Gemini v. Phoenix – Vietnam Airlines A350-900 VN-A886 Comparison Test

PLEASE NOTE: THIS WAS UPDATED ON NOVEMBER 20th 2016. It is one of the most read articles on this blog, with over 26,000 views since it was published. Paragraphs and sentences have been tidied up and laid out better, and new information added.

Please remember that Gemini Jets models are manufactured by JC Wings, so this review also covers the same mould JC Wings will use for their own releases.


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The real thing.
The real thing.

Introduction

Today, 30th June 2015 is the day Vietnam Airlines becomes only the second airline to get its A350’s after Qatar, and following them it will be only the second airline to operate the 787 along side it, and the first to operate the 787-9.

The introduction of the new aircraft spurred them into creating an updated livery, not in general principle that different to the new KLM one – with the upper body colour dipping down over the nose, rather than being a straight line. Key elements such as the base colour teal blue and the golden lotus were all retained. The underbody went from dark grey to a subtle ivory.

Phoenix produced their first A350’s – a Singapore Airlines, Air China, Cathay Pacific and later a Qatar after having produced the “House colours” versions. They’ve been around almost a year now.

However the Phoenix models were not without critics for a number of valid reasons. The tyres for one were way too thick and made the wheels look oversized. They seemed to have an issue with the fuselage mould around the wing root – it was often very rough and the wings had gaps underneath.

Oddly the Singapore/Air China/Cathay versions also had the giant XWB logo underneath. True, they were so-called fantasy models but they didn’t need that. There was also an issue in that the Phoenix mould was actually too long by 2mm – that’s 800mm (31.5 inches) in the real world!

IMGP5422 - Version 2
The Phoenix A350 in Singapore Airlines livery from November 2014

However the Phoenix mould did have several stand-out positive features. The wing mould was spot on, those curvaceous wing tips have been produced perfectly. The other stand out was the engines. Full see-through Trent XWB’s. Only Witty had used them before on their 787-8, 773 and A380 models.

Now after almost a year Gemini Jets have finally produced their own mould. It’s important to understand that this is exactly the same mould JC Wings use, as JCW make Gemini’s models for them. Does the Gemini stand head and shoulders above the now established, and publicly developed Phoenix version? Or did the year of mistakes and development allow Phoenix to produce something even better?  Lets’s find out.

The protagonists:

Gemini's version of the A350-900 VN-A886 GJHVN1473
Gemini’s version of the A350-900 VN-A886 GJHVN1473
The Phoenix version PH11115
The Phoenix version PH11115 – caught a rather dramatic sunset doing the photos for this one

Scoring

This needs to be scored scientifically to get the best possible end result for each.

The baseline is:

  • What is on the real thing and do the models have it? If they don’t they lose points.
  • Colour is also a big issue with this particular aircraft.

The teal green-blue is very difficult to judge for many males – men have a bias towards blue in their genetics and it can vary dramatically based on individual interpretation. For that I have a Pantone reference and a sophisticated photo colour analyzer and I’ll be able to see if its close or miles away.  The score will also be adjusted based on the quality of the finished item and its components.

Gemini
Gemini
Phoenix
Phoenix

1) The Fuselage Mould

The nose is always a good place to start. These very basic cutouts give you an idea who got closest to the real thing – this was the final re-designed nose profile developed by Airbus. It needs to be pointed out that the final nose design was only signed of following extensive testing – after these model moulds were commissioned. They are therefore BOTH wrong.

This is an ever-growing issue, as model manufacturers race to be the first out with a model. The cost of a new mould like this is around $75,000+ so there is no way they’re going to re-do a mould after it’s been made. There is a very small window to make minor corrections, but a nose shape is fixed. The penalty is we must all suffer from twi inaccurate models for years to come.

The nose as finally put into production
The nose as finally put into production
a350 Gemini
The nose according to Gemini – you can see the outline of the actual design behind it
The nose according to Phoenix - you can see the outline of the actual design behind it
The nose according to Phoenix – you can see the outline of the actual design behind it

Neither of them have got it right – Gemini’s looks more like a 787 and Phoenix doesn’t look like either.

