Air France Boeing 747-428 F-GITD Gemini Jets 1:400 GJAFR1209 2013

Among the early customers for the 747, Air France was one of the largest operators of the type in the world flying four major variants of the aircraft, and more than 70 aircraft over five decades of scheduled service. It has now reduced its fleet to just two 747-400s having replaced the type with more efficient 777 and A380’s.

The remorseless drop in AF 744 flights 2005-15
The remorseless drop in AF 744 flights 2005-15, symptomatic of a global trend

Air France had set the end of the winter schedules in late March 2016 for the end of 747 operations, but t’s accelerated the type’s retirement and will instead, stop using the 744 on scheduled passenger services from January 10, 2016, the last service will be from Mexico City to Paris CDG. To give you an idea of how Air France ranks them, there is no La Premiere first class on board, or premium economy, just 36 business and 326 economy seats.

In Europe that will leave just Lufthansa, British Airways, KLM and Virgin Atlantic (though only from Gatwick from mid-February), operating 744’s on scheduled passenger services, with BA in the process of updating 18 to serve until 2019-23 (as A350-1000’s will replace them) – 3 have already been refurbished since August. Lufthansa is also part way through a 744 refurbishment for some of it’s fleet expected to serve until 2018-20.

At RLSI T2 East about to depart for Martinique
At RLSI T2 East about to depart for Martinique

With United and Delta disposing of theirs during 2016-17, ANA, ANZ, Philippines, Singapore, Cathay Pacific, Virgin Atlantic, and many others having already disposed of all or some theirs, or in the process of doing so, it’s days are fast becoming numbered. Thai recently postponed plans to pull its last passenger 744’s for a couple of years because of demand and low fuel prices, providing an opportunity to keep them flying at minimal cost. Transaero operated a fleet of 744’s and what will happen to them now it’s AOC has been revoked and they’ve been returned to the leasor? There isn’t much demand for the old so called ‘Queen of The Skies’.

Once they would have been welcomed into freight conversion specialists and sold on with little fanfare, but with so many aircraft and a glut of unwanted freighters sitting in storage, even that route is no longer viable. For most, it’s the breakers and recycling

And with their disappearance, I’ve been on a bit of a 747 passenger and cargo buying spree. I’ve been meaning to get one of these for a while to replace the old livery one I sold off a few months back. This is the new livery version and therefore likely to remain current for some time and not out of place at RLSI

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F-GITD is (at the time of writing 5 Nov 2015), on her way to Mexico City and is likely to be the last in operational service. Delivered on the 19th February 1992 she’ll almost make it to being 24 years old. In the current livery she just doesn’t look her age.

1)Fuselage

Being a 2013 this model is not festooned with aerials. I never really mind, their presence is often a dubious misadventure.  However that apart it is a first class example of what Gemini from time to time, in a year that was not their best for quality, could sometimes do.

It’s actually hard to find fault with it – honestly I don’t want to find anything, ever, I’d love them to be near perfect all the time. However it is what it is, no blurred lines, no misprints, it’s all pretty precise and rather good quality. Odd how Gemini have always seemed to make a really good 744, even when everything else was often falling to bits. I’ve had other Gemini models from the same period that weren’t a patch on this.

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2)Wings and landing gear

I’m going to start with landing gear, because there is nothing to report, just four quality main gear assemblies and no issues at the nose. The wings themselves are neatly finished, not swamped in paint, and as you would expect for a decent mould. The downside of course is the cradle because it doesn’t look right period, however it’s neat and tidy, fits nicely, with no gaps or problems.

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3) Engines

Neatly painted, the intake rims and fans look great. The ‘crevette’  (shrimp) logo – two per engine are all present and correct. It’s an odd tradition, that first appeared on the airlines original 1930’s aircraft. More of a flying sea horse, it was dropped post war and revived in 1975, a tradition that continues.

The 4 GE CF6-80C2B1F’s are very neatly painted and all the detail seems to be present and correct. In fact all rather excellent.  The downside – it’s only a small one but a point that these moulds all, to my mind have in common; the engine pylons are just too thick and lack refinement. They always look moulded in one way or another, especially at the wing join. It isn’t a big thing, just something that appears so often it’s hardly worth mentioning. You have to wonder if they could be made a little better?

Overall the engines are a first class example.

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4) Nose detail

Compared to Phoenix, outstanding. On this example, simply excellent. In every way as good as you can expect for this scale.

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5) Tail and stabilisers

No issue in terms of print and quality bar one. The European Union stars roundel in the top of the tail on both sides is just too easily swamped by being too feint on the blue tail. It’s not the end of the world by any means, but sometimes the accurate colour on certain backgrounds just doesn’t work. It’s a hard balance to strike, on this it didn’t quite work, but what is there is neat and well defined for such a small graphic.

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6) Colours

Hard to get wrong really, no issues at all. 95% of it’s white.

7) Score and conclusions

The 744 will always look to many, like the ultimate aircraft, it’s part of aviation folklore, especially for my generation who grew up on it. I still remember walking up that spiral stair case in 1981 and thinking it was the most glamorous thing ever. In fact much more amazing than flying on Concorde which was actually quite dull in comparison. I actually used to think it was too fast and preferred a slower journey to savour the experience.  OK that’s long gone and boring stairs may have replaced spirals, Concorde is never coming back, and sadly, nor are aircraft like this 744. 748i’s and A380’s are numbered in handfuls now and unless you fly private, that age is gone for good.

On the positive side, Gemini quality is also making a return, I’ve just ordered 5 out of the 7 due in December. Who’d of thought that 18 months ago? Certainly not me. Let’s pray they live up to expectations.

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