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 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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And Campbell has been skeptical about one of the more traditional ways of purchasing a property. In 2017 the former engineer was interviewed for an episode of FLORB’s YouTube series Alternative Living Spaces. There, he explained, “When I was young, I didn’t want a mortgage.”

So, since Campbell didn’t want to borrow the money to buy a house, 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.” And that’s exactly what he chose to do.

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There was one big benefit to this modest arrangement, too: Campbell was able to save and invest some of the spare money he had. He revealed on the episode of 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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When Campbell had eventually scraped together enough money to fulfill that dream, though, 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.” Yes, 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. These advocates of antiquated air transport do not simply want to restore aircraft, mind you. 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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But according to Campbell, most aircraft meet sorry ends. Numerous planes are retired each day across the globe, and he suspects that the vast majority of these are simply left to rot. While salvagers may be interested in those jet engines, the other parts of planes are apparently deemed completely 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. And the Portland man committed himself to saving at least one plane from the same fate, hoping to inspire more people to do the same in the process.

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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. Yet it wasn’t long before the retired engineer encountered his first big problem. How on Earth would he get the beast of a jetliner to its new home?

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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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Then, once the plane was on his land, Campbell set about securing it. Since his plot sits in the Cascadia subduction zone, it was naturally important that he made his new home as earthquake-proof as possible. How did he achieve this? Well, he used the aircraft’s landing gear. That way, the jet could be stabilized in the event of 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.” That said, he already seemed pretty convinced that his new home would be fit to withstand such a natural disaster.

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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, [and] they’re on their own suspension system. They ride it out, [and] it’s no big deal. No damage occurs unless something falls onto them.”

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Then the hard work really began, as the engineer got to work transforming the jet into somewhere that he could call home. The renovations would cost a further $120,000, taking Campbell’s total outlay to $220,000. But it appears that the sky was the limit as far as expenditure was concerned.

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Campbell had to have the usual mod cons, after all, and so he took care of these practicalities. For starters, he needed access to good old H20. When the plane had been operational, a service door had allowed water to be piped in. Campbell expanded this feature, then, and also connected both an electricity supply and a telephone line to his new home.

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Aside from electricity and running water, Campbell’s aircraft also has two working toilets. The pair of 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. Pretty ingenious, but then Campbell had to keep his new home sanitary.

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There are a few more fun additions to the craft, too. For example, if you’re ever invited to Campbell’s home, you’ll access it via a set of “air stairs” that retract and extend. These 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.” Basically, it’s just a hose inside a plastic tub.

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Also at the back of the plane are the two bathrooms – one of which Campbell describes as his “guest lavatory.” And to the untrained eye, these spaces seem to be pretty much unchanged from when they were used on board the commercial aircraft. They’re both compact, and each features a toilet, a basin and a mirror.

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Then there’s the area that Campbell – using proper aircraft terminology – refers to as the “aft galley.” And there’s heaps of storage space here. 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. When he had the folk from Alternative Living Spaces around, though, this part of his home 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 don’t be fooled, as Campbell has transformed the plane into a comfortable, livable home. He has what he’s described as a “makeshift kitchen,” which includes a “five-decade-old refrigerator” and a serving cart originally used on board commercial flights. At the time of the interview, he also possessed enough food to last him for about four months.

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As for Campbell’s central living space? It’s situated above the main landing gear bay. There, he has a futon sofa that he seemingly uses to sleep on. The Oregon man added of the furniture, “It folds flat if I ever need space for two, which occurs from time to time.” There’s also a rail on which he can 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.” Campbell even hosts concerts up there on occasion.

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Then there’s the front of Campbell’s aircraft, with a cockpit that remains remarkably intact. The engineer has lovingly put lots of it back together, you see. 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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Yet 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 [to] 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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And Campbell has probably never encountered anything as scary on his plane as the beast that appeared in one Florida home. As two men approached that monster, they knew they were in a dangerous situation. The predator was huge, measuring up at 16 feet long and tipping the scales at around 165 pounds – making it of a size rarely seen before. Even more terrifyingly, it appeared that the intruder was hiding something in the shadows.

