Jimmy Webb on top of the JetStar
Jimmy Webb celebrates his acquisition of Elvis's JetStar. (All photos: Barry Ambrose/AIN unless otherwise indicated)

Elvis’s JetStar Rocks Jimmy’s World

A YouTube personality has always wanted a “really cool” private jet but never dreamed he would buy this one.

"Ambition is a dream with a V8 engine" —Elvis Presley

As the bestselling solo recording artist of all time, Elvis Presley is the undisputed “King of Rock and Roll.” But few people appreciate that he was also one of the entertainment industry’s most ambitious entrepreneurs. To Elvis, time was money, so he maximized every moment, and that effort included being an early adopter of private aviation. He started out chartering, but as his desire for convenience, privacy, and security grew, he moved into the world of aircraft ownership.

Lisa Marie
Elvis paid just $250,000 for his first big jet, a Delta Convair 880 he named “Lisa Marie.” (Photo: Graceland Museum Archives)

After buying and selling a variety of airplanes, he made his move into a big jet in April 1975 when he purchased a four-engine Convair 880 from Delta Air Lines for $250,000.

Elvis sent the airline-worn 880 to Meacham Field in Fort Worth to undergo a complete interior upgrade, including 29-place seating, a conference room, a master suite, a guest bedroom, two and a half baths with gold-plated fixtures, an entertainment system with quadraphonic sound, sky-to-ground phone, and a full galley. The cabin was finished in yellow, green, and gold fabrics. It also had suede sofas, which, unlike Elvis’s shoes, were not blue.

It’s said that Elvis was especially excited about the fact that the same team that had designed Air Force One was creating his Convair’s new look. According to the Graceland Blog—the official publication of Elvis’s Graceland Museum—the renovations took six months and cost $800,000.

Interestingly, while the cabin’s color palette and finishings would have made Austin Powers proud, the exterior paint scheme was relatively sedate, featuring overall white with blue and red striping. Other than the 880EP N-number, the only other adornment was an American flag and the letters TCB on the tail. TCB was short for Elvis’s motto: Taking Care of Business.

Christened “Lisa Marie” after Elvis’s only daughter, the Convair 880 first carried him and his family on Nov. 27, 1975. They used it extensively for travel throughout the U.S. and parts of Canada.

Viva Las JetStars

It was during the 880’s six-month upgrade that Elvis bought his first Lockheed JetStar—nicknamed "Hound Dog II"—so he and his wife, Priscilla, could easily travel to Fort Worth to inspect the big jet’s progress. Elvis was a stickler for details and kept tight reigns on the refurb process.

Today, Lisa Marie and Hound Dog II are displayed at Elvis’s Graceland Museum in Memphis, Tennessee. 

The JetStar being dismantled
The disassembly crew encountered problems including circular cutting blades breaking and a broken-down truck.

With these two airplanes being kept busy, in late 1976, he added another JetStar to “Elvis’s Air Force.” Purchased just a few months before his untimely passing, this second JetStar was Elvis’s in name only and was never used by him, his family, his friends, or any of the infamous “Memphis Mafia” members.

While N20TC (the N-number was later changed to its current 440RM) had the shortest history with the “King,” it probably has the most colorful backstory.

According to Graceland’s archivists,  Elvis’s father, Vernon, bought the aircraft as a business investment in December 1976 for $840,000. Immediately after the purchase, he signed an agreement with Omni Aircraft Sales to lease the airplane out.

And, contrary to popular belief, Elvis had nothing to do with the JetStar’s striking interior or exterior finishes. In fact, when it comes to the aircraft’s rather flamboyant red velvet tufted upholstery, the Graceland archivists say that the previous owner, Roy McKay, had explained in a TV interview that he designed the cabin’s look himself.

As McKay related the story, when he originally purchased the JetStar, it had a two-toned gray interior, which “kind of looked like a casket,” he said.

After Elvis’s death in August 1977, Vernon Presley sold the JetStar to Air Cargo Express. From there, it had a couple of owners and was finally bought by McKay Oil Corporation.

Jimmy Has Entered the Building

How and why the airplane was abandoned remains a mystery, but it sat at Roswell International Air Center in Roswell, New Mexico, for many years. Its original avionics disappeared, and the four engines—it’s unclear whether it had Pratts or Garretts—had been repossessed.

In 2017, the unlucky JetStar sold at auction for a whopping $430,000. The undisclosed buyer did nothing with it. It sat unattended in the desert until this past January when it was up for auction as part of the Mecum Auction in Kissimmee, Florida.

That’s where it came to the attention of Jimmy Webb, host of YouTube’s “Jimmy’s World.” If you’re one of his 322,000-plus subscribers or any of the millions who watch his weekly vlogs, you know that he’s all about rescuing abandoned airplanes.

“I’ve always enjoyed taking things apart and fixing them," Webb said, noting that he went to school for automotive and diesel mechanics and then to college to study electromechanical engineering. "I started with dirt bikes and four-wheelers when I was about 10 years old—fix it and trade it for something else.

“I’ve done a lot of things: real estate investing, restoring classic cars, even some ministry work—but I’ve always been an entrepreneur at heart,” he continued. “Then, in 2019, we moved from Colorado to Florida, and I joined the Air Force Reserve.”

Webb explained that it was joining the Reserve that got him into flying. He had to drive nearly five hours from his home in west central Florida to the Air Force Reserve base in Jacksonville.

“I hated that drive," he said. "One day, a friend at the base suggested I learn to fly and turn that long drive into a short flight. It sounded like a great idea. I didn’t know anything about learning to fly, so I asked around and was told the best way was to get the written and the FAA physical out of the way, so that’s what I did.

