfy fire codes, unless wing exits are deemed sufficient alternative exits (as a practical matter, they generally are). The stairs must not be hard mounted to the aircraft since they can't flex during an earthquake - the aircraft must be free to flex, sway, and bounce up and down (relative to the ground) on its landing gear during an earthquake - it must be free of any hard connections to the ground.

8. Some fluids, such as legacy hydraulic fluids, should be replaced with environmentally benign but functional options. This is a pretty easy task, and will not cause loss of operation of the systems involved.

That's the complete schedule of significant conversions - as best I recall nothing else is required to convert a jetliner into a glorious aerospace class home. It's much easier and more straightforward than most people imagine. And a lot of the work is genuinely fun!

The critical mojo factor:

In my estimation airliner homes will eventually become the normal, matter of course fate for the vast majority of retired jetliners. Profit making companies will evolve to address the opportunity, and they'll refine the site development, delivery, and conversion process until it's extremely straightforward, efficient, safe, and produces a very high quality end product. But that evolution is only just barely beginning. So you can't just shop the real estate ads for a completed airliner home in your preferred area yet. (Though if you're interested in mine, we should chat - I'm eager to focus my resources on Airplane Home Version 2.0, so maybe we can serve each other's needs.) So if you want one now, you'll have to work for it - you'll have to summon your mojo, be bold, and grab this bull by the horns and wrestle with him until you reach your goal. Many of you can do it. It's not an easy task, but neither is it impossible. If you want it, just go after it. Intelligently, boldly, and vigorously. In my opinion, this is a case where your energies and resources are likely to be very, very well rewarded indeed. Ganbatte!

Bruce Campbell


Copyright 10 June 2012, Howard Bruce Campbell, AirplaneHome.com.

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