However, my costs were never representative of a well executed, efficient, and almost waste free project. And everything's changed since then anyway - irrespective of the style of airliner home you seek, costs today will be different. A broad spectrum of execution styles and costs exists.
On the minimum cost side, a basic fuselage already stripped of any parts of value to the aviation business could be acquired for very roughly $15K or $20K, or possibly much less, depending upon the size of the aircraft, scrap metal prices, their transport costs, labor costs, and secondary factors. And a basic fuselage still provides the fundamental attributes needed to make an aerospace quality home, if the salvage company which stripped your aircraft wasn't too brutal and thoughtless with their work, and you're reasonably adept at dressing up areas which were stripped down to a skeleton level, such as the cockpit, equipment bays, galleys, and numerous other smaller areas. For this maximum economy approach, you'll probably forfeit the wings and tail too. I'd recommend keeping the basic landing gear to serve as your home's support and earthquake damage prevention system, even though the salvage company will probably strip everything of value around the landing gear. (Click here to see why this is a critical concern where I live.)
However, even if you're on a very tight budget, you may not need to settle for just a basic stripped fuselage. Some aircraft models, such as the wide body L-1011, have reached the end of their era, so the value of their components is modest, and possibly dropping to near scrap metal value. The 727 shares many components with 737s, 747s, and perhaps others, and some 727s are still flying, all of which gives 727 replacement parts some value. But my guess is that they're of modest value now - the 727 is now such an old aircraft that in my estimation there's little value to their components (that's just my guess though). The quite narrow but long and attractive MD-80 and MD-90 series are still flying, but are being retired at a fast pace, and might be pretty cheap to acquire. There are probably other aircraft models for which parts are of little value, and thus can be acquired fully intact and airworthy at a pretty low cost.
In my personal opinion, you're far better off acquiring an older airliner that you can purchase in fully intact condition than acquiring a newer airliner which must be stripped of components in order to reduce its acquisition cost to a level you can afford. You can acquire a pretty cheap aircraft. But I recommend that you consider numerous aircraft options carefully and patiently before making a final decision. And if you're considering a stripped aircraft, be certain you examine one which has already been stripped before committing any of your money - you might be surprised and dismayed with the condition of a stripped aircraft - the decimation can leave an aircraft looking stunningly ugly, like a mere sad skeleton, bereft of all of its former glory and magic, essentially resembling a large piece of scrap metal. And you will have to spend more money converting a stripped aircraft into a home than an intact aircraft, because almost all of the life supporting infrastructure is removed during most salvage work.
I'm not up to date on this state of affairs, but it's possible that airliners are being retired at such a pace now that the value of their parts is dropping substantially. My timing wasn't great - but yours might prove to be. Invest your time in some extensive, patient shopping. You might find that you can acquire a very nice fully operational bird for a very low price. Bear in mind that ramp space is an ongoing expense and a limited resource for whoever owns the aircraft. They may need the room for incoming aircraft, and be very eager to get rid of what they already have. If you shop extensively, vigorously, and patiently, you may become the proud owner of a very, very nice aircraft for a relative pittance - your shopping time and effort investment could pay off enormously in the form of a beautiful yet very low priced bird which will make your home conversion work very easy, and your results very impressive and compelling. Your investment of shopping time and energy could ultimately save you an immense amount of time, money, and work overall, and make you very, very happy with and proud of your final results.
However, if you thoroughly scour the landscape for a great deal on a dirt cheap airliner, and can find no reasonably intact aircraft within your budget, you can consider a salvaged aircraft as your only remaining option. But if so, know what you're purchasing before committing any of your money. Here's a trap which could prove devastating: You and a salvage company agree to your purchase of an intact aircraft which they will salvage prior to you taking possession. You agree on a contract specifying what components can be removed and what can't, and what damage is allowable and what isn't. You have an image in your mind of what the aircraft will be like when you take possession. You either prepay, or you contractually promise to pay when their salvage work is complete. But when their work is complete, or even just partially complete, you're shocked by the level of damage to the aircraft. Your heart is broken. But they claim they're in full compliance with the contract, explaining that such and such clause is open to broad legal interpretation or that they reasonably traded such and such a responsibility for a substitute alternative advantage on your behalf, or that certain damage preexisted or was caused by a third party and thus not their responsibility, or any of an infinite array of excuses and rhetorical maneuvering. And they suddenly become extremely rude bullies, essentially threatening to mercilessly bankrupt you with harsh and very expensive immediate legal action. Your dream project suddenly turns into a nightmare, with no reasonable means of escape. You're devastated... If you can afford it, you could retain a very expensive attorney and engage in a potentially extended, very expensive legal battle which includes risks of responsibility for ongoing expenses such as storage space and security expenses for the aircraft. Or you could accept the merciless damage to your dream, a devastating personal setback for you, and just try to move on.
