Dream Big, Or Go Home

So far the most exciting announcement about Burning Man 2015 is not the $800 VIP tickets, or the “chumps and suckers” circus theme…it’s Big Imagination, who are going to bring a 747 Jumbo Jet as their art car.

747 cad drawing

This is surely the most ambitious project ever on the Playa. As we were packing up at the end of Cargo Cult, I heard a rumor that there was a plan to bring an art car that required 100 crew. I dismissed it at the time as bullshit – “what art car needs 100 crew? A cruise ship?” – but some rumors are indeed true, and this is very real.

3 stories tall, 4 buses wide, half a football field long, on 18 squishy wheels, able to carry more than 300 people. And it moves.

747Ken is one of the main instigators of the vision, and he’s someone who knows what he’s doing. He designed the very popular Charlie the Unicorn art car, and was part of the Robot Heart team.

I’m the knucklehead who dreamed up this crazy idea.

My Playa background was being a workerbee on Robot Heart from 2008-11, then I designed and built Charlie the Unicorn (with a lot of help). In the default world I have a varied background but experience in managing large, complex projects from aerospace to film.

Charlie The Unicorn. Image: Jun/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Charlie The Unicorn. Image: Jun/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Big Imagination Foundation is a arts and education non-profit. Specifically, the mission is to incubate and support projects that bold, inspiring, and visionary. We’re purposely trying to stay flexible on our first project.

As for why this big thing? I sketched this out on the Playa dust in 2009. I swore I would never do another art car after Charlie unless it was truly epic. When I found out we could get our hands on a scrap 747, welllll, it was just too good of a chance to pass up. Once in a lifetime, right? I’m not necessarily shooting for the “biggest” just because. We could do a plane-oriented project much easier with a smaller fuselage. However, the 747 is iconic, and that upper deck is spectacular. When this baby rolls down the playa, peoples minds are going to melt. [Source: Reddit]

Truly epic is right – my mind has melted already. If you have the resources, better to do something like this and share it with everyone, than sell exclusive hotel rooms with porcelain toilets to VIP guests who hand out a few popsicles.

The top of the plane will be cut open to make an outdoor lounge.

The latest design...the "mohawk look" is gone

The latest design…the “mohawk look” is gone

Despite what some Internet armchair pundits have speculated, they will not actually be flying a 747 onto the Playa. The aircraft will be chopped up and moved by truck from the Mojave Desert airplane boneyard. The route has already been surveyed for the length they are considering.

A couple of years ago, I stopped to get gas in Inglewood, Los Angeles. If you’re familiar with LA, or hip-hop music, you know that Inglewood is not exactly Beverly Hills. “The hood” would be one way to describe it. So when I saw 3 helicopters hovering above me, I was somewhat concerned. A crazed shooter on the loose, perhaps? Then I noticed thousands of people lining the freeway overpasses. What was going on? As it turned out, the Space Shuttle had been retired, and Endeavour was being towed through the streets to its resting place at the California Science Center. How did they get the Space Shuttle to LA? On the back of a 747. That’s how big this aircraft is, Space Shuttles ride on top of it.

Space Shuttle Endeavour being carried to LA on a 747. Image: Nasa HQ / Flickr (Creative Commons)

Space Shuttle Endeavour being carried to LA on a 747. Image: Nasa HQ / Flickr (Creative Commons)

The Space Shuttle caused quite a scene on the streets of LA. Image: J Jakobson/Flickr (Creative Commons)

The Space Shuttle caused quite a scene on the streets of LA. Image: J Jakobson/Flickr (Creative Commons)

A full size Boeing 747 is 231 feet long, and its wings are 196 feet wide. Its fuselage is 32 feet high and the tail section reaches to 63.5 feet. The aircraft weighs just under 200 tons without fuel or passengers – more than enough to sink into the Playa.

This is not quite full size. They are not bringing the 4 engines, the wings, or the tail section – not to mention all the wiring, hydraulics and seats that will be removed. They will chop the Jumbo’s fuselage at 120 feet, about half the total length. In the future they may turn the tail section into another art car, able to move independently and perhaps “form like Voltron” when the 2 art cars get together at the same event. The cut-down Jumbo will weigh 55,000 lbs, which is about the same as a semi-trailer. The fuselage width is 21.3 feet, as opposed to a standard semi-trailer width of 8.5 feet and a road lane width of 12 feet. The 747 will take up 2 lanes of road for the nearly 500 mile journey between the Airplane Boneyard at the Mojave Air and Space Port (CA) to Black Rock City (NV). All care and consideration is being given to the necessary permits for transportation, and minimizing impact on the Playa. They have a moving company that has been “hauling big ass structures for years”.

