RENO, Nev. (AP) — The bigger, the better, when it comes to dreams at Burning Man. Usually. But is it possible to dream too big?
One California Burner, Ken Feldman, is about to find out this year, as he endeavors to create the biggest "mutant vehicle," or art car, that ever would grace the playa of the Black Rock Desert.
The vehicle: a 747 airplane constructed from the remnants of has-been planes abandoned at an aviation "boneyard" in the middle of the Mojave Desert in Southern California.
"Our goal for year one is to get it there," Feldman said, noting that he hopes to make it a recurring art installation during the annual Burning Man festivities.
No, it will not be flying to the site, despite early rumors, of which there have been many about this behemoth project -- though it will be tugged around in the dust by an "aircraft tug."
To get to the playa, it will spend nearly a week on the road as it is being transported on a platform trailer by an Orange County-based heavy equipment hauling company.
The plane will be flanked by a handful of police escorts and bucket trucks as it makes its way to its final destination. To go down the road, and to be a safe vehicle on the playa, the producers will remove both its wings and tail.
The man tasked with getting the plane there, 72-year-old Roy Hatley, operations manager for Orange Heavy Haul, said the load is "no biggie" compared with some of the other items he has driven cross-country. It's only three stories high, four buses wide, half of a football field long and 100-something-thousand pounds heavy, he said.
"I will go to Burning Man one time, when I go and pick it up," Hatley said, noting that he is letting some of the other employees drive the plane to the "Black Hills, or the Black Rock, or whatever it's called," so they can get a sneak peek of what the annual, weeklong celebration is about. "It's not my type of entertainment, let's put it that way."
The more than 100 volunteers working on the operation had no idea that the plane would receive so much attention, good and bad. "Who is to say what's too big, what's too small?" said Feldman, of Venice, Calif. "I think there is a valid concern from the Burning Man community: 'Oh, jeez, a bunch of billionaires with their toys.' "
On Burning Man's Facebook page, commentators have said that it is an exciting new effort and that they are eager to use it, but just as many are criticizing it. Some are concerned about how it might leave a trace in the desert, and others about whether it is safe to be driven around in the midst of the tens of thousands of people that will be gathering. Others are saying that it is a symbol of hypocrisy and arrogance and misplaced millionaire money.
But this is not that, Feldman said. Feldman is no modern, Burner-version of Howard Hughes.
He is just an "average guy," he said, who drives a 20-year-old car and has as shallow pockets as any Joe Schmoe. While he considers himself an aviation enthusiast and has some background in aerospace engineering, he has never built a plane.
"I have designed several planes, for the science fair in high school," he said, jokingly. Kind of.
But in 2009, during his second year at Burning Man, he saw two bicycles, both made from out-of-date plane fuselages, trekking across the barren desert. He imagined what it would be like to make an art car out of a plane's parts.
"I sketched this out in the dust. That's the short version," Feldman said.
Since then, he worked on iconic art cars, or Burning Man vehicles, including Robot Heart and Charlie the Unicorn.
After Charlie the Unicorn, Feldman swore he would not work on another art car unless it was an art plane.
Feldman founded a nonprofit, Big Imagination Foundation, to support the plane, but he hopes the foundation will become a routine funder of larger-than-life projects around the world, not just art ones but also humanities and science projects.
He does have some big investors already, but the bulk of the foundation's funds will come from smaller donations, he said. Because the Burning Man nonprofit has not yet approved the "Department of Mutant Vehicle" permit for the plane, Feldman said that Big Imagination Foundation cannot start crowdfunding yet.
One of the staunchest supporters of the project, and a member of the Big Imagination Foundation board, Jonathan Teo, said that the goal is to make this feat by the people and for the people.
"Exclusivity has been creeping into the playa," Teo said. "Our view is, that's silly. We wanted to create a project that the community could fund, could build and could enjoy. We're trying to set an example of radical inclusion."
No one would be turned away from coming in to enjoy the plane from the inside, assuming it was not filled to capacity at the time. What the inside holds is unknown and will remain so until Burning Man, Feldman said.
Though the Burning Man nonprofit will not be expressing any opinion about the project, Burning Man's staff will look at the project carefully.
Burning Man Communications Director Megan Miller said last week that the staff would be meeting with Feldman to discuss safety measures that the artists would have to take. Whether the nonprofit will approve the project permit remains to be seen, but Miller said that the staff at least finds the group's aspirations admirable.
"I love when our community dreams something this big; I don't know any other event where this would be possible," Miller said.