The Phoenix also has a fuselage height that’s out of proportion, so does Gemini but it’s not so bad. Somehow neither of them managed that crucial kink upwards where the flight deck is positioned.

The next items are general detail on the fuselage mould.

a) Aerials

Gemini has two up (above doors 2 & 3) and one below (in front of door 2), They are neat, well fitted and painted.

Phoenix has three up (above doors 2, 3 & 4) and two below, (one in front of door 2 one between door 3 & 4). They look well seated and painted but the one above door 2 fell out and had to be re-seated and glued back in.

Why do Gemini not bother with all of them? Why do Phoenix have such a problem keeping them fixed in place?

b) Domes.

There are three up top, all of which are moulded in to the Phoenix fuselage and neatly painted white. All three are present on the Gemini but only as white-ish paint-ons thats clearly got some of the blue showing through.

c) Underbody detail

The Phoenix has odd square mould lines for the main gear doors, the Gemini has a very thin detail line for the doors which is far more accurate and appropriate. You have to ask what Phoenix thought they were doing?

The fresh air inlets – this is a big deal on modern aircraft as it prevents engine gasses and fumes getting in the cabin. The Phoenix has and odd shape triangle that is both too wide, and too short as well as lacking depth.

The Gemini has the size and shape right but they too, lack the correct depth. For some reason they have chosen to highlight them with a black detail line.

Could they be any different?
Could they be any different?

They are both pretty consistent with showing small detail markings underneath, though both have a very different interpretation on how to do so. This is a personal taste issue. However, in my judgement I think Phoenix probably have a more realistic way of doing it up top, but Gemini below!

The wing root is a very notable area where the two diverge underneath. Phoenix’s wing system requires the fuselage mould to support the root, where the Gemini wing system just pushes right up to the fuselage.

On the Phoenix this has created a ridge in the mould in the forward part of the root that just doesn’t exist in the real aircraft and looks starkly different to the Gemini. To be fair, while the Gemini is more accurate, Phoenix have improved the mould quality substantially – there are signs of glue and rough moulding if you look closely at the Gemini wing inserts underneath.

d) Dimensions.

I’ll tell you now, I used graphic paper, a tape measure and a mapping measuring compass to take these measurements! Phoenix said they corrected the length downward and they have by 2mm.

  • The Gemini is the correct length. Neither fuselage is the correct height or cylindrical diameter.
  • The Phoenix is the only one that has all the other dimensions correct, all the way to the tail height from top to ground – the Gemini is way off on that one.
  • In general the Phoenix sits right and measures accurately.
  • The Gemini is only off here and there, and not by enough to make any difference (except the tail). I suspect Phoenix checked everything when they re-made the mould for length and gained much from it.

e) Fuselage print, paint and finish

Both models are well done, no question about it. The quality of the paint is first class on both – based on a an eyeball view. I’ve spent ages looking at the two and the real thing.

However there are some very important detail issues. This is less about what’s missing and more about the intensity and definition of the print.

Gemini seems to have gone too far towards low detail in respect of doors and sensors, and for some reason that is quite inexplicable, they have painted the windows pale gold. They are quite clearly more appropriately silver-like on the real thing, and on the Phoenix. By doing this the Gemini has reduced the easy visibility of the windows. They are, like almost all the fine detail on the Gemini, much harder to see.

The Gemini detail is crisper and more refined, but the windows look gold rimmed from a distance - if you look closely at the window rim paint you can see the gold flecks. I think this is an application issue and the colours became inadvertently mixed.
The Gemini detail is crisper and more refined, but the windows look gold-rimmed from a distance – if you look closely at the window rim paint you can see the gold flecks. I think this is an application issue and the colours became inadvertently mixed. If so, poor quality control.
The Phoenix detail just isn't applied to the same standard, offset windows and poorly defined lettering
The Phoenix detail just isn’t applied to the same standard, offset windows and poorly defined lettering. Oddly the Phoenix looks darker in flash colours than the Gemini, which looks darker in low daylight.

