The rise and fall of the Big Bunny: What happened to Hugh Hefner's private jet

It was, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the most recognizable private jetliner in the sky. For one thing, it was painted black, not a common color scheme outside of stealth fighters. For another, stenciled onto its tailfin was the silhouette of a white rabbit in a bowtie.

The Big Bunny, Hefner’s personal DC-9, wasn’t so much an aircraft as it was the Playboy Mansion at 35,000 feet. It had a living room with leather sofas, a full galley where flight attendants — “Jet Bunnies” — whipped up lobster and roast beef dinners and a discotheque for dance parties. Of course, Hef spent most of his time in his salon at the back, lounging in pajamas on an oval bed covered in silk sheets and Tasmanian opossum fur bedspreads.

Peek inside the iconic aircraft:

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Hugh Hefner's 'Big Bunny' jet
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Hugh Hefner's 'Big Bunny' jet
Photo taken on August 30, 1970 shows US Playboy Magazine publisher Hugh Hefner (R), his girlfriend actress Barbara Benton and other playmates arriving aboard the Playboy jet 'Big Bunny'. AFP PHOTO / AFP PHOTO / CENTRAL PRESS / STRINGER (Photo credit should read STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)
Photo taken on August 30, 1970 shows US Playboy Magazine publisher Hugh Hefner (top), his girlfriend actress Barbara Benton and other playmates arriving at Le Bourget airport with the Playboy jet 'Big Bunny'. AFP PHOTO / AFP PHOTO / CENTRAL PRESS / STRINGER (Photo credit should read STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)
Photo taken on August 30, 1970 shows US Playboy Magazine publisher Hugh Hefner (top), his girlfriend actress Barbara Benton and other playmates arriving at Le Bourget airport with the Playboy jet 'Big Bunny'. AFP PHOTO / AFP PHOTO / CENTRAL PRESS / STRINGER (Photo credit should read STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)
Photo taken on August 30, 1970 shows US Playboy Magazine publisher Hugh Hefner (L) and his girlfriend actress Barbara Benton arriving at Le Bourget airport with the Playboy jet 'Big Bunny'. AFP PHOTO / AFP PHOTO / CENTRAL PRESS / STRINGER (Photo credit should read STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)
Photo taken on August 21, 1970 shows US Playboy Magazine publisher Hugh Hefner (L), his girlfriend actress Barbara Benton and film director Roman Polanski (R) arriving at Le Bourget airport with the Playboy jet 'Big Bunny'. AFP PHOTO / AFP PHOTO / STAFF (Photo credit should read STAFF/AFP/Getty Images)
Hugh Hefner, King of the bunnies, steps from his all-black 'Big Bunny' aircraft, after his arrival here. He's here to see the rough cuts of his film Macbeth, directed by Roman Polanski, husband of late Sharon Tate. The film will have a royal premiere in November. And of course the bunny king will go to bunnies' Playboy club in Park Lane (Photo by PA Images via Getty Images)
Photo taken on August 21, 1970 shows US Playboy Magazine publisher Hugh Hefner (L), his girlfriend actress Barbara Benton and film director Roman Polanski (R) arriving at Le Bourget airport with the Playboy jet 'Big Bunny'. AFP PHOTO / AFP PHOTO / STAFF (Photo credit should read STAFF/AFP/Getty Images)
Playboy Bunnies wave as Hugh Hefner's private jet Big Bunny lands in London. (Photo by � Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
Photo taken on August 21, 1970 shows US Playboy Magazine publisher Hugh Hefner (top, 2nd L), film director Roman Polanski (top), his girlfriend actress Barbara Benton (first row, L) and other playmates arriving at Le Bourget airport with the Playboy jet 'Big Bunny'. AFP PHOTO / AFP PHOTO / STAFF (Photo credit should read STAFF/AFP/Getty Images)
Playboy chief Hugh Hefner with model Barbara Benton, aboard his private Douglas DC9-30 plane, nicknamed The Big Bunny. (Photo by PA Images via Getty Images)
The president of Playboy Enterperises, Hugh Hefner with girlfriend, Barbi Benton in his luxury DC-9 aircraft 'The Big Bunny' at Heathrow. The couple are en route to an extended holiday around Europe. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
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“There wasn’t anything else like it,” remembers Katharina Leventhal, who as a 21-year-old became one of the first Jet Bunnies (and wore a black leatherette miniskirt and knee-high boots) after Hefner bought and renovated the plane in 1969 for $5 million (spending another million on renovations). Leventhal, now 69, says the job had great benefits, like traveling the world and mingling at high-altitude with some of Hef’s travel buddies. “Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Tom Jones, Connie Stevens, Raquel Welch, James Caan — there were always celebrities on board.”

Alas, what goes up typically comes down, and Hefner sold the plane to Venezuela Airlines in 1975, who later sold it to Aeromexico. Stripped of its luxury appointments, it served as a commercial aircraft until 2004, when Aeromexico put it in storage. But in 2008, it returned to service; the fuselage was donated to a park in Queretaro, Mexico, where the onetime symbol of aviatic hedonism found new purpose as a children’s educational tool.

Read more: Kim Basinger Has No Regrets About Nude Playboy Pictorial: "I Will Always Be Thankful to Mr. Hefner"

A version of this story appears in the Oct. 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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