By Rob Howe
October 14, 1996 12:00 PM

JO ANN USSERY WAS SO ANXIOUS TO see her prospective new home that she arrived at the lot two hours before her scheduled tour. Richard Cordle, a manager for the Memphis Group, a salvage company in Greenwood, Miss., walked out to greet her, but she flew right past him. There, propped up on railroad ties, was the object of Ussery’s high-flying dreams: a used Continental Boeing 727 that had been stripped down to the fuselage. Inside, Ussery figured, was enough space for a cozy three-bedroom home. As soon as she saw it, she looked “like a young kid back in the woods coming into Toys ‘R’ Us for the first time,” recalls Cordle.

The 52-year-old beautician had been in the market for a new home since the winter of 1994, when trees heavy with ice flattened her 1,400-square-foot, wood-frame house overlooking Lake Whittington near rural Benoit, Miss. Ussery, who moved in with friends, considered replacing the house with a mobile home. But when her brother-in-law, an air-traffic controller, treated her to a birthday barbecue dinner in May of last year, he persuaded her to wing it with a used plane instead.

Used planes have all sorts of practical advantages, says the thrice-divorced Ussery: “I’ll never have to worry about replacing the roof, and I’ll never have to paint it.” And heating is a snap, what with insulation designed for the subzero temperatures at 35,000 feet. “After you get it, it’s something that lasts forever,” boasts Cordle, who for 15 years has sold planes that were grounded because of old age or disrepair. Most go for scrap, but two or three a year are converted into homes, offices or even cafes.

The youngest of five children born to corn-and-cotton farmers in Cruger, Miss., Ussery has flown only three times, yet she couldn’t resist the lure of having her very own 727. In January she plunked down $2,000 for the fuselage (no wings, tail, landing gear or seats) and paid another $4,000 for an 18-wheeler to transport the plane 69 miles to her wooded acre of property. She then spent $24,000 customizing the 127-foot-long craft with plumbing, electricity, a master bath with hot tub and a complete kitchen.

Ussery, who lives alone—her only son, Billy, 34, is an agricultural engineer—now plans to pour concrete pads in the shape of wings (one for a carport, the other for a patio) and surround the plane with blue landing lights. Not surprisingly, her vision has drawn lots of attention from fellow Benoit residents. Tired of all the tourists who’ve come to gawk, they’re praying Ussery’s idea doesn’t take off anywhere else in the neighborhood. “She wanted to do something different and she certainly did,” says Allan Reynolds, a shoe salesman who lives nearby. “But I hope she’s the first and the last.”