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The beast wasn’t the type of house guest to be typically found in this part of the world, either. The pair who had discovered the interloper knew, then, that they would need expert help in removing it. But after a specialist came to the location, he, too, may have been taken back. Even with his professional experience, he had rarely seen anything quite like this before.

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What’s more, the predator in question is not just deadly to humans; it’s also a recognized threat to local wildlife. Members of its species have been known to devour such creatures as possums, rabbits, bobcats and deer, for example. And, alarmingly, a critter this size has the ability to tackle prey larger than even that. On one occasion, another of its kind was spotted feasting on a 7-foot-long alligator.

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The two men first encountered this lethal specimen in July 2019 beneath a home on an island in Florida’s Everglades. And as they weren’t best-equipped to deal with the intruder, they ultimately decided to call in local conservationist Ron Bergeron, whose work has earned him the moniker “Alligator Ron.” It should be known, though, that the discovery had nothing to do with that particular type of reptile.

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This may come as a surprise, as the Everglades is known for its gators. Located in the south of Florida, the unique national park — the largest of its kind in the U.S. — is easily accessible from the busy urban sprawl of Miami. A 60-minute car journey is all that separates the concrete jungle from the extraordinary biodiversity of this stunning ecosystem.

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The Everglades National Park covers an expansive 1.5 million acres, and airboat expeditions are offered to the area’s one million or so annual tourists. These thrilling rides dash through the swamps at nearly 60 miles per hour, giving passengers an up-close view of the fascinating wildlife and lush vegetation.

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And as the biggest subtropical habitat in the country, the Everglades naturally hosts an extensive array of animals. Its mangroves and grass marshes, for example, are home to varieties of snakes and wading birds as well as alligators. For many decades, though, the wetlands here were deemed surplus to developers’ requirements, meaning a number of swamps were ultimately drained to make way for roads, farmland and property.

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As a result, Florida residents may share the land with the area’s wilder inhabitants. Visitors can see these creatures, too; they may get a glimpse of manatees swimming in the waters, for instance, or bobcats and white-tailed deer roaming the pastures. Those with more patience and a keen eye may even spot members of more threatened species such as the Florida panther or the American crocodile.

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Many of the in excess of 350 bird species native to the area are also incredibly rare. The large but graceful wood stork has been deemed by the U.S. government as endangered, for example. This wading bird casts an elegant silhouette and is beloved of both bird watchers and nature photographers.

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Also registered on the threatened or endangered lists are the Cape Sable seaside sparrow, the Everglades snail kite and the red-cockaded woodpecker. Birds, however, are not known to be a threat to humans. So, what lurks in the Florida swamps that may pose a real danger to any person in the vicinity?

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Well, although the West Indian manatee is perhaps the most distinctive Everglades resident, the placid mammal is more a gentle giant than a menace. These animals lumber softly through the water and may seek out humans both for company and a source of warmth. Manatees also mostly take their nourishment from aquatic plants.

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In fact, humans are much more of a threat to the manatee than they are to us, as these sea creatures are so leisurely in their movements that they can prove vulnerable to passing dangers. For instance, they’re sometimes too slow to avoid speeding boats, which can maim or kill any animal in their paths.

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And while the manatee is also on the endangered species list, arguably the rarest creature to be found in the Everglades is the Florida panther. These wild cats were once desirable trophies for hunters – meaning, unfortunately, that they were almost wiped out entirely. Indeed, conservationists believe that fewer than 100 of these animals now remain in their natural habitat.

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Yet although humans may pose more of a threat to both the Florida panther and the manatee than they do to us, the same cannot be said of some of the other Everglades residents. The Florida black bear, for instance, is considered one of the most dangerous animals in the state; as it, too, is endangered, however, members of the species are seldom spotted in the national park.

