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10 Airliners With Creative Paint Jobs
By Josh Lew,
Mother Nature Network, 16 September 2015.

Sky art

Most airlines have colour schemes that are almost instantly recognizable. You can spot a silver American Airlines plane even if it's flying several thousand feet above your head. Same goes for the distinct tail of a Delta aircraft or the bright red belly of a Southwest plane.

But sometimes airlines get creative, either to make the brand stand out or to draw attention to a new partnership, like Air New Zealand celebrating characters from "The Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings" films on its planes. (That's the dragon Smaug at the top image.) The result? Eye-catching airborne artwork. Of course, these colourful planes fly just like a regular aircraft (and they usually look exactly the same on the inside too), but they're much more likely to get people's attention.

Here are 10 examples of commercial airliners with creative flair.

1. Caribbean Airlines' hummingbird

Photo: BriYYZ/Flickr

The hummingbird is the symbol of Caribbean Airlines. One of the most important players in the West Indies, Caribbean's headquarters are in Trinidad and Tobago. The nation, which sits just north of Venezuela, consists of two main islands. The more populous of the two, Trinidad, is sometimes referred to as the "land of the hummingbird."

In addition to the colourful bird painted on the plane tails, Caribbean's planes also carry the distinct red, black and white flag of Trinidad and Tobago. The aircraft in Caribbean's fleet also have a second flag, which features two interlocking letter Cs. This is the symbol of CARICOM, an alliance of West Indian nations known as the "Caribbean Community."

2. Virgin Blue's flying pinup model

Photo: Dean Constantinidis/Wikimedia Commons

Virgin Blue has been rebranded as Virgin Australia. The move was made to help the airline, now Australia's second largest, better compete with rival Qantas. The golden-haired pinup-style model seen on the noses of Virgin Blue's planes seemed to be flying above each craft's name. Blue's fleet featured planes like "Blue Baroness" and "Ballina-Rina Blue." In the original, the flying blonde, who had a skimpy top and short shorts, was holding an Australian flag above her head. The nose art (pictured above) seemed to harken back to the caricatures painted on World War II bombers.

With the rebrand, the nose art changed slightly. The short shorts and bikini top disappeared, but the new Virgin Australia "model" still carries the country's flag over her head. However, she has a more classical appearance that brings to mind the hull statue of an old-time sailing ship.

3. Air New Zealand's 'Hobbit' plane

Photo: Simon_sees/Flickr

ANZ's "Hobbit" Plane made its debut in 2012, just before the first of the three "Hobbit" movies premiered. It served routes between Auckland, London and Los Angeles. The mural-like artwork painted on the side of the Boeing 777 stretched about 240 feet. The airline, New Zealand's flag carrier, pulled out all the stops to celebrate the movies' releases. There was even a safety video featuring characters from Middle Earth.

Most people got their first glimpse of Smaug the dragon in 2013 when ANZ unveiled a Smaug plane just before the second film's premiere. The "Lord of the Rings" and "Hobbit" trilogies, both of which were filmed on the island nation, have been a boon for tourism in New Zealand. The country has used this notoriety to grow its tourism industry, even offering Middle Earth-themed tours to places seen in the films.

4. Southwest Airlines' Arizona One

Photo: g Tarded/Flickr

Southwest Airlines has a distinct colour scheme for most of its fleet. The blue planes with thee red belly are easy to recognize. Southwest also pays tribute to some of the states where it flies frequently with specially painted aircraft. Arizona One is painted in the colours of the Arizona state flag. Phoenix is a focus city for Southwest Airlines, and Arizona is, of course, in the region that gives the low-cost carrier its name.

Other flag-themed planes in the Southwest stable include Lone Star One (painted in the colours of the Texas flag), Florida One and New Mexico One. Arizona One was one of the first aircraft to get the state-flag treatment. It was first unveiled in 1994. A special Southwest plane that's not state-flag related is Shamu One, which was painted to look like a killer whale.

5. ANA Pokémon jets

Photo: Haseo/Flickr

"Pokémon" is one of Japan's most popular exports. All Nippon Airways, better known simply as ANA, has had a number of themed jets over the years. Its Pokémon planes have proven to be among the most popular and buzzed-about "logo jets" in the Japanese carrier's fleet.

