When Ussery lost his home in a fire, he bought a Boeing 727 and remodeled it to make it his new home.
Credit: Ralf-Finn Hestoft/CorbisGetty Images
After losing her home in a fire, Jo Ann Ussery had a peculiar idea: live on a plane.
She bought an old Boeing 727 that was destined for scrapping, shipped it to a piece of land she owned, and spent six months renovating it, doing most of the work herself.
In the end, she had a fully functional home, with over 1,500 square feet of living space, three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and even a Jacuzzi, where the cockpit used to be.
And all for less than $30,000, about $60,000 in today's currency.
Ussery lived in his Boeing from 1995 to 1999. Credit: Raphael Gaillarde/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images
Ussery, a stylist from Benoit, Mississippi, had no professional connection to aviation and followed the unusual suggestion of her air traffic controller brother-in-law.
She lived on the plane from 1995 to 1999, when she suffered irreparable damage after falling from the truck that was transporting it to another nearby place, where she could have exhibited herself to the public.
Ussery put a bathtub in the cockpit of his Boeing 727 in Benoit, Mississippi.
Credit: Ralf-Finn Hestoft/CorbisGetty Images
Although he was not the first person to live on an airplane, his impeccable execution of the project had an inspiring effect.
In the late 1990s, Bruce Campbell, an electrical engineer with a private pilot's license, was astounded by her story: "I was driving home and listening to Jo Ann's story. It was amazing that I didn't go off the road because I I was totally focused on her. And the next morning I was making phone calls," she says.
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A 727 in the woods
Campbell has lived in his own plane, also a Boeing 727, in the woods of Hillsboro, Oregon for more than 20 years: "I'm still on Jo Ann's shoulders and thankful for the proof of concept."
He has no regrets: "I would never live in a conventional house. No way. If Scotty transported me to the interior of Mongolia, wiped my fingerprints and forced me to live in a conventional structure, I would do what I had to do to survive .. . but otherwise, I choose a jetliner anytime."
Ussery inspired Bruce Campbell of Oregon to convert a Boeing 727 into his home in the woods outside of Portland.
Here we see him in 2014. Credit: Steve Dipaola/Reuters
That's not to say he wouldn't do anything different: "I made a lot of mistakes, including the biggest mistake: partnering with a salvage company. Avoiding that and using superior transportation logistics makes costs much lower," he explains.
His project cost $220,000 in total (about $380,000 in today's money), about half of which went toward the purchase of the plane.
He says the plane belonged to Olympic Airways, in Greece, and was even used to transport the remains of the airline's owner tycoon, Aristotle Onassis, in 1975: "Then I didn't know the history of the plane. And I didn't know it had an interior old, type 707. It was really awful by modern standards. It was functional, but it looked old and clunky. Perhaps the worst choice for a house."
Campbell has lived in his 727 for more than 20 years. Credit: AirplaneHome.com/Bruce Campbell
As a result, Campbell had to work on the plane for a couple of years before he was able to live on it.
The interiors are simple, with a primitive shower made from a plastic cylinder and a futon sofa as a bed.
During the harshest part of winter, Campbell traditionally retreats to Miyazaki, a city in southern Japan with a subtropical climate where he owns a small apartment.
But the pandemic has made it difficult, and for three years he has lived in the 727 year-round.
Intending to establish an air home in Japan as well, in 2018 he says he was about to buy a second plane, a 747-400, but the deal fell through at the last minute, because the airline (which Campbell doesn't want to disclose) decided to keep the aircraft in service longer than planned: "We had to put the project on hold and it continues to this day," he says.
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Campbell receives frequent visits and even offers free accommodation on the plane, while in the summer it organizes larger public events with fairground attractions: "Artists perform in the right wing, guests dance in front or behind the wing in the woods, "That for the big concerts is filled with all kinds of recreation places. They're not the Disneyland kind: just portable booths with different curiosities and little recreations, but they're fun."
Joe Axline's two planes: one to live in, one to renovate.
Credit: Joe Axline
If living on one plane already seems extravagant to you, how about living on two?
That's the plan for Joe Axline, who owns an MD-80 and a DC-9, side by side on a piece of land in Brookshire, Texas.
