Silkway Azerbaijan Cargo 748F VQ-BVB Gemini Jets GJAZQ1553 Nov 2016

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I’ll sort of apologise, but it’s the way they arrive, and I know we had a Phoenix 748F last week, but I managed to get this for a ridiculously low price through an eBay auction. I hadn’t intended on buying it, already having the disappointing Phoenix version VQ-BQC, it seemed superfluous. However The Phoenix was flawed in terms of paint finish and quality, with blury over-print, especially along the fore’ section. The dark blue on that looked more than a little ropy. That was in March 2015. You can find that review here: Silkway Azerbaijan Cargo 747-8F VQ-BVC Phoenix 11079 March 2015

I was hoping this would be so good, it could replace the other one…..

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The ‘sto express’ tiles were only added in November 2016, just after this model was released.

Azerbaijan is a country run according to the rule book of the  Ramsey Bolton School of Governance (if you don’t watch Game of Thrones that might have slipped past you, but really, you don’t watch Game of Thrones?)  Airports are named after the President’s father, the Presidency is hereditary, and the First ‘Lady’, has been both credited with the design of the Azerbaijan Airlines livery, and as a pop star, fashion guru, and anything else that fits her whim for that day. This is a country where the Soprano’s would have been seen as effete liberals.  However, flush with oil money and Russian patronage, nothing is likely to change.

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Legally the airline is Silkway West Airlines, and operates under the Silkway Azerbaijan Cargo trading name. This particular aircraft, a 747-83QF, like her sisters is registered in Bermuda and is on lease from Gecas. Delivered in August 2014 she’s actually the first of four currently in service with one more on order.

The 748F is considered to be the A380 of the freight world. It only works with high levels of utilisation, on specific routes with high demand, and can soon fall into unprofitability if utilisation falls below the 85% mark.  Filling a 748F every day, with cargo, is a massive task, and not easily achieved. Things became easier for Silkway in August when it fought off US cargo airline National’s complaints, that it was undermining their business, and was granted rights to fly anywhere in the US. Chicago and Houston were top of its list. This gives it a truly global reach.

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Based in Baku, it sits on the crossroads of Europe, the Middle and Far East, India and Africa. It’s an ideal spot and they seem to be making the most of it.

1.Fuselage

The first thing that strikes you is the stark contrast in colour with the Phoenix model from 18 months ago. While Phoenix were not at the height of quality print and paint they are now, they got the colour spot on. It’s supposed to be a light blue-grey upper, with blue as the dominant end of the colour. The Gemini is too grey – in fact rather bizarrely it looks like  JC Wings who make the Gemini models, had some paint left over from the dodgy Cargolux cutaway, and they used it to make this for Gemini, getting two models wrong in the same month! Nice.

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However the good thing is the darker blues, while not quite the same, (the Gemini’s is very slightly too light), are as close a match as you could hope for and won’t bother you.

At the point they put this model to bed, Silkway promptly went and added some new tiles to the aircraft for STO Express, so it’s already a little dated. A pity really as they would have looked quite cool, and given me a reason to have kept both models.

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Now, while the colours are not exemplary, the detail and print quality are the very best. There is a finish and quality to this the 18 month old Phoenix simply lacks, from one end to the other, the Gemini in terms of definition, print quality and paint finish, is simply better. And you know, for the list price of some £47 ($60US), so it should be. (That was the first price rise caused by the currency change, then there was the ‘premium’ price bolt on, that make Gemini branded 748F’s £55 ($70 US). I know I paid £27 for this, but there we go.

Another positive in the Gemini’s favour, is the aerials are all still fixed in, and feel like they’ll stay there for ever. The front one on the Phoenix is missing – and was within a few days of getting it.

2.Wings and landing gear

This model has the standard ‘ground wings’, something I was afraid may not be the case after the in-flight wings of the Cargolux cutaway. They’re a totally different colour to the fuselage upper paint, and a totally different colour to the ones on the Phoenix. There’s nothing else in them to tell the difference from a detail perspective up top, but the Gemini’s has far better detail underneath. They are also fitted superbly, and almost seamlessly, into the fuselage, but look less convincing from underneath.

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The landing gear is rigid on the Gemini, and the doors are messy on the inner central gear, paint having either been missed, or just a plain clumsy attempt at finishing them would be no surprise; pretty rubbish for the price point. There are half-open seals at the rears; the wheels are wobbly, and the paint thick and gloopy on the hydraulics.