A 747 dwarfs regular commercial airliners

A 747 dwarfs regular commercial airliners. Image: Airliners.Net (via Kampungkai)

Big Imagination are considering a variety of options for moving the thing around at Burning Man, including towing it behind an aircraft tug. One spokesperson for the DMV has said that the tug needs to be a mutant vehicle too, it can’t just be a stock airport vehicle. Safety third! It would be a shame if this wonderful project was green-lit by the BLM but got killed by BMOrg’s bureaucracy. Big Imagination have been speaking to the DMV and seem to have support at the right levels.

An airport tug is not exactly a small vehicle. Image: Christian Junker/Flickr (Creative Commons)

An airport tug is not exactly a small vehicle. Image: Christian Junker/Flickr (Creative Commons)

I have complete faith that these guys know what they’re doing and can pull this off. Hat’s off to Big Imagination: it will undoubtedly be the greatest thing Burning Man has ever seen, and will be the place to party at Carnival of Mirrors. Expect massive amounts of press coverage – it has started already, with stories in Mixmag, Gigwise, Bangin Beats,  Music Times, Cool Hunting, YourEDM, Dancing Astronaut, EDM Tunes, Less Than 3, EDM Nations, EDM SaucePulse RadioFestival Sherpa, Fest300…and skeptics at Airliners.Net and Yahoo Answers.

They are looking for volunteers in LA (and possiby Tucson) to help them out – that’s the “100 crew”. Get involved at bigimagination.org. Support the project with a donation.

The non-profit Big Imagination arts foundation has a broader vision than just a week’s partying in the desert:




747 pic 3

Here are some further comments from Big Imagination about the project:

Zero wristbands…We are focused on “radically inclusive exclusivity”. Everything will be First Class and top shelf, and everyone is invited. No private events, no “hot chicks only”, no “we don’t know you”. Hey, we WANT to know you. As long as we’re safe and not too full, everyone is welcome. And we should have plenty of space…

I spoke with the BLM this morning.  They said there are zero restrictions on weight and as long as the DMV/BORG give us the green light, we’re fine…this plane has been completely gutted.  No seats, no hydraulics, lots of wiring out, I could go on and on.  The heaviest parts left are the wingbox and and the rear landing gear.  I’d be stunned if we tip the scales over 70,000 lbs. Just to give you an idea, when the front 80′ are scrapped (section 1200 forward, I believe), it comes out to about 30,000 lbs of aluminum and such.  We’re going to section 1480, which includes the wing box and gear.  

We won’t be leaving marks any more than anyone else…

We’re aiming to drive around deep playa but could come into closer to the space between center camp and the man if a single spire of each 3,6&9 o clock trail is removed. That way, we could have a path to drive into the circle…

The 747 is a substantial upgrade to previous aviation-themed art cars.

Black Rock Air Force F-15. Image: Fest300

Black Rock Air Force F-15. Image: Ranger Twilight/Fest300


Playa One. Image: Sick Dog/Facebook

Playa One. Image: Sick Dog/Facebook

Playa One at sunset. Image: James Santos/Facebook

Playa One at sunset. Image: James Santos/Facebook

34 comments on “Dream Big, Or Go Home

  1. Pingback: 14 Tips For Getting Burning Man Tickets in the Individual Sale | Burners.Me: Me, Burners and The Man

  2. Am I the only one to see the absolute phallicness of this thing? Without wings it’s absurd. There’s an old joke going back as far as I can remember about men with big vehicles over-compensating for something much smaller. Apologies to all around, but my hand to God, this was the first thing that popped into my head.

    On the other hand, it could be a truly epic piece.

    • Let’s not beat up on male heterosexuality, the only sexuality that is routinely beat up on. Give it a break. He drive a Porsche – he has a small dick, etc.. Apparently almost everything hetero men do is overcompensation for having a small penis.

      What’s the hetero female equivalent for having a pastrami sandwich?

