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Aircraft logos – Air India – Indian Airlines

Flying in the air like a bird has been an obsession with man since ages. After mastering the travel by road and then by water, man’s attention was drawn to the air. Our ancient mythology is full of gods, demons, demigods and some humans with super-natural powers flying across the skies and reaching long distances within no time that has kindled the common man’s imagination.

Gods and some animals were given feathered wings which were symbolic to flying. Mercury was the messenger of gods with wings on his ankles and/or helmet. Almost all the gods have animal vehicles which could fly high in the sky and reach distances – from one world to another. There are numerous instances in the religious scriptures of the ancient civilisations which demonstrate the urge in humans to fly. Whether those gods flew or not, the man’s imagination certainly flew beyond horizons!

The mysterious UFOs (unidentified flying objects) are an apt example of human obsession of flying. Irrespective of whether those UFOs are real or just hoax, the desire for flying and the concept of flying have always been there in the human mind. The appearance of gods or gods’ messengers is always associated with bright light, high pitched booming sound, a lot of wind, and descent from above the earth, never from below the ground or just from nowhere. Even to this day, believers or non-believers of God, look up into the far skies while talking about God! The second coming of God is also associated with a lot of wind, bright light and thunderous noise, which, if we take a minute to consider, direct us to a large, high-powered and fast-moving aircraft, rather spacecraft!! Apart from Greek, Hindu, Aztec, etc. mythologies, the modern thinkers, explorers and scientific investigators, like the controversial Ig Nobel laurite Erich Von Däniken, for instance, have tried, partly successfully, to show us that the gods we call are nothing but exceedingly intelligent aliens from outer space who have been visiting the Earth from time to time to monitor the developments of their biological experiments, the humans being their subjects on this planet, in their highly advanced spacecraft.

And the fairy tales are full of fascinating witches, demons, fairies, goblets, etc. flying from one place to another using different means. Then the comics, favoured by children and adults alike, are full of super-heroes with extraordinary powers including flying. Can anyone dare imagine a super-man, bat-man or spider-man without the ability to fly?

The first of the things that show man’s understanding of the properties of air, the currents of wind and the gravitational force of the earth could be the ‘kite’ which was flown by Chinese some 2000 years ago, and the ‘boomerang’ with a shape that makes it fly a short distance in the air and get back to the one who threw it is believed to be used by the Egyptians, Native Americans, southern Indians from Asia and the aborigines of Australia.

The first man-made but non-motorised and heavier-than-air object which actually flew in the air in the real sense is a glider, a kite-shaped, light-weight structure that flew, rather glided, from a high cliff to the ground below. But that was very hard to control and drifted in the air in any direction as the wind blew. Then, in 1783, hot air balloons made their appearance and those balloons actually flew, though they were also very difficult to control. They were also non-motorised and highly vulnerable to fire and crash accidents.

Those non-motorised aircraft were built (are still built) on lighter than air principle, and dominated the skies until 1940s. Though these flying machines were never used for carrying passengers, they were used in military operations to detect the movements and whereabouts of the enemies. Then finally, in 1903 Wright Brothers (Orville Wright and Wilbur Wright of America) proved to the world that a motorised and heavier-than-air object could be flown. And the era of a new means of transport began. If necessity is the mother of invention, war is the foster-mother of innovation in regard to several technological developments. Building and experimenting with any vehicle as complicated as an airplane need a strong infrastructure, funding, and government support. Had it not been for a contract with the military to build airplanes for combat purpose, the Wright Brothers would not have been able to perfect their project and given us the airliners which we are so used to these days. The first public passenger flight made its maiden flight on September 8, 1908.

The World War II boosted the aviation sector after which there were many expert pilots and surplus aircraft that were put to the civilian purposes. Every country, small or large, has at least one airline service – national airlines, besides several other private or government owned airliners, and every airliner has a brand name, airline logo design, livery and mascot of its own. The number of airliners has grown, so has the aicraft logo designing of the airlines. The airline logo designing is as important as the maintenance of the airline itself. Here is a quote from an expert on world’s airlines: Many large-scale companies in almost every field of scope of business are striving to come up with eye-catching and unique designs for their logos to attract the public. However, airline logos are among the most recognized visual emblems and identity marks that have achieved global acceptance and identification.

The Air India Branding

In this article the developments in the logo designing of Air India, the national flag carrier airline of India, has been highlighted because it has had many interesting twists and turns in its 77 years of service to millions of people around the world.

