AA new colors 737-800

It’s been almost two years since this new American Airlines livery was unveiled, and I’ve got to say that it’s growing on me quite a bit. These colors look absolutely fantastic in bright sunshine (even better than the old polished livery did), and the silver paint they chose for the main section of the fuselage has a perfect balance of bling and class. I know that there are many out there who don’t feel the same way about this new look, but I’m liking it more and more each time I see it out in the wild.

As much as I like it this color scheme, it’s certainly not an easy one to illustrate. I’ve been wanting to do a 737-800 illustration like this for two years now, but I’ve held off out of sheer laziness (and a huge lack of desire) to get that tail section looking right. I’d go as far as to say that the Hawaiian Airlines tail colors were easier to do, which is saying a lot because that one was quite a hair-puller as well. But I tried to be smart about it this time – knowing that I’ll likely be creating a lot more AA aircraft illustrations in the future, I decided to go ahead and make a template of those tail colors that I can apply to any other type of aircraft. I have no excuse for not doing any more illustrations of other aircraft in this livery now!

There’s just one part of this livery that I don’t care for, and that’s the official American Airlines logo slapped on the forward section of the fuselage. Similar to the way UPS applied (slapped?) their logo to the vertical stabilizers of their airplanes, this looks like such an afterthought. If you recall, I ranted about this in my post about the AA 777-200 illustration – why did they not incorporate this logo into the design of the livery? Sure, the colors are the same, but that’s where the similarities end – it’s a 3d logo applied to a relatively flat 2d livery. I don’t get it.

Hawaiian 767 with winglets

Back in March of this year, I posted the illustration I created of my favorite airline/aircraft combo of all time: the Hawaiian Airlines A330-200. It was a horribly complex livery to recreate (and it wasn’t perfect), but I had a lot of fun with it and I enjoyed the challenge. As a matter of fact, I was so excited about completing it that I made plans to create side profile illustrations of the entire Hawaiian fleet! But you know how things go – life can get busy without warning, which means having less time for fun personal side projects such as this. Yeah, things have been busy between now and then, and I’m just now getting back to working on cranking out illustrations of the rest of that Hawaiian Airlines fleet.

You know that I’ve already done the A330 and the DC-10 (which was one of my first-ever pieces of airliner art), so the next one I decided to focus on was the 767. These Hawaiian 767-300’s are quickly being phased out of the fleet and being replaced by the A330’s (and coming A321’s), which is kind of weird to me considering I remember when the 767’s started replacing the DC-10’s. Has it really been that long? Crazy how time flies.

Just like the problems I had with the A330 version of this livery, this 767 was no different. The tail art is nearly identical, but there are some slight differences in the lower section of the fuselage – I’m not really sure why the designers chose to make this livery different between these two aircraft, as I applied the same one to both (just to see what would happen) and I didn’t encounter any issues. But being a designer myself, I know all about unforeseen problems and thus the necessary design inconsistencies between products that don’t really make much sense to everyone else. There’s a reason for everything!

And just like UPS (United Parcel Service), Hawaiian maintains several variants of the 767 in their fleet. Some of these have those beautiful winglets installed (as shown in the illustration at the top of this post), while others do not. Here is an example of this same aircraft (N582HA) without the winglets:

hawaiian 767-300 without winglets

N582HA without winglets

It won’t be long before these 767-300’s are gone for good, so fly them while you can!

UPS 767-300F drawing

One of my favorite US airline liveries at the moment has to be the iconic brown and gold scheme of UPS (United Parcel Service). The way the brown and gold intersect the white section of the forward fuselage is quite elegant, and much more interesting than it could have been if they took the easy way out and just painted the tail brown.

I like airline liveries that utilize the entire aircraft, and this one does a fine job of using color and shape to lead the eye gracefully from the forward titles all the way back to the rear of the airplane. And heck – the use of brown as a primary color shouldn’t go without mention, because, well, how many other airlines do you know of that use dark brown as boldly as this? I like it!

If I could criticize one thing, it would have to be the UPS logo itself. While it is quite nice on it’s own, it does look rather “stuck on” as opposed to being seamlessly integrated into the rest of the livery. It’s the 3d effect that is throwing me off a bit – there aren’t any other graphic elements in this livery that are as graphically rich as that 3d logo, and I think it would have been ok to remove that dimensionality and leave it flat instead. This way, it would appear to be cut out of the vertical stabilizer as opposed to being just slapped onto the side.

This particular 767-300 is aircraft N360UP – a 34AF/ER variant which features winglets (for better fuel efficiency). Not all UPS 767’s have these installed, so I’ve also created another version of the same illustration without them:

UPS 767-300F without winglets

United Parcel Service (UPS) Boeing 767-34AF/ER without winglets

I am of the opinion that these winglets make the 767 (and pretty much every other aircraft they’ve been installed on) look much more graceful and elegant – so it’s becoming difficult for me to create illustrations without them. Amazing how a simple change can make such a big difference!