  3. My belief is the 747 project is awesome, might the cash in support of the project not be from a person, or a camp, commodifying the burn. The 747 is an awesome basis for art, with the addendum of wild paint, lights, sound, and flight attendants supplying refreshments, it might be art. The prior spirit of Burning Man was everyone labours together, with their mates, purposed towards throwing an awesome crowd sourced party, and, to do audacious projects while stating to all bureaucratic rules ministers to get the bloody hell out of our way. My belief is the 747 project is within that spirit.

    burnersxxx, might this be worthy of a post? It is in the prior spirit of Burning Man, to labour together with others to do audacious projects purposed towards the benefit of a community. Tony Hsieh Is Building a Startup Paradise in Vegas

    “Now he describes the Downtown Project’s brand as “TED + SXSW + Burning Man, but as a lifestyle instead of as an annual event.” and “A few weeks later, in mid-November, a group of downtowners volunteered to move into some Airstreams that Hsieh had bought earlier. It’s a beta test to see if they can evoke the spirit of Burning Man in an unused parking lot downtown. There’s a community kitchen and a nightly campfire. The former collision scientist is in an Airstream. Hsieh has one, too.”

    His project has setbacks, but it is an awesome project. I might very much desire for him to nominate people to the Burning Man Project board, in place of Larry and Marian placing their mates on the board. He has an awesome intent, it might assist Burning Man towards returning to the prior spirit of the event.

    • Oh, yes! Now that’s something new, and in a new direction. And as long as the BOrg keeps the 1% riff-raff focused on BRC, this could be good, at least for a while. Also sounds like he has enough cash to keep from being bought out by the BOrg BoD types. Shows that there are creative people put there in the Burning Man spirit, just not part of the BOrg.

    • By appearances, burnersxxx, the person behind the 747 project is one of your mates, Jonathan Teo, the sfist listed him on the project. Kudos to him for this project.

    • I love heterosexual males. I’m serious. Too many people beating up everyone on the net lately. I say-absolutely go for it.

      Oh and phil is short for a female name, but I’ve been phil on the internet going on 15 years, so I’ve stuck to it.

  4. This might have been cool if I showed up on the playa and it was just there to blow everyone’s mind, but since it is accompanied by a media campaign it feels more like a tourist attraction (as does the whole NV event really)… something people can take pictures of and tell their coworkers they saw and it was “amazing”. I dunno, it just comes off like a spectacle of opulence and indulgence, a self-serving promotion, similar to the large scale sound camps. Also, as noted above, its too real-world for me (as was pop-culture inspired Charlie), I prefer the other-worldly and completely original pieces… I suppose that is preference, but really, where is the magic in this?

    • Lots of good points there, TTG.

      There’s a lot of emphasis on how it’s going to be the largest mobile art ever at TTITD. People are talking about “going big”, and about it being a 747. I understand how hard it is to transport even a portion of it to the playa, and that the reason they’re not using the whole plane is to make it mobile. I just don’t understand what the point of making it mobile is; especially if they still have to truck it to/from the playa, have to get DMV approval including putting enough lighting on it for a night license, have to find, transport, and mutate a tow vehicle, etc.

      Wow. 1/2 a 747 rolling around without wings looking like Jabba’s Sail Barge Beyond Thunderdome. Where’s Captain Walker to fly us to Whatsthepointofitland?

      I think it would be even more interesting to stick it somewhere inside the city, off the beaten path, and let people discover it.

    • Totally with you here, Talking Dog. I’m done with the spectacle oneupsmanship. I’ve stated before, I’d be totally fine with eliminating BMORG funding for projects and everyone just scaling it back. For almost all the big art in the past 5 years or so, I’m mostly just impressed with the logistics. The thing itself? Meh. Embrace was ugly as shit, for instance. The last truly beautiful big art piece was the Waffle. The Big Rig Jig made a great statement. I don’t know, this whole thing just rubs me the wrong way. And yeah, the inevitable media campaign and fundraising, for fuck’s sake. So done with it.

      • The Waffle and Big Rig Jig were definitely incredible, and I agree that Embrace was not in the same league. Crude Awakening was a big statement, with the statues worshipping it and the tesla coil and flame effects coming out of them.