One of the inner set doesn’t sit flush on the ground. They really aren’t a success. The tyres and wheels all rotate though, barely. They look a tad plastic and one of the tyres was on the point of coming off and wasn’t easy to put back on for some reason. I prefer the Phoenix look and the springy centre gear, and the quality on the older model was much higher than this.

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The nose gear appears to have been pushed in slightly too far in my opinion, and looks slightly skewed to one side.

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3.Engines

The Phoenix engines were nothing special at the rims, the paint was flakey and not very neat, whereas these are pretty good on the Gemini, they’re not outstanding. From the sides the rims look excellent, but face on, they too, look a bit rough on all four engines.

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Fan colour and inner nacelles walls however look really good, with a quality colour that passes as titanium.

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Rim paint on the engines is a flop on all four units

There is another thing, the Gemini/JCW engines are very slightly larger, and frankly, the rear of the mould and exhaust cone is not as good, nor as clean-cut realistic as the Phoenix version.

4.Nose detail

To the trained eye there is a difference in the mould at the nose end, but it’s not as pronounced as on the 744 versions by a mile. The key benefit of the Gemini model here is the clarity, and finish of the blue and grey paint. It’s totally superior to the Phoenix in every way. That was a mess in comparison, with paint all over the place.  The detail on the cockpit windows, sensors, technical detail, and logo-print is quite superior.

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It’s better than the Phoenix close up in detail, but the nose gear is skewed

5.Tail detail

The Gemini is superior here too, with a better fit and finish for the stabilizers and no paint errors or definition fails. An excellent job.

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The rear end is excellent, but the landing gear doesn’t even sit on the ground properly

6.Colours

How annoying is this? The Gemini’s primary colours, the grey and blue aren’t right, the blue is less of a concern it’s so marginal, but that grey is clearly out. The scheme is meant to represent the blue of the mountain waters, the Caspian Sea below, and the blue-grey of the snow topped Caucasus Mountains, and its pale sky above. As I have often said, airline liveries rarely ever mean nothing, and in this case, are all part of a government’s aims to point out its national character in a positive way, and detract from any political message.

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The reds and whites are stronger, and better printed than on the Phoenix version.

Phoenix did a better job of the primary colours, but nowhere near as well on the quality of the finish.

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I spent possibly 2 hours trying to find the right light conditions to show you the real colour difference. Flash and daylight bulbs neutralise the grey-blue especially, so this was taken outside, in indirect daylight. Only the iPhone 7 Plus camera was able to work out the colours – even a high-end DSLR wouldn’t differentiate it enough. This is how it really looks. The Phoenix is right and the Gemini just wrong.

7.Score and conclusion

18 Months ago the Phoenix scored just 65%. The acceptance pass mark then was 60%. Since then its been notched up to 80% for a pass.

  • -10 for the colour fail in the upper grey. It isn’t right and that’s the standard deduction for a colour fail that occupies more than 30% but less than 40% of a models surface area.
  • -2 for the blue, it isn’t right, but it’s close enough not to be overly detrimental
  • -4 for the engine rims – they are still not good enough face on, and are quite visibly unrefined in terms of finish when you look at them head on.
  • -4 for the poor main gear – way to sloppy for the price point Gemini are aiming at.
  • -1 for the poorly installed nose gear which looks mildly skewed, again to expensive too be this sloppy
  • 79% is a fail, it’s no 2016 Model Of The Year contender. However, it is a better model overall than the Phoenix – from 18 months ago, but which was priced at vastly less.

Typical Gemini really, over-priced commercial mediocrity. That’s the trouble when the only difference between this, and JC Wings at 60% of the price, is a Gemini box and their name underneath.

This is simply not worth the over-inflated retail price. Buy cheap in a few months from a sale or auction. It’s not a patch in quality terms compared to the latest Phoenix 748F’s. It feels like a cheap JC Wings and it looks like a cheap JC Wings. Only the box is different.

My recommendation: if you haven’t got the Phoenix, and want this model,  it’s not worth the retail price, buy cheap from a sale or auction in a few months .  If you’ve got the Phoenix, and are happy with it, this is a waste of time and money, and I really wouldn’t bother.

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