The look and appearance of the Gemini, when you spend time looking at the two together; put simply, it just doesn’t have that charisma the Phoenix carries off. Yet on the other hand, it’s paint finish while incredibly fine, is actually superior – Phoenix detail especially on lettering and windows up close, is not as good. The trouble is with the naked eye, you can’t really tell.

f) Overall fuselage detail.

Both have done an excellent job of the flight deck though I find the very dark Gemini windows a little heavy.

The lighter grey used on the Phoenix looks a bit more life-like, however it’s not great on close up – blue patches show through.

Gemini have been more thorough in including the nose detail, something Phoenix completely missed I thought at first. However look up close, and in magnification, it is there, just near impossible to see – especially the nose dome line and the three central sensors.

Overall, from the doors, to the windows, the seals, sensors and so on, my vote goes to the Phoenix, because so much of the detail is lost on the Gemini even though it is there.

Phoenix however, missed off the black line that runs under the body in front of the wings, which Gemini included. In general, if you look at the real thing, the white detail is easily discernible across the entire aircraft. Gemini haven’t made it that way and it seriously lacks something as a result.

few models could be so different attempting to produce the same thing
few models could be so different attempting to produce the same thing

IMGP8377 - Version 2

The real thing. Neither Gemini or Phoenix are right but Phoenix have the style and detail closer to reality than Gemini
The real thing. Neither Gemini or Phoenix are right but Phoenix have the style and detail closer to reality than Gemini. Note the white paint, the almost invisible nose cone.

2) Engines

Phoenix introduced the see-through engines on the 787 last year and rolled them out onto the A350. They’d been pioneered by Witty on all their large aircraft. This is the first Gemini/JC Wings model to use them.  You will know how I hate bad engines and bad engine paint.

In principle, the Phoenix engine looks superb, however while it is for the most part externally correct, it is in one big way wrong.

There is one really noticeable feature of the Rolls Royce Trent XWB engine; the fan blades sit an extraordinary distance into the nacelle. The Phoenix has them only just behind the intake rim.

On the other hand the Gemini has done an excellent job and recessed them the correct distance ON ONE SIDE (no 2), – it’s the real life equivalent of 1000mm – almost 3ft further into the nacelle than the Phoenix. Casual observers may not care, but I do! I also care that Gemini’s No 1 engine fan isn’t mounted properly in the nacelle and isn’t the same distance back as No 2!!

The other issue is the external markings. There is no RR logo on either which is correct. However, the Gemini has (if you can make it out) the orange outer casing line at the base which corresponds to the position of the fan blades inside the nacelle. This isn’t present on the Phoenix at all. Gemini have added a small red & white dot to the engines – a marking visible (just) on the real thing. However it’s in front of the orange fan line on the real thing, Gemini put it behind. Phoenix, again didn’t bother with it at all.

Phoenix engine is better overall if inaccurate
Phoenix engine is better overall if inaccurate with fans too far forward
Gemini's ideas of quality have a lot to be desired at times. this is just poor planning and worse quality control
Gemini’s ideas of quality have a lot to be desired at times. this is just poor planning and worse quality control

The overall paint and finish is superior on the Phoenix. While the recessed fans are excellent on the Gemini, they haven’t bothered with painting the gap from the rim to the fans the required graphite colour, just left it as over-spray rom the blue exterior paint, and it spoils what could have been a perfect result.

Why bother making engines so accurate then screw up the paint?

3) Wings

How do two companies with all their resources manage to have such a different interpretation of the same thing? Neither wing is the same. Gemini have used a matt finish paint and simple black lines to show the “walk/don’t walk” area. Phoenix have lined theirs and coloured it grey, using a much glossier finish all round. (The same can be said of the paint in general). Neither seems to have any detail enhancing advantages. However which is accurate? In May this year I was sat at Frankfurt Airport waiting for LH956 as usual and the Qatar A359 taxied past. Last year I was at Farnborough and extensively photographed the A350. A359’s do have a colour change in the central wing section. The Gemini is less accurate in that respect for ignoring it, however, Phoenix have overdone the colour. It is at best a very pale grey, different from the outer edges but not the almost battleship grey Phoenix have used.

