A 54 year old Boeing 727 has taken a five-day-long trip across the north of South Africa. Unlike its previous flying days, this was a slow, arduous trip by road, traveling 320 miles between Johannesburg and Hoedspruit. The 727 is destined to become a VIP hotel suite for the ambitious Aerotel, with up to 18 beds available to exclusively book out.
An unusual convoy
People in South Africa witnessed a very unusual convoy on the roads last week. A Boeing 727, loaded onto the bed of a huge truck, slowly made its way across the country from Johannesburg’s OR Tambo Airport to the town of Hoedspruit on the edge of the Kruger National Park.
While the trip would have taken just minutes if the aircraft was flying, the journey by road took a whole lot longer. Altogether, the trip covered 520 km (323 miles), a distance achievable by car in under six hours. However, as the convoy was so exceptionally large and cumbersome, the truck could only crawl along the roads at around 10 miles per hour.
Consequently, the entire journey took five days to complete. The aircraft set off from Johannesburg in the morning of Monday, 7th June. It finally arrived at its destination in the afternoon on Friday 11th. It had passed through a number of South African towns and villages along the route, causing much excitement on the way.
A VIP hotel
The final destination for the Boeing 727 is the Aerotel in Hoedspruit. Aerotel already has one aircraft hotel on site, a Boeing 737, previously registered ZS-BIL. This 39 year old 737-200 was originally delivered to America West, although its last operator was Gryphon Airlines in South Africa.
Aerotel founder Martin den Dunnen and his wife Tracy den Dunnen bought the 737 in 2019, rebuilding it into a 12-bed boutique hotel complete with showers. It opened in October 2020, but den Dunnen wasn’t done there.
According to a report in the South African, the plan was always to have a second aircraft on site. The second would be a VIP experience, which could be hired out in its entirety for guests of the Aerotel. The 727, in its VIP configuration, fit the bill perfectly.
The giant 727 will have 18 beds in total, making it perfect for large families or group getaways. Although the big T-tail was removed for transportation, it will be reinstalled at the site as the project to refurbish the plane gets underway.
No details on the pricing for the 727 accommodation are yet available, but the 737 rooms are bookable from R1,500 ($109) per person.
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About the 727
The Boeing 727 was most recently registered J2-KBA, and was a VIP jet for the Djibouti Air Force. It had flown in this role between April 2001 and September 2012, but has been parked since then.
Before entering VIP configuration, the plane operated for the former Frontier Airlines. This is not the same Frontier we know today, but an airline formed from the merger of Arizona Airways, Challenger Airlines and Monarch Airlines on June 1st, 1950.
Operating out of Stapleton Airport in Denver, the airline began service with 12 Douglas DC-3s. It was the first airline to fly the Convair 580, and didn’t integrate the 727 until February 1967. Flying as N7273F, this aircraft was one of the first to arrive, but left the fleet in 1969 as the airline moved to a Boeing 737-based operation.
The 727 became N300BN, flying for Braniff International until 1982. It spent the next decade with Burlington Northern (BAX Global), a cargo airline, as N3946A, until it left the fleet in 1995. Its final stop was with Force Aérienne du Djibouti, where it served as a VIP transport plane from 2001 until 2012.
Now, it will take on a new lease of life as a VIP hotel suite for Aerotel’s most distinguished guests. The hotel has said that, because the plane is already in a VIP configuration, not a lot will need to be changed internally. Therefore, we can expect bookings to open up in the near future.