        The logistics of chopping a 747 and bringing it to the Playa (and out again, without a trace) are very impressive – an aspect of Burner art that I appreciate. We don’t know yet what adornments/decoration the 747 will have in terms of lighting, flame effects, projection mapping etc. Don’t hate it til you’ve seen it, I reckon…

        • Agree, Crude Awakening was incredible. I remember waking up the morning after it blew and taking a ride and seeing a tree erected in place of the oil rig. I literally started crying. It was so clever, effective and unexpected, and the perfect coda to an amazing and, more importantly, purposeful spectacle. The whole project was so well thought out from start to finish. I’d put Church Trap in the same boat (although I didn’t attend that year). Big, but meaningful.

          I’m sure the 747 is gonna be impressive, and it might even be interesting to look at. Still, it’s just a party platform, from what I can tell. Nothing wrong with that, but the scale is getting ridiculous, and bigger for the sake of bigger is an awful trend, for my money.


          • Yeah, that was monumental. Saw one guy catch his hand on fire when he spun the burning orb. Would be cool if they take the 747 party bus and make is jump a giant shark, but I doubt that’s their plan.

    • I really hate to dis the project, because it is extremely ambitious, and it may very well turn out to be the most awesome art car ever, even if it is a little pedestrian in my opinion. I guess my point was that I dislike the off-playa promotion of it, the leveraging of burning man to gain exposure, to ends that are questionable at best… and in so doing, it will not feel “strange” to see it when I get there. At the risk of sounding like a “good-ole-days” Joe, I will wax poetic for moment. For me, when I started going, burning man was like going to another planet. It was so disconnected from the default world, so isolated, not only in its lack of publicity, but in its insistence on being alien, irrational, and dangerous both physically and psychologically. It was a beautiful and terrifying alternate reality, populated by rough and rogue creatures of all origins, not all necessarily nice, but all seeking something different, more profound, more visceral, more anarchical than conventional society can provide. I was constantly challenged by it, and having to tear down at weeks end, to have to let it go, was perhaps the most challenging. It literally disappeared like a dream. Now perhaps this is completely personal, but I don’t feel that way about burning man anymore. It’s more of just an fun and exotic tourist/party destination, a spectacle, but one grounded in reality with lots of pretty lights… and that is exactly the vibe I get from this project. To me, the playa and the real world are so connected now on so many levels… I just cant imagine that magic of “leaving earth” ever returning. Or maybe I am just an old fuddy-duddy who has outgrown it

      • Great post. I expect as the years go on and as BM becomes increasingly expensive to attend, the quality of the art will continue to decline. Great imagination and daring will be replaced by bigger not necessarily better. It’s a pity but this is what the Borg in their feverish lust for lucre have allowed to happen.

      • Awesome comment Talking Dog.

        Chuck J states ‘Great post. I expect as the years go on and as BM becomes increasingly expensive to attend, the quality of the art will continue to decline’.

        It is sad to view the BMOrg’s answer towards the awesome artists desiring a fair contract and the costs of their art paid from the $30.5 million in ticket sales. In the place of the BMOrg paying the $800,000 towards the art within 2014, solely $13 of each ticket, they are to decrease the cash directed towards the art within 2015, in due of a desire of cash, and in due of a desire of top down control. In the place of stating that they will raise the cash directed towards the art, their new website states of they will solely pay for ‘a small number of grants for the purpose of partially funding specific art projects.’

        Burning Man needs new leadership.

        • Hi ABP, my contention is that true creativity, as opposed to being merely derivative, tends to comes not from the well-to-do but from those making more from less.

          As the event becomes increasingly expensive the truly creative will either
          choose not to go or may not be welcome since they’re ‘not the right kind of people’. Now I’m not necessarily saying that the well-to-do cannot be or are not in some cases creative, but for the most part once they’ve become financially set their orientation all too often tends towards maintaining a status quo that defends their wealth (at the cost of war if necessary where of course somebody elses children will have to be sacrificed) as opposed to one that challenges the status quo or that inspires a sense of wonder or mystery. They tend to become increasingly mainstream, just like the event, as their material wealth abounds.

          There have been many communities where the eclectic and/or creative have flourished only to be replaced by fancy boutiques and upscale restaurants once the communities in which they thrived were ‘discovered’. These communities, no longer creative, seem to undeservedly inherit the legacy from the creatives that were driven out.

          The same thing has happened to BM.

