Fly Away Home

On the hard-packed sands of California’s Mojave Desert stands a surreal sight. Hundreds of decommissioned commercial jets are lined up row after row, in the middle of nowhere. Their engines are taped shut with Mylar to keep out drifting sands. This is a graveyard for retired jets, many of which originally cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build. Now they only serve as awnings for rattle snakes and reptiles that take shelter from the unrelenting sun. Some planes may be stripped of useful parts that can be reconditioned. Others may be bought by a third-world country or short-hop commuter startup. And still others will simply languish there for years – a kind of “Stonehenge” of the 21st century.

A few jets have been creatively repurposed, including a 747 jumbo jet that is being turned into a house on the hills of glamorous Malibu, near Los Angeles. When architect David Hertz was asked by his client to build a home with curvilinear feminine shapes and a kind of floating roof, he imagined the wings of a plane. That led to purchasing a retired 747 for a mere $35,000, and disassembling it to create the skeleton of the house. The wings and tail stabilizers are being used as a roof for the master bedroom. Part of the fuselage and the upper first-class cabin form the guesthouse, and even the cargo hold is being put to use as a horse barn. The so-called Wing House is expected to be completed by year-end.