All posts tagged: 747-400
the final northwest airlines livery
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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?

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 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!

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cathay pacific 747 illustration preview

Side-profile illustrations of a Boeing 747-400 in the Cathay Pacific Airways livery

When it comes to airline liveries that define a particular aircraft type, I’d have to say that the Cathay Pacific colors are synonymous with the Boeing 747-400. Of course I realize that this is a highly subjective opinion and you’re likely to get a different answer for each person you ask, but hey – I’m the illustrator here and this is my blog. 🙂 I could also argue that only Pan Am might be a better choice, but they are long gone and they never actually flew the -400 variant of the 747. So out of all the current airlines flying this aircraft today, Cathay Pacific defines this aircraft type for me.

In my opinion, this is one of the best looking airline liveries that has ever been created. The colors are soft and complimentary, the typography is clean and precise, and the logo itself is a classic that is an awesome representation of “flight”.

On a side note, creating this Boeing 747-400 illustration was a lot more involved than I thought it was going to be. The thing that takes the most time with these aircraft illustrations are the wings, and if you look at the overall wing structure of the 747, it appears to be rather simple. From a side profile view, most of the under-wing detail is hidden by the massive Pratt and Whitney engines and their equally-large connections to the wing. But the way the wing interacts with the fuselage on this airplane is rather complex – even more so than the Airbus A350-900 that I recently illustrated.

Anyway, I’m glad to have it done. Especially since it now frees up my time to paint more liveries onto the blank template – just like I did here with Cathay Pacific.

all white 747-400
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Creating a blank template of a Boeing 747-400 has been at the top of my to do list for quite some time now, but it’s an older-generation aircraft that has been pushed aside by my need to do the A350, A380, and 787 templates first. Once I had those out of the way, I didn’t feel as guilty for spending some time on this classic Boeing airliner.

It was a bit weird creating these illustrations after spending so long on those newer-generation aircraft. The 747 is certainly getting on in years, as she’s been flying since 1970 without any major fuselage changes. So yeah – it looks rather dated (but still very classy) when put side by side with the latest offerings from Seattle and Toulouse.

Boeing 747-400 technical line drawing

Boeing 747-400 technical line drawing

And yes, I did struggle on these a bit – so much so that I basically did the vector line work twice. I really messed up the forward section of the fuselage the first time, with wonky proportions that were totally wrong – which made everything else look weird as well. It wasn’t until I deleted the nose section (and the forward part of the wing) that I identified that forward section as the problem. Back to the drawing board I went to do it over and get things right…

It’s hard to believe that the days of the 747 are winding down. They’ve been the queen of the skies for nearly my entire life, and the aviation nerd in me will definitely be sad to see them go. How soon will that happen? Probably in less than five years based on all the news I’ve been reading.

So now that I’ve finished the 747-400, there aren’t any “must do” aircraft that are on the top of my list. Yes, that list of airliner templates I plan on making is long, but the fun stuff is complete and now I need to get busy and start doing the endless number of variants that will make my collection complete.

Any requests?