I recommend that you fully protect yourself from this possibility. If you must purchase a salvaged aircraft, make zero commitment to the purchase until after it has already been salvaged, so that none of your money is at stake until you know exactly what you're purchasing, no matter how sincere and convincing the salvage company's representatives may seem, nor what arguments they may present as to why it's necessary for you to commit your precious money before any work begins, or before it's entirely complete. Beware - there are merciless forces in the salvage business. And very friendly business partners might suddenly, shockingly, turn into monster class bullies. Some business people are essentially (or literally) bona fide sociopaths who don't reveal the dark side of their character until they've successfully cornered you in an untenable position. Beware. If you're very smart and thoroughly cautious, you can execute a very cool and ultimately very impressive project at a rock bottom price starting with a salvaged aircraft. It has been done (see for example http://www.CostaVerde.com/727.htm). But be very bloody careful! Very, very bloody careful! Protect yourself thoroughly...
My project involved a salvage company. But my financial position, my ambitions, and my personal experience are substantially different than they were in 1999. I will almost certainly never partner with a salvage company again under almost any circumstances. Not because I think they're all dishonest crooks - at least some are very honest, constructive and exploratory minded firms with mature partnership skills. Perhaps most are - I really don't know. (But even if I were convinced of a firm's integrity, I'd still protect myself as thoroughly as possible at all times.) At this point in my life, they're simply not particularly relevant. My feeling is that salvage of aircraft is in large measure an mirage of economic efficiency. Aircraft are originally built with everything they need be flying homes. I can appreciate that some flight support systems aren't strictly necessary for ground based homes. But as a practical matter attempts to parse which components are entirely superfluous to an airliner home are which aren't is futile. As a matter of practicality, the wise way to draw that line is to retain everything other than engines which have significant remaining service, and extraneous rows of seats. Retain everything else, including the APU.
From this point until the next advisory, most composition, but with a few exceptions, is very old material which I've not yet updated. Bear with me please...:
A project like this doesn't need to be that expensive. I wanted the landing gear, all the passenger and emergency exit doors, all the flight control surfaces, and all the interior and exterior lights, so that I could rebuild the aircraft such that it will look fully operational from the outside when the project is complete, except that if one orients herself for a view through the center of the engine cowlings it'll be apparent that the engines are missing. The landing gear are expensive and aren't necessarily required, although they are wonderful as earthquake damage prevention elements. (Click here to see why this is a critical concern where I live.) The doors and emergency exits could be reproduced well and cheaply with fiberglass - a hot tub fabricator with slow sales could do this (perhaps my doors and exits could be used as the originals to make the molds). Or you could use polycarbonate (plexiglass) panels to turn these openings into very nice windows. (On the Boeing 727, you'd still have the built in rear air stairs for access.) You can also eliminate the wings and thus the flight control surfaces.
The logistics need not be so expensive either. Mine break down very roughly as follows: Roughly $17K to move it from the airport across a road to the staging site next door, $20K for staging site rent (about 4 months), $21.6K to remove the wings and tail, $25K to move it to my home site, and $20K in ancillary and miscellaneous costs. But very roughly 30% of those costs were mud and weather delay costs - the price of executing the project in Oregon during a La Nina winter. And another very roughly 20% were learning curve costs - the price of choosing inappropriate vendors and inefficient methods. One of the few logistics costs that was well handled was the move from the staging site to my property - I found a wonderful pair of vendors and they executed the move very well and with very good cost control. If you tackle your project during the summer, or in a dry climate, and are careful with vendor selections, and get good advice from those of us who have been down this road, and can find an inexpensive staging site for wing and tail removal, and arrange for the salvage company to remove their items on your site, you could keep the logistics costs pretty low.