“I was also told that buying an airplane to train in was a good way to go, so I bought a nice Cherokee 180,” Webb continued. “I earned my private and instrument ratings and built over 120 hours of flight time in five months. It was during the pandemic shutdown; gas was cheap, so I just flew the wings off that airplane.”

Welcome to Jimmy’s World

It was about this time that Webb started his current avocation of “saving” abandoned airplanes.

JetStar cut open
The JetStar sat abandoned at Roswell International Air Center in New Mexico for many years.

“There was a derelict Cherokee 6-300 at the airport where we do our monthly Reserve drills,” he said. “I started asking about it and found it had an interesting backstory. It looked like a solid airplane, so I bought it and spent six months fixing it up. I flew it for a while and sold it.

“That’s when I started the YouTube channel,” Webb continued. “Everyone told me I’d go bankrupt, and I figured people would like to watch me do it—and they did. It’s been quite a ride.”

Webb stressed that all the work done to any airplane featured on the channel is completed under the supervision of licensed A&Ps. He’s also working on earning an A&P license himself.

In the few years he has had the channel, Webb has found and rehabilitated a variety of piston singles and twins, but his driving goal has been to own a private jet.

And if you’re ambition is to buy a jet, what better one to start with than Elvis’s JetStar?

“I saw the airplane come up on a video somewhere," he said, "and with Elvis’s current resurgence in popularity, I thought, 'What the heck?' This was something I couldn’t pass up. The JetStar is an amazing airplane anyway, and having one that belonged to the King is about as cool as it gets.”

Webb signed up as a bidder for the Mecum Auction in Kissimmee, where the JetStar would be sold, and drove the two hours to the auction’s location. Not wanting to accelerate his race to bankruptcy, he set a somewhat conservative bid limit.

He wasn’t really expecting to go home with the airplane; he mainly wanted to create some good vlog content. But he knows how the whole TV auction process works, and things are never what they seem.

Webb’s final bid—which was well above his original ceiling—fell short of the $260,000 gavel price. Although he didn’t “win,” he did say a real highlight of the event was seeing Priscilla Presley on the auction stage.

Jimmy Has Left the Building

“I knew a lot about the auction process and how it works," he explained. "The job of the auction house is to get as close to the reserve selling price as possible. I needed to have a bid in so it would be considered when the ‘winning’ bid fell through. That’s when they start the real negotiations.

“The phone bidder who actually won was likely a fake to drive up the price,” Webb said. “None of this was a surprise to me.”

So, according to Webb, everything was working according to the script when his phone rang an hour after he had left the auction site.

“It was one of the sales guys telling me that the phone buyer was backing out, and the auctioneers would rather sell it to me,” Webb continued. After some phone negotiations, he agreed on $234,000, including the buyer’s premium (10 percent of the selling price). Mecum provided financing.

“After the deal was done, my first thought was ‘what an idiot I am,’ followed quickly with the realization that I now owned Elvis’s JetStar—how cool is that?” Webb said.

Trying To Get to You…

The $234,000 question was: What would Webb do with it? Step one of his plan was accomplished in mid-February when he and his team traveled to Roswell to see the jet in person—something Elvis never did—and to disassemble it so it could be trucked to Tampa.

The disassembly process began a little roughly with circular cutting blades breaking and, as the crew went to get more, their truck also broke down. But the crew soldiered through these issues and Webb was pleased with the aircraft.

“Actually, it is in much better condition than I had thought, especially in the cabin,” Webb said.

Jimmy Webb and crew dismantle the JetStar
Jimmy Webb and his crew dismantled the JetStar but plan to eventually load it on an RV chassis and drive it around the country.

“We were able to connect an external GPU, and all the electronics—VHF radio, microwave, TV, and lights all powered up. I could hear the tower but didn’t have a mic to try and call them. That would have been pretty cool.”

As much as he’d love to resurrect the JetStar to flying condition, that’s not realistic. “I talked to experts, and they say it’s about $6 million to get it airworthy,” he explained. “Even if we had the time and money, it still couldn’t legally fly. The old engines won’t meet noise restrictions, and there are no hush kits available. And there’s no telling what kind of ADs [airworthiness directives] are on the airframe.”

Jimmy Webb JetStar’s interior
Jimmy Webb was surprised and pleased to find the JetStar’s interior in fairly decent shape.

So, what do you do with a JetStar that can’t fly? In Jimmy’s World, you mount the fuselage on an RV chassis and drive it around the country.

“That’s the best solution for what we have to work with,” Webb said. “The interior is in good shape, so it doesn’t need much work, and we can put instruments and avionics in the cockpit. The real work will be repainting it in the silver and red scheme it had when Elvis bought it.”

JetStar cockpit
The JetStar cockpit.

No doubt it will be an interesting process, and, of course, Webb will vlog it all. 

“My goal is to find the best way to continue Elvis’s legacy with his fans and his airplanes,” he continued. “I want to find a way for as many people to enjoy seeing it as possible. And be happy that I saved it from the scrapyard.”

Obviously, because the jet is on a trailer, the wings and tail will have to be removed, but Webb has a creative use for those parts.

Jimmy Webb
Jimmy Webb, host of YouTube’s popular “Jimmy’s World,” with his new acquisition.

JetStar interior
Surprisingly, Elvis had nothing to do with the Jetstar’s striking interior or exterior finishes.

The "Lisa Marie,” named after his only daughter, was used by Elvis extensively for travel throughout the U.S. and parts of Canada. (Photo: Graceland Museum Archives)

“We’re going to cut them up and sell them as Elvis collectibles,” he explained. “Each one will be engraved and include a copy of the original bill of sale signed by Elvis.”

No matter what the JetStar’s final configuration is, every airplane fan who appreciates Webb’s commitment to keeping a unique airplane out of the smelter can say: “Thank you. Thank you very much.”

—Curt Epstein contributed to this article