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Many visitors to the Everglades may also be unaware that its waters may host sharks. Yes, while these fearsome predators usually prefer the saltwater of the ocean, there are some varieties – such as lemon sharks and blacktip sharks – whose body functions can adapt to the fresh waters of Florida’s swamps. And, unfortunately, they include one of the most dangerous species around.

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We’re talking about the aggressive bull shark, which can sometimes be seen patrolling the Everglades’ channels as well as the mouths of rivers and cruise coastlines in search of prey. However, while these beasts are known to ambush humans, they typically prefer to feed on much tinier animals.

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Elsewhere in the Everglades’ water, certain types of fish can pose a threat to humans. Indeed, although barracudas very rarely attack people, they can sometimes be attracted by anything particularly eye-catching — such as jewelry — that swimmers may be wearing. This can occasionally provoke the fish into assuming that there is prey – like the silvery fish they feed upon – in the water. Marlins, meanwhile, are more of a danger to fishermen in the area.

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Some underwater attacks may come completely by surprise, too. For instance, while the needlefish may seem relatively unassuming – typically coming in at around a foot in length and less than a pound in weight – its razor-sharp mouth is nevertheless a hazard. And although this creature is not known as a human predator, it’s still capable of causing damage.

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Needlefish usually travel close to the surface of bodies of water near the coast where it’s warm. However, if they’re fleeing predators or chasing their prey, they may “take flight” for brief periods and rise to the top. Anything that gets in the needlefish’s way, then, may just feel how sharp its mouth is.

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Then there’s the box jellyfish, as the ocean’s most venomous inhabitant is also known to reside in the Everglades’ channels. There are between 20 and 30 varieties of this creature, which can measure anything from under an inch to ten feet. Regardless of the box jellyfish’s size, though, it should definitely be avoided, as victims can die after experiencing the pain of its sting alone.

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And perhaps the most famous Everglades predator is the alligator. The reptile can easily be confused with the crocodile, of course, although there is an easy way to tell them apart. Simply put, an alligator has a round, broad nose; the same feature on a crocodile, however, comes to a point. In addition, alligators are largely more common across the whole of Florida, while crocodiles live only in the most southerly regions of the state.

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Crocodiles can be just as vicious as alligators, too, although the American variety is less aggressive than many of its counterparts from around the world. And while alligators tend to strike only when they feel threatened, they should nevertheless be avoided as well.

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Yet Bergeron faced none of these animals beneath the Florida house; in fact, the creature he discovered in the basement was itself a threat to much of the Everglades’ native wildlife. It was a breed of snake called a Burmese python — and one of its kind had once been reported to have swallowed an alligator whole.

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At 165 pounds and around 16 feet long, the python was the second largest that Bergeron had ever seen. In fact, from nose to tail, the snake was merely a foot away from being the longest ever measured in the state. Perhaps most terrifyingly of all, though, the female predator was protecting a nest of at least 50 eggs.

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And this frightening reptile was found underneath a house in Broward County that sits four miles from Alligator Alley. Alligator Alley is an 80-mile stretch of highway that dissects the Everglades National Park between Fort Lauderdale and Naples, and as its name suggests it’s a prime location for gator spotters. The native wildlife in the area is under threat, however, from the Burmese python.

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The Burmese python typically has a placid nature, and combined with the attractive designs that appear on its skin, this makes the species a favorite among snake owners. But these snakes can grow quickly and can get incredibly large. Then, when they become too much for their handlers, they can become aggressive. Attacks, then, are not unheard of, and some have been fatal.

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The snake’s diet consists purely of meat, with birds and small mammals primarily featuring on the menu. As the python’s vision isn’t too good, however, it relies on heat receptors lining its jaws and chemical sensors on its tongue to close in on its prey. And killing for the Burmese python is an act of brute strength.

