Seoul’s ruined Jumbo Jet, the Juan T. Trippe

October 21, 2009 · Haikyo, Planes / Tanks, South Korea, World Ruins 

The Juan T. Trippe Jumbo Jet was once the crown jewel of the Pan Am fleet, built in 1970 as the world’s first commercial jumbo jet. Now it’s the shabby ruin of a high-concept restaurant in Seoul, South Korea.

I visited in the summer of 2009, with SY. This is the story of our explore, and the story of how such a historic plane ended up in such bizarre circumstances.

Nose cone of the Juan T. Trippe

I was in Korea to visit SY’s family and get to know something about her country. On our trip we visited all the major tourist highlights- the War Museum, the Seoul Tower, various ancient palaces. and of course, this plane.

The Juan T. Trippe is hardly on the Korean tourist trail, nor does it feature in any guidebooks or promotional brochures, but it’s after glimpsing it on the internet I knew I just had to visit this amazing sight for myself. It did not disappoint. To say the vision of a jumbo jet parked beside a city is incongruous is an understatement. It’s downright bizarre, and intriguing. That’s clearly what the owners hoped for when they bought it in California, had it chopped into 62 pieces and shipped in giant containers across the Pacific.

What owners? Time for a little history.

Easy to spot.

This jet was built in 1969, and named after Juan T. Trippe, one of the leading aeronautical pioneers of his time. He was a Howard Hughes figure who invented the very idea of the Jumbo Jet. He also and founded the company Pan American Airlines, which in the 1930’s and 40’s was the biggest airline company in the world.

However modern times were not kind to Pan Am, and after Trippe’s death in 1975 it began to ail. In 1991 the company filed for bankruptcy and was not bailed out by the US government. As a result it was broken up and all its planes sold. The Juan T. Trippe flew a few more routes between Nigeria, California, and Somalia for various owners, before being put out to pasture in 1999. However in 2001 a South Korean couple bought it as their dream-retirement package, shipped it to Seoul, and converted into a high-concept restaurant.

On dry land again they rebuilt it, fashioning new stubby wings for it to keep the image complete, gutting it to add in Asian-style floor-dining at the level of the windows, a kitchen, and an executive suite up where the pilots once steered the giant craft.

The restaurant didn’t last long though, failing in the mid-2000’s, leaving the couple living in a hut beneath the hull to serve as security guards to keep out vandals. We met them, when they popped out from their shack under the plane to chase us away.

More on that now.

Bold against the city.

Giant nose.

SY figured all the logistics for this trip, not surprisingly since she’s Korean. It meant taking a combination of several trains and buses out of central Seoul 40km or so.

“We’re nearly at the end of the line,” she said, as the bus pulled round another twisting turn amongst Korea’s tall green mountains.

“I see it!” I cried, as for a moment the nose of a bright blue jumbo jet poked its head out at me, before another green mountain blocked it from view.

We got off the bus and hurried to see it, and there it was. The Juan T. Trippe in all its jumbo glory, clearly abandoned, gorgeous against a gorgeous blue sky.

Ready to take-off, again. Here the stair-case and hut under the belly are clear.

After arriving and wandering around a bit in awe, we approached. There was a shabby looking hut beneath the jet’s belly, and an access stair going up the side. We climbed up it, only to be halted at the top by locked glass doors. Down the stairs, seemingly roused by our footsteps, an angry old man appeared out of nowhere and spat some aggressive Korean at us. SY told me he was basically telling us to get lost, get off his property, which I suppose was fair enough.

A noodle shop under its wing.

Fair enough, but we’d not come all that distance to give up so easily. SY took point and I stood in back smiling and flashing my camera as we went down to the shack the old man lived in, squatted underneath the hull. He called out into the house and an old woman emerged, presumably his wife, who seemed pretty unimpressed with us, though perhaps amenable to suggestion. SY flashed her press credentials and pushed through the woman’s negativity with some semi-true exaggerations (this is a photographer from England, I’m from a magazine in Tokyo, we’ve come only to see your plane, we really had hoped to see inside, please don’t say we’ve come all this way for nothing), not really false but neither totally true.

