Jumbolair

Posted by in Aviation

When a 50 year old zooms down the road in a flashy red sports car, we think “midlife crisis”. When a young punk does the same thing, he’s “compensating”.

So what are we to think when a guy buys a 250,000 lb, 600 mph Boeing 707 jetliner?

I’ve known for sometime that John Travolta owns one. In fact, I flew out to Vegas one time and ended up parking next to (more like “under”) a gleaming 707 painted in vintage Qantas colors. Turns out it belonged to the disco king himself.

Built in 1964 for Qantas, it was later sold to Braniff Airlines. Frank Sinatra owned it in 1972, and Kirk Kerkorian purchased it in 1975. Travolta bought the plane in May, 1998. He had leased it back to Qantas for a promotional round-the-world tour, and in exchange Qantas repainted it in the original “V-Jet” colors and also put Travolta through training to receive his 747 type certificate.

So is a 747 on his Christmas list? Doubtful. You can pick up an old one for only a few million dollars–almost certainly within his budget. The real hurdle is the care and feeding. Fuel. Parts. Maintenance. Take insurance, for example. Imagine trying to find a company willing to insure an owner-flown jumbo jet for liability risks, especially in the post-September 11th atmosphere.

But the largest issue would probably be storage. Where does one keep a 747? Or a 707, for that matter? Travolta used to live at a well-known airpark called Spruce Creek Fly-In. Airparks are residential communities built around runways. Instead of a garage, your house has an attached hangar, and your driveway leads directly to the runway. For people whose lives revolve around airplanes, it’s heaven.

Spruce Creek is one of the oldest and most successful airparks, and the 707 was kept there for several years until Travolta was evicted because of noise complaints from his neighbors. It’s the first and only case I know of where airplane owners kicked a fellow pilot out due to airplane noise. But then, you’d have to hear a 707 on takeoff to appreciate it–it’s loud. The concept of “noise pollution” didn’t exist back in the 50’s. I think they were just glad to be able to move from 200 mph piston airliners to 600 mph jets.

Anyway, I’ve often wondered why he made this deal with Qantas. Sure, it’s a great promo for the airline, for aviation, and for his films. But I also suspect that the cost of owning and operating a 707 was steep, even for someone with his income. The 707 demands three pilots in the cockpit and a large team of maintenance personnel on the ground. It has four engines, and overhauling them is around a million dollars. Each. And as nice as his 707 is, there are not many places he can go with it. Either the runways are too short, or the noise ordinances are too strict.

Once he was evicted from Spruce Creek, I lost track of where the plane was based. Until now.

It seems that John has solved his real estate problem. He’s moved to another Florida airpark–a new one called Jumbolair. What an appropriate name! The airport and his $4.9 million estate are large enough to accomodate transport category airliners.

Here’s the Boeing jet parked in the driveway. Or, as I like to call it, “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile”:

Here’s the estate itself. Note that he has two planes there–the 707 and a smaller Gulfstream business jet:

And finally, one of the neatest architectural features of the house, a “control tower” on the roof: