How the 747-8I ‘Sunrise’ colors came to be

When the curtain fell at the premier of 747-8 Intercontinental in front of a crowd of 10,000, very few people inside Boeing knew what to expect from the livery adorning the company’s latest jumbo. 

“Most people involved with the airplane were not aware of it,” says Rob Pollack, Boeing Commercial Airplanes vice president Advertising, Brand and Market Positioning, and the chief architect behind the Dreamliner brand.

“We didn’t have widespread discussion of it and that was kind of done on purpose. And when we moved the airplane the night before, we wrapped it, it was kind of fun to really surprise an audience of that size.”

What was unveiled on February 13 in Everett – now known as the 747-8 ‘sunrise’ colors – was a radical evolution of the company’s rebranding that first began in 2003 with the blue 7E7 livery. Pollack says the need to differentiate the 787 among a global audience, as well as geopolitical realities, drove Boeing’s development effort:

The Boeing livery itself had basically been unchanged from the introduction of the 757 and 767, so we were going on 20-25 years. The market for this airplane was going to be well over half outside the US. So one of the things we really thought about was from a customer standpoint.

This was 2003, Iraq had become an issue, the US government was not loved around the world and so our thought was, rather than do red, white and blue, why don’t we do something that was more readily understood around the world, and blue as a color – the sky – so we decided to pursue that direction, but we also wanted to get something that looked really different from a livery standpoint because an airplane that is pretty consistent in its look, from a paint standpoint, doesn’t really look that different. Everything we tried to do was to try and differentiate the product from what had come before it.

The company’s branding of the 7E7 (subsequently the 787) had been part of a transformation by Boeing to offer a product to the airlines and their customers, representing a major shift by the airframer from a business to business focus to business to consumer. Pollack says in Boeing’s history, its past commercial aircraft had been given a name along with its numerical designation, like the 307 Stratoliner and 377 Stratocruiser

“Some reason we had gotten away from that,” he says, aiming to “build a personality around the name.”

The Dreamliner name, selected in a worldwide vote of four possible names, edged out Global Cruiser (which was preferred by then-BCA CEO Alan Mulally) by 2,500 votes from more than half a million cast. Stratoclimber and eLiner, were a distant third and fourth. It was out of this marketing appeal, in part, that Boeing helped realized its significant market success with the 787.

It was with this branding in mind that Boeing started down the path of developing a unique colors scheme for the first 747-8I. First introduced with Pan American World Airways in 1970, the 747 and its iconic hump have made the jumbo universally recognized for the past four decades. Though re-introducing a 40 year old brand, especially in light of the market competition from the Airbus A380, required something extra. Boeing looked to the Porsche 911, first introduced in 1963, which has evolved significantly under the hood, yet its shape has remained fundamentally unchanged.

“We had the realization that although this looked like the 747s of old, enough had changed on this airplane that it really wasn’t the same airplane as what people had come to know as the 747. So much of the airplane is new and we weren’t, from a marketing perspective, satisfied that we were conveying well enough how completely new this airplane was.” says Pollack.

Under its hood, the 747-8 is quite different from the -400 that came before. Boeing has added an supercritical wing design with raked wingtips, new inboard and outboard flaps, roll-axis fly-by-wire controls, a larger empennage, new avionics for precision navigation, 787-inspired interior, new General Electric GEnx-2B engines and a 18.3ft (5.6m) stretch over its predecessor.

“We want this to look uniquely different from the previous 747. We didn’t want to totally change the livery either, we wanted to keep that constant. We started looking at different alternatives,” he adds.

747-8F-SunriseDraft.jpgWhen Boeing evaluated the market for the 467-seat 747-8, which the company estimates will be part of a 720 very large passenger and freighter aircraft market between 2010 and 2029, 43% will be delivered to Asia, China and Southeast Asia, with the Middle East representing a further 23%. Currently, Boeing holds orders for 8 747-8I BBJs and 25 from airline customers Lufthansa (20) and Korean Air (5), with hopes of adding Turkish Airlines to its customer base. 

“We know that in our potential markets, [red and orange] was a very popular color, and it was thought of over many, many decades, maybe centuries, as a sign of prosperity and good luck, that’s a good concept for us to pursue in trying to differentiate the product but also recognize the respect we have for the customers we hope to sell this to,” he says. 
Pollack rejects the idea that such a move is “pandering” to its fastest growing customer base, rather, he suggests “to me that’s what our responsibility is, make customers globally comfortable with the products that they are evaluating.” ”We looked at a ton of color combinations in the red and orange family and how they interacted with another,” though Pollack says “we did one three hour look at a different color totally, and absolutely didn’t work on the airplane in Boeing current livery approach.” 
What was that color? 

“It’s not that green didn’t work on an airplane, it will,” he says. “It just didn’t work on our livery the way we wanted to have the impact a red-orange has,” conceding a ‘Greenliner’ livery for the 787-9 has likely been ruled out as a result. 

Ultimately the choices were variations on the overall red-orange theme, though one option Boeing entertained, but ultimately did not pick (shown above), was using orange stripes that extended farther down the length of the fuselage, leaving out the large ’8′ on the tail, and using orange stripes instead of dark silver above the dominant red colors along the base of the aircraft. 