Two different ways of doing the same thing again, but Phoenix wins the wing war hands down, for accuracy and the superb wingtip, which having seen the real thing myself is vastly superior to the Gemini
Two different ways of doing the same thing again, but Phoenix wins the wing war hands down, for accuracy and the superb wingtip, which having seen the real thing myself is vastly superior to the Gemini

The fabulously curvaceous wing tips are something else. No question whatsoever in terms of mould and shape, Phoenix have won this, they are way better than the Gemini in every respect.

The Gemini wing tip is just completely wrong, the Phoenix is outstandingly good.
The Gemini wing tip (right) is just completely wrong, the Phoenix (left) is outstandingly good.

4) Landing gear

What you’re about to see below is pretty horrific looking on the Phoenix. However, I have to tell you that you cannot see that metal corrosion bar the tiny shine of a touch of brass barely 0.25mm – if that, across. I was horrified when I saw the image, but for whatever reason it doesn’t notice from any distance. It’s pretty bad though when you do see what it’s like.

This is just crap from Phoenix, they should be ashamed of themselves
This is just crap from Phoenix, they should be ashamed of themselves. If you look to the right above the engine cone you can see the ridge Phoenix use to secure the wing not present on the Gemini or in reality.

The Phoenix tyres while thinner are badly lumpy, nobody has made much effort when cutting them from the mould spigot.  the wheels are silver as is the gear. Personally I think the Phoenix wheels look better but the Gemini suspension/hydraulics looks better in grey. The Gemini wheels are also rather stupidly not all the same. The starboard right forward is a different wheel to the others. they’re also plastic and look cheap. The Gemini’s bogies however do tilt very slightly, the Phoenix do not.

Note the front right wheel isn't even the same as the others.
On the Gemini, note the front right wheel isn’t even the same as the others.

Both have done a good job of the nose gear in their own way. Phoenix have the aircraft numbering correctly on the nose doors in light grey. Gemini have painted it black which is wrong.

5) Tail and stabilisers

Good god how on earth did they manage to get these so different? First off the Gemini measurements are all out for height. However the Phoenix tail fin is not accurate, lacking the correct shape of the Gemini, with the curved leading edge top. It’s not the first time Phoenix have done that wrong, they did the same on the Virgin 787-9.

Yo really have to challenge what these manufacturers are trying to pull. Both are wrong in different ways.
Yo really have to challenge what these manufacturers are trying to pull. Both are wrong in different ways.

The issues here are more irritating however; the Gemini doesn’t fit right and lacks the stabiliser detail at the body. This is one of those times you have to decide which you prefer.

6) Colour

Both have the gold right, give or take a fraction. The Gemini’s is more of a metallic paint, less refined, the Phoenix is smoother, more realistic. However Phoenix have failed miserably with the underbody. It should be Ivory not toothpaste bright white. You can see the subtle ivory tone on the Gemini with ease in low light, though far less so under flash and in bright daylight, Gemini win that convincingly.

It's hard to call, but in lower light the Gemini is definitely darker and more accurate
It’s hard to call, but in lower light the Gemini is definitely darker and more accurate

However the main colour is another issue – that teal blue-green is extremely hard to judge. Neither of them are exactly the same. Part of that is the Gemini using a slightly less glossy finish, which in itself changes the colour perspective slightly. The Gemini is definitely the darker of the two, and after a lot of thought, Pantone comparison and examination of photographs both of the models and the real thing, were all helpful. In the end, the photographic matrix for the colour falls clearly towards the Gemini, which will probably surprises nobody.  In indirect low light, you can clearly see the difference. Gemini wins.

