Dating back to 1950s, the bunny design on the tail of aircraft has come to represent the tradition and spirit of Naval Aviation. From Korean War era aircraft, to modern high tech fighters, it has endured as a throwback to not only those who have flown in these particular Navy and Marine squadrons, but to all of Naval Aviation.
That same year, Playboy Enterprises bought a black Douglas DC-9 known as the “Big Bunny”. Shortly after this, a famous picture started to circulate featuring the Navy’s “Black Bunny” at NAS Point Mugu, CA in October 1971. The squadron received a letter from Playboy Enterprises, Inc stating that the bunny head was unofficial and warned of potential legal action. However, Playboy Enterprises stated no legal action would be taken if the squadron used an official Playboy stencil to ensure authenticity and accuracy. Thereafter official stencils were delivered to the Navy to match Playboy’s own design.
From that point forward, the supersonic bunny flew high over the California skies testing the fighter aircraft and weapons of the day. The F-4 Phantom II “Vandy One” remained in service until 1987 when the paint scheme was transferred to the F-14 Tomcat. In 1993 VX-4 and VX-5 were combined and VX-9 Vampires was established. A permanent F-14 detachment from VX-9 was based at NAS Pt. Magu, CA. The last black F-14D “Vandy One” made its final flight on July 2, 2004 to NAS Oceana, VA.
The first documented usage of rabbit head tail codes on military aircraft dates back to 1953 with Marine Squadron VMCJ-2 “The Playboys”. This squadron, based in MCAS Cherry Point, continues to uphold the tradition of the bunny on combat deployments to overseas location. Additionally, the US Air Force incorporated the image on the SR-71 Blackbird.
The most notable, and famous, use of the bunny image came from the Navy’s Air Test and Evaluation Squadron Four (VX-4) based out of NAS Point Mugu, CA. This squadron is charged with the operational testing of advanced aircraft systems. In this capacity, the rabbit head adorned the tail of some of the Navy’s most legendary fighter jets including the F-4 Phantom II, F-14 Tomcat, F/A-18 Hornet and the newest F-18 E/F Super Hornet. According to Navy lore the first rabbit appeared on the black F-4 Phantom II in 1969 during night testing and was referred to either as “Black Bunny” or “Vandy One”.
The current Vandy 1 flies at airshows in North America with the Warrior Flight Team. The aircraft is the flagship for Warrior Flight Team, which is a 501c(3) non-profit charity, dedicated to providing scholarships and career opportunities to our nation’s wounded veterans. With this iconic aircraft, Warrior Flight Team is able to bring their worthwhile efforts to the national stage. Additionally, the organization is able to continue the proud tradition of Naval Aviation, dating back over half a century.
Fear The Bunny!
US Marines VMCJ-2 circa 1950's
US Air Force SR-71 "Rapid Rabbit"
US Marines VMAQ-2 Afghanistan Deployment 2012
US Navy VX-4 F-4J Phantom II "Black Bunny/Vandy 1"
Playboy Magazine's DC-9 "Big Bunny"
F-4J "Black Bunny/Vandy 1"
Famous Transonic Pass
NAS Pt Mugu, Oct 1971
US Navy's Last F-14D "Vandy 1"
Warrior Aviation L-39 "Vandy 1"
F-4J Phantom II
Authorized Bunny Tail Code
F-4J and F-14A
US Navy VX-4 F-14A "Vandy 1"
US Navy F/A-18E Rhino
Warrior Aviation L-39 "Vandy 1"