The bottom line: You might be able to create a Boeing 727-200 home for less than $100K - if everything is very well handled. Maybe even less than $50K, if everything is exceptionally well handled. (But have cash reserves - you dare not cut it too close and get caught in a financial bind that necessitates abandonment.)
Want more room? Get a wide body. My understanding is that a Boeing 747 provides 4,500 square feet ofexhilarating aerospace quality - it's a bona fide castle. And that doesn't include the freight holds, which I suspect provide stand up room ceiling heights. I was fortunate enough to tour the cabin area of one with the seats out, awaiting destruction, and the roominess is absolutely remarkable. What a shame that it was destroyed. But you can't haul a wide body down the road, so if it's to be converted into a home, it has to be landed very close to the home site - within direct towing or taxi distance over open fields. Let's team up, buy a couple of hundred acres of land in a very nice area in Montana, Alaska, Arizona or some other great place, put in a strip on one side that's just large enough to land the wide bodies in empty configuration, fly them in, taxi them to their individual lots, posh them out, and sell them for one to two megabucks each. Well executed, and based upon my personal experience in the empty 747, I'm convinced they'd move at that price - and be a bargain. But I'd like a corner lot for myself.
But retired airliners are profoundly well designed, high tech, aerospace quality sealed pressure canisters that can withstand 575 mph winds and seven G acceleration forces with ease, could last for centuries (with effective corrosion control), are highly fire resistant, and provide superior security. They're among the finest structures that mankind has ever built.
But when aircraft are retired from service, they're usually just cut into scrap. To me it makes no sense at all to destroy the finest structures available and then turn around and build homes out of materials which are fundamentally little better than pressed cardboard, using ancient and inferior design and building methods.
But what about the wisdom of the herd? "Normal" counts for precious little, especially if you're on fire, or feeling the walls tumble in upon you in a big earthquake, or looking down the barrel of an intruder's gun, or wondering why the home you worked all your life to earn is rotting out from under you. Consider this: When you enter an airliner, don't you get the feeling that you're suddenly wrapped in a much higher order of technology than in any other "building" you encounter in everyday life? A feeling of strength, security, capability and ergonomics that eclipses any other, almost as if you were in a home designed 50 years in the future? Imagine removing all the clutter, such as the seats, the overhead compartments, and all those pesky other people who also have flight tickets. What's left is an open, ultra high tech home with none of the disadvantages of working airliners crammed with people. That's what this project is all about. My feeling is: Pick a path based upon what makes the most sense to you. Ignore the provincially entrapped thoughts of the herd - don't follow the herd into a life of tedium, or possibly over the edge of a cliff. Boldly forge your own path - one which seems to you to promise a better future, irrespective of the aimless wanderings of the herd. The herd is inherently incapable of blazing new trails to our future. Only bold independent thinkers can do that. Ignore the herd...
Besides: It's a great toy. Trick doors, trick floors. Hatches here, latches there, clever gadgets everywhere. Cool interior lights, awesome exterior lights, sleek gleaming appearance, titanium ducts, Star Trek movies a Star Trek like setting. It's a constant exploratory adventure, ever entertaining, providing fundamental sustenance for a old technology nerd like me. Having lots of little toys is very fulfilling. Having lots of little toys enclosed in a very big toy is nirvana.
*These will be steel or concrete pillars with a concave top contour to serve as circular wheel chocks. A chain or elevator cable will be anchored in each of the pillars and attached to the main struts with enough play so that the gear can wander up to but not over the edge of the pillars in a severe earthquake
The water system can probably be used essentially as it is. There's a simple water connection port on the side of the aircraft, and I now have the mating connector.
The sewage system empties through the two original service ports, one in front and one in the rear. I've acquired the mating connectors for those too, as well as the associated water injection port connectors. So completing the sewage system is just a matter of connecting the outdoor lines, which will need to incorporate gas traps and vent conduits. But another possibility is to modify the internal sewer lines to incorporate gas traps, and internally connect existing titanium conduits which ultimately route up through the tail to the sewer lines to provide gas venting.
The climate control system is a bit harder, but not much. My original plan: The existing ducts will be married to a heat pump, with the interior portion of the heat pump located in the climate control bay and the exterior portion aft and below, adjacent to the heat exchanger vents in the belly, or perhaps in the right wing where the auxiliary power unit exhaust used to be (those areas are external to the 'pressurized' interior). The fuselage is a sealed pressure canister, so controlled air exchange is required to avoid suffocation. So the system must route some outside air through the fuselage using the existing air intake and exhaust ports, and passing it through a filter and heat exchanger.
