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A whale of a livery for Alaska Airlines

February 13 2022
5 min read
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Alaska Airlines made a splash with avgeeks and whale fans by introducing a new Orca-adorned Boeing 737-9 Max airplane with a livery the airline has dubbed “West Coast Wonders.”

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(Photo courtesy Alaska Airlines)

“This over-whale-ming aircraft honors the beautiful shores we call home, the Southern Resident orca pods that live around our hubs, and our commitment to keeping rivers and oceans healthy for the long term,” the Seattle-based carrier said in announced the new paint job.

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The new livery features a dark-blue background and ocean-like waves in various hues of blue, with cavorting orcas, also known as killer whales, on the fuselage and jumping out of the water on the aircraft tailfin.

Alaska says the new West Coast Wonders aircraft is inspired by all the beautiful places the carrier flies to and “honors the shores we call home and the natural life of the Pacific Ocean and West Coast waters.” The airline said the special paint scheme is also designed to draw attention to the environmental sustainability goals Alaska has set for 2025 and beyond to reduce its climate impact through carbon, waste, and water.

“We’re doing this by reducing plastic waste and balancing our water impact through habitat restoration projects with Bonneville Environmental Foundation and Promise the Pod,” the airline said. “Restored streams and planted trees = food, clean water and habitats that orcas need to thrive.”

A whale of a printing process too

Alaska’s West Coast Wonders livery not only deserves attention for its design but, also for the way the design was applied.

According to a Boeing spokesperson, the photorealistic image of the orca whale on the 737-9’s tailfin was applied using an inkjet printing process and is the first time Boeing has applied an image this way. (The whale image is by photographer and former Boeing employee Jane Cogan and was taken in the Puget Sound).

Boeing teams in multiple countries worked together to adapt the inkjet technology commonly used to print documents on flat surfaces so that billions of dots of ink can be applied to curved surfaces with a rotatable, eight-axis print head.

“This new inkjet printing process takes what we will be able do to the next level, in terms of aircraft livery and image designs,” Chip Frohlich, director of Advanced Manufacturing for Commercial Airplanes Product Development said in an article posted on Boeing’s internal news site. “If the customer can imagine it, we will be able to deliver it – from solid colors to photos. Eventually, we could operate it similar to a car wash, without the multiples passes and cure cycles needed with traditional paint.”

Related: Alaska Airlines reveals new airplane livery spotlighting diversity, education

Beyond expanding the creative options for applied images, Boeing says the inkjet printing process could mean faster turnaround times to paint and deliver liveries, reduced costs, and improved safety and aerodynamics.

“The new automated inkjet printing process reduces time spent on each aircraft and improves safety by minimizing work at great heights,” Matt Mellin, Boeing automation lead engineer explains. “It also provides better aerodynamics in flight, thanks to the elimination of paint steps and edges.”

Mellin also notes that up by replacing multiple layers of paint with a single thing layer of ink, up to 100 pounds of weight is eliminated and fuel efficiency is enhanced.

Boeing adds that the inkjet printing process is not yet available to customers as a commercial product, but that Alaska’s new “West Coast Wonders” livery, a test case, is an important step in that direction.

Related: Alaska Airlines shows its Pride with LGBTQIA+ livery

Other special Alaska Airlines liveries

(Photo courtesy Alaska Airlines)

While whales are warm-blooded mammals, Alaska Airlines has another special sea-inspired fish livery that you may spot: the Salmon Thirty Salmon II commemorative 737-800 aircraft. This plane features a 129-foot-long wild Alaska king salmon on the fuselage. The aircraft also has fish scales on the winglets and “Alaska” written in salmon-pink colored script on the side of the fish.

While charming to see, the livery is designed to help promote sustainable Alaska seafood.

Before the Salmon Thirty Salmon II, Alaska Airlines had the Salmon Thirty Salmon, a Boeing 737-400 that was also painted to look like a giant salmon.

Featured photo by (Photo courtesy Alaska Airlines)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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