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Inside Elvis Presley's private jet fleet

BEAM Staff
February 1, 2018

One of the world's most famous entertainers, Elvis Presley was dubbed the King of Rock and Roll by his many fans. Off the stage, his no life was no less impressive and included a fleet of three private jets. One of the largest in existence during its time, the King's fleet was sold off to private collectors, with one recently changing hands for $430,000 at auction.

Presley's first private jet became a 1962 Lockheed Jetstar jet, which the singer used for his travels. Sporting a distinctive red and white coloring, the aircraft featured a red velvet interior with wooden finishes. One of only 204 planes built by Lockheed and Jetstar, it was synonymous with luxury for its time.

During its initial production run, one of these jets cost $2.8 million, the equivalent of $22 million when adjusted for inflation. With the capacity to fly up to 10 passengers, the Jetstar jet had a range of 4,820 kilometers and a top speed of 883 km/h. Having fallen into disrepair and with no engines, Presley's original jet sold for $430,000 at auction, a fraction of its original production price.

Amongst the airliner's amenities were a small TV mounted into the wall, a feature now often found on private jets. The private jet also featured a couch that could be used as a bed during night time flights. A service area with a microwave was also located between the cabin and the cockpit. Towards the rear of the aircraft was also a bathroom. It's original auction estimate was set at $2 million but it failed to generate enough interest as a collector's item with no engines.

Presley's flagship became the 1960 Convair 880 aircraft, which he purchased from American airline, Delta Air for a reported $250,000. The singer then spent a rumored $600,000 to refurbish the aircraft and turn it into a luxurious private jet. To do so, Elvis hired the same team that had worked on Air Force One and had them create a bedroom, conference room, lounge and TV room on the newly named Lisa Marie.

Whilst a relatively small amount for a private jet in today's terms, at the time of the purchase, the plane cost him today's equivalent of $7 million. Before purchasing the aircraft, Presley had made a deposit on a Boeing 707 but the deal feel through due to its owner, financier Robert Vesco, having to flee to South America. At the back of the airplane, Elvis had the TCB logo drawn, standing for 'Taking Care of Business'.

A luxurious aircraft through its layout, even by today's standards, the Lisa Marie was stationed at Memphis International Airport along with the singer's two other aircrafts. The plane's last trip became the one Presley's wife took to his funeral along with his dad. Lisa Marie was then returned to its original Memphis base where it remained a popular attraction for a long time.

In addition to featuring a fully fledged bedroom with a seat next to it for take off and landing, the aircraft also had a conference room with a large table and seven seats around it. A bar area was built next to it to allow better service of meals and meetings. Curtains were put all around the conference room to cover portholes if necessary.

A separate TV area could also be found next to the conference room. Acting as a museum after Presley's death, metal bars were installed around the airliner's different zones to prevent its many visitors from damaging the interior. In 2015, the airplane was sold in an auction by her former owner and was expected to fetch at least $10 million though it was longer airworthy.

Whilst he was waiting to take possession of his flagship private jet that was being refurbished, the King of Pop decided to acquire a second aircraft that could be used in the meanwhile. This became the Hound Dog II, a Lockheed Starjet that could carry up to 10 passengers and was operated by two pilots and a flight attendant, similarly to his first airplane.

Presley picked the airplane's unique color scheme himself. Featuring a sofa and several seats, raised above a central alley, the airplane shared his original aircraft's specifications. Featuring a distinctive system with four engines, mounted on the rear of the fuselage, the Lockheed Jetstar was one of the most in demand private jet of its time.

The Convair 880 that Presley customized was, on the other hand, an aircraft that was mostly only used as a commercial one. Designed to compete with the Boeing 707, it was the fastest jet airliner in the world, reaching a top speed of 990 km/h. Ultimately, it failed to reach an audience due to its smaller size and only 65 of them were produced from 1959 to 1962. No longer airworthy, these jets are now sitting as private museums.

Nilsman / Wikipedia Commons

One of the most significant cultural icons of the 20th century, Elvis Presley has sold over a billion records worldwide to this date. 60% of these sales are estimated to have occurred within the United States. During his career, Elvis held 1156 concerts in the US and 3 in Canada. Over a 24 year career, this represented one show every single week.

Between 1956 and 1969, Presley acted in 31 movies, although these were far overshadowed by the wild success of his music career. A feet particularly impressive given Presley's two years interruption due to him being drafted by the American military. Returning to the music world in 1960, he continued to create hits until his death from a heart attack in 1977 at the young age of 42.

Since then Presley was consistently ranked on the list of highest earning dead celebrities, with his estate pulling in over $50 million in copyright every year. Topped in this department only by Michael Jackson, whose estate earned over $2 billion since his passing, Presley had one of the largest private jet fleets of his time.

Millions of visitors have visited it at the Graceland exhibition in Memphis. Owned by private investors and operated by the Elvis Presley Enterprises, his estate company where his only heir, Lisa Marie Presley sold a majority stake to a group of investors, the jets sparked a major controversy when they were going to be sold from the tourist attraction.