A Man Bought An Old Airliner For $100,000 – Then Transformed The Interior Into A Spectacular Home

There can’t be too many people who’d see an old airliner as a perfect place to live. But when Oregon man Bruce Campbell purchased a retired plane for $100,000, he had a vision. He had the imagination and the skill to set about turning the passenger jet into a home. And the result of this flight of fancy is a piece of real estate that really is something else.

Campbell himself has confessed to being something of an “old nerd” by nature. After all, as a former electrical engineer, the senior citizen has spent much of his life pursuing technological achievements. He has never married, and he’s claimed on his own website to be “socially inept” as a person.

Yet while Campbell may think of himself as a geek, this doesn’t mean that he’s averse to a spot of adventure. This is probably why he purchased a ten-acre plot in the woods when he was a young man in his 20s. This space is situated outside Hillsboro, which itself is near the Oregon city of Portland.

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When it came to making a home for himself, Campbell was skeptical about the generally accepted way one goes about purchasing a property. In 2017 he was interviewed for an episode of FLORB’s YouTube series Alternative Living Spaces. In it, the former engineer explained, “When I was young, I didn’t want a mortgage.”

Since Campbell didn’t want to borrow the money to buy a home, he went about things differently. He revealed, “I could have purchased a home and shouldered a mortgage like most people do. But I was happy enough living in a very humble and very inexpensive mobile home.” So that’s what he did.

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While Campbell lived modestly in a mobile home on his plot of land, he was able to save and invest some of the spare cash he had. He told Alternative Living Spaces, “My intention was to wait until I could buy a home with cash. Then, I would never be tied down to the shackles of debt.”

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Eventually, Campbell had saved up enough money to put towards a home. However, by that point, his idea of the perfect abode had changed somewhat. He explained, “By that time I had stopped thinking in provincial terms. Aerospace technology seemed like a wonderful option.” And so, he looked to the skies for inspiration.

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Campbell’s original plan was to build himself a home on his acreage using freight wagons. However, that was before he came across the self-explanatory Aircraft Fleet Recycling Association. And after he had aligned himself with this international non-profit group, there was only one possible structure that Campbell could use in his house build.

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The Aircraft Fleet Recycling Association believes in the preservation of retired airplanes. That said, these advocates of antiquated air transport do not simply want to restore aircrafts. Instead, the movement believes that the superannuated structures should be converted to fulfill other uses such as homes. And that’s where Campbell comes in.

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On his website, Campbell has expanded on his green thinking about grounded aircraft with extreme enthusiasm. “Retired airliners are profoundly well designed,” he wrote. “[They] can last for centuries (with effective corrosion control), are extremely fire resistant and provide superior security. They’re among the finest structures mankind has ever built.”

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However, according to Campbell, most aircraft meet a sorry end. Numerous planes are retired each day across the globe. And he suspects that the vast majority of these are simply scrapped. You see, while salvagers may be interested in jet engines, the rest of the structure, apparently, is often deemed worthless.

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With this in mind, Campbell thinks it a crime that the vast majority of the world’s aircraft are scrapped after their service. As a result, the Portland man committed himself to saving at least one plane from the same fate. In doing so, he hoped to inspire more people to do the same.

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Campbell finally found the perfect craft for his project in 1999. It was a retired Boeing 727 passenger jet, and it came with a rich history. Before it was decommissioned, the plane had once transported the body of shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis home to his native Greece in 1975. His world-famous wife Jackie Onassis sat in the cabin for the journey.

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Campbell was sold, and after handing over $100,000 the plane was his. Not bad for a multi-million-dollar piece of high technology. However, it wasn’t long before the retired engineer encountered his first dilemma. Namely, how would he get the beast of a jetliner to its new home on Campbell’s land?

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Well, it turns out that the move was pretty straightforward. Explaining how the aircraft made it to his plot, Campbell told Alternative Living Spaces, “Wayne Grippin house movers and Swanson Trucking managed to move the aircraft from the staging site next to the Hillsboro Airport through this path which you can see was cut in my forest up to the site.”

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Once the plane was on his land, Campbell set about securing it in a very particular way. Since his plot sits atop the Cascadia fault, it was important that the engineer made his new home as earthquake-proof as possible. So, he kept the aircraft’s landing gear intact so that it could be used to stabilize the jet in a tremor.

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By perching the plane on its landing gear, it had some flexibility of movement. Campbell explained, “The idea is to enable the aircraft to dance freely in an earthquake.” However, he already seemed pretty convinced that his new home would be fit to withstand such a natural disaster if one occurred.

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Campbell pointed out, “After an earthquake newscasters never say, ‘Oh gosh, it’s such a shame – all the aircraft at the airport were badly damaged and there are so many vehicles which are shaken and damaged.’ That never happens. These are independent vessels, they’re on their own suspension system. They ride it out, it’s no big deal, no damage occurs unless something falls onto them.”

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With the plane secured in place, the hard work could really begin. So, the engineer got to work transforming the jet into somewhere that he could call home. The renovations would cost a further $120,000, mind you, taking Campbell’s total outlay to $220,000. However, for the engineer, the sky was the limit as far as expenditure was concerned.

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While living inside an aircraft may not be the most conventional thing to do, Campbell was sure he took care of all the practicalities. When the plane was operational, a service door allowed water to be piped in. So, Campbell expanded this feature, also connecting an electricity supply and a telephone line to his home.

