The Play Boy plane had solid black paint with the white rabbit logo on its tail, the Big Bunny was one of the most epic planes of all time. It created envy among other executive-jet owners. Not just transporting Hefner, but acting as the brand’s winged ambassador, spreading the message of lust and luxury. Behind all the luxury, and occasional charitable missions, it always consisted of a flight crew including a pilot, first officer, flight engineer and two to three Jet Bunnies working to keep passengers happy and flights safe and seamless.
In the late 1960s, Hefner was looking for a large corporate jet, and initially looked into the Lockheed JetStar, the largest corporate jet available at the time. But after extensive research, Hefner waved the suggestion away. “This is going to be a flying mansion. And I need a dance floor and a bedroom with a round bed. I need something with international capability,” More searching turned up leading into the DC-9 fan jet. The aircraft manufacturer agreed to create a special model of the plane: a stretch version with extra fuel tanks that could take Hefner across the Atlantic. Hefner approved the plane but was against the standard two-aisle, 100-plus passenger configuration. He hired designers to create an aircraft wanting it just as lavish as his mansions. Boxes of Twinkies were stashed so they’d never run out on long flights. A bottle of Pepsi had to be waiting for Hefner when he boarded (to be refreshed every hour), and a glass of cold milk served with his meals.
“As it was under construction, the FAA took a look at it and said, ‘Wait a minute, this does not meet our specifications,’ ” Rosenzweig recalls. Everything that had been done to that point had to be ripped out, costing more time and money. From then on builders followed the precise weight and design restrictions set by the Federal Aviation Administration. Even the plane’s unmistakable paint scheme and array of lights shining on the Rabbit Head design required approval. But the final result was well worth the effort.
Taking its first test flight in February 1969, the Big Bunny debuted as the world’s largest and costliest business aircraft, at 119 feet and $5.5 million (about $38 million today).
The plane included movie projectors and seven built-in screens situated throughout the jet played color videotapes, at a time when only about 33 percent of households had color televisions. The Big Bunny included a disco dance floor, a lavatory with a full-length mirror, and a seating area where the chairs could transform into comfortable sleeping areas. The biggest luxury of them all was Hefner’s private suite, complete with an elliptical bed covered in satin sheets, an electric blanket and a striped bedspread made of Tasmanian possum fur. His bathroom held a shower with not one, but two showerheads and recessed seating.
Completing the luxurious design were the Jet Bunnies: trained flight attendants chosen from among the hundreds of women working as Bunnies in the Playboy clubs. They dressed in Bond-girl-esque outfits and white scarves.
“If you go over five pounds above your ideal weight, you will automatically be suspended from flying until you have reached your ideal weight again,” warned the 130-page Jet Bunny manual. “At no time can you display boredom or irritability. You must be, above all, the epitome of a charming, well-mannered young lady.” “Every place we went, it was like something that you read about in books,” one Jet Bunny had said. “It was far more than I had expected, ever. It was the trip of a lifetime.”
The Big Bunny didn’t just serve as a flying palace. It also extended the philanthropic arm of the Playboy brand. This was achieved through various high-profile missions, beginning in July 1970 with the transport of a male gorilla named Jack. A resident of the Baltimore Zoo, Jack had been promised to the Phoenix Zoo as a breeding companion for its female gorilla. But when other methods of transportation fell through, actress Amanda Blake put a call through to Hefner to request a loan of the jet. He happily complied. Much more impactful was the Big Bunny’s involvement in what came to be known as Operation Babylift. The Vietnam War–era effort to bring orphans from the war-torn country to families in the United States required more planes than the military easily had at its disposal. Hefner offered to provide assistance, this time at the behest of actor Yul Brynner. In April 1975 the plane transported 40 infants across the country safely, from San Francisco to Denver and then New York, with assistance from the nonprofit group Friends of Children.
Many other celebrities occasionally leased it for their own travel as well. Elvis Presley took the Big Bunny for his 1974 tour, and Sonny and Cher chartered it for their international tour. Other A-list passengers included Frank Sinatra, Tom Jones, Shel Silverstein, Roman Polanski and Rod Serling, creator of the Twilight Zone, who filmed aboard the plane.
The iconic plane-now in retirement, and its Jet Bunnies had helped Playboy Enterprises reach new heights long after the jet was grounded, the winged symbol of sex and prestige lives on as a reminder of the Playboy legacy.