The beautiful evolution of the Delta Air Lines livery

Delta Airlines Colors in Motion livery

Love it or hate it, the best thing about the Delta Air Lines livery is how consistent it’s been over the years. Every livery has been a subtle evolution of the previous one, and it has helped Delta to become one of the most recognized and respected brands in the world.

A closer look at how the Delta Air Lines livery has evolved over the years

I’ve illustrated a lot of Delta aircraft over the years, and the following is a look at some of the most historically significant. I’ll be adding to this list as I complete more illustrations, so do come again…

Dark-nose widget livery: 1982-1997

The  is the livery that I think of whenever I hear somebody say “Delta”.  It probably has a lot to do with the fact that this was the livery that I grew up with, and it was the one that Delta was using when I was a young boy just starting to get into airliners.

Delta 767-200 widget livery
The properly-named “dark nose” widget livery on my Boeing 767-200 template. Previous versions of this livery featured a cheat line that went straight into the nosecone without the “blend” that you see here.

The livery has everything that you would expect with a classic airline paint scheme. It features a two color cheat line running down the length of the aircraft (a thick black stripe over the windows, with a thin red pinstripe above it). The Delta widget logo is displayed twice on each side:

  • Once on the vertical stabilizer
  • Once on the forward fuselage next to the main titles

This was one of the best airline liveries of all time in my opinion, although I never realized it at the time. It wasn’t until they moved onto the next one in 1997 that I understood how great it really was.

Ron Allen livery: 1997-2000

Delta airlines got a new CEO in 1997 (Ron Allen), and one of the first things that he did was hire Landor Associates to do a complete brand refresh (the same company that designed the new Etihad livery and the British Airways livery). It didn’t seem like an illogical thing to do at the time, since the Delta widget livery that proceeded it was over 30 years old at that point (in some form or any). It was time for a change.

Delta Air Lines Boeing 757-200 Ron Allen livery
The Ron Allen livery on my Boeing 757-200 template. I really like how all the elements of the previous livery were retained (but modernized).

The new Delta livery that was unveiled in 1997 was brilliant in my opinion. It essentially took the best parts of the previous delivery and modernized them. The cheat line remained, as did the widget logo. Many of the same colors carried over as well, although they chose to brighten up the color palette by switching out the black with a lighter blue.

Personally, I really liked the Ron Allen livery. However, received very harsh criticism from straying too far from the Delta brand. It only lasted for three years before they gave up on it and start over from scratch.

Colors in Motion livery: 2000-2007

An all new Delta Airlines livery unveiled in 2000, and it was the most memorable of my lifetime (and not in a good way). I remember seeing a leaked picture of it on airliners.net the day before it was announced to the public.

Delta Airlines Colors in Motion livery
Arguably the most controversial Delta livery of modern times.

Everybody was losing their minds over it, thinking that it was the ugliest livery that Delta had ever come up with. I didn’t particularly hate it, but I was absolutely convinced that the picture that had leaked was of an unfinished aircraft. The vertical stabilizer looks great, but the all-white fuselage looked unfinished in my opinion. I was absolutely convinced that it was not the aircraft that Delta was going to unveil.

Boy was I wrong. Very next day, Delta proudly unveiled this new livery design and called it “Colors in Motion”. All over the Internet, people had other names for it such as:

  • “Wavy Gravy”
  • “Deltaflot” (since it looked so much like the Aeroflot livery of the time).

This livery was significant in the fact that it signaled the departure from cheat lines, and a switch to a more simple and clean design language better known in the industry as “Euro white” style. Whether everyone was ready for it or not, Delta had boldly decided to ditch the classic cheat lines.

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Onward and Upward livery: 2007-present

By 2007, Delta’s large fleet of aircraft were wearing three different liveries. Most of the 1980’s widget livery aircraft had been repainted, but there were still a few floating around.

And even though the Ron Allen livery only lasted a few years, there were still a handful of those in the system as well. Delta was still actively trying to get all of the aircraft painted into the the Colors in Motion livery when they (yet again) decided to bail on it and start over from scratch.

Delta Air Lines 737-800 Onward and Upward livery
The Delta Air Lines 737-800 wearing the Onward and Upward livery

Compared to the American Airlines livery (one that hardly ever changes) it seemed as if Delta was facing an identity crisis.

Delta Air Lines 747-400 onward and upward livery
These Delta 747-400’s originally had the Northwest Airlines livery on them, but that all changed when Delta merged with them in 2008.

Thankfully, the Onward and Upward livery design was a return to its roots (somewhat). It brought back the widget logo as the primary design element, and featured more color on the fuselage than the previous livery.

Delta Air Lines Airbus A350-900 onward and upward livery
These colors look great on my A350-900 template as well!
Delta 3d widget livery
Another common name for this livery is “the 3d widget” (since the logo looks 3-dimensional). This is what it looks like on my Airbus A321 template.

Note that while the majority of the fuselage is still “Euro white”, a subtle wave of dark blue covers the belly. Not only that, there is a predominantly large “Delta” logo (with the widget) painted underneath the aircraft so that it can only be seen from the air. It’s a neat design element that hardly anyone ever notices.

Comments (4)

  1. Tim

    February 20, 2015
    • Norebbo

      February 21, 2015
  2. Jack

    February 9, 2016
    • Norebbo

      February 10, 2016

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