After teasing Star Wars fans with renderings of a jet dressed up as R2-D2, Boeing and All Nippon Airways of Japan recently unveiled the real thing: a 787-9 aircraft painted in the droid’s recognizable traits. The custom plane, part of a multi-year campaign between ANA and Disney, will fly around the world to promote the three upcoming Star Wars films. Two additional planes – one in the likeness of a new droid, BB-8 – will join R2-D2 in 2016.
Every airline has a signature design, or livery, that identifies it, and is used across the fleet. But, sometimes a few planes will receive special paint jobs as part of a sponsorship, marketing campaign, celebration, or when an airline just wants to have a bit of fun. These custom schemes are usually temporary, but some are so good, we wish they were permanent. Whether weird or successful, here are a few of our favorites.
To promote its onboard Wi-Fi, dubbed “Fly-Fi,” JetBlue painted the tail and rear fuselage of one of its Airbus A320 planes with zeroes and ones. Techies, of course, instantly recognized it as binary code. The plane, called “CONNECTED TO 01000010 01001100 01010101 01000101, translates to “CONNECTED TO BLUE.” We think it’s genius.
Alaska Airlines has several planes with special paint jobs (our Portland crew probably has a soft spot for the Timbers jet) but the weirdest one might just be the one with a fish on the sides of a 737. Called “Salmon Thirty Salmon” (get it?) the design is a tribute to the Alaska king salmon and a partnership with the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. The airline flies millions of pounds of seafood from Alaska to the mainland every year.
Commemorating their heritages, several airlines have brought back paint schemes used in the past. Lufthansa of Germany is one, but what’s unique about this retro design is that it’s painted on one of airline’s newest planes, the Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental jumbo.
Few have achieved a status as high as Hello Kitty, and she’s not even real. The cartoon character has a huge global following, which is probably why Taiwan’s EVA Air has covered a Boeing 777 with Hello Kitty and her posse to attract fans. It’s not just on the fuselage: the motif can be found in the interior as well, from pillows and flight attendant uniforms to lavatory amenities.
The Star Wars R2-D2 isn’t the first promotion tie-in ANA has done. Since 1996, it has painted a few planes to tap into the Pokemon craze, making a 777 look like some sort of flying circus. Like EVA’s Hello Kitty and the R2-D2 jets, the Pokemon experience is carried inside.
Air New Zealand latched onto Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, calling itself the “airline of Middle-Earth.” It even created a few whimsical safety videos around characters from films based on JRR Tolkien’s books. But we aren’t as jazzed with this marketing campaign (The Telegraph calls it ugly) as we are with the airline’s stunning all-black scheme, a tribute to New Zealand’s national rugby team. While most airlines stick with plain white, the all-black planes are boss.
Kulula may be an unfamiliar name, but the South African budget airline has a great sense of humor. For its “Flying 101” livery, Kulula covered a Boeing 737 with legends and graphics that indicate the various parts of the plane, from the cockpit (“The big cheese”) and nose cone to the black box and stabilizer. It’s not only funny, but it’s also a great-looking plane.