With Phoenix about to deliver the latest in the new paint scheme techniques presumably based on the very successful 787-9 G-VNEW, it’s time to look back on one of the most heavily sold of Gemini’s specials for Virgin Atlantic. There are two versions of this, one was sold in the Virgin Atlantic online shop in one of those special boxes with the little certificate card and one was sold by Gemini in the usual way. Supposedly there were only 3,880 of them made, but I suspect that was just the number that Virgin sold as large numbers of these keep popping up on eBay in what appears to be genuinely new condition, one seller currently has 14 of them.
It’s one of my favourites as it brought me back to a hobby I’d withdrawn from following several moves while a house was built. Knowing I would be able to establish a diorama I waited to start up again and this was the first I bought for it in 2011.
Virgin Atlantic were launch customer for the A340-600 – it’s an enormous aircraft and either ugly or strangely elegant, depending on your point of view. Mine tends towards the later. Seeing them land at Heathrow is a fabulous experience. Taking off in one is slightly worrying. They are notoriously lumbering and slow to take off – at 25 miles a 744 is usually at 15,000ft but an A346 rarely manages 10,000ft and I’ve seen them take 75 miles to reach 30,000ft when a 744 has done it in 40. Once airborne however they are smooth and reasonably quiet, where a 744 is surprisingly noisy.
Sad to say the aircraft itself G-VNAP, “Sleeping Beauty” was withdrawn from service a little over a month ago (March 2015) as she came to then end of a ten year lease. The history of the Virgin Atlantic ‘Billboard’ livery from 2010 is straightforward enough. The airlines visual image was seen as outdated by its customers and with the start of deliveries of the new A333’s – an order brought on by Boeing finally admitting that the 787 would be years late and Virgin needed a stop gap – they decided to introduce the new livery to go with the major update to the interiors on the A333’s to be rolled out over three years fleet wide.
The model was presumably commissioned because Virgin Atlantic had every intention of painting all of its aircraft in the new livery, but the recession bit hard and the company fell into loss. It was decided to maintain the refit of the interiors – an essential really, but forgo the repaint of aircraft not due for a major overhaul. And so G-VNAP never actually received the new livery at all, it is in the end what some like to call a fantasy model. Of the 19 A346’s only 11 are now operational – G-VBLU, G-VBUG, G-VEIL, G-VFIT, G-VFIZ, G-VGAS, G-VRED, G-VWEB, G-VWIN, G-VWKD & G-VYOU. Only G-VGAS and G-VEIL are in the current ‘Billboard’ livery. Some of the fleet are being retained until 2019 and these will be refurbished and potentially repainted into the new livery now the company has returned to profit.
The only thing to compare it with is images of either G-VEIL and G-VGAS. Either way when Gemini produce things for an airline rather than ‘just us collectors’, their standards always seem unusually high. This is no exception. The model is beautifully printed, neat and precise, in fact it’s really excellent. The detail is exquisite – not a word you see me use about Gemini of late, and the whole thing looks really classy. The Aubergine colouring is spot on for the billboard lettering too. This begs the question why it was such a screw up on the 787-9, when the already proved they could get it right?
The only issue with the whole model is the colour. It’s a good attempt but it’s far from being right, having that slightly odd silver-gold tint to it. Compared to the Phoenix versions of A343 G-VELD and A333 G-VSXY it is however, near perfect as both of those were a catastrophe of silver that wasn’t even vaguely right.
These are Rolls Royce Trent 556-61’s and look oddly large on such slender wings. As the nacelles were repainted and not delivered from new, they do not have much in the way of markings and no RR logos. The colour is not even metallic, but uses the flat red of the old livery. This was largely down to Virgin’s indecision on deploying the special 1966 Candy Apple Red that was created for them – the marketing information for the new livery showed a flat red, but it was deployed as metallic. However the detail that is there is for a Gemini of the period, is excellent and I’ve no issues with it other slightly brush-marked paint.
3) Wings and underbody
You know how much I hate the cradle system – when it’s done badly it’s really bad, but when it’s good it’s acceptable. This is acceptable as the whole fitting shows what can be done when you try. It’s proof positive that Gemini are capable of doing it right but quality control varies greatly. The under-body logo looks excellent and the wing detail and paint quality are superb. Even the landing gear is detailed quality metal, with rolling tyres, though the bogies don’t tilt.
4) Tail, stabilisers and nose detail
Fault free, excellent all round, really not a single issue.
As I’ve said before, the colour of the body is OK, it’s not right but until this year nobody has managed that. The red is wrong, but the Aubergine is correct. Based on what they were asked to produce and given the information they had (including the fact that at the time of manufacture no A346 had been painted in the new livery), it’s entirely acceptable.
6) Out of ten…
8/10 simply because they did an outstanding job with the information they had to hand. It isn’t perfect, but its certainly Very Good. Frankly despite its imperfections I love it and will always treasure it.
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