The woman persisted, but SY just started walking forwards and saying ‘thank you thank you’ and before I knew it the woman had relented and we were in the fuselage (where it was baking hot) and taking shots.

At the entrance, looking in.

Dining zones.

Tables, windows.

It was obvious the woman was only just tolerating us, so SY kept her busy with a barrage of questions (taking notes all the while), while I took photos as fast I could. I hurried towards the cock-pit but the woman signaled for me to stop. SY said ‘thank you thank you’ a few more times and we both made a dash onwards, unobstructed.

The cockpit was set up like an office, with a few chairs looking out of the glass over the city blocks, an old PC in back. Down the spiral staircase beneath it was a conference room kind of space, a nice long table and chairs fitting perfectly in the narrowing fuselage.

Conference zone.

Conference zone windows.

Refurbishing.

Cockpit.

Suite area.

Looking down on clouds.

Low tables and seating cushions.

We dashed around a bit more, took a few more photos, then that was it, and we were out in the cool fresh air again. SY was able to fill me in on all that she’d learned: the two old folks were the owners, they’d bought it with their own cash as their dream-retirement package, the first commercial Jumbo Jet ever in their possession as a restaurant. It was a big dream, and one can only respect their ambition.

For the few years it managed to survive, I can imagine all the locals coming to check it out at least once, just to say they had eaten there, but after you’ve used up that pool, and the middle-era Jumbo Jet fan pool, what do you have left? A rather expensive, sad folly in the middle of nowhere.

Down the side.

Out the back.

The wife also told SY that numerous film and TV crews had come by asking for permission to come aboard and do interviews, but she’d always refused, including refusing a crew from NHK (the Japanese BBC) who had come especially to shoot it. Why she let us in is a mystery, but probably has to do with SY’s determination. Kudos to her for that!

She further told us the plane would be shipped off elsewhere, and would become a museum, which seems a fitting third life for such a storied plane. (note- it has since been demolished, though I can’t say whether it ended up as a museum or simply scrap metal).

Juan T. Trippe, the aviator.

seouls ruined jumbo jet restaurant25

One of the sections preparing for transit, back in 2001 after the couple bought it.

Here’s a video of some highlights. Its quite basic, as once inside it was pell-mell to get what photos I could. There were much longer sections with SY talking to the lady beneath the plane, I just left a few seconds in so you get the impression.

Seoul’s ruined Jumbo Jet- Clipper Juan T. Trippe from Michael John Grist on Vimeo.

You can see more photos of ruin in the galleries-

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Comments:
28 Responses to “Seoul’s ruined Jumbo Jet, the Juan T. Trippe
  1. Scott says:

    Hey Mikey – very cool, and very impressive you guys managed to get in! Well done.

  2. David Meyer says:

    Mike, take very good care of Su Young. She really went to bat for you there.

    Interesting ruin with a different flavor than most you feature. The back story is especially interesting, from the rise and fall of Pan Am to the big-dreaming but disappointed Korean couple. I agree with gassho’s comment on the recent soapland haiyko article: any tidbit about the background of these places really enhances the reader’s experience of vicariously exploring these places through your photos and writing.

    A trivia note: Juan Trippe was not only a “Howard Hughes figure” but a business rival of Hughes himself. Trippe was played by Alec Baldwin in the film “The Aviator”.

  3. Can. Mike says:

    fourth shot maybe my favourite, like the image of the plane sitting surrounded by buildings, very surreal.

    Wow, I really feel sorry for that old Korean couple…. I guess they pretty much lost their life savings?

  4. Jason says:

    Wow, so it took hardcore pleading to be allowed inside? Did know it was closed down ahead of time?

    I guess SY must have had to say a million kamsameda’s!

  5. MJG says:

    Scott- Cheers, and respect goes to SY for getting us in.

    David- Absolutely right, she definitely put the effort in. Glad you like the background detail, when I can get it I generally do add it. Many of he Japanese ruins I went to though were just not big enough to leave much of an information trail. As for Trippe, yeah I figured they must have been contemporaries- thanks for extra info.

    Can- Cheers. Yeah I felt kind of sad after hearing they lost all their savings, living in that hut underneath the plane. Not the retirement they had expected, I guess.