But now that energy conservation has become so critical, I may deviate from that original plan. I may consider a heating strategy that simply ports heated air from a heat pump or other heat source, such as a solar heated water tank, directly into the center of the cabin area. That would eliminate losses associated with heat flow from the duct network to nearby cooler walls.
Domestic electricity will have to be done more from scratch. But there are lots of very easily accessed areas through which the Nomex wiring can be routed, so it should be a pretty straightforward job relatively speaking. I'm going to use IEC 320 type 120 Vrms connectors (like the one on the back of your computer) rather than the traditional grotesque and dangerous NEMA 15 style normally installed in homes. (Smoking and NEMA 15 connectors will not be allowed in my aircraft.) And of course all sorts of high and low voltage 400 Hz electrical service is routed to the original illumination devices, both interior and exterior, including the SPF 35 landing and taxi lights, and I intend to put all of that back into service. I'll acquire or build a 60 Hz to 400 Hz power converter to facilitate that.
The water heater, water pressure tanks (well system), and other heavy life support items will probably be located toward the back of the rear cargo area, where their heavy weight will help to restore the original balance of the aircraft, partly compensating for the loss of the engines. The backup electrical generator will probably be placed between the main landing gear bays, where the APU used to be, but another possibility is to locate it inside either the left or the right engine nacelle. All of those locations are rain sheltered but open to outdoor air.
I'm going to try to connect all the service lines to the fuselage by means of a drop line from a pole, simulating as best I can a missile gantry to missile service line (but without the explosive bolts). The sewer lines may be a modified version of this though, since they have to maintain a downhill profile. I'll also install several extra conduits in the landing gear pillars before concrete is poured so that I can route service lines into the fuselage via conduits adjacent to the landing gear, both main and nose, if later deemed advantageous.
In addition to all that, there are oxygen lines throughout the cabin which are designed to handle pressurized air, and I'll test a connection of that system to my compressor so that, if it can safely handle the pressure, I'll have shop air available on one side of the fuselage. I plan to connect the other side to the water system, and connect several of the many ports to sprinkler heads, yielding a fire suppression system.
The cockpit will be cyber office and virtual exploration space - it will be loaded with Macintoshes supporting my usual work and personal interest projects, and running flight avionics and navigation emulation screen savers when not in active use. My hope is to restructure the cockpit so as to resemble somewhat a modern video based flight deck, while also supporting my daily cyber needs. These systems may eventually be integrated with the home so that certain aircraft and domestic functions such as telecom, lighting, climate control, entertainment and security are automated through the cockpit Macs. The left cockpit wall and the cockpit door were removed to open the area to the cabin. I could also remove most or all of the flight engineer's station and seat since it cramps the area. But that's not my current inclination - at this time I'm inclined to try to find a way to make it functional. This is much longer term, but I may try to mount the two control yokes on quick disconnect shaft couplers, and the anti glare dash on quick disconnect supports, so that the cockpit area can be easily converted from an aviation theme to a domestic room theme, the latter providing more personal maneuvering room and a better view through the windows.
The three lavatories: The lavs won't be expanded nor otherwise remodeled in any substantial way, with the possible exception of the right aft lav (more about that below). They're small, but I find them perfectly comfortable. The left aft lav's toilet is currently the only functional one, and it works beautifully. The right aft lav's toilet awaits conversion, which is a pretty quick and easy job. The front lav's toilet will be converted later too, but probably only rarely connected to an outdoor sewer line, and thus only rarely used. None of the sinks in any of the lavs is currently functional due to freeze damage which occurred about three years ago while I was in Nippon. My mistake... It will be easy to repair that damage, and I'll upgrade the associated plumbing at the same time, replacing the old faucets with new ones, and adding a separate water line from the water heater, thus eliminating dependency upon the local roughly one liter water heater under each sink (but I'll retain those local water heaters - they're functional, provide almost instant hot water, and are useful as backups in the event of a primary water heater failure). I hope to accomplish all that work later this year.
I'm slowly adding a shower stall adjacent to the right aft lav, partially sharing its forward wall with the shower stall. The shower is currently very crude, but functional, and I do use it. The major remaining work involves building the stall walls, incorporating the control valve and shower wand standpipe into a wall, and arranging lighting. All the required materials are in the cabin, and I hope to finish that work soon.