Axline has lived in MD-80 for more than a decade, after divorcing on April Fool's Day 2011, and plans to renovate DC-8 and equip it with recreational areas such as a movie theater and a music room.
He calls his great plan "Project Freedom".
"I have less than a quarter of a million dollars in the whole project," says Axline, who has very little ongoing expenses because he owns the land and built his own water well and sewage system: "All I have left is the electricity," he adds.
For years, he even shared a plane with his children: "The children are gone, so it's just me. Living in a house, you have a lot of space, but it's all wasted space. My master bedroom is 15 square meters, which is not bad for a room. I have two TVs and lots of space to walk around. The living room is big, the dining room can fit four people and I can cook for a lot of people if they come over. I also have a shower and toilet so I don't have to get off the plane to go to the bathroom. The only thing I don't have here that I would have in a house are windows that open," he explains, adding that he just opens the plane doors for fresh air.
Joe Axline owns an MD-80 and a DC-9 sitting side by side on a piece of land in Brookshire, Texas.
Credit: Joe Axline
The planes are visible from nearby roads, and Axline says that many curious drivers end up stopping by: "I have three or four people every day. I call them my tourists," he says.
"They drive by and they think it's cool. Most of the time I wave at them. I tell them: if you have time, I'll give you a guided tour. And if I didn't make the bed that day, what difference does it make? Let's go see how people really live".
Axline was also interested in a Boeing 747 - living in the "Queen of the Skies" is the ultimate dream of a plane owner - but gave up when he had to deal with shipping costs: "The plane itself was about US$ "300,000, but the shipping cost was $500,000. Half a million dollars to move it. That's because you can't drive it on the roads, you'd have to take it apart, cut it up, chop it up, and put it back together."
Jumbo Stay is a hotel at Stockholm Arlanda Airport.
Courtesy of Jumbo Stay
"Do it yourself"
There are other notable examples of airplanes converted into homes.
One of the first is a Boeing 307 Stratoliner once owned by billionaire film director Howard Hughes, who spent a fortune remodeling the interior into a "Flying Penthouse."
After being damaged in a hurricane, she was converted into an extravagant motor yacht and eventually purchased in the 1980s by Florida resident Dave Drimmer, who extensively renovated and renamed her "The Cosmic Muffin."
He lived in the plane-boat hybrid for 20 years, before finally donating it to the Florida Air Museum in 2018.
In the late 1940s, billionaire film director Howard Hughes reveled inside his "Flying Penthouse," a converted Boeing 307 Stratoliner.
Credit: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images
The American country singer and Nashville Red Lane Hall of Famer, who had a past as an airplane mechanic, lived for decades in a converted DC-8 that he saved from scrapping in the late 1970s.
Lane, who died in 2015, had no regrets either: "I have never, ever woke up in this place wishing I were somewhere else," he revealed in a 2006 television interview.
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Those who want to spend one or two nights on a plane have several options in the form of hotels: in Costa Rica, the Costa Verde hotel has a completely renovated Boeing 727, with two rooms and a terrace with sea views;
In Sweden, the Jumbo Stay is a hotel built entirely inside a Boeing 747, located on the grounds of Stockholm's Arlanda airport.
And if it's partying you're looking for, there's another Boeing 747 that can be chartered for events of up to 220 people, at England's Cotswold Airport, about 100 miles west of London.
In Sweden, Jumbo Stay is a hotel built entirely inside a Boeing 747, located on the grounds of Stockholm Arlanda Airport.
Courtesy of Jumbo Stay
However, if you want to leave transitional housing behind and fully immerse yourself in life inside an airplane, you have to be prepared for the challenges: "You have to have a passion for doing this, because there are going to be so many problems that you have to deal with that it can become overwhelming," says Joe Axline, who lists finding the right airframe and a suitable location for it among the biggest hurdles.
Perhaps this is why several of Bruce Campbell's visitors over the years have expressed an interest in embracing this lifestyle, but none have ever made the dream come true: "I think it's quite difficult for people: a few of my My guests left convinced they wanted to do it and I sent them articulate instructions to help them step by step, but no one has really gotten off the ground," he says.
But don't let that discourage you, adds Campbell: "My main advice is to do it. Don't let anyone take away your confidence. Work out all the logistics and do it."