    Jason- Ha, yes a lot of Kamsahamnedas, used like a battering ram.

  6. David Meyer says:

    Mike, I really like today’s look for Out of Ruins. The landing page is thrillingly clean with all the highlights on one page with no scrolling. Neat interface to click on what you want for an in-line expansion. “Customize” is fun and the results look good, though this site is definitely “Black”.

    The only quibble I have is that maybe the overall look is a little *too* clean for a site dedicated to haikyo and dark fiction, but personally I think the new look and operability is a big plus, especially for current fans of the site who know what you’re about and want to get the the material that interests them.

    Have you changed blog engines, or is this interface a WordPress plugin?

  7. MJG says:

    Hi David, awesome you like the new look, was hearing from a number of people how the old site was taking forever to load, so wanted to go the other way and really trim it down. This look really appeals to me too- love that it’s all on one page. Agreed it’s a bit odd to have no photos up front, but I’ll tinker some and see about that. Also the customize is good, cos while you and some others like the black, other people complain black gives them a head-ache, so they can easily go white.
    As ever- thanks for input!

  8. David Meyer says:

    Pan-Am mystique. The Korean couple should get in touch with the man in this story: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125650482699406669.html

  9. [...] his garage. That was on the post about the South Korean couple who spent all their cash buying the world’s first commercial 747 to use as a restaurant. Cheers David! Posted: October 27th, 2009 Categories: Planes, Ruins, [...]

  10. jonhohx says:

    bloody amazing….thank u for this

  11. Max says:

    The cockpit on a jumbo jet is upstairs LOL!!! The conference room is actually the first class section…

  12. MJG says:

    David- Thought I`d replied to this ages ago, but yeah, great link and connection. Fascinating, thanks.

    Jonhohx- Thanks, I`m glad you liked it.

    Max- Not sure if this is sarcasm, do you mean the cockpit is upstairs, or isn`t? In this plane, it was upstairs.

  13. Hello,

    That was really interesting for me to see that. I did not know that something like that existed. Indeed the fourth shot is the most impressive and and make me feel of these post apocalyptic films. Anyway thanks for sharing, and well I still believe that even the craziest dreams are worth trying

  14. G says:

    Wow. Where in Seoul is this exactly?

  15. lina says:

    It’s in Hopyeong, Namyangju.
    And the plane was destroyed yesterday. A demolition crew was breaking up the remaining pieces and putting it into a dump truck today.
    Here are some pics I took this morning.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/18523995@N00/sets/72157625455239789/

    • MJG says:

      Ah, what a shame, but I guess it’s been long-fated for demolition. Thanks lina for sharing your photos of the deconstruction. I guess the old couple who lived beneath it don’t need to worry about intruders anymore. Makes me wonder why they were bothered at all, actually, if it was only ever going to be junked. Perhaps they were holding out a hope it would sell to a museum or something? Though probably they just didn’t want kids partying in there and making a mess outside.

    • Guy says:

      What a unglorious end for the Aircraft … Being an ex-PanAmer myself, it brings tears to my eyes … The late Juan T. Trippe mus have been turning in his grave … I’m sure that everyone in the PanAm family will agree …

  16. WDS says:

    Thank you for this wonderful sete of images. From:

    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2010/12/13/MNIC1GPOLN.DTL

    the airliner is now destroyed. Your photographic essay will hopefully endure.

    Thanks again.

  17. Paul says:

    Gah, Korea is really bad at demolishing stuff with historical value. Shocking!

    Just last month they demolished the old JR head’s house in Korea from the colonial era. Fusion Japanese/Dutch architecture built in Korean style. A beautiful and truly unique building. Also, secured to the teeth until the day of demolition (WHY?!)

    Even poking around the skeletal remains was iffy as building company goons are (still I believe) having a standoff with a holdout putting up seige next door and do not take kindly to eyes that may see things they shouldn’t.

  18. Paden says:

    What a fascinating story – the background of the airplane, the business venture of the couple, and the eventual demolition of the aircraft. The couple had so much love for the story behind the airplane but the noodle market just didn’t care enough to keep the noodle shop open. It makes you wonder if the airplane was to off-set the poor taste of their noodles. I appreciate the effort that you took to get those pictures and the story.