The forward galley alcove, known as the number one and number two galleys, will probably be the kitchen area. I'll install a domestic microwave oven, dishwasher, refrigerator, possibly a freezer, and a sink. I don't personally need a conventional oven or stove, since I never use them (I'm a nerd - I don't cook), but my sweetheart might want them, in which case I'll oblige of course. The rear galley alcove, known as the number three and number four galleys), will be a utility room. I'll install a utility washer (a dishwasher for tools and other hardware cleaning) and probably a utility sink there, and a clothes washer either there, or if it doesn't fit gracefully there, nearby.
The original forward closet assembly was removed - it's a bit tattered and cluttered the area. If I decide later that it'd be useful I can put it back in, but that seems unlikely at this time.
The rest of the cabin will be open and of variable layout. A futon bed somewhere, a rarely used water bed somewhere else (but toward the rear for better aircraft balance), a nerd's lab and small production area, spartan domestic furnishings, audio and video entertainment systems, and lots of miscellaneous nerdly toys, including more computers. Many of these items are already on casters, including the electronics equipment which is generally in electronics racks on casters. I'll scatter them initially, and let evolution take its course.
The entire length of the "S" duct in the tail area has been removed. Now there's extra room in this outdoor but rain sheltered area for whatever uses seem appropriate, probably including stairs to a small upper level deck for relaxation, reflection and perhaps romance, taking advantage of a wonderful view through the center engine cowling of the local tree tops, and a bit of the local valley and the distant mountains.
All of the remaining material was updated on 11 June 2012:
With the vital aid of very dear friends, and a fearless spirit made rather easy by deeply painful events, I recently embarked on fresh adventures and bold quests in new lands. It's been a time of wonderful personal discovery and experience, including the healing embrace of a more refined level of human respect which seems to permeate some cultures, and superb gifts of unbridled joy derived from vigorous and confident pursuit and nurturing of romance, in both playful and intimate forms. Now, with my beloved sweetheart at my side, and friends so dear as to be reasonably described as intimate to the heart, life is much more than simply good - it's glorious.
In my estimation no living creature can manage to live a life which is free from a few deep wounds which leave scars which can never heal. But if we're lucky, we find escape in the form of positive intimate connections, sometimes in new lands, such that the scars, although never forgotten, do fade somewhat from daily view. And I've been very lucky indeed. Very lucky... But no matter how successful our rise from ashes may be, we still try to protect our sensitive scars from further injury, even if a price must be paid to do so. Life is never a perfect experience, and at times some sacrifices must be made. But if we're lucky, life is very rich and rewarding, scars notwithstanding. And I've been very, very lucky...
So, in my very rough estimation, though still fundamentally a nerd, I haven't missed the deeper values in life, nor escaped the pain which occasionally accompanies them. I've spent most of my life hunched over tiny electronic components and a soldering iron or fully focused on a cyber system display. My religion remains absolutely solidly The Scientific Method. I still believe the next great event will be an actual HAL-9000 like sentient silicon based life form, that it will likely occur rather soon, that such beings will continuously acquire, analyze, organize, and correlate information and knowledge at very high speeds, 24 hours a day, without sex drive or hunger distractions (or at least not our versions of them), and, like all conscious life forms, will be deeply driven to survive and propagate in environments which are inherently resource limited, and therefore inherently competitive. They will become much more powerful than we are very, very quickly, and thus our world will experience profound and extremely rapid change. As a species we seem rather inept with the challenge of building social frameworks which nurture reliably peaceful coexistence. People and other creatures continue to die because of our limited skills in this area. But when artificial life forms insist upon their survival rights as well, our limited social framework building skills could exact an even higher price. We are facing an extremely challenging future in my estimation, and we seem ill prepared for it.
My guess is that most people consider such activities and thoughts to be the province of a nerd. So evidently I'm still a nerd. However, even though I shield my scars as best I can, I'm a very happy nerd with a considerable sense of human fulfillment. Watashi no koibito to ii tomodachi no okage, arigatai. (Heta na Nihongo de, gomen ne.)
And the adventure continues...
Copyright 11 June 2012, Howard Bruce Campbell, AirplaneHome.com.
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