7) Score – out of 100

Gemini:  -4 for missing aerials, -6 for paint on rather than moulded domes, -10 for wrong wing paint, -4 for the poor wingtips, -2 for the gold effect paint on the windows, -10 for ruining the engines with bad interior paint. -2 for incorrect colour on gear door numbering, -2 for the wrong landing gear wheel, -5 for dimensions and tail error, -4 for the stabiliser detail missing, -4 for the scrappy glue under the wing fitting.

Overall score 47/100

Phoenix: -4 for engine fan blades, -10 for wrong wing paint, -4 for poor definition and paint on windows and print, -2 for poor visibility of nose detail, – 2 for missing engine nacelle detail, -10 for underbody colour wrong, -4 for various underbody detail issues missing/inaccurate, – 5 for poor mould design (underwing root etc), -2 for poor starboard gear, – 8 for wrong tail. -1 for aerial falling out.

Overall score 48/100

Conclusion:

Honestly I call that a draw. They are both so flawed, so wrong in so many ways, yet they both have really strong points in their favour.  Neither have made any effort to be excellent, neither have made any real effort with quality control – I’m not even sure they have any. Neither has got the mould right, the tails and wings, wing tips, engines, it’s a nightmare of rampant inconsistency. And the real cause of that? So few images to go by on this specific aircraft. The first aircraft only gets handed over – quite literally as I am writing this.

The Phoenix A359
The Phoenix A359

However for Gemini and JC Wings, if this is their idea of the A350 for the next few years, well it isn’t really good enough.

They had a year longer than Phoenix to perfect it, they even had the Phoenix mould to go up against, and if this is what they came up with, especially the wings and tips, well it’s disappointing.

It means that the same errors and issue will creep in every single time, because it takes Gemini an age to improve anything because they don’t care what we as collectors think. The Gemini engines are as a mould, utterly superb, totally ruined by crap paint right where it can be seen.

Phoenix have let their quality slip over the past year and it shows here. They jumped too early into the A350 and the result is that the basic mould is flawed though improved.

The wings are superbly made, the visible detail and overall look is good but they need to pick up their game. That awful landing gear – it isn’t the first time that’s happened. Yes I can fix it but that’s not the point.

The engines are very good, but wrong – the fan blade recess is a key element in the A350’s uniqueness. The tail is just completely wrong. But most of all it’s their research that is always so flawed.

The reason we buy these models is for their livery. Not only is the body colour wrong on the Phoenix – though only by a very tiny margin, the underbody is completely wrong, 100% white is wrong. Gemini have this completely in their court, having researched and obtained the correct colours.

by a whisker, and much soul searching, I gave it to the Phoenix
by a whisker, and much soul-searching, I gave it to the Phoenix

As they stand here on my desk I am completely stumped as to which to keep. They are not in either case “as real as it gets”, they are both “as close as we can be bothered to make it”.

Having dithered over this for the last ten minutes, from around two feet away, despite it’s failings, I give it, just, to the Phoenix. In the end its overall finish and visual appearance and impact are mildly superior, but it’s damned close.

They are a mere representation of what the real thing looks like, a vague and poorly executed replica of flawed research and production. Yet as an inaccurate facsimile of the real thing, the Phoenix just looks better, more detailed, key elements like the wings really make a difference and the underbody in normal light, well you’d hardly know.

Do not think this is a win for Phoenix, it isn’t. Nor is it a loss for Gemini and their model maker, JC Wings.

You will of course have to make up your own mind. Believe me I understand why many of you may find yourselves conflicted.

Happy collecting.

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5 thoughts on “Gemini v. Phoenix – Vietnam Airlines A350-900 VN-A886 Comparison Test

  1. If you want to buy me one and send it, I’ll happily add it! Actually, to be fair the Gemini is probably the same thing. I’ve never seen the JC Wings version. I find their models too hit and miss to spend much money on them.

    1. I would, but the carbon a350 is already sold out… 😦

      The landing gear looks like it is better on the jcwings. More space between the wheeld.

      I have been told that it is a different mould then Gj…

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