The first plane with Pokémon characters appeared in 1998 at the height of the deck-building game's popularity. Unlike most specially-painted jets, which are repainted after a short time, the flying Pokémon have remained in operation. Two planes, painted in 2004, flew until they were retired in 2013. Even today, 17 years after the first Pokémon jet rolled onto the tarmac, there is still one Boeing 777 in ANA's fleet that features the franchise's fictional creatures.

6. Masalu! Taiwan China Airlines Airbus

Photo: DAIHYUN JI/Flickr

This China Airlines Airbus focuses on one of Taiwan's many indigenous groups to draw attention to the indigenous villages as tourist attractions. Tourism has become an important source of income for Taiwan's native tribes, many of whom have been marginalized throughout their history.

The particular scenes used on this A330, which flies internationally, show different traditions of a native Paiwan tribe wedding ceremony. The plane also has indigenous elements inside. There are smaller illustrations in the passenger cabin, and the headrest coverings have tribal designs on them.

7. Spirit of Alaska Statehood

Photo: BriYYZ/Flickr

Alaska Airlines has one of the most recognizable pieces of tail art. Sometimes referred to as the "Eskimo face," the tails of the airline's planes feature the portrait of a native Alaskan. In addition to this iconic artwork, Alaska has several planes that fit under a "Spirit of ..." theme.

For example, one Boeing in Alaska's fleet is known as the Spirit of Disneyland. It is painted in a Disney theme with Mickey and Minnie Mouse and Donald Duck. The Spirit of Alaska Statehood (pictured above) has a picture that was designed by a small-town high school student. It features a dog sled and musher as well as a bear, a whale, a ferry and a traditional canoe.

8. Hawaiian Airlines' pualani logo

Photo: ERIC SALARD/Flickr

Hawaiian Airlines has one of the most recognizable tail portraits in the industry. It features a native Hawaiian woman with a large flower in her hair. This has become known as the "pualani" logo or "the flower of the sky." The picture of a woman with a large flower in her hair was introduced in 1973 and was updated to its current appearance in 2001.

Hawaiians employees were asked for input in designing the new logo. They voted to reject a complete redesign and instead opted to update the pualani theme. There's a rumour that a former Miss Hawaii from the 1970s was the model for the original logo and the inspiration for the updated version.

9. JAL Dream Express

Photo: Ken Fielding/Wikimedia Commons

Japan Air Lines, better known by the acronym JAL, wanted to find an interesting way to mark its 50th anniversary. Back in 2001, the Japanese carrier celebrated five decades in the industry. That same year, Walt Disney would have turned 100 years old. The carrier decided to mark both birthdays by painting some of its planes with a Disney theme.

In all, six planes were given the Disney treatment. These were among the most detailed plane-side artworks ever produced. Unfortunately, for Disney fans, the anniversary celebrations were short-lived. All six planes have since been repainted. However, a new JAL-Disney "logo-jet" did take to the skies in 2013 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Disneyland Tokyo.

10. Norwegian Air Shuttle portraits

Photo: ERIC SALARD/Flickr

Norwegian Air Shuttle has become the third largest low-cost carrier in Europe. It offers a number of flights within Scandinavia and also provides service to major European cities and to vacation destinations along the Mediterranean. Norwegian's planes feature a distinct red nose and white body. The tail fins are the most interesting part of the design scheme. They have portraits of important historical figures from Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland.

Non-Scandinavians might be familiar with some of the "tail fin heroes": movie icon Greta Garbo (pictured above), painter Edvard Munch (who painted "The Scream"), literary luminary Hans Christian Andersen and philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. Other historical figures from the worlds of academics and literature grace the tails, as do Scandinavian military heroes and explorers. Part of the fun of flying on Norwegian is seeing who you get on the tail of your airplane.

Top image: Air New Zealand Boeing 777 “Hobbit” plane. Credit: JL Johnson/Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.

[Source: Mother Nature Network. Edited. Some images and links added.]