The earliest airline I can think that experiemnted with real aircraft is Braniff who repainted an out of service DC-6 into the 'End of the Plain Plane' Jellybean scheme. Soon after Eastern Air Lines experimented with several versions of a proto-hockeystick before settling on the famous New Mark scheme.
Other airlines that have tried one-offs are:
Northwest Airlines was another airline to try something different though it went further than most by trialling several scheme variants on several fleet members in 1995/96. Northwest had introduced its new colours in 1989 and they had become known as the 'Bowling Shoe' thanks to their horizontal sections. It was the first major change to the Northwest livery since the introduction of the Orient scheme in 1969, though the Orient titles were dropped in 1985.
By 1995 Northwest had fought its way back from its Chapter 11 filing in 1989, whilst the 1990 programme of improvements saw the airline have the best on time performance of the big 7 by the end of 1990. The carrier rationalised its network, dropping smaller hubs, and created the first major inter-airline alliance with KLM. By 1994 the airline was back in the black recording a $295.5 million profit - the highest of the majors. At the same time the airline was still looking for ways to improve its cost-effectiveness and thoughts turned to its relatively new livery.
Below: Various Northwest fleet members wearing the 1989 Bowling Shoe scheme
The scheme was well received, however it was quite complex with four major colours in a relatively complex design. In addition a lot of the fuselage was in darker paints, which tended to be heavier. As with the Air Canada test of later years thoughts must have turned to weight and maintenance savings that could be had with a simpler and lighter livery. Northwest wasn't going to throw the baby out with the bathwater however and the new ideas for changes to the scheme kept the same logo and basic pattern.
There were at least four scheme variants applied to fleet members during late 1994. The aircraft that acquired the schemes were a pair of DC-9-51s and a 757-200. In detail they were:
N761NC DC-9-51: This scheme used a lighter grey base colour covering the entire fuselage. The Northwest N logo appeared covering the front fuselage in white and the titles were in the original font but in red text. The tail remained the same as for the bowling shoe.
N787NC DC-9-51: This aircraft received a similar scheme to N761NC however the grey base coat was darker and the NORTHWEST titles were also in white.
N787NC also wore a version of the N761NC scheme with the lighter base colour but the N logo and NORTHWEST titles in red. I think that must have come first as there is photo evidence from December 1994.
Lastly into 1996 the Boeing 757-251 N534US was wearing another variation. This one kept the white belly but the top half of the fuselage only had the light grey colours. The N logo was smaller but still large. Both it and titles were in white.
There may have been other livery variants but I haven't any proof for any others.
Personally I don't think any of the experiments were very successful compared to the Bowling Shoe, however Northwest clearly kept them in mind as the 2003 colours bore more than a passing resemblance to the schemes that the DC-9s wore and certainly cut down on the base colours.
I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: