British Airways A380 G-XLEI Phoenix 11172 Nov 2015

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I already have a British Airways A380, G-XLEA, which is a Gemini, pre-aerials from 2013 and has that odd nose mould Gemini/JCW seem to like to stick with. The comparison for who made the best A380 went to Phoenix, having judged the Gemini, JCW, Phoenix and Witty versions here: Who makes the best 1:400 A380?

I have great many fond memories of G-XLEA, being there to welcome her, and at RAF Manston for training flights, with thousands of other enthusiasts back in the summer of 2013. The model isn’t being sold, but retired and boxed, entirely for sentimental reasons.

It has a few flaws, not least it never ever properly sat the nose wheel on the ground, always tilting back on its main gear enough to lift it up. It was also pre-TFTS crest. So away it goes to be replaced by G-XLEI. Originally delivered as part of BA’s 12 aircraft order, only completed this year (2016) when G-XLEL went into service. G-XLEI was delivered in February 2015.

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Fitted with 14 first, 97 business, 55 premium economy and 303 economy, BA has an interesting seat layout, splitting up premium and economy seating across both decks. A friend who flies on BA A380’s regularly has little time for them, and thinks they’re noisy and uncomfortable; much preferring the Dreamliner experience – especially on the 789. And I’m inclined to agree. Still not having been on an A350 yet, it may be better still.

BA’s strategy for the A380 is partly dominated by the painful lack of landing slots at Heathrow, that even with expansion will never be truly resolved. It’s a global problem at key hub airports around the world. That is where the A380 works, larger numbers of passengers being flown from one constricted super-hub to another.  Two of these a day fly to LAX, for example, places like Hong Kong, Washington DC, Miami and Johannesburg top the lists, and utilisation is high. The other part of that strategy is  the so-called, “Convenience Strategy” – to JFK/Newark; that requires a very different type of aircraft from 787-8 to the refurbished 744’s – up to 7 flights a day at peak season, rather than one mass of people descending at one time from one aircraft maybe twice a day.

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In some respects it’s all about the travel time – 11 hours to LAX, under 7 to JFK, with return flights as short as 6 hours in the right conditions. The difference between getting there at a time to suit you, and the acceptance of just getting there at some time, lies in the 7-11 hour zone. Passenger psychology, and expectations are never to be underestimated.

There are key things about the Phoenix mould that make it by far the best. It’s much more accurate in terms of overall shape, especially the nose, it’s vastly more accurate than the Gemini/JCW version. I’ve got several Phoenix A380’s – Thai, Asiana, Air France, Singapore, as well as a single JCW Qatar, which is truly horrible, the white /grey change line emphasises the nose issue, and jars every time I look it, I just want to wince! The Gemini Qantas, BA, Emirates and Etihad, all have the same nose but it doesn’t stand out so much. The Witty/Apollo  version’s, Malaysia, China Southern, Singapore, and Korean, are almost as good as the Phoenix mould wise, but have awesome engines and quality second to none.

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The other good thing about the Phoenix? It weighs very little, being an aluminium alloy, its almost half of what the others weigh, so it’s easier to handle and manage on a diorama.

So what of the model?

1.Fuselage

It’s a precise, and superbly printed model in terms of technical detail. There is a less than satisfactory blue-white transition line in places that’s more than a little easy to see, especially on the rear quarters. It’s especially poor on the rear port quarter, where it looses any pretence at being an entirely straight line.

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The aerials are seated and fixed in properly, but one of the things that’s clearly improved between 2015 and 2016, is that the holes those aerials sit in are now generally filled with paint rather than just being holes with aerials in.

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This little fact may seem minor but it suggests they’ve possibly gone from post-paint installation to pre-paint installation of the aerials, when the possibility exists to do so, namely on white bodies.

2.Wings and landing gear

The massive wings are over-glossed, which, as is typical of 2015, and indeed into 2016, has flooded the mould detail to the point of near-invisibility. Quite correctly, the leading edges are not the metal finish, and the wings are fitted with finesse. The slot-in system works especially well when wings are this enormous. You have to bear in mind they were over-engineered to accommodate a stretch version, and a freighter version, both now never likely to see the light of day.

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The underwing is so over-glossed that the minimal detail I know to be present, is absolutely invisible!

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The landing gear is of course huge, with two six wheeled – spring-loaded bogies that if you sort of play with it and pretend to land it, (and please don’t tell me you’ve never done that because I’m not going to believe you), actually has a quite realistic shock-absorber effect.

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The outer bogies are 4 wheelers and rigid, but all four of the sets tilt and all 20 of the wheels roll easily. The tyres are also very tidy, lump and bump free.

The nose gear is well installed and the wheels roll perfectly.

And let’s not forget one key reason for buying this model – the landing gear, nose included, all sits on the ground without tilting backwards!

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3.Engines

The massive (wider than an A320 fuselage)  Rolls Royce engines are actually very good, the fan colour is an excellent titanium, the blue nacelles and marking first-rate, the exhaust cones spot-on. The nacelles side-on rims are perfectly good, it’s the face-on element that lets them down a very tiny bit. However it has to be said that they are far better than some we’ve seen, by a mile.

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4.Nose detail

Technical markings, sensors, cockpit, all fine. It’s the blue paint around the nose that lets it down. It’s not as bad as say, the KLM Orange of 2016, or even some others but it’s not perfect. It’s also not so bad as to make me screw my face up in that ‘not again’ look.

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5.Tail detail

The massive tail section is absolutely gorgeously printed, and finished when it comes to the stabilizers, both horizontal and vertical.

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What doesn’t work is if you flip it over and look at the blue under-body. It looks completely unsymmetrical. It isn’t blurred, there are no splashed paint marks, it’s just very poorly done.

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It’s also interesting that every single one of the Phoenix A380’s I’ve had has the same rear quarter issue. It’s clearly a production process issue.1400Reviews-BritishAirways-A380-G-XLEI-Phoenix-CpywrtJonChamps2016 12.jpg

6.Colours

The Union Jack red is a smidgen too dark on the vertical stabilizer, but looks OK on the ribbon flash of the logo, and on the APU section of the tail. Unless you look at these things as hard as I do, you’d probably never notice.

7.Score and conclusion

  • -6 The lower rear quarter, while not a mess is poor, it really needs to be addressed. Whatever Phoenix do with A380’s when the make them, it’s not working out right.
  • -1 for the nose cone blue-white paint
  • -2 for the face on rims of the engines, almost there but not quite.
  • -4 for other visible wobbles in the horizontal paint line.
  • -6 for the over-glossed wings; way to much paint and way to heavy.
  • 81% isn’t a terrible score, it’s certainly a pass, and I certainly wouldn’t send it back. For a start it was dead cheap as old but new stock, and frankly, even with its faults, it’s considerably better than the Gemini from 2013.

If you actually read all the way to here thank you! I sort of snuck a glimpse of Monday’s review model into one of these photos. It just didn’t get here in time to make today’s deadline!

My recommendation: if you haven’t got one and can get it cheaply enough, a buy.

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