Speedbird is a call sign used by British Airways during air traffic control procedures, as well as the name for the stylised emblem of the airline's predecessors, Imperial Airways and British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC).
The Speedbird was first used in 1932 by one of BOAC's predecessor companies, Imperial Airways. A simple, yet rather avant-garde design, minimally representing a bird in flight, it appeared on the nose section of the company's aircraft. With the creation of BOAC in 1939, the logo was retained, and still appeared on aircraft throughout World War II, despite the military-style camouflage that replaced the livery.
The actual design was by Theyre Lee-Elliott, a graphic artist working in London in the 1930s. He also did posters for the London Underground at the time, which similarly incorporate then-stylish minimalist art forms.
The logo became more prominent under BOAC, initially appearing on the nose, then from 1950 on the aircraft tailfin, either in navy blue on a white background or vice versa. With the advent of air traffic control and the adoption of call signs to identify aircraft and their operators, BOAC chose the name of their logo to represent their aircraft in the air — Speedbird.
In the mid-1960s the design of the Speedbird was slightly altered, with a slimmer 'body' and larger 'wing', and on the tailfin coloured gold on a navy blue background. Elsewhere the colours used for it were mostly a combination of cyan and white.
In 1974, BOAC was merged with British European Airways and others to form British Airways. As well as the call sign, the speedbird logo was retained unaltered, but returned to the nose section of the aircraft. A prominent Union Flag design now occupied the tailfin.
As British Airways prepared for privatisation, a new corporate look was adopted in 1984, which included altering the appearance of the Speedbird logo for the second time. Referred to as the Speedwing, it became a red flash on the lower dark blue part of the fuselage, though still bearing a resemblance to the original 1930s design.
Another corporate identity revamp in 1997 saw the logo evolve once more: it became a stylised ribbon shape (coloured red on the top side and blue on the bottom). It is officially known as the Speedmarque and was initially surrounded in some controversy, associated with the introduction of a multitude of "world design" tail fins that replaced the Union Flag on all aircraft except Concorde.
"Speedbird" is also the name of one of the British Airways Sailing Club yachts.
Speedbird continues to be used by British Airways as a call sign, although British Airways domestic services use the call sign Shuttle. BA subsidiary company BA CityFlyer uses Flyer as its call sign. Before the sale to Flybe subsidiary BA Connect used the call sign "British." BA franchise operators continue to use their own call signs, despite operating BA flights. BA Christmas charter flights use Santa instead of Speedbird.