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Livery of the Week: The United ‘Tulip’

The United 'Tulip' logo was the cornerstone of several liveries.

A United 727 (Photo: Peter Duijnmayer (GFDL 1.2 or GFDL 1.2 ), via Wikimedia Commons)

Editor’s Note: AirlineGeeks is excited to launch our ‘Livery of the Week’ series. Every Friday, a team member will share an airline livery, which can be from the past, present, or even a special scheme. Some airline liveries are works of art. The complexity associated with painting around critical flight components and the added weight requires outside-the-box thinking from designers. The average airliner can cost upwards of $200,000 to repaint, creating a separate aircraft repainting industry as a result.

United Airlines’ ‘Tulip’ logo and various liveries hold a special place in the hearts of aviation enthusiasts. Gracing the skies from the 1970s to the early 2000s, this timeless design remained through multiple United branding iterations.

Home of the ‘Fly the Friendly Skies’ slogan, United maintained a more simplified red, white, and blue paint scheme along with a tail widget from 1957 to the early 1970s. This design also had multiple evolutions over time, including the iconic ‘Friendship’ livery, according to YesterdaysAirlines.com.

The ‘Tulip’ Livery: Beloved by Many

The original ‘Tulip’ livery, introduced in 1974, was a departure from United’s previous designs. In 1973, the carrier commissioned designer Saul Bass, who was best known in Hollywood for his work around film identities. His work would yield a white fuselage with orange, blue, and red stripes; the new ‘Tulip’ logo had been placed on the tail.

A United 747-100 in the iconic ‘Saul Bass’ livery seen at London Heathrow (Photo: Dean Morley/CC BY-ND 2.0/https://www.flickr.com/photos/33465428@N02/3863157068/in/photolist-7CQaJL-6TnG1m-ag9w8-527E2U-6StkvZ-51yJaD-7CQqAy-8U2x2s-58AAUX-as7Vk5-rciwF1-8zEGZ5-7v2enZ-8txaxj-8TYoGT-axzk3K-8TYpWi-n1tsKr-7v6ujC-dD9PwZ-WB39v-9eyC5v-8TYuWt. No changes made)

Twenty years later in 1993, United once again evolved its branding with a new dark blue and grey livery. Affectionately dubbed as the ‘Battleship’ livery, the update included Times New Roman font and a more professional overall look. Despite the change, Saul Bass’ ‘Tulip’ still existed in the logo and on the tail.

United’s ‘Battleship’ livery (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

United commissioned another design firm in 1997 to refresh its brand yet again. This would eventually yield the so-called ‘Blue Tulip’ livery, which featured a lighter blue and white palette coupled with a larger ‘Tulip’ design on the tail and logo. In 2004, the livery was officially rolled out across the carrier’s fleet, which was intended to drive some post-bankruptcy positivity.

United’s old and new ‘Tulip’ liveries (Photo: Dylan Ashe from San Jose, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

Later Evolution of United’s Livery

As time passed, United Airlines evolved, and with it, its livery. In 2010, the airline merged with Continental Airlines, leading to a new corporate identity. The iconic ‘Tulip’ livery eventually gave way to Continental’s original design featuring a predominantly white fuselage, blue and gold accents, and a globe on the tail.

In 2019, United revealed its now standard brand, keeping Continental’s globe, but adding in blue accents and more contemporary styling. Per BlueSkyPit.com, 43% of United’s fleet now wears the updated livery as of April 2023.

A United 777-300ER at Paine Field.
(Photo: AirlineGeeks | Katie Bailey)

The airline does maintain several retro and special liveries. Among them is an ode to the ‘Friendship’ design on an A319 along with a retro Continental livery on a 737-900ER. Much to the dismay of the aviation enthusiast community, United has not officially announced plans to have a retro ‘Tulip’ livery.

A United A320 in a retro livery landing in Las Vegas.
(Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

United’s ‘Tulip’ livery remains a cherished part of aviation history, representing an era of unique designs. While the airline has moved forward, the spirit of the ‘Tulip’ lives on in the hearts of aviation enthusiasts who appreciate the timeless beauty of this iconic livery, which includes a Facebook group solely devoted to it.

Ryan Ewing
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  • Ryan Ewing

    Ryan founded AirlineGeeks.com back in February 2013 and has amassed considerable experience in the aviation sector. His work has been featured in several publications and news outlets, including CNN, WJLA, CNET, and Business Insider. During his time in the industry, he's worked in roles pertaining to airport/airline operations while holding a B.S. in Air Transportation Management from Arizona State University along with an MBA. Ryan has experience in several facets of the industry from behind the yoke of a Cessna 172 to interviewing airline industry executives. Ryan works for AirlineGeeks' owner FLYING Media, spearheading coverage in the commercial aviation space.

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