The Story and Family Behind the Jetmobile

An inspiring new mission of outreach for a jet engine.

Holmes Jetmobile family
The Holmes Jetmobile family from left to right: Susie, Paul, Cherish and Maddy.Courtesy Les Abend

Paul Holmes and I first met back in the late 1990s at Miami’s infamous Columbus Day Regatta in Biscayne Bay, a boating weekend of craziness. The regatta actually involves a sailboat race, but most are unaware because of their participation in the side event, which is a massive overnight rafting of boats in all sizes from dinghies to 150-foot yachts. Add the ingredients of alcohol with a tropical climate, and the activities lend themselves to … well, use your imagination.

My wife and I had just started dating and were enjoying the relaxing opportunity to watch the insanity from our perch on the bow of my boat. Paul was cruising the neighborhood via a personal watercraft, enjoying the same entertainment. At that time, he was a captain for Northwest, associated with a group of other such pilots with which my wife had become acquainted.

As an American Airlines pilot, I always liked to say that I took her away from a “bad crowd.”

Now a Delta Boeing 777 captain, Paul is an affable, fun-loving guy with a charismatic smile that hasn’t changed in 20-plus years since our introduction. So, it was no surprise that he dedicated time, energy and finances to a wild project. Cliche as it sounds, the jetmobile was an idea engineered on a cocktail napkin. The project’s inception is as interesting as the project itself.

Facing an uncertain financial future because of bankruptcy at the airline, Paul and his Realtor wife, Susie, bought a 100-year-old elementary school and renovated it into a 20-unit office building. When offered any address within the 700 block of the building’s location, Paul chose number 747, a natural choice for an airline pilot who had flown the airplane for the majority of his career. In that regard, the husband and wife team decided on a unique aviation motif for their office building.

Read More from Les Abend: Jumpseat

The manufacturing company, Moto Art, which specializes in building custom furniture fabricated from all types of airplane parts, was the catalyst. Though the company creates high-quality pieces, they’re expensive. So, Paul decided to buy his own parts after a chance encounter with a salvaged B747 at the Opa Locka Airport in Miami. A portion of a leftover Pratt & Whitney JT9D engine cowl, now posing as a flower bed in the couple’s backyard, is just one small example of his purchases. By default, a good portion of the remaining parts found a home in the jetmobile. But why by default?

Paul and Susie are active members of the Spruce Creek Fly-In neighborhood, a world-renowned gated pilot community in the Daytona Beach area. One of the community’s most popular events is the December Toy Parade, a competitive display of almost anything conceivable created mostly by pilots. So, why not design the ultimate parade toy? And thus, the jetmobile was born.

Of course, no husband with any common sense would pursue such a goal without at least the reluctant support of his wife. Judging by the energy of her smile during our casual interview for this column, Susie’s enthusiasm had been paramount to the jetmobile’s construction, notwithstanding her patience. As the decal on the side of the cowl indicates, she earned her place in heaven. But there is an untypical reason for her zest.

During her early days as a flight attendant, Susie had chosen to participate in the airline’s transition program, a preferential opportunity for other employees to pursue careers as pilots. The program required flight training for the basic pilot licenses outside of the airline. Conveniently, that training was provided by her CFI husband, Paul. Unfortunately, as a result of Sept. 11, 2001’s financial impact, the program was discontinued, which eventually led Susie to her real estate career.

Fast forward to 2013: Paul began formulating the strategy for his jetmobile. One of the first requirements was that the machine could not exceed the height of his hangar door. After watching him duck while he steered the machine out and underneath the door to the ramp behind his house, I’d say he was successful by about that much.

The infrastructure of the jetmobile begins with a Club Car golf cart frame that supports the bulk of the JTD9 engine. The “turbine” section is supported by a trailer attached to the frame, allowing it to articulate the vehicle’s movement for easier turning. Power for the drivetrain is provided by eight 6-volt batteries.

The engine is entered through a hatch on the right side just behind the fan section. Two actual 747 first class seats are available for passengers on the lower level, offering an opportunity to view the oncoming inlet air through the spinning fan blades, which are protected outside by a clear, plexiglass cover.

The climb onto a section of an actual 747 spiral staircase leads to the captain’s seat. The vehicle is steered from on top of the engine. And the view is spectacular, almost as if you were sitting on the wing of the airplane to which it was once attached. Beyond the guts of the jetmobile are the accessories. Using a 3,000-watt Honda generator for power, Paul furnished the engine with a smoke machine and disco lights.

When Paul’s creation gained popularity outside of Spruce Creek, one year after commencing construction, he found himself transporting the machine to various airshow venues.

For towing the jetmobile, a separate trailer is used. When traveling longer distances, Paul found it best to tow with a motor home, because the profile provided better wind dynamics by blocking most of the airflow. The popularity of the jetmobile has afforded him access to almost all areas of an airshow, offering the opportunity to associate with performers such as the Aeroshell aerobatic team.

Before you write this whole insane project off as pure folly, it’s important to understand Paul and Susie’s eventual purpose to have spent in excess of $50,000. Although, one might think that the statements displayed on the side of the cowling that reads, “… created for the good of mankind,” and “Encourage and promote charitable thought and ideals,” and “Do good things,” are just feel-good pleasantries, consider the fact Paul accepts no fees for his participation. Instead, the jetmobile operates for various charities, in addition to promoting EAA’s Young Eagles program. The fact that he financed his niece Maddy’s entire college education, including room and board, is a testament to his benevolence.

Paul’s motto that the creation is designed for the benefit of “2- to 102-year-olds” is absolutely true. Seeing the machine for the first time always produces a wide grin, especially for those of us that have pushed the throttles forward on engines that size. And that’s a gift in and of itself.

Never doubt the power of the Holmes Jetmobile … or what an airline pilot can accomplish in his spare time.