On a side note, doing this artwork has reminded me that I need to stop slacking and send a few holiday packages off to the family…via UPS of course!

the final northwest airlines livery

Northwest Airlines was never known for being one of the world’s best, but they did have a rather respectable route network by the time they were absorbed into Delta Airlines in 2010. As a matter of fact, they were the world’s sixth largest airline prior to that merger – and the top US carrier in for international passenger traffic and domestic cargo operations. I’ve personally logged tens of thousands of miles with them to points all over the world, and it was kind of a bummer to see them disappear from the skies for good.

As a visual designer, one of the things I liked best about Northwest was their bold brand identity with the signature red tails. It was certainly the brightest color choice among the US majors, which made it easy to spot and identify Northwest aircraft at any busy airport. I also liked their final logo – which consisted of a simple ring with an arrow pointing to the Northwest. Simple. Clean. Good.

Anyway, I thought it would be fun to create some illustrations of the last three Northwest Liveries on the 747-400 – the aircraft that defines NW to me. First up is the illustration at the top of this post. This was their last livery, and to me, the best looking of them all. The only thing that might have made it look better would have been to have a polished aluminum fuselage instead of painted silver. I get why they did that (many aircraft these days are made of composites, not metal), but it really could have been stunning with a bit of polish and shine.

And here is the second to last color scheme – also known as the “bowling shoe” livery. This one is especially nostalgic for me, as it was the very first livery illustration I ever created when I started out with my side-profile DC-10’s.

northwest airlines 747 bowling shoe colors

A side profile illustration of a Northwest Airlines 747-451 in the bowling shoe livery over a blank background with and without the landing gear deployed

Finally, here are the launch colors for the Northwest 747-400. There were only a few of these painted in this livery, since the “bowling shoe” was unveiled shortly after NW introduced the -400 series into the fleet.

debut nw 747-400 color scheme

A side profile illustration of a Northwest Airlines 747-451 in original bare metal livery over a blank background with and without the landing gear deployed

Which one do you like the best?

USAIr 767 side profile

As I mentioned in my recent post about the Piedmont 767-200 illustration, I couldn’t help but to do this polished aluminum USAir version at the same time. It’s certainly not a very exciting airline and aircraft combination, but I was feeling somewhat of a nostalgic vibe at the time and I jumped at the opportunity to create another classic livery for my archives. And it just so happens to be that it was USAir that bought out Piedmont in 1989 (and American Airlines bought out USAir/USAirways last year), so now I’ve got the complete set of 767-200 illustrations from this series of related mergers.

As far as airline liveries go, there isn’t much to this classic scheme. Created by SBG Partners and unveiled in 1989 (right after the Piedmont merger), it’s got all the lines, colors, and simplicity of something dreamed up in the heart of the 1980s. I was able to apply it to my polished aluminum 767-200 template fairly quickly, and as matter of fact, this may have been the easiest livery recreation that I’ve ever done! This kind of simplicity is very much appreciated after spending so much time on some of the others in my collection. It all balances out in the end, I guess.

Unfortunately, I don’t have very fond memories of USAir. They suffered a series of unfortunate (and careless) mishaps back in the 1990s that were pretty scary to read about, and to make matters worse, this was the preferred airline for the company that I worked for starting in 1996. I didn’t mind the business travel associated with that job, but having to fly USAir really deflated my sense of adventure and excitement for each trip. Thankfully I survived!

cathay pacific 747-400 side view

There are very few airline liveries out there that I like more than Cathay Pacific. Arguably one of the finest airlines in the sky, their corporate branding is subtle and classy in a way that makes me compare everyone else in the industry to them – and I’m cringing at the thought of it ever changing. It’s difficult to put my finger on exactly what it is that makes me like it so much, but you know that I’m a fan of muted colors, and the Cathay Pacific palette has been designed exactly the way I would have done it myself. Clean, classy, and professional without being over the top.

Although they operate a huge fleet of different aircraft types, I decided to do my first illustration of this livery on an airplane that is no longer part of their fleet: the 747-400. This is the aircraft I think of whenever I think of Cathay Pacific, which (for years) was the backbone of their global operations. If you have flown Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong at any time in the past 20 years, there’s a pretty good chance you got a ride on a 747-400.

As far as creating the livery goes, this one was pretty straightforward and easy to replicate. The “wing” logo on the vertical stabilizer gave me some heartburn for a bit as I tried to get it properly proportioned and positioned, but otherwise, there weren’t any major issues. I wish it was always that easy, because some of these livery illustrations are far more complicated than I care to admit!

United Airlines 737-900 "One Hundred"

It’s hard to believe the that the Boeing 737 is over 40 years old and it is still one of the best-selling commercial aircraft available at the moment. Of course the 737 of today is vastly superior to the 737 from 1969, but still – the fact that Boeing has managed to get so many years out of a single airframe is downright amazing. There aren’t many other products in this world that have had that much staying power.

