“Who can I talk to about having a font made for me?”
In December 2016, Cliff Sherman posted to the Typography subreddit asking for help in producing a font designed by his father, William G. Sherman, and based on the Air America logo.
Air America was a passenger and cargo airline that operated from the 1950s through the 1970s and was covertly owned by the US government. Masquerading as a civilian airline, it facilitated CIA operations and was able to go where the US military could not. That famous photo of the last helicopter leaving Saigon? That was Air America.
In the mid 1960s, William G. Sherman was a cargo ‘kicker’ in SE Asia—his job to fling loads out of the airplane window. After his discharge, he took courses in topographic drafting and Cartography and worked for the Arlington County Surveys Division—creating maps for the official county land records. All line work and lettering was done by hand! It was one of his favorite jobs.
After he joined the Air America Association, Mr. Sherman was surprised to see that all the different documents associated with Association used different fonts, and none had any connection with the original Air America logo—and it seemed no one was particularly interested in an “Air America” font. Frustrated by the situation, he decided to apply his skills as a draftsman to build out the alphabet himself.
After 10 years of working on the project on and off, Mr. Sherman completed the canonical version of “Air America”.
When Cliff posted, seeking help for the project, I thought it sounded like a really interesting project and I was really happy to help bring the font to life after so many years!
Getting started on the project, my role was to digitize the original drawings and master the letterforms to create the final font. The drawings were quite precise, which made my job relatively straightforward, but I made some recommendations to help improve consistency and balance in the design.
For example, I changed the design of the ‘V’ to make it less dark.
Second, the numbers ended up being modified more significantly. Using ideas present in other letterforms, I suggested alternate versions for the numbers. In the following image you can see the original drawings above, and the final versions below.
Finally, I extended the font to add a full range of symbols, punctuation, and extended Latin (black base forms, red added).
It was an absolute pleasure to work with William and Cliff Sherman on this project. We’re hopeful to see that the font will gain widespread use and keep alive the memory of Air America.
The finalized font is now available for free on Font Squirrel, licensed under the OFL 1.1 and is open source on Github. The name “Air America” is used with approval from the Air America Association.
I hope you enjoy using it!