The final choice for the Intercontinental’s colors is now widely seen as one of the best kept secrets in the company, especially when you consider the six to eight-month lead time it took to order the custom paint shades now assigned to RC001, the first 747-8I.

Pollack had a chance to see the aircraft in the paint hangar before it moved – wrapped in paper under the cover of darkness – to the 40-24 building for the premier, his initial reaction was one of shock. 

“My first reaction was ‘oh my God.’ My second reaction was, ‘this will do exactly what we want it to do’ which is to say, this is an all-new 747.”

Rendering Credit Boeing

6 Responses to How the 747-8I ‘Sunrise’ colors came to be

  1. jeremiah long February 24, 2011 at 10:20 am #


    I was wondering something.The last Boeing 747-400 in service today .And now they come out with the 747-800 freighter or Intercontinental. Why did Boeing make a skip in the numbers from a 400 to a 800 series and keep it in line with the numbers. They should of made the new one a Boeing 747-500 not a 800.And are they (Boeing)have plans for a 500,600,700 series ever if they skipped these numbers in production to make the 800.

  2. Skyler February 24, 2011 at 11:34 am #

    The new airplane isn’t a 747-800. It’s a 747-8.
    Similarly, the 787 models are 787-8, 787-9, and 787-10.

  3. anon February 24, 2011 at 11:35 am #

    The 787s and new 747s follow a different naming convention. The – is only one number and indicates range in nautical miles. So the 747-8I can fly ~8,000 nautical miles and is an Intercontinental (passenger) model.

    There is no 747-800.

  4. John February 24, 2011 at 1:28 pm #

    There were variants with the -500 and -600 tag on the design table that never came to fruition. The -8 has nothing to do with the range at all but to evoke commonality of technology with the 787-8.

  5. DAVE February 25, 2011 at 2:45 pm #

    8 is considered a lucky number in Asian cultures – which is why you have had the 747-8, the A380 and 787 – Asia is a booming market for new aircraft!

  6. pundit February 25, 2011 at 8:17 pm #

    Jeremiah – I admire your attempt to inject some consistency into 747 nomenclature: the new model logically is the 747-800, coming as John points out after the still-born -500, -600, and -700. I, like you, have used the -800 suffix a time or two, if only to annoy the 747 marketing team – because marketing is what it is all about: the creation of inferences and perceptions that (often by definition) attempt to avoid reality. Well the protagonists might argue for this ‘hyphen number = range in – not nautical miles, Anon, but – thousands of nautical miles’ definition and perhaps it is even true, but where’s the engineering (as opposed to marketing) logic in that, especially if Boeing subsequently modifies the range capability with no other change: will a longer-range 787-9 become, say, a 787-9.7? And think it not impossible that Asian superstitions about ‘lucky’ numbers played a part: not for nothing did Airbus name the A3XX the A380-800, recognising that region’s preference and a perceived read-across into buying habits. Ou est la A360 et A370 (or indeed the A340-400)?
    And, of course, were the 747-800 a “new airplane” – more yet “a brand-new airplane”, both expressions were used by Boeing executives at the unveiling – would it not have had a new number (797, whatever)? FWIW, there have been very many different proposed (or at least considered) 747 variants, although the -500, -600, and -700 revealed at the 1996 Farnborough air show seem (by identity) to have come closest to launch. A few years back at a Singapore air show, one commentator pointed there had been (on paper, at least) maybe 25 sub-variants with different labels “of the GTXLR variety”: ironically, lo and behold, at that very show Boeing’s marketing men came out with the 747XQLR – you couldn’t make it up! (And, no, that one wasn’t built, either.)
    The real point of this comment is to refer to Jon’s notes on the new variant’s colour scheme; while he notes the psychology employed in choosing the – again – Asian-preferred pigments, he does not really refer to the design. (And when the Boeing ‘brand’ advertising man talked about a second colour they had considered long and hard, hands up all those who guessed green before Jon mentioned it?)
    It seems to me (IMHO etc etc) that the white cheat line defining the edge of the orange ‘wave’ and the wave itself go a long way toward tricking the eye into not noticing the 747′s signature hump. The line more or less follows a path that bisects the depth of the fuselage, elongating it and making it seem much more parallel, aided by the longer stretched upper deck (compared with the original). While we all came to know and accept, and some of us to love, the hump/lump over the years, it was only at the 2007 Paris air show that we were able to compare like with like. The brand-new A380 was alongside the Airbus hospitality chalet, right across the static park from a regular 747 freighter going about its daily business. Looking at the full-length double-deck configuration of the new behemoth made the one-and-one-half storey 747 look like a huge compromise – neither one thing nor the other, just as if Boeing had known the solution to Juan Trippe’s requirement was a second deck but somehow had been unable to hack it. In fact, Joe Sutter and his team feared low sales of pax-configured 747s – the government-sponsored 2707 was still ‘full steam ahead’ and was expected to take most of the orders – and elected to address the cargo market, for which they wanted nose-loading. The rest you know.