The History Of United Airlines’ Livery

Chicago-based US legacy carrier and Star Alliance member United Airlines has a long, rich history dating back nearly a century. During this time, its livery has experienced several aesthetic alterations. While some of these have been minor tweaks, others have fundamentally changed the airline’s corporate identity. Let’s take a look at United’s livery over the years.

United Livery Lineup
A lineup of United aircraft showcasing three of its liveries. Photo: Jun Seita via Wikimedia Commons

The early years

The Boeing 247 was known for having been the US manufacturer’s first all-metal aircraft. United was its in-house airline at the time, and the carrier flew the 247 from 1933 to 1942. It was painted in a white livery, featuring a blue cheatline and red writing for its name.

United Airlines Boeing 247
United was the launch customer for the Boeing 247. Photo: InSapphoWeTrust via Flickr

United added the Douglas DC-3 to its fleet later in the 1930s. Its livery was broadly similar to the Boeing 247, although there were a few differences.

For example, the blue cheatline was extended upwards towards the cockpit to surround the airline’s name, which was now painted in white, rather than red.

Furthermore, above the red, white, and blue tricolor stripe on the tail that the Boeing 247 had also sported, United added its name in blue.

United Airline Douglas DC-3
United eventually replaced the DC-3 with the Convair 340. Photo: Bill Abbott via Flickr

After the Second World War, United began flying the Douglas DC-6 in 1947. It operated the type for more than two decades, eventually retiring it in 1970. Thie aircraft retained the blue cheatline, although this feature did not surround the airline’s name as it had on the DC-3.

Furthermore, the print for its name was black, and in block capitals. The DC-6’s tail no longer featured the tricolor design, but rather a diagonal red and blue line interrupted by the carrier’s name, printed once again in black block capitals.

United Airlines Douglas DC-6
United’s DC-6s sported one of its plainer liveries. Photo: Daniel Tanner via Wikimedia Commons

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Into the jet age

As United developed its fleet with the addition of jet-powered aircraft such as the Douglas DC-8 and Boeing 720, it also made further developments to its corporate identity. It did so by adding a red line at the point where the white of the plane’s fuselage and the grey of its belly met. Furthermore, it added lines of stars to the livery. This paint scheme became known as the ‘Stars and Bars,’ or the ‘Friend Ship.’

United A320
United painted an Airbus A320 in a special retro ‘Stars and Bars’ livery. Photo: InSapphoWeTrust via Flickr

In 1974, United’s aircraft began wearing a livery with a new logo known as the ‘Tulip.’ This scheme was designed by Saul Bass, and featured on planes such as the Boeing 727.

United Boeing 727
United wore the ‘Tulip’ livery for nearly two decades. Photo: Andrew Thomas via Wikimedia Commons

19 years later, in 1993, United decided that it was time for another rebrand. This saw its aircraft painted grey, with their bellies and tails in dark blue. This scheme was known as the ‘Battleship’ livery, and it lasted for 11 years.

United Boeing 767
A United 767 in its turn of the century ‘Battleship’ livery. Photo: AlfvanBeem via Wikimedia Commons

The airline’s final corporate rebranding before it merged with Continental Airlines came in 2004, in the form of the ‘Rising Blue’ livery. This was also known as the ‘Blue Tulip,’ and saw its paint scheme switch to a blue (below the windows) and white (above them) fuselage.

United Boeing 757
‘Rising Blue’ was United’s final pre-merger livery. Photo: Tomás Del Coro via Wikimedia Commons

Most recent developments

United announced its merger with Continental Airlines in 2010. While the new, larger carrier retained United’s name, the livery was heavily influenced by Continental’s iconic globe design. The typeface for United’s name was also correspondingly adjusted.

United 777 and 787
United’s first post-merger livery, as seen on a 777 and 787. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Finally, United adopted its most recent corporate identity around two years ago, unveiling a new livery on April 24th, 2019. This scheme retains the globe design on the tail, although this is now painted in a light blue, as opposed to gold as before. Meanwhile, the tail on which this design sits is also not as dark as in the carrier’s previous livery.

United Boeing 787-10
United unveiled its most recent livery in April 2019. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Furthermore, the airline’s name is now significantly larger. Indeed, its blue typeface now straddles the window line at the front of the aircraft. With this having happened so recently, it’s probably safe to say we needn’t expect any further alterations in the near future. Nonetheless, it will be fascinating to see what changes United makes when the time does come.

Which United livery is your favorite? During which periods of the airline’s history have you flown with United? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!

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