Deep in the Oregon woods and rolling hills outside the Portland suburbs, where orchards dot the landscape, a Boeing 727 appears to have landed at the top of a steep dirt driveway encircled by towering pines. For Bruce Campbell, it is home.
Complete with wings, and landing gear resting on pillars, it is where Campbell spends six months of the year. In 1999, the former electrical engineer had a vision: To save retired jetliners from becoming scrap metal by reusing them.
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, lamenting the need to power wash its exterior and 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 a living space or other creative project, although a spokesman for the Aircraft Fleet Recycling Association was unable to say precisely how many planes are re-used this way.
AFRA, an organization made up of industry leaders including Boeing that focus on sustainable end-of-service practices for airframes and engines, estimates that 1,200 to 1,800 aircraft will be dismantled globally over the next three years, and 500 to 600 will be retired annually over the next two decades.
“AFRA is happy to see aircraft fuselages re-purposed in a range of creative ways,” said AFRA spokesman Martin Todd. “We would want them to be recovered and be re-used 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 a plane would be better. A van still sits nearby, covered in growth.
He purchased the 727 after hearing about a Mississippi hairdresser who had done it. 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 also spends half of the year.
Campbell is working to restore some of the plane’s original features, from the cockpit to flight stairs, a working lavatory, LED lighting and some of the seats.
“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 the airplane home after learning 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.”
The transition wasn’t easy. While restoring the plane, Campbell spent years living in a mobile home. When that became infested with mice, he moved into the aircraft, despite lacking a building permit.
On board, 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. A shoe rack with numerous pairs of slippers greets visitors, and he asks that everyone wear slippers or socks to avoid tracking in dirt.
While Campbell has created a website with details on rebuilding planes, he’s not the only one with such a vision. Aircraft have been made into homes in Texas, Costa Rica and the Netherlands. And Florida has an airplane boat.