I hijacked the 747 at Burning Man, but helped put it back.

In Video by Doc North

The security on the 747 was atrocious. They talk about a 40-page safety plan. Well, I can tell you from my first-hand experience that a TSA agent reading the newspaper on the john while eating a donut would have been more effective.

“They call that security, I might as well have had 6 kilos of pressurized glitter strapped to my body.”

This is not conjecture. I tested their systems. I hijacked the 747.

It couldn’t have been more obvious. I’m flying standby with no checked bags and a silver briefcase. I use some fake credentials–I know so and so– to get through the boarding pass and ID check. At their TSA check-point, their x-ray machine is down. At this point, I know that these guys were complete amateurs.

Not since my arrival on the playa in 1995 have I seen a more obvious target. I knew from the moment that I read about these so-called “artists” wanting to deconstruct the icon of modern avionics, load it on various trucks, over various years, and have a police escort to transport it to a drug-crazed hippy festival in the middle of the desert, that this was my target.

At the TSA checkpoint, with their x-ray down, they insist on looking inside my briefcase. I oblige, opening it so they can see my neatly folded tailor made in Thailand shirt right on top. Good enough for them–fools–and I close my case and board the plane. They call that security, I might as well have had 6 kilos of pressurized glitter strapped to my body.

Inside the plane, I feign interest in the art gallery or the 200,000 LEDs spatially mapped using “computers.” All this is a big distraction from my end goal. Ascending to the top deck, now 40 feet in the air, I pay no attention to the DJ or dancefloor. I’m 10 yards from scoring my first touchdown of Burning Man and getting on the leaderboard.

It’s funny, most people don’t seem to know about the Burning Man leaderboard. I guess you got to be in the game to know about it. Participation is not buying your ticket, waiting in line and then expecting to be entertained. I think that’s called Disney Land.

I ain’t going out like that. I’m taking this plane.

Moving through the top deck dancefloor I see a group congregating near the cockpit. Normally I would wait till the seatbelt sign is on and have a clear shot to the front, but I’m in a rush. I push through the crowd and am rudely stopped by someone who fancies themselves with a big imagination.

That’s it, I shove the briefcase into his arms, pop the lid, flip the shirt up revealing a false bottom and pull out 2 cocked and loaded Nerf guns. I launch 2 discs in the air and pop a suction cup dart onto the control panel and everyone knows I mean business.

After that hi-jinxing, I own the plane. Everyone wants to see the briefcase and hear the tail.

My art is performance, and I’ll tell you, that 747 is one damn good canvas.

#getinthegame #participation #stopthehate #burnersunite


Above is my response in the comments to the article:

“Is the 747 Art?” Is a Great Question, but It Might Not Be the Right One

The first time I stepped onto “the” 747 it was just “a” 747  and sitting in the Mojave desert. This was about 4 years ago. I was there for some very preliminary engineering talks about how to deconstruct, transport, and reconstruct the plane to the Black Rock Desert 600 miles away. When I stepped off the plane I concluded two things. One, the scale and ambition of this project is absurd. And two, I want nothing to do with it!

Over the years I kept tabs on their steady progress, moving the plane giant bit by giant bit to the desert. Until finally this year, the entirety of the 747, well as much as they planned to reconstruct, was on the playa.

Driving up to the 747 I’m immediately struck by just how big it is. I guess I’m so used to getting on and off of airplanes, I didn’t expect it to be so big. I can only imagine what it would be like for a first time burner to see something so big, and so out of place.

Thursday of build week, I get my wish. My camp mate’s 72-year-old mother arrives for her first burn. Here’s her experience in her own words:

“My son brought me to experience my first burn.  We went out to experience my first evening on the playa, when what to my wondering eyes did appear but a 747 rising out of the dust. Our first evening was curated by Doc North and started with visiting the ‘Jumbo Jet,’ setting the stage for a radical Burning Man experience.
One minute my feet were on the dust and the next climbing up into what appeared to be a Hollywood set filled with thousands of dazzling LED lights on a plane over 250 feet long – incredible, the world’s longest passenger plane, the 747! What an amazing way to start off my bit of build week on the playa! I was totally astonished to consider how this plane could travel the highway to arrive on the playa as it was ‘unflyable’ — the thought was daunting as the wingspan was over 100 feet. 