And that leads me to this illustration of a United Airlines version of the -900 series – the newest (and largest) 737 from Boeing. I’ve already told you my thoughts on the current United livery, but I’ll say it again: they really need to separate from these colors to help project themselves as a new and different company. Taking the old Continental livery, removing the titles, and then slapping “United” on the forward part of the fuselage was an ok “temporary” solution after the two airlines merged, but they’ve really got to get past that and create a new brand from scratch.

There have been a lot of new re-branding efforts in the airline industry recently (the new American Airlines livery looks great), so it probably wouldn’t hurt them to take a chance and do something different. But I’ll just leave it at that.

This particular illustration depicts a very special aircraft in the UA fleet. It’s the “One Hundred” airframe, meaning that it’s dedicated to 100 exceptional employees (as voted by their peers) who go above and beyond. The markings for this are subtle, with a small decal next to the main titles on the fuselage, as well as a plaque mounted inside that is visible upon boarding.

Piedmont Airlines Boeing 767-201/ER

Sometimes whenever I start working on a project, I get really into it and end up doing a lot more than originally intended. These Boeing 767-200 illustrations are a perfect example of that. My primary reason for creating a 767-200 template was so that I could render up one with Delta’s old widget livery – one of the best looking airline liveries of all time if you ask me. But once I finished, I thought that it would be cool to do one for American Airlines in their polished aluminum scheme. And if I was going to do that, I thought that I might as well create at TWA version too. But that’s when I really started getting nostalgic, finding myself in Photoshop laying the colors for Piedmont Airlines onto another copy of my blank template. Oh – and I almost forgot that there was a USAir version created somewhere in between all that as well, which I’ll post it up on the blog soon.

The silly part? All of this happened in one 24 hour period. Sometimes my drive to create gets the best of me and it’s difficult to let go of what I’m working on.

Anyway, back to this Piedmont 767 rendering. Piedmont Airlines was a small(ish) US airline based out of Winston-Salem North Carolina founded in 1948, and they eventually merged with USAir in 1989. I personally found it interesting that that they were solidly a US domestic airline with mostly short-range flights, but they did operate one single international route from Charlotte to London (Gatwick) utilizing Boeing 767-200 aircraft. Kind of an odd route for such a niche airline.

My illustration above is an exact representation of one of those 767’s. As with all aircraft liveries of the 1980’s, it sports a super-cool cheatline intersecting the windows right through the middle of the fuselage. Too bad we never got to see this brand evolve, as I do like their brand colors and logo quite a bit.

Long live the cheatlines!

red and white TWA 767 drawing

Here in the US, there aren’t many airlines that have as much history as TWA (Trans World Airlines). They started flying way back in 1925, and lasted all the way until 2001 when they merged with American Airlines. That’s a long time – certainly longer than most of the other airlines flying around in the US today. That said, I’ve only flown with them 5 times – all of that in their last months of 2001 before disappearing from the skies for good. I wish that I could have experienced them in the late 70’s to early 80’s (arguably their “prime” years) just to see what they were really like. There’s just something about the thought of being served freshly-carved roast from a tray while sitting in a paisley first class seat from STL to LAX (or LHR, or FRA, or….wherever) that gets this aviation geek excited. Hey – I love this kind of stuff!

As far as an airline goes, I remember them as being an old (crusty?) established brand. They certainly weren’t known for being a flashy airline and their corporate branding was quite stiff if you ask me. No flashy colors, supermodel stewardesses, or gimmicky products – just a solid, world class airline serving destinations all around the globe.

Their liveries did nothing to convey the opposite, as most of them were safe and sterile – including the version I’ve illustrated above. This was their second to last livery, with the last one unveiled only a few short years before their death. But this one is my favorite. Nothing screams “1980’s” more than thick red stripes running down the side of a white fuselage – it totally reminds me of the A-Team van (with different colors obviously), and I swear I can hear Wham or Madonna playing in the background. Its way cheesy. And I love it.

Southwest 737-700 side view

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Southwest Airlines have always had bold liveries that have drawn attention. The original “mustard rocket” colors were unlike anything else in the air at that time, and the current blue, yellow, and orange get-up is in a league of it’s own as well. So yeah – the designer in me naturally gives them a lot of credit for bucking the trend and doing something different than most of the other airlines (who prefer stark-white fuselages with small splashes of color here and there).

I’ve been putting off illustrating a Southwest 737 for a long time and wouldn’t you know it, soon after I finished it,  Southwest threw everyone a curve ball with the announcement of a brand new livery which placed more emphasis on the “Southwest” titles. That means I’ve got to play catch-up now and illustrate a version of that one. That’s the trouble with doing airliner art – the industry moves fast and it will never be possible for one person to draw them all. At least I have something to keep me busy until I die…

Really though, I’m not bugged by it. I actually like documenting the old airliner liveries the most, and since I eventually plan on creating renderings of every single Southwest color scheme, this means one less I’ll have to do later on. The mustard rocket colors are most interesting to me though, so you’ll likely see that one first.