It all started in 1932 when JRD Tata, from the most successful steel business family in India, opened a mail service with a single aircraft. In 1946, after the World War II, the Tata Air Lines became Air India, a public limited company, and since then it has kept growing, with about 147 aircraft serving 95 destinations, with the status of one among the top 30 airlines in the world. There was no special logo for the Tata Air Service or Tata Airlines. The airline’s baggage label was the only symbol that serviced the purpose. Later when it became Air India, it was given its logo, mascot and livery along with the brand name.

The first logo for Air India International was the centaur shooting an arrow in a circle representing the wheel of Konark. The centaur is the sophisticated version of Sagittarius, the archer, the ninth sign of the Zodiac. In ancient mythology a centaur, a creature with a man’s head and torso attached to the body of a horse at the base of the neck, symbolises the spirits of air, forests and mountains, besides being the best musician and brave fighter protecting the interests of the gods. The circle is the wheel of the chariot of the sun god, also known as the wheel (chakra) the old logo of Konark sun temple located in the state of Orissa, India, riding the skies, giving power and strength to the earthlings. This airlines logo design stayed on the fleet of Air India International from 1948 to 2007.

Since 2007, the Air India, with the merger of Indian Airlines or Indian, a division of Civil Aviation focusing mainly on the domestic flights with a limited number of near-by international destinations, has been given a new logo and body colour (livery). The new distinct logo is a flying swan with the Konark wheel on the wing spread upright.

The logo of the new airline with the old name is a red coloured flying swan with the wheel of Konark sun temple in orange, placed on the swan’s wing spread upright. This new logo is painted on either side of the tail of the aircraft, with the brand name ‘AIR INDIA’ in red across the white strip on the front edge of the tailfin. The body of the aircraft is ivory with the base retaining the red streak of old Air India. The engines are painted red with the Knonark Wheel (chakra) in orange! Running parallel to each other on the sides are the orange and red speed lines from front door to the rear door, delicately signifying the individual identities – Air India and Indian Airlines or Indian – merged into one.

The “Air-India Express” is a subsidy of Air India comprising low cost flights operating within India and near-by Asian countries. The fascinating thing about Air-India Express is that it does not have a single logo as other airlines have! The brand name is on the front between the wing and the nose, and a wide band of red between the wings and the tail, narrowing to the lower part of the tail with narrow streaks of white and orange on it. And the tail of each plane of the fleet has a different picture depicting a different facet of Indian culture, and each tail has a different picture on either side of it!

As an ardent designer put it, the tail of an aircraft is its company’s billboard; and Air-India Express is making the best of it!

In addition to the brand name and the logo, each airline has a mascot of its own. While a logo represents the company (airlines, in this case) but a mascot communicates with the customers that use the company. Most mascots are either popular animals or people from the land of origin of the airline. Just to name few: the Aeroflot has an elephant, Qantas has a koala bear, Frontier airline has a different animal for each flight, and Singapore Airline has the ‘Singapore girl’ as their mascots.

Air India has a lively mascot, too, the Maharajah (supreme king), with the caption ‘Palace in the air’ which fits in the context well. The Maharajah cordially inviting the guests to board Air India to enjoy the facilities and to experience the grandeur of a king’s palace in air is a very-well designed marketing strategy for an airline.

The short Maharajah, with a red & yellow striped turban with a straight tassel on one side, delicate face lines that give a touch of cordiality, over-sized straight moustache that thins at the extreme ends, in an Indian-fashioned red royal gown (robe) with yellow heart-shaped design on the shoulders, yellow cuffs and yellow border down the hems and the popular long, narrow Jodhpur shoes with their pointed toes curving up and backwards, looks more courteous than comical.

The body language is finely tuned with the lowered eye-lids, hunched shoulders, the right hand folded with the palm kept at chest level! This posture is the typical Indian style of expressing great respect and honour to the guest.

All these qualities have made this little big man one of the most loved airline mascots in India and around the world!

This lively & lovely Maharajah has several tricks of the trade up his sleeve. He dons up as a sumo wrestlers when in Japan; as a gringo when in the USA; as a Lord when in England.

So keep a lookout for His Majesty the Maharajah of Air India!!!

Mash Bonigala

Mash B. is the Founder & Creative Director of Logo Design Works. Since 1998, Mash has helped thousands of businesses express their brand messages through creative and award winning logo designs.