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Aside from running water and electricity, Campbell’s aircraft also has two working toilets. The two lavatories are situated at the back of the plane and share one sewage connection that transports waste out of the aircraft via another service door. As a result, the engineer had all the regular amenities on board.

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But not only is Campbell’s plane practical, it’s fun too. You ascend the engineer’s home via a set of “air stairs” which retract and extend. The steps bring you up to the rear of the aircraft, where Campbell has installed what he described to Alternative Living Spaces as a “very crude, primitive shower.” This is basically a hose inside of a plastic tub.

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Also at the back of the plane are two toilet areas, one of which Campbell describes as his “guest lavatory.” To the untrained eye, the bathrooms seem to be pretty much unchanged from when they were used onboard the commercial aircraft. As a result, they are compact and simply feature a toilet, basin and a mirror.

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Up from the bathrooms, is what Campbell – using proper aircraft terminology – refers to as the “aft galley.” And there’s heaps of storage space. Giving a tour of his unusual pad on Alternative Living Spaces, he explained, “My aft galley is filled with all kinds of industrial or construction-related material at the moment.”

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But while the aft galley was functioning just as a storage room at that point, Campbell had big plans for the space in the future. He revealed, “At some point or other it will evolve into either a laundry room or for some other purpose, or maybe a kitchen. I don’t know. I’ll let evolution take its course.”

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Further into the interior of his plane, Campbell has established a kind of small office. Although when he had the folk from Alternative Living Spaces around, it was in a state of disarray. Pointing this out, the engineer said, “[This is] my workbench, which is terribly cluttered right now leaving me almost no actual work area.”

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But as well as simply taking care of all his practical needs, Campbell had also transformed the plane into a comfortable, livable home. He had what he described as a “makeshift kitchen,” which included a “five-decade-old refrigerator” and a serving cart originally used onboard commercial flights. Furthermore, he had enough food to last him for about four months.

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Campbell’s central living space is situated above the main landing gear bay. Here, he has a futon sofa, which he seemingly uses to sleep on. And in case he ever has a guest, he revealed, “It folds flat if I ever need space for two, which occurs from time to time.” There’s also a rail for him to hang his clothes.

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Alongside the basics, Campbell’s awesome home boasts a modern design, bespoke lighting and climate control. The jet’s wings, meanwhile, provide the retiree with an outside deck. He told Alternative Living Spaces, “[The] right wing is a frequent work site and recreational site for me.” Furthermore, Campbell sometimes hosts concerts up there.

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At the front of Campbell’s aircraft, the cockpit remains mostly intact. And what’s more, the engineer has lovingly put lots of it back together. He revealed, “The flight deck was fully skeletonized by the salvage company, but I’ve managed to restore some things. Maybe – very roughly – 35 percent, I suppose.”

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While the inside of the plane boasts various modern conveniences, the outer fuselage provides Campbell with sturdy protection from the elements. He elaborated on this idea to online lifestyle magazine Atlas Obscura. He said, “[The structure is] incredibly strong, durable and long-lived. And [it can] easily withstand any earthquake or storm.”

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What’s more, living in a plane comes with other surprising benefits when it comes to homeownership. As Campbell went on to reveal, “[The] interior is easy to keep immaculately clean because [it is made up of] sealed-pressure canisters. So, dust and insects can’t intrude from the outside. And [planes are] highly resistant to intruders.”

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Since acquiring his unusual living quarters, Campbell has charted the progress that he’s made on his website AirplaneHome.com. And it appears that the Oregon man hopes to convince others to follow his lead. Perhaps more people might consider making a home from a plane after learning about his lifestyle via the internet?

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Enthusing about his unusual home to Alternative Living Spaces, Campbell said, “I do love my bird. Even with all of the flaws and all of the fundamental foundational problems, it’s still a wonderful living environment. Just the sheer beauty of aerospace technology, the exhilaration – we trust our lives these things and, generally, we feel perfectly comfortable doing so.”

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If anyone does want to follow suit, then, it might be wise to go online to check out Campbell’s painstakingly conducted research. Indeed, this could well prove to be an invaluable move. For a start, the engineer has concluded that a Boeing 727 “seemed to offer the most attractive overall characteristics.”

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Campbell’s online advice went on, “It’s a reasonable-size home for an individual or small family, but not so large that it can’t be transported over public roads.” From there, he added, “Airliners, free of hundreds of passengers and the clutter of their seats, are a sheer thrill to live within.”

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But although Campbell is as comfortable as can be in his old airliner, he actually spends six months of the year in Japan. Yet in 2016 he revealed that he was searching for a retired Boeing 747-400. Why? Because of a plan to make a home outside the Japanese city of Miyazaki.

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If Campbell secures such a jet, fitting out his second home will prove to be his biggest project to date. Boeing 747-400s can carry up to 660 passengers. As it happens, that represents three times the number of seats and a much larger space than his comparatively humble 727 home back in Oregon.

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In order to achieve his dream of a Japanese jet home, the retired engineer put out an appeal to airlines with 747-400s in a piece published by the San Antonio Express-News in 2016. Campbell said, “A superbly executed second project which very nearly fully preserves the original aircraft in all its sleek gleaming majesty will attract a great deal of world press interest for a very long time, and thus be of considerable promotional value to a partner airline.”

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Even if Campbell’s dream of a second airliner home never comes true, though, there is little doubt that the “old nerd” will continue to promote his unique lifestyle. As he told Atlas Obscura, “Jetliners are masterful works of aerospace science. Their superlative engineering grace is unmatched by any other structures people can live within.”

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