          • While I am not sure it will cost more and more to “attend” burning man, it will certainly cost more and more to bring art anyone gives a eyewink about. In 2013 some friends and I cobbled together a few thousand bucks (not chump change for us) to build a structure out in the playa, and worked our ass off to make it happen. Now there are many positive things about that project, but I have to say that it was pretty ghetto by the modern playa standard. It was completely dwarfed and overshadowed by the extremely sizeable, polished, and clearly well-funded pieces all around us. Bottomline: without more resources to add more size and lights and a fancy finish, I simply did not feel like it fit in to the new aesthetic.

            Anyone who has been going to this for a while has seen the quantity and polish and the size of the pieces, camps, and cars continue to grow. In many ways, this is very cool, the playa is truly a sight to behold more than ever. But as the trend is clearly toward the specatacular (if not bigger, then more lights, more fire, more sound, more volume, more, more, more…) then the event will continue to draw those seeking a spectacle. If the crowd focuses only on extremely well funded art, cars, & camps then there there will be less and less of a place for those of us with limited resources who still wish to contribute artistically to the community. Rather than the event being inspiring, the message will be, as implied by title of this article, “build big or go home”. And that to me is very sad.

            This is not a class issue, and I am not against big art. Wealth has always been a part of burning man, and is behind some of the most magnificent pieces I have seen. This is an cultural issue because we are all buying into the spectacle aspect of the event in some way and yet we all know that is not what is awesome about burning man. It is all the people, and how they give and give and give and work like hell to make this impossibly ridiculous thing happen. So, how do we preserve an environment where people are encouraged to give to the communal experience, no matter how little they can give?

          • Good illustration, Chuck J. I remember West Broadway in Soho 20 years ago: full of art galleries and interesting little bars. Now: boutiques. It’s gone.

  5. It takes lotsa money to do this and is merely another indication of how the presumed boundaries between the event and the ‘outside reality’ have been obliterated.

    Personally the event has lost all interest to me other than as a reflection of how the dominant society infiltrates, consumes, distorts, and then shits out anything that becomes popular or has the potential for revenue. Form of colonization actually. Push the natives outta the way and then plunder.

    • So true! I guess everything that can be commoditized must be commoditized. Burning man is not changing the world, the world is changing Burning Man….

      • Very well put. Just how much are they going to “outreach and spread the culture to the world” when they so readily abandon the culture.

        …But I forget, that “spread the culture” line was only said for effect. It was the NPD BOrg playing up the inside/outside, us/them angle to get people to accept their imposed magical world wholesale. I guess Larry could kick himself now for writing down the Tin Principles(tm) years ago – he should have kept them more mysterious, known only to the inner sanctum. Well, narcissist lives, narcissist learns: Notice that now they are constantly announcing “something wonderful” is coming soon but never own up to it? It is their magical promise hype. The faithful gather up and project their hopes and dreams onto the blank screen that the BOrg always keeps a few leagues away. It will always be everything you had hoped for. Just wait!

  6. This is such an excellent literal expression of how the NV burn has become the default world. Most all the art cars I recall were amazing flights of fantasy… flowers, ships, animals, abstract creations… they made me wonder and see new things or the same things in different ways.

    What is this? It is an airplane that has been cut down to a bus. It is a major effort, but inspirational? Creative? Can’t think of a single art car I have seen that I would trade for seeing this IRL. Sure, it will be big. But you know what, I have seen a 747, and can pretty much imagine this concept. Maybe they will do something unexpected and surprising. Maybe I am wrong. I am not sold on this. not at all.

    And what’s with the report that it takes 100 people to run an art car that holds 300 people. Sumpin fishy about that. Can you say, “Directed Sale Tickets?” And the reports that this project is being bankrolled by deep pockets show all the more how this is just the default world.

    Excess is only excess, not creativity.

    • I guess it’s better than another articulated Muni bus with the top chopped off. But it’s still bigger for the sake of being bigger, and the playa would even dwarf an A830 so I don’t really see the point aside from saying – look how much money I spent doing this!

      Put the Contessa next to a pimped out 747 art car thing, and I would choose the Contessa. But the days of things like the Contessa are long gone.

  7. Just get some of those DPW and/or Rangers to escort it around. Hell, that’s what they get paid for.

    Problem solved.

  8. Boy, i sure hope they have a huge crew of lookouts. As a professional truck driver, i cringe at the thought of how stressful it must be to move these large vehicles around so many people who pay even less attention than pedestrians do in the default world.

    I applaud their grand vision, and hope it ends safely and awesomely for all.

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