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You see, the Burmese python is a constrictor, meaning it will wrap its body around its chosen victim after having gripped it between its teeth. Then the snake will crush the breath out of its prey until it’s dead. And as the Burmese python’s jaws are so flexible, it’s able to gobble its meal up in a single piece.

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Young Burmese pythons are frequently found in trees, although slivering up trunks become more awkward after they have matured. As these creatures can come in at around 23 feet and 200 pounds, however, they can practically be the size of a tree themselves. In fact, these snakes have been described as growing to as thick as a telephone pole.

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So, all of this makes the Burmese python one of the biggest — and deadliest — snakes in the world. Even more alarmingly, the snake is an expert swimmer capable of remaining underwater for half an hour before coming up for air. But while this may make the Everglades’ swampland fertile ground for the species to thrive, there’s a problem.

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As you may have already assumed, Burmese pythons are native to Southeast Asia rather than the wetlands of the Florida Everglades. And while these reptiles were first introduced to the area over two decades ago when snake enthusiasts snapped them up, members of the species didn’t always work well as domestic animals.

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According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, some of these pets then went on to escape into the wild, while others were deliberately released. As a result, the Burmese python is now considered an invasive species without any natural predators to keep the population in check. And owing to the snake’s appetite for native mammals such as limpkins, wood storks and Key Largo woodrats, fauna in the area is now in considerable peril.

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In 2019 Bergeron explained to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, “The Burmese python poses a significant threat to the Florida Everglades by disrupting the natural food chain.” But the conservationist’s actions prevented an influx of this apex predator. As you’ll recall, the snake in the Broward County home was female and guarding a nest of around 50 eggs.

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And, worryingly, a number of the eggs were actually cracking open as Bergeron surveyed the nest site. Fortunately, though, the specialist was able to relocate both these and the snake guarding them. “With good fortune, we were able to find a large female and remove her and an entire nest of up to 50 baby snakes, which would have continued killing off our precious habitat,” Bergeron continued to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. In fact, the hunting of Burmese pythons in the Everglades is actively encouraged.

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No license is required to hunt Burmese pythons, nor are there are no restrictions on when they may be pursued. Some have even turned the tracking of these snakes into a sport, with the annual Python Challenge encouraging members of the public to capture as many of the slithery pests as possible.

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Local wildlife trapper Mike Kimmel – a self-avowed “python cowboy” – has proved himself particularly accomplished at ridding the area of the snakes, having captured eight of the invasive species during the 2020 Python Challenge. Yet while this total accounts for a tenth of the number of snakes hunted down in the competition that year, it’s made scarcely a dent in a population estimated to be in the tens of thousands in the Everglades.

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Kimmel found the going hard, too. In a January 2020 Instagram post, he wrote, “It was not an easy win, that’s for sure. I ran into all kinds of obstacles. I hunted ten days straight, covering thousands of miles of levees and woods [and] sleeping in the swamp when not hunting. [I] kept my nose to the grindstone, and I can proudly say I gave it my all.” That said, the incentive to track down these snakes can be huge.

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Indeed, those who hunt for a living can expect a return of a few hundred dollars in government payouts for every python captured. Then, once the snakes are euthanized, they can be used in other ways. For instance, Kimmel gives snake meat to the wild hogs on his property. Speaking of his spoils to The Guardian, the trapper added, “It’s good money; a large snake can be worth about $1,000 to me.”

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The Burmese python’s skin can also be used to manufacture luxury goods such as purses, boots and wallets. Typically, these reptiles have tan-colored outsides that feature dark patchwork similar to that of a giraffe. And while these markings are non-uniform, they nevertheless appear to slot together – much like elements of a jigsaw.

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So, while the Python Challenge may not be completely ridding the Everglades and its surroundings of these creatures, it may help. After all, conservationists have spent years attempting to gain control over the python population in Florida – even going so far as to employ chanting snake charmers from India. And as research has shown that a rise in python numbers has coincided with a significant decline in wildlife native to the Everglades, winning the battle against the snakes may be crucial in keeping this part of the state at its best.

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