In 1997 British Airways decided to shake up the airline world and launch the ‘World Tails’ series on their planes. They had about 15 different tails designed by artists from around the world when it was launched but I understand that they ended up with about 30 designs. This is the story of how I helped launch the British Airways ‘World Tails’ series.

The idea for the launch:

British Airways decided on an hour long broadcast from BA offices and various airfields around the world. From sunrise in the East in Japan and Australia through London and Zimbabwe on to JFK and Times Square and to sunset in Seattle in the West amongst many other venues. I don’t remember exactly but the broadcast started at 12pm or 1pm GMT.

The painted planes would be placed at airfields around the world to be revealed on that day. No planes would be in the air … except one !

a large airplane on the runway

It was decided that the sight of a British Airways plane with new tail flying over the Victoria Falls would be a classic image. And it was up to us to make that happen.

Setting up the shot:

The British Airways plane flew out of England and flew down to Johannesburg 3 days before the launch. There it was parked in a hangar to hide for a day and then it was sent up to Zimbabwe.

We were busy setting up for the broadcast at the Victoria Falls hotel. This is the iconic pink hotel perfectly situated on the bend in the Zimbabwe river just past the Falls.

a group of people looking at a river a large white building with a lawn and trees

Being there would enable us to have line of sight of the plane as it flew around the Falls. To make it even more impressive we had a Piper Chieftain with a cameraman hanging out of the open door flying above the plane giving us a view of the plane and the Victoria Falls underneath. A magic shot we were planning.

Now let’s try it out:

Two days before the show there was a full rehearsal with the producers in London. Everything went well with the rehearsal until a classic line happened. Anyone who was on the broadcast will remember the line “Warsaw, where are your pictures?”. At the exact moment we were supposed to cut to the pictures from the Warsaw BA office their feed went black. The rehearsal was put on hold until this issue was sorted out. All eventually was good and the rehearsal continued. During this rehearsal we only had the Chieftain in the air. The BA plane was busy flying up from Johannesburg to land at Victoria Falls airport and be parked under cover.

a waterfall next to a bridge

The visuals from the Chieftain looked great. It swooped up over the Falls, the cameraman gave us a great visual and the signal was great. All good for the first rehearsal.

Checking the live shot:

The day before the broadcast we had a dress rehearsal with the whole world in full attendance. It started as planned with the East at sunrise, then on to Europe when suddenly “Warsaw, where are your pictures?’ rang out again. This time there was an issue with the correct shot. The rehearsal was paused while this was sorted out and then it was on to us. The BA plane was in the air swooping over the Falls, the Chieftain was above it swooping along and we had a really cool shot. All was well. The rehearsal finished smoothly and we were set for the launch the next day.

Launch day:

The day started bright and early, we confirmed communication with the BA plane, the Chieftain follow plane and the cameraman. We were ready.

a passenger jet flying in the sky a white airplane flying over a rocky area

The broadcast started as planned. There were BA employees in the East waving and revealing planes, new livery and counters and everything was “World Tails”. Then it came to Europe. Warsaw went smoothly, then London and then it was our turn. The timing of the swoop by the BA plane was perfect, the Chieftain was in place above the BA plane and the cameraman was dangling out of the door. We had a glorious visual of the BA plane with the new tail and the Victoria Falls behind. For a moment there was silence on the comms and then someone said “Oh wow!”.

They stayed on our shot for about a minute longer than scheduled. We also cut to the shot from the bank of the river and zoomed up to show the BA plane and then back to the shot from the Chieftain camera. It was amazing how perfect it was.

The broadcast then continued through the time zones. Times Square in New York unveiled a half size Concorde. I think JFK had 2 planes on the ground including Concorde or was that perhaps Seattle ?

a large airplane in front of billboards

Eventually the hour was over and it was time to say goodbye. They cut to all the venues in turn to wave goodbye and they ended on our shot of the BA World Tail plane and the Victoria Falls. A great ending to a very successful day.

Summary of the launch:

It was a wonderful broadcast, everything went perfectly and I was thrilled to have been involved with the showing of that one flying plane.

Unluckily it seems the tails weren’t as popular as they had hoped and only 4 years later they started transitioning to the look that they still have today.

a large airplane flying in the sky

Union Flag tail

It was a great day and a fantastic idea to have a broadcast from offices all over the world, and that is the story of how I helped launch the British Airways “World Tails” series.

Unluckily I do not have original visuals from that broadcast, there is a copy somewhere that I hope to access one day.

If you do have memories of that broadcast, please let me know in the comments below.

(Thank you Wikipedia, and for the pictures )