Bill Bonbrake has an active retirement: He golfs, runs and more recently, he tries to figure out what to do with his jet airliner.
Several months ago, Bonbrake became the owner of a 30-ton, vintage DC-9, which hasn’t flown in more than a decade. It’s a far cry from his career spent selling classic and antique cars, but Bonbrake is hoping to make the sale in the next week.
“It is kind of an unusual item,” the Bolingbroke resident said of his airplane, which sits on the tarmac in Eastman.
An eBay auction was scheduled to end Sunday, but Bonbrake didn’t expect that would meet his reserve price.
“Truthfully, I didn’t expect to sell it on eBay,” he said. “But where else for $30 can you get exposure to millions of people?”
He also has a listing on Craigslist, where it’s offered for $49,500. Bonbrake offered it up in the “cars & trucks” section, where zero-wheel drive and no transmission were not options in the listing.
He thinks a live auction at Peach Auction Sales in Byron could sell the plane Friday or Saturday. A straight sale is better than some other alternatives he’s considered, like taking the plane apart himself and trying to sell the best parts.
“If I had the time and knowledge, I could probably sell this for 100 grand,” he said.
For some people, the DC-9 could be an oversized albatross. For Bonbrake, it’s something like 60,000 pounds of opportunity in a 110-foot-long package.
He said he’s learned much since he got the airplane, including learning that the fuel should be removed. He had 1,300 gallons drained, a small fraction of the amount of fuel the McDonnell Douglas jet would have carried when it began flying in 1969.
A history of the airplane compiled by Atlanta’s National Museum of Commercial Aviation lists some of the airplane’s accomplishments. It flew some 39 million miles with airlines including Delta and AirTran. That distance is hard to grasp: It’s equivalent to about 81 round-trip flights to the moon, or more than 1,500 flights around the world.
The airplane landed at Eastman’s Heart of Georgia Regional Airport in 2002, a gift of AirTran to what’s now known as the Eastman aviation campus of Middle Georgia State College, which used it in classes. And there it’s been ever since. Whoever buys the airplane needs to get it out in the next few months, and that can be expensive.
Richard Grigg, director of the National Museum of Commercial Aviation, said his organization decided not to bring the DC-9 to its location in Atlanta because moving costs were so high.
“It was going to cost us over $30,000 to move it and then put it back together,” he said.
He also said there’s no way to tell what the airplane ultimately would be used for.
“Scrappers want these things for the metal. Sometimes people want to move them and turn them into restaurants,” he said.
Ron Powers, general manager of Atlanta Air Recovery in Griffin, said he’d talked to Bonbrake about the plane.
“It’ll never fly again,” Powers said. DC-9s are still flying in South America and other areas, leaving a potential market for parts.
“I told him to make it a treehouse or do something creative with it,” Powers said.
Bonbrake said he’s received some unusual calls about the plane. One man in California said he built a 66-foot trailer for hauling away fuselages. That man would have a long, costly trip and could well drive past other old airliners stored in the desert, Bonbrake noted.
He said he received a message from Australia, even though he advertised it for sale only in the United States. He doesn’t know why the person from Down Under was interested in an airplane that will never go back into the blue skies. Then there were other messages.
“I had a guy call me the other day. He says, ‘I want the left wing,’” Bonbrake said.
Bonbrake said AirTran had done a full remodeling not long before the airplane was taken out of service, leaving new carpet and seats. It’s stayed sealed, keeping the weather out.
Without maintenance records, the airplane would need special permission from the Federal Aviation Administration to take off just to go to a relatively close runway for more repairs and inspections.
The “FAA doesn’t want a 60,000-pound thing flying around that might not make it so far,” Bonbrake said.
The lack of maintenance records also makes it more difficult to sell parts. Some parts were already taken out; Bonbrake filled a pickup with manuals and avionics gear, and took the equipment to his barn in Bolingbroke.
He notes aluminum normally sells for about 70 to 75 cents a pound. He figures that means the whole airplane might be worth about $45,000 just as scrap. In his eBay listing, he suggested it could be used for advertising, a restaurant, a house, office storage, a lake house or a bar.
He wonders, too, about having the airplane moved to his farm to use, perhaps as living quarters.
“I have an older Airstream trailer,” Bonbrake said. “Well, an airplane doesn’t look all that different from an Airstream,” he said.
Bonbrake has learned that disassembly can be complicated, and the airplane is big. He’s been learning since he bought the plane -- he won’t say how much he paid for it -- and hopes to get some money back for his time and effort in the sale. Whatever the sale price, it would pale in comparison to the original $21 million price tag, which in today’s dollars would be worth about $136 million.
He’s also willing to share his hard-acquired knowledge with whoever buys the plane, beginning with the first advice he was given before he went to Eastman to climb through the plane. He took with him about five cans of wasp spray, and he found nests in engines, landing gear and struts.
“The first part of disassembling a plane,” he said wryly, “is removing wasps.”
To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.