Air France Cargo 744FERSCD F-GIUD JC Wings XX4800 2011

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Air France Cargo ordered 2 744FER’s from Boeing through leasing company ILFC on 14 May 2001. At the time Air France was the fourth largest freight company in the world (this was before the KLM merger). 16 years later the entire AF-KLM-Martinair cargo group barely rates in the top 20. The top ten in 2016 were (largest first); FedEx, UPS, DHL Aviation, Korean Air Cargo, Cathay Pacific, Cargolux, Lufthansa Cargo, Emirates Sky Cargo, China Airlines Cargo, and Singapore Airlines Cargo.

When you think the difference in the top ten from 4th to 10th (Singapore has just 9 aircraft, Korean 28) equals the same number of aircraft as DHL alone, and DHL + UPS is about equal to FedEx with 688 aircraft at the end of last year, it puts them all into perspective.

These aircraft were destined to join a large mixed cargo fleet of 38, including 11 742F’s and 13 existing 744F’s, as well as 737’s and 767’s.

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These two were the longer range versions with a MTOW of 910,000lb’s (412,770kg), which also gave them the capacity to carry another 16 tonnes of cargo and additional 530 nautical miles range over the standard versions.

Air France was so buoyant about its cargo future the giant G1XL facility at Paris CDG was getting a 40% expansion to make it capable of 1.4 million tonnes a year.

Delivered in 2004 there wasn’t going to be much of honeymoon, within 3-4 years the global recession fell on air travel and cargo operations like a ton of bricks. Air France-KLM Cargo started disposing of aircraft like it was going out of fashion, a process that really didn’t stop until this year, though in the last three years at a much slower pace. This aircraft only finally departed when the second wave of cargo collapse started in 2012-14. There are just two 777F’s operating for the airline now under AF colours, with 4 744F’s under KLM/Martinair livery.

She was shipped off to the US in 2014 after time in storage, becoming N902AR operating for Centurion Cargo, but they went close to bankruptcy in December 2016 and the aircraft was quietly repossessed by the lease owner for non-payment. AerCap then used her for a while on short wet leases as Austrian registered OE-IFP, but in April 2017 she was leased to Russia’s Air Bridge Cargo, under its new UK subsidiary, Cargologicair as G-CLBA, operating from Stansted Airport.

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Air France Cargo models are generally rare – I’ve been trying to find a 777F for ages, never expecting to see a 744F in the newer livery, so when this popped up on eBay it received one of those “don’t care how much it costs” ratings from me, and it seems like three of us were determined to win. £42 ($55 US) is pricy for a JCW model that’s six years old but there we go! Then guess what, another one popped up the next day. Where do they come from? You see none for months, years even, then two?

1.Fuselage

This is the age-old standard 744F JCW have been using for years, and it’s always been one of their better moulds.

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Some say, that Air France was the mother of Eurobland white, but they have always been white since time began. Besides which, white, as has almost always been the case in automotive, has always been a ‘free’ option which is why airlines like it and it got popular on cars during the recession.

It is a big, relatively detail-light white body, but it has what it needs to look accurate. The nose door is sharp and easily seen, the belly cargo doors the same, and the main rear side door is equally well done.

This is a little bit to far back in time for aerials, but I’m never overly bothered by that. What I despise is when they charge a load of money for new models and can’t be bothered to put all of them in for the sake of a cent.

Overall it’s sufficiently, and neatly detailed, and as a model, it looks every bit the stylishly clean Air France livery we all know.  In reality it often looked filthy, but that’s not something that matters here.

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2.Wings and landing gear

The frequency of cradle fit models these days has started to drop off quite noticeably, but this has almost always been one of the few models that rarely displayed an issue. The wings are superbly fitted if a little over-painted. The one thing I’ve never seen before is an odd black jet logo underneath.

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The wings on these are really excellent overall, a very nice finish, decent silver leading edges, and a good fit.

The landing gear is the same as they’ve been using for ages now, lightly sprung in the centre, good tyres and no major problems, just the usual not quite closed clasps over the gear interiors. Nose gear is also good, though there’s a lot of glue up there.

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3.Engines

Air France have had long relationship with General Electric and the four GE CF6-80C2B5F’s look very neat – although I always think they look, and sound quite old-fashioned compared to the deep rumble of the RB211.

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All four engines look really good, with smart nacelles, ‘crevette’ logos on each side, very neat silver rims, and silver-titanium fans of such a hue they don’t burn the corneas of your eyes out every time you look at them.

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4.Nose detail

As often happens on 747 cargo aircraft, the nose is often the most detailed area. Superb cockpit windows and frames, HD quality AF-KLM logo, Skyteam logo and door detail. Sensors are clear and to scale. The AirFrance Cargo tile is under the nose door, so that it shows up when it’s lifted. Very neat, simple, clean, effective.

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5.Tail detail

A near-faultless example of what these things should look like. Very minor problems the rear edge of the vertical with a tiny bit of messy paint, but even the yellow stars of the European Union at the top of the tail are clearly visible, something that often gets overlooked.

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6.Colours

Strictly speaking, this livery is mildly out of date as it was recently revised, but you’d have to know what you were looking for, the new Dreamliners have it, and a few others. I was surprised to find that the two 777F’s have never been repainted into the previous new livery, never mind the revised new livery. Sort of tells you how low on the horizon cargo sits in AF’s sight line right now. It seems the 744’s just happened to score on the service front at 6 years, so in 2010/11 they were repainted, thus spurring the model.

No issues at all with colour.

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7. Score and conclusions

The model doesn’t get a score, there’s no point in applying 2017 standards to a 2011 model based on a 2005 (well it was around 2004-5 if I recall) mould.

It’s better than I’d have expected, and I’m delighted I’ve got it. Even better it will be joined by a Martinair MD-11F which is due any day. Finally the AF-KLM-Martinair Cargo has one representative from each.

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My recommendation: If cargo is your thing, this is great one to have in the collection. As cargo airlines continue to morph and consolidate variety is quickly vanishing, especially from the European and US airlines, and the Far, Middle East, and China isn’t far behind.

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