All posts in: Aircraft Illustrations
USAIr 767 side profile
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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
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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"
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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
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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
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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
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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.

DL 767-200
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As a child of the 80’s, the iconic Widget livery is the one that I think defines Delta Airlines. I can recall with great clarity the advertisements in newspapers and magazines featuring photos and illustrations of Delta L-1011’s and 767’s (just like this one), and I had scrapbooks full that stuff. So yeah – this widget livery is burned into my brain pretty good. The current livery just isn’t even on the same level, IMHO.

As far as the illustration goes, I there were a couple areas that ended up being more difficult than I had planned them to be. First was the exposed aluminum section on the bottom half of the fuselage. This is a highly-polished section of the airplane in real life, and the reference photos I used to make this illustration showed that it was highly reflective and mirrored whatever was underneath it at the time. It’s difficult to replicate that effect when rendering these over white backgrounds (because there’s nothing to reflect other than white), so I had to take a bit of artistic liberty and render it a bit more generic than I would have preferred. The other issue was the typeface for “DELTA” – in real life, it was not the same on both the tail and on the fuselage. Interesting! But a royal pain in the butt…it took me a bit of time to realize this and make these titles look like they should.

Anyway, most of the airliner art I’ve created so far have been depictions of current airlines and aircraft, so it was fun to take a step back in time and create a true “classic”. It was so much fun that I did a few more on the 767-200 – so stay tuned for those.

american airlines 767-200 artwork
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I’m still taking a short break from building that 3d model of an R8, so I thought it would be fun to get back into doing some more airliner art. Jumping back and forth like this between 3d and 2d stuff like this is good for my brain, as it keeps me from becoming burned out from being focused on one thing for too long. Burn-out is definitely a problem for me – it tends to happen quite often if I don’t take the initiative to combat it (not doing any illustration work for a while or just switching projects is a good start).

Anyway, I’ve been wanting to do an illustration of an American Airlines 767-200 for a while now. For those of you who don’t follow the airline industry, the 767-200 has been a backbone of the American Airlines fleet for nearly 30 years, and the last one of them was retired earlier this year. They were old, tired, and in desperate need of replacement – but the aviation buff in me saw these old birds as one of the last of the flying classics. It was a real shame to see them go, especially since they were directly replaced by not-so-exciting Airbus A321 single-aisle aircraft.

Nostalgia aside, another reason for wanting to do this illustration was because of the complexity of the livery. I like a challenge, and creating a realistic-looking polished aluminum texture was not easy – I struggled with it for a long while before getting to a point where I was satisfied. Is it perfect? Hardly. There’s a lot about this illustration that I don’t like, and I’ve already got some ideas floating around in my brain about how I can do it better next time.

For the background, I created a simple silver texture and then placed a very large solid gray version of the American Airlines eagle logo on the right hand side to compliment the shape of the vertical stabilizer. It becomes more of an abstract element like this (as opposed to being identifiable as the AA eagle logo), but that’s why I thought it looked kind of cool.

air new zealand 787-9
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Earlier this week, Boeing rolled out the first 787-9 in the Air New Zealand livery. For those of you who don’t normally follow these sorts of things, the 787-9 is an lengthened version of the original 787-8 and is capable of flying longer distances with increased efficiency. I’ve only seen a handful of pictures of this particular aircraft so far (registration ZK-NZE), but I knew right away that I had to do an illustration of it as soon as I saw it.

The livery that Air New Zealand chose for this aircraft is a one-off special variant, and it features an all-black fuselage with the New Zealand Trade and Enterprise logo printed in white on the rear 3/4 section of the plane. The standard Air New Zealand titles are in white, as are the engine nacelles. It’s a sharp looking aircraft!

From an illustration point of view, this one was more difficult to recreate than most. The black paint meant that I had to put much more detail into the gloss and reflections – details which aren’t normally visible on white and light-colored aircraft. Yeah, I did have to take a bit of artistic liberty on some of those highlights and reflections, but that’s what being an illustrator is all about: emphasizing what’s important, and down-playing what’s not. That means something different to every illustrator, and I’m willing to bet that anyone else who creates an illustration of this aircraft would choose to handle the reflections and highlights differently.

I give Air New Zealand huge props for making such a bold statement on a revolutionary aircraft such as this. The 787-9 is going to be hugely popular with the airlines and they played the launch customer role perfectly by designing such a stunning livery for an equally stunning aircraft.

United Airlines 747-400 illustration
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A few days ago it dawned on me that I’ve only made one Boeing 747-400 illustration since completing my blank template of it last September. Considering that the 747 has always been my favorite aircraft, I thought that it would probably be a good (and fun) idea to start building up that collection.

Deciding which livery I would render was quite simple this time – which is rare for me. In my post about the Air China A330, I told you about how much I struggle trying to decide what exactly I want to work on before starting one of these illustrations – and I revealed that I’m now trying to focus on the aircraft that I’ve flown in the past (or will be flying soon). My trip to South Korea in a couple weeks from now is going to kick off with a SFO-PEK segment on a United Airlines 747-400, so the choice of what to illustrate was obvious.

As far as the livery goes, I’ve got to say that I’m bummed about how United chose to use the old Continental color scheme when they merged with them several years ago. While I’m sure they saved a ton of money doing it that way, the company was essentially reborn at that time and it would have been the perfect opportunity to press the reset button on their brand image and come up with something new and unrelated to these old and tired companies. Both of which, by the way, desperately needed to shed years of bad publicity (bankruptcy, poor service, etc) and emerge as a fresh new brand. Why they chose to save a few dollars and stick with the old look is beyond me.

That said, I actually don’t mind this livery all that much. The straight horizontal cheat line through the center of the fuselage is somewhat dated, but the light colors compliment the vivid blue and gold in the logo nicely. And heck – nearly anything looks good on the 747!