We enjoyed sitting in the cockpit together as Doc took our picture; I felt I was in a surreal movie. Ken Feldman, a Prince of graciousness, took time to share the story of the 747 creation with us (even though we could see that he has been worked seemingly endless hours). There is nothing like the human spirit (at any age) especially in your seventies to awaken and embrace my glorious and heart-felt journey to see the Burning Man. This was a bucket list encounter, and an inconceivable one to say the least!”
Thanks Susan!

Four days later, I’m on a mission of utmost importance. I’m taking out someone that worked very closely with Larry Harvey for over a dozen years. His passing was really hard on her, and I’m out to cheer her up. She also doesn’t do a lot of the things that have come to be known as highlights of Burning Man. So after meeting up at one of my favorite camps ever, Ashram Galactica, we head over to Robot Heart. Monolink is playing so it’s crazy and the bus is packed. But I’ve got a good story and sweet talk us onto the bus.

The sun is about to come, sunrise standing behind Monolink on the bus, it doesn’t get any better than this–or does it. Just before sunrise I grab her hand and pull her off the bus. She’s a little shocked we’re leaving, but I got her up there, so trust is high at this point. We book it over to the 747. It’s actually out on the playa, for the first time ever (they got a permit to move two times). We get to the bottom of the stairs and I’m immediately recognized from my performance earlier hijacking it with the nerf guns. I explain how I have someone that was very close to Larry and it’d be amazing for her to see the cockpit. We’re immediately escorted to the cockpit, whereas luck has it someone is just getting out of one of the seats.

Sitting in the pilot’s seat of the 747, for the first time ever, she watches the sunrise over the playa. I’m not sure if this is a highlight for her, but it definitely is for me. I recently learned the Sanskrit word for taking pleasure in other people’s happiness, MUDITA.

One thing I’ve learned over the years is to keep a fairly low profile at Burning Man. The bigger the project, the more scrutiny it’ll have. I think the majority of people that attend the event think these projects are just free for all. In reality, every major project has to have engineers involved. Safety plans need to be made and signed off on. In the case of the 747, they had to create a 40-page safety plan and install a higher density of fire detectors and extinguishers than on a normal plane or airport. There are also very strict laws about how many people can be in s certain amount of space for the number of exits. Generally, this gets overlooked, but in the case of the 747, they were strictly monitored. This is the primary reason more people couldn’t get on the plane. As one of the 747 crew put it: “It’s safety first, second, and third.”

On September 14th, 11 days after the event ended this article appeared in the Reno Gazette Journal that set the Burning Man community on fire. The long and the short of it is the article paints the picture that the 747 was abandoned a dozen or so miles north of the event site and labeled it as one giant piece of MOOP. MOOPing is basically a cardinal sin of Burning Man and so the 747 became the aftermath topic of 2018, stealing the spotlight from the reigning champion, plug and play camps.

All over the internet, burners are complaining about the plane, experiences they had with it, questioning whether it is art, and even posting pictures of people and slandering them. When did burners become so filled with hate? I think of burners as full of love and supportive of each other.

The day after I write my comment about hijacking the 747, I get a call from my friend Dave Mathews asking if I can help move the plane. The timing couldn’t be worse. I have my start-up team staying at my place. I’m leaving on a 6 week trip in 3 days. There’s no way I can make time to head back to the playa. He promises to have me back in 46 hours. I’m not sure why, but I say yes. I grab my boots, gloves, camera, and drone. Jumping in my truck I know this is ridiculous, but at the same time, I feel incredibly alive.

43 hours later, 3 hours ahead of schedule, I’m back home having slept 3 hours and worked 27 hours of backbreaking work. I couldn’t be any happier, more fulfilled. These last 43 hours brought back a stronger feeling of the old Burning Man than I’ve felt in years. The act of contributing to something greater than oneself combined with camaraderie and physical exertion, it really does wonders for the soul. 

Rule #1: It’s a team sport.

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