Aeronaves de México had been an avid customer for Douglas aircraft since the 1940s. Although non-Douglas aircraft had been operated (4 Convair 440s, 2 Bristol Britannias, and 4 Connies on short leases) the fleet had progressed from DC-3s and DC-4s to DC-6s and then DC-8s. It was hardly surprising therefore that the company’s first short haul jet would be the DC-9. Ten short DC-9s (8 series 15s and 1 series 14) arrived from mid-1967.
In February 1972 Aeronaves de México changed its name to Aeroméxico and adopted a new orange and black scheme on a natural metal finish. Expansion in 1974 saw the first DC-10s arrive but also the airline’s first stretched DC-9-32s as 7 new aircraft joined the fleet. The early 1980s saw further expansion as more DC-9s, DC-10s and MD-80s were added but the growth started in 1979 with the addition of four secondhand DC-9-32s.
Two of these DC-9s had recently been operating with Aeropostal Alas De Venezuela. XA-JEB, named ‘Ciudad Juarez’, with Aeroméxico, was one of those aircraft and had flown in Venezuela as YV-19C since April 1976. This was nothing unusual however the aircraft’s service prior to this was anything but standard.
She had been built at Long Beach and first flown on January 27, 1969. Less than a month later on February 24th she was delivered to her customer Playboy Enterprises, but really for Hugh Hefner of Playboy magazine fame, as ‘Big Bunny’ to operate as his all black painted private jet. At a cost of $5.5 million she became N950PB.
Private aircraft of this size were unusual during the 1960s, although not unheard of, however this aircraft’s internal fit out has become somewhat legendary. Crewed by “Jet Bunnies” the aircraft flew the rich and famous all over the world. Rather than rewrite the history of this aircraft in service with Hefner I will instead refer you to this excellent article about the aircraft’s time with the bunny on its tail:
Remembering Hugh Hefner's Iconic Jet Black DC-9 Big Bunny
The following Daily Mail Article has a superb range of photos of Big Bunny and her passengers:
The Mile High Club Hugh Hefner style: A fascinating look inside the glamorous Playboy jet Big Bunny in the swinging Sixties
Purdue Airlines & Hefner
Almost as interesting as the aircraft itself was Hefner’s arrangement with Purdue University and their own highly unusual airline Purdue Airlines. Purdue looked after Hefner’s jet for him and were contracted to fly it, although it is unclear whether they were ever able to use it for non-Playboy business.
Purdue University had for many years cultivated an interest in aviation that led to it opening its own airport on November 1, 1930. During the 1950s it had shown an interest in creating its own airline to enable the furtherance of its aeronautical and pilot training degrees. In 1962 Purdue Aeronautics was one of only 14 operations (of the many thousands of non-skeds that were established postwar) that gained an interim operating certificate from the CAB. During the 60s the fleet included both DC-3s and DC-6s operating charters using its students.
By 1969 Purdue’s carrier was known as Purdue Airlines and had grander ambitions. Firmly established as a supplemental airline it had ordered its first jets in the form of a pair of new DC-9s fitted out with 104 seats. A third aircraft was leased and all three wore full blue and white Purdue Airlines colours.
Purdue operated charter flights for their own football team, the Boilermakers, as well as the Chicago White Sox baseball team, however it must have been challenging to operate a successful business from West Lafayette and no doubt the business side of operations competed against the educational aims of the programme. The DC-9s were sold on to Inex-Adria Airways and Hughes Airwest and the unusual airline ceased operations on April 17, 1971.
Airlinegeeks.com has more information about Purdue Airlines.
Big Bunny still had some life in her however and the contract to maintain and fly the aircraft switched to Ozark Airlines. Nonetheless her time too was running out. Playboy was finding the aircraft expensive to run and with Hefner’s purchase of the Playboy Mansion in 1971 he was no longer splitting his time between Los Angeles and Chicago, reducing the need for such a personal jet. Accordingly she was sold on to Aeropostal and became just a regular run of the mill DC-9.
Service with Aeroméxico
The 1980s proved a turbulent period for Aeroméxico, which actually went bankrupt in April 1988. Revived as Aerovias de Mexico SA de CV the carrier restarted operations with its predecessor’s assets including most of the fleet. Although the DC-8s and DC-9-15s were retired the DC-9-32s continued on. Eight of them were only delivered in 1980/81 and must have been some of the latest DC-9-32s off of the line.
The 1990s were no less stable for Aeroméxico which had to contend with deregulation, competition and a severely weakened Mexican economy. It wasn’t until 2004 that the final DC-9s were retired, replaced by new Boeing 737-700s. There doesn’t appear to have been any suggestion that her previous years as a Playboy jet were ever acknowledged by Aeroméxico, however after her retirement she wasn’t scrapped fully. Instead she was only partially broken up and the fuselage donated to the city of Cadereyta, Queretaro for educational purposes. I think that provides a fitting connection to her past attachment to the Purdue University scene.
I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: