Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Playboy Jet: "Big Bunny"

Once upon a time a quaint magazine was born in the fifties that captivated men's attention and changed the way people would think for the rest of time. While Car and Driver is a captivating magazine, women would be appalled and flock to Playboy magazine. This magazine would continue to profit during the sexually liberating sixties and would have the best selling copy in 1972.[1] The sixties and seventies was also a change in the aviation industry. Airliners were transitioning to the jet age and was the avant garde of technology. Gone were the noisy and slow piston aircraft and in came the svelte and fast jets like the 707 and DC-8. This technology had created a generation of the wealthy "Jet Set" who could enjoy life and chill in anywhere in the world within a days worth of travel.[2] One could drink a martini in a New York penthouse party in one night and dine on chelow kabab in Tehran by the next night. To simply understand the radical change the jet age made to society; everyone went from seeing aviation like this; [3]

to this.

To own a jetliner during the Jet Age was the ultimate status symbol. It meant that the individual could travel anywhere they wanted and in the opulent comfort of your own private jet. Noone would take this farther than Hugh Hefner. He would ride in his symbol of decadence in 1970.
This jet came into service decked out with many creature comforts that existed in the seventies. The plane had:

televisions and leather chairs,

plush leather sofas through most of the jet,

a shagtastic round bed with animal pelt as a comforter,

And even its own Jet Bunnies!

Never before, or since, has such misogyny ever taken the sky.
Well, there were some exceptions...

The Big Bunny, or "Hare Force One," was the most opulent private aircraft for most of the seventies.[11][12] The only aircraft capable to match such extravagance is the executive aircraft of some national or world leaders, including the United States Air Force's famous 'Air Force One.' Such private luxury could not be matched until the boom of business jets and private use of wide-body airliners. The aircraft (N950PB) would continue flying the Jet Bunnies until 1976, when the magazine could no longer afford to keep it.[13] From there, it had a short career with the Venezuelan airline, Aeropostal. However, it finally went where every individual doused in debauchery would go to, Mexico!!! In the beginning of the 1980s, the airliner would begin a long and successful career shuttling people around Mexico with Aeromexico. The plane still had a taint of lasciviousness when it was dubbed the former party town of "Ciudad Juarez."[14] It would later be painted with a nameless silver livery during its later years.[15] In fact the Bunny Jet even has its own conspiracy theory of colliding with a UFO [16]. The plane would be retired in 2004 and was to be chopped up into scraps and soda cans in 2008. However, a plane with such a history wouldn't go down that quickly.
This is the very same Big Bunny (XA-JEB) in Cadereyta, Queretaro, Mexico. The fuselage was donated to the city so that it would help bring education and classes to the children of this city.[18] So unless the violence and recession changes anything; the plane went from being a sex symbol to a childrens educational tool. A fitting finale for the Big Bunny.

For a pictoral history of this aircraft see


[1] Wikipedia contributors, "Playboy," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed November 29, 2009).
[2] Wikipedia contributors, "Jet set," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed November 29, 2009).
[3] "Jerry Lewis," Google Images, (accessed November 29, 2009).
[4] Richard Elfman, "Battle of the Bonds," Buzzine Culture and Entertainment, (accessed November 29, 2009).
[5] Unknown, "Build Your Own Flying Big Bunny," Gamespot, (accessed November 29, 2009).
[6][8] Unknown, "Hugh Hefner's private jet," Boreme, (accessed November 29, 2009).
[7] Unknown, "Playboy DC-9," Airline Safety Cards, (accessed November 29, 2009).
[9][11] Nanci Kaczmarek, "Jet Bunnies," Ex-Playboy Bunny, (accessed November 29, 2009).
[10] Wikipedia contributors, "Hooters Air," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed November 29, 2009).
[12] Wikipedia contributors, "Janice Raymond (model)," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed November 29, 2009).
[13] Many contributors, "Playboy DC9: Is It Still Flying,", (accessed November 29, 2009).
[14] Ciudad Juarez became a border town to El Paso, Texas that was known for being the party and center of American lewdness until recent times in which many locals now call it "Nuevo Baghdad" because of the high death rate. Robert M. Campbell, "Aircraft Pictures,", (accessed November 29, 2009).
[15] Ricardo Morales, "Aircraft Pictures,", (accessed November 29, 2009).
[16] Unknown, "OVNI 94," Alcione, (accessed November 29, 2009).
[17] EcoRomeoLima, "DC-9-32 AMX Fuselaje en Cadereyta," Photobucket,¤t=XA-JEB-Cadereyta.jpg&sort=ascending (accessed November 29, 2009).
[18] Martin Garcia Chavero, "'Aterriza' avion de Aeromexico en Cadereyta, Queretaro," Rotativo de Queretaro, (accessed November 29, 2009).
[19] Nanci Kaczmarek, "Jet Bunnies," Ex-Playboy Bunny, (accessed November 29, 2009).

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

U-2 Chase Cars

Whenever you hear of the word U-2, the first thing that will pop into your head is Bono singing one of his band's hits in your head. For others it will stir up sentiments of the Cold War and a big black spyplane.

But note the odd car in this picture. The vehicle there is not because of a photo op. This is one of the legendary U-2 chase cars that the United States Air Force (USAF) has to escort this bird when it lands. The need for chase cars is not to impress our allies and adversaries for the rad spectacle that comes from this. This is a necessity as this is one of the hardest aircraft to land. The aircraft has a landing gear bicycle configuration and its massive wings creates a ground effect that creates a cushion of air under the aircraft; which it prevents the aircraft from landing [1]. Because of this, the aircraft had to purposely stall, or lose lift in its wings, in order to land. There's also the problem of a lack of visibility in the cockpit. Because of this, the pilot needs an extra set of eyes to guide them by radio in landing the aircraft. Because of this, the extra set of eyes is another U-2 pilot sitting in a souped up car following behind the spyplane.

The U-2 program started when the United States needed a spyplane that can fly higher than the Soviet fighters and anti-air guns in the early 1950s. This was needed to overfly the Soviet Union and to provide aerial reconnaissance to the top brass in the Pentagon and the White House. The Lockheed Skunkworks division concocted this jet that had a large glider-like wingspan to allow it to gain lift in the thin air up at 70,000 feet. The U-2 succeeded in spying on the Soviets until they caught up with anti-air missile technology and brought a U-2 down with a barrage of SA-2 missiles.[2] So great was this barrage that it brought down a pursuing Soviet Mig-19 fighter jet. Another one would be shot down over Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. The U-2 spyplanes would also be used by Republic of China (ROC) to spy on the People's Republic of China (PRC). The ROC U-2s were painted in the colors of the ROC air force.[3] Many spyplanes were lost and continued to fly until the United States reestablished political relations with the PRC in 1974. The aircraft would endure many changes including a more powerful engine(U-2C), a longer nose, equipment pods on the wings and above it(U-2R/TR-1A), and now high tech equipment such as GPS (U-2S). With these modifications, the crew of the U-2 looked at the appearance and gave it the nickname, "the Dragon Lady."

While this was going on, there was a need to land this aircraft safely. The USAF needed a fast car to keep up with the U-2 upon landing. Their option was to purchase many souped up Chevrolet El Camino cars in order to speed up to the landing U-2 and to add the gear struts that attached to the extreme part of the wings of the U-2 to allow it to taxi around the airport.

After that, the USAF turned to Ford to deal with a fact car to catch up to the U-2. the next series of cars were the Ford Mustang SSP (Special Service Package) during the 1980s and early 1990s.[4] The USAF bought a whole batch of these cars after testing a Mustang SSP that was being used by the California Highway patrol at the U-2 home at Beale Air Force Base (AFB), California.

After this car, the USAF turned to Chevrolet to get the Chevrolet Camaro Z-28. However, the air force got the B4C package, which was the version sold solely to the law enforcement.[5] With a 305-horsepower, 5.7-liter engine similar to the one used in the Chevrolet Corvette, the Camaro had no problem to keep up with the U-2 and carry the wing struts to the aircraft[6].

When the production of the old Camaro ended in 2002; the USAF turned to the Pontiac G8, also known as the Holden VE Commodore. This is the current car used (sometimes alongside an older B4C Camaro) as the chase car wherever the U-2 aircraft lands. Despite Pontiac's demise, the USAF is still maintaining the G8s for the time being. [7]

However, there is a storm brewing on the horizon. An aircraft now exists that will one day remove the daring pilot and Hollywood style car chases at Beale AFB. This aircraft was even suggested by dear old "Rummy" to replace the U-2.[8]
Meet C-3PO with wings:

This is the RQ-4A Global Hawk. This unmanned aerial vehicle does the spying without risking the pilot's life. It is the epitome of efficiency and expendability. In short, this is a plane without the passion or soul that you get from the U-2. The U-2 has the heritage and essence of the will of humanity to ride it out to the limits of the Earth and is an adventure from takeoff to cruising through the Coffin Corner (edge where your high cruising speed is at the exact point of stalling) and landing with a show. Comparing the Dragon Lady with the Global Hawk is like comparing a Ferrari California with a Hyundai Sonata. The Hawk does the job rather brilliantly, but what's the use of glorifying and oversize remote control bird. Seriously, if these two pilots were lady killers at a night club, who do you think would get the girl; the guy who flight-simmed through a war, or the one who flew at the edge of space and landed in hot pursuit.

Fortunately, Congress still has yet to cast a bill to retire the U-2. And there's a big emphasis on the word yet. I leave you all with a video link to the U-2 chase cars in the first five minutes with James May.

[1][8] Wikipedia contributors, "Lockheed U-2," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed November 18, 2009).
[3] Maartenw, "Aviation Photo Gallery,", (accessed November 18, 2009).
[4] Riley, Mike and Ricks, Charles, "About the USAF SSP cars," SSP Mustang Page, (accessed November 18, 2009).
[5] Wikipedia contributors, "B4C," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed November 18, 2009).
[6] Ward, Michael A., "Chasing a Dragon Lady," Global Security, (accessed November 18, 2009).
[7] Unknown author, "Let's get it started," The Official Website of the United States Air Force, (accessed November 18, 2009).

In the beginning...

For starters, this is an unofficial writing. By this I mean that I do not hold it to the highest standards of using primary sources (as most of it will be from online webpages) and will not be a fit writing of perfection (as most of it will be my practice trial and error run for my assignment and papers and will not be rechecked for errors). If any of my professors or friends read this; not that this blog will not follow the exact and serious writing that are accepted by institutions. The Chicago Manual of Style will also be followed as best as I can with this blog but I cannot guarantee to be error free. I will also do this aside and secondary to my research papers and assignments so the content will vary in size and timely effort.
With all the preliminary cautions aside, here I will write about historical moments in aviation. However, I will focus mostly on small historical details or aircraft that have been obscured or largely ignored by the mainstream media and population. Everyone knows about the U-2 spyplane and the DC-9 aircraft, but few know of the U-2 chase cars and the Playboy Bunny jet. So in short, I will try to do this as interesting as possible in order for, you, the reader and I can enjoy this blog. With this in consideration, welcome to Just Plane History!