Airlines turn planes into flying art, with homages to Star Wars, cartoon characters and sea turtles

Harriet Baskas, special to
Alaska Airlines livery honoring those who serve in our country in the armed forces.
Source: Alaska Airlines

You aren't seeing things: That really is R2-D2 on that plane.

The colors, logos and designs that adorn commercial aircraft play an important role in promoting a company's brand. A carrier's official livery is normally applied fleet-wide, yet some companies decorate planes with temporary paint jobs that celebrate a milestone, a partnership, or a special occasion.

Featured below are a handful of the more festive decals that CNBC noticed flying the friendly skies.

Flying on a glacier

Icelandair’s new glacier-themed plane.
Source: IcelandAir

One of the latest special liveries surfing the clouds is on an Icelandair Boeing 757-200, named Vatnajökull, after the glacier that is home to three active volcanoes. The outside of the plane sports an airbrushed image of the glacier. Inside, the frozen theme continues with an ambient LED blue cabin lighting, and ice-white and turquoise designs that cover everything from headrests to drinking cups.

Catch the northern lights

Hekla northern lights-themed Icelandair airplane.
Source: IcelandAir

Before Icelandair debuted its glacier-themed plane, its Boeing 757 with a northern lights livery was the carrier's flagship. Introduced in February 2015, the Hekla Aurora is named after one of Iceland's better-known volcanoes (Hekla is also a traditional Icelandic girl's name) and its paint job features images of volcanoes and shimmers of blue and green against a dark blue background. LED lighting inside the plane is designed to mimic the northern lights as well.

May the Force be with you

Thee of ANA’s four Star Wars-themed jets.
Source: ANA

As part of a five-year deal with Walt Disney, Japan's All Nippon Airways launched a Star Wars Project, giving four of its aircraft Star Wars themes in the last 2 years. The special fleet includes the R2-D2 Boeing 787-9, a Boeing 777-300ER with a BB-8 motif, the C-3PO Boeing 777-200, and the Star Wars Boeing 767-300 (not pictured).

Belgium's art, and Red Devils

Brussels Airlines’ plane honoring Belgian artist René Magritte.
Source: Brussels Airlines

As part of a series dedicated to Belgian icons, in March 2016 Brussels Airlines painted an Airbus A320 to honor surrealist artist René Magritte. The clouds and birds on the livery are taken from three of the Belgian artist's paintings and will remain there for six years. Another of the airline's planes has special Tintin livery celebrating the classic comic-book character by author and illustrator Hergé. Two of its aircraft are painted in honor of the Belgian Red Devils soccer team, and one celebrates the country's Tomorrowland music festival.

An easy-to-follow blueprint

JetBlue Blueprint plane.
Source: JetBlue

In February 2017, JetBlue introduced an Embraer 190 that has a "see-through" paint scheme. The blueprint design outlines mechanical features of the plane, such as the nose gear and jet engine, and close to 50 items used by the fictional characters painted on the plane.

Celebrating a done deal

Alaska Airlines ' More to Love' livery commemorating Alaska's purchase of Virgin America
Source: Alaska Airlines

Seattle-based Alaska Airlines created this "More to Love" two-in-one paint scheme as a commemorative livery to mark the completion of its acquisition of California-based Virgin America.

The flying cat

Hello Kitty and other Sanrio Family characters adorn EVA Air’s newest themed jet, Joyful Dream.
Source: EVA Air

Joyful Dream, introduced in April 2017, is one of the newest themed jets in EVA Air's series of planes featuring Hello Kitty and other Sanrio Family characters. An even newer one, Celebration Flight, flew its maiden flight on May 23.

Saving the sea turtles

ANA's Flying Honu, or Hawaiian sea turtle, livery will debut in 2019.
Source: Airbus

ANA is expected to receive its first Airbus A380 in spring 2019. At that time, the carrier will begin flying the world's largest passenger airliner on the Tokyo-Honolulu route, painted with a special "Flying Honu." The livery depicts the green sea turtle known as "Honu" in the Hawaiian language, which is considered to be a sacred creature.