  19. CE says:

    NEW YORK

    Thank you so much for such great pictures. They are beautiful. That couple could recover from such an expense by simply letting the people come in and pay a charge. If were would shoot a movie they would make more money. Poor couple. I feel bad for them.

    Pan Am was a huge part of my life and my family’s. My mother always flew on on Pan Am. When I was small I travelled from South America with my grandmom who is now 101 years old on Pan Am into JFK Airport in New York to re-unite with my mother after several years of not seeing each other.I was only 13 or 14 years old. When I was in college in the 1980?s I flew on Pan Am also to visit friends and other family relatives. Pan Am reunited my family and it was an iconic airline. My mother cried when they stopped flying for the last time in 1991. We felt as if we had lost part of our family because the crew was always so professional and kind to us. The meals were great and the service was just awesome. I still visit World Port at JFK in New York to relive the great momemts in my life. I feel the US Government turned its back on the most important airline, Pan Am, and they let it go. They did not support it the way they supported the three car makers here in the US. Pan Am even helped transport troops on their planes. It was terrible how they got treated. In the words of a Pan Am employee that I will not forget while standing and watching the last Pan Am plane taking off at an airport with other Pan Am employees he said with tears ” This is almost like a break-up after being married for many many years. We were together like a family and now we have to let go all of a sudden “. I hope you come back Pan Am. We miss you.

    Thanks again for sharing such wonderful pictures with us.

    • MJG says:

      Thanks for sharing your story here. CE, and sorry I didn’t reply sooner. I can imagine it must have been remotional to watch pan am go down, especially if your life was so tied up with it. And what a shame to see this proud plane, a pioneer., reduced to ruin.

      Thanks again for youf story, gives some real weight to a visit that was largely just surreal for me at the time.

  20. CE says:

    If the owner painted the plane it would look so much better and I bet she would get much more attention, even internationally.

    • Bullwhacker says:

      True.
      Heck they could have made it into a house; sell tours and interviews…
      The thing I learned about Koreans they are either all or nothing in regards to projects or ideas..

  21. Charles Miller says:

    It is sad to see this airplane in such condition. I used to fly on this jet as a Flight Engineer

    It was so sad to see the downfall of a once dominant world airline. I was fortunate to have been with Pan Am for 37 years.

    Good bless all those who were Pam family.

    Charlie

    • Brian Duxbury says:

      Great photos and well done on gaining access!

      This 747 was actually the 2nd airframe to be built after the prototype which is preserved at the Museum of Flight in Seattle. As such it is quite historical as it was the first 747 to fly commercially for Pan Am. I saw it in San Bernadino, CA before it was shipped to Korea and hoped it would find a more dignified preservation site.

      Sadly, aeroplanes do not like sitting around not flying. Preservation of large aircraft like this is very expensive and time consuming to protect them against the elements. Most preserved aircraft have to be kept indoors and those too large end up looking quite shabby unless they are regularly treated, as can be seen by the outside condition of the airframe.

      There have been quite a few attempts to convert airliners into restaurants over the years and nearly all have them have failed. The clue is in your comments on entering the plane – they get very hot! Basically a large tin can sitting in the sun, they need a huge amount of air conditioning to keep them cool which is expensive to run. Sadly aeroplane restaurants are a very impractical proposition, and I imagine the poor couple’s hostility was in part down to their shame at how things turned out.

      A great pity as I would have liked this historically significant plane to still be with us, alas, this project was always doomed to failure.

      Regards

      Brian Duxbury, Southampton, UK

      • MJG says:

        Fascinating, thanks so much for this comment, Brian! Especially about the getting hot problem, perhaps something the proud owners just hasn’t considered. I suppose the metal frame and natural air-tightness of the body are what makes this so bad.

        Arrgh, I feel bad for the owners when you talk about shame, especially seeing how they were reduced to living underneath it! Why would they want people to come photograph their failure? *winces*

        And it can’t have been cheap. I wonder how any private individual could buy a plane like this?

        Shame to hear the other plane/restaurants probably failed in the same way. It does seem like such a good idea!

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