A look at the 747 Wing House by architect David Hertz
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Vision of a self-supporting wing roofed home
The idea for the famous Malibu aeroplane house began with a request from owner Francie Rehwald for a modern home with soft, feminine lines. Architect Hertz was determined to find a building solution that in no way interfered with the sweeping views of mountains, valleys and Pacific Ocean. He visualised a floating roof that seemed to hover over the site and meld with the curves and sweep of the landscape. His first concept sketches showed a curved ceiling and a roof form that reminded him of the wing section of an aeroplane.
Hertz began researching aeroplane wings and superimposing different wing types on the site to scale. The 2,500 square foot wing of a Boeing 747 jumbo jet seemed to fit most beautifully. Hertz showed Rehwald a series of photographs he’d taken of the sculptural, feminine, curvilinear shapes of the aeroplane’s wings and fuselage sections. She embraced his vision and they arranged to view the enormous, sinuous curves of an aeroplane up close before agreeing to go ahead.
A jetliner’s boneyard reprieve
The plane that was destined to be converted into luxury property was sourced from one of California’s many aeroplane “boneyards”, where retired aircraft wait in the desert to be sold or scrapped for raw material.
Interestingly, the wing house was to be built on the former home of artist and Hollywood set designer Tony Duquette and his wife, who were upcyclers themselves and had created more than 20 structures from recycled objects and film sets. The Duquettes sold the property after it burned down in the Green Meadow fire of 1993.
The Boeing aeroplane was purchased for Hertz’s project for $30,000 (its original price in 1970 was $25 million) before being detoxified and cut apart at the Victorville Airport using a laser and cut-off saws. First the cockpit and tail were removed and the fuselage cut longitudinally; then transverse sectioning reduced large segments of fuselage and the wings to a manageable size, ready for transport.
Journey of the old airplane to the building site
Three major freeways were closed overnight so that a truck accompanied by seven California Highway Patrol vehicles could transport the plane parts to Camarillo Airport in Oxnard. With each wing weighing 20,000lbs, the only way to then transport them on to the remote building site was by cutting them in two and flying them by helicopter – a Columbia Model 234 Commercial Chinook – to set them down on a large pile of tires. The wings were then spliced back together and hoisted onto columnar supports, connecting the custom fabricated steel brackets on the columns to the engine mounts on the wings.
The 747 Wing House takes shape
Hertz had to make sure the project kept moving forward through obstructions and red tape – 17 government agencies had to give their approval – as well as careful checking with aviation experts and aerospace consultants that no uplift would be created by the wings once they were finally in place. The roof of the house also had to be registered with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) so pilots flying overhead wouldn’t mistake the house for a downed aircraft.
The team was able to use every part of the airplane fuselage, along with the wings and tail section. The main house is made up of two buildings linked together on three levels, using two wings and two horizontal stabilisers from the Boeing 747. The ceilings on the lower part of the house are 18 feet tall and topped with the left plane wings. The upper structure of the main house uses the right wing as the roof and two horizontal stabilizers above the master bedroom and bathroom.
Ultimately, it’s not the glossy, majestic sweep of the airplane wings alone that make this building work so well. The genius is in the way they’ve been cleverly positioned to float atop simple concrete walls cut into the hillside and frameless, self-supporting glass windows and doors. The roofs are supported by simple steel brace frames attached to mounting points on the wing where the engines were once mounted.
Future plans for the property include using the rest of the decommissioned plane to create an art studio building using a 50ft section of the upper fuselage as a roof. The remaining front section of the fuselage and upper first class cabin deck will serve as the roof of a guesthouse, while the lower half of the fuselage will form the roof of an animal barn. A meditation pavilion will utilize the front section of the aeroplane, with the cockpit windows forming a skylight.
The cost of the plane-to-house conversion
While the total cost of the project hasn’t been disclosed, Hertz says that for almost $30,000, the build gained an enormous amount of material from an aircraft over 230ft long, 195ft wide and 63ft tall, with 17,000 cubic feet of cargo space. Pre-fabricating lightweight components offsite saved a substantial amount of carbon dioxide output and construction waste. Having these components delivered to the building site via helicopter resulted in considerable cost-saving, even at almost $8,000 an hour, compared to the cost of getting traditional labour and material up and down the mountain to the remote site.
If the idea of spending time beneath the wings of a jet has you inspired but you can’t afford to take on a project like the 747 Wing House, then private jet charter is a good option for your next business trip or holiday. Speak to our team, who will take you through the various options available to you.
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