Cathay Pacific A350-900 B-LRB Phoenix 04085 2016

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This is the second of Cathay Pacific’s order of 46 A350’s. That’s a number that will eventually see them as the worlds third largest operator of the type (under Etihad 67, and Singapore, 65). Over time it will see the airline operate just three aircraft types, Boeing 777 family, A350 family, and a reducing number of A330’s. Evidence enough that the distillation of aircraft types in service will reduce to a core minimum of base types over the next 10-20 years.

The evidence, demonstrated by the low-cost carriers to hold evidently true, is that fewer aircraft types save money. It’s a lesson the big full service carriers have taken time to appreciate, and it takes time to swing an airlines buying strategy to make it happen, but it is.

However, the sad part of it is that we’ll see fewer variations in aircraft types as collectors and enthusiasts. It could be ten to twelve years before another new aircraft type even starts to look like it might be on the cards. In the meantime we get tweaks of existing aircraft, Neo A320’s and A330’s, MAX 737 and a 777 that looks a lot like the current 777 with mods, though it’s new from the ground up.

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So while I’m delighted to see the awesomeness of an A350 in Cathay service, it’s also sad to think that it’s one more nail in the coffin of variation.

In some ways the new livery, discussed elsewhere on this blog, is also a sign of creeping homogenization. Simpler, cheaper, conservative, unlikely to offend anyone’s sensibilities. It says nothing much, it’s the pipe and slippers of mediocrity, the beige living room of forgetability, like something you’d find in an old people’s home. There’s nothing invigorating about Cathay Pacific’s livery. With the A350, it’s like they’ve taken the latest hi-tech Jet Black iPhone 7 Plus top of the range, and put it in a hand-knitted woolen case your Gran ran up.

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Now I’d like you to take a close look at this early 2016 model from Phoenix, and compare it to the total crap that they produced for Ethiopian in September 2016. (Review: Phoenix Ethiopian A350). I wonder if the production series indicates what goes on? This is another of those ‘special’ lines they issue on the 04 code. Often used for special orders or corporates, different standards seem to apply. The box has no model on it either saying just Airbus A350-900, no airline details, just a few images of a Hong Kong skyline, and in one corner of the side a barely visible registration.

This model shows you how utterly inconsistent Phoenix can be. Why? I don’t like to pre-judge, but it’s damned near perfect. It is exactly why, when Phoenix do it well, I sing their praises, because a good model can be a true delight, a stunning, wonderful, exciting thing to behold. And this is.  Then you get that Ethiopian, and wonder how did they get from this, to that? Let’s have a look…

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1.Fuselage

I’ve always said, and nothing has changed, that this is the very best of the two current A350 moulds doing the rounds. Gemini/JCW is the same one and it’s notably less accurate in key areas, as the article on Which A350? Comparing the Vietnam Airlines versions (Gemini v. Phoenix – Vietnam Airlines A350-900 VN-A886 Comparison Test) showed. Both of them got the nose wrong, having used different Airbus schematics, before the final design of the nose was fixed, something that happened very late in the design cycle. The Gemini looks more like a 787, the Phoenix is nearer to the final version.

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Phoenix even shortened their fuselage after finding it was too long by 1.4mm. They also won the wingtip wars – trouncing the Gemini/JCW version with superb accuracy they didn’t even get near. You can see why the Gemini/JCW version is wrong, at certain angles the curvaceous shape of the tips is easily lost, it can look flat. It isn’t, as I’ve seen and photographed with my own eyes; its remarkably sculpted, curved, and Phoenix got it spot on. It’s things like this that make me so reluctant to buy the Gemini/JCW, and so angry when Phoenix screw it all up.

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The print on this model is exquisite. Crisp and superbly defined in ways that make Gemini’s A321 G-TCDC look like something from the stone age. Nothing is out of place, all the way down to the tiny Oneworld logo on the portside doors 1 and 2.

The three roof and one under-body aerials are exemplary, even the satcomms dome on the roof is installed exceptionally well. There is only one thing missing. Under the body just in front of the V-shaped air intakes, is a black line that runs across the aircraft.  A small downside is that the paint is very thick and it’s filled in the V-shaped intakes too much.

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2.Wings and landing gear

Excellent. A little too much paint, a constant Phoenix bad habit, and it didn’t need to be so glossy. However the detail is visible, and the wings inserted so well you would barely know they were.

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The curvaceous, sculpted wing tips with their Cathay Pacific logo are so neat it seems almost impossible Phoenix did this.

Landing gear is nothing, and I mean nothing, like the rubbish that appeared in September on the Ethiopian and LATAM A359’s. The doors are immaculate, every wheel rotates, the tyres are lump free, and the hydraulics painted a delicate silver.

The nose gear is just as brilliantly done, and looks perfect.

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3. Engines

The Rolls Royce units are immaculate. See-through high-by-pass fans, painted a beautiful colour of silvered titanium, excellent rims, again silver, but outstanding quality. The engines are also mounted perfectly, not dragging on the ground as they were on the Ethiopian and LATAM. They are, in all frankness, faultless.

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4. Nose detail

We’ve discussed the mould above and it is what it is. They’re not about to rush out and change it now, but in terms of sensor arrays and cockpit detail, superb high-definition detail print, that is simply wonderful.

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This is what quality is in 1:400 at its peak. That Phoenix with the 787 and A350 can do this, and Gemini/JCW can’t manage it even on an A321 speaks volumes.

5. Tail detail

The vertical stabilizer paint and logo are superbly done. The strength of the white bird over the dark green really makes it work.

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The wing tip details of the image are first class. The rest of the tail detail is commensurate with the whole ethos of this model, it’s just a tour de force of quality production standards.

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6. Colours

Perfectly chosen and perfectly printed.

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7. Score and conclusions

100% – This is a near-perfect 1:400 scale model.

A friend insists that Phoenix only make a good model by accident. They certainly offer up enough garbage to suggest that’s very likely. I’d like to not be so cynical about it, but it’s not an unreasonable statement, given the evidence.

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Whatever happened here, I don’t know. I suspect Phoenix don’t know either. Maybe they only made a small run of them, maybe they had their best people all on shift on the same day at the same time, and the QC manager was on site (let’s face it he has at least 60 other jobs and only appears once in a Blue Moon).

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Whatever happened, maybe the planets aligned, maybe it was a nice day, maybe the machines on the line had been serviced. Whatever random sequence of events produced this model, thank you!

This is the best passenger aircraft model I’ve seen this year.

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