Virgin America A321neo N921VA Aeroclassics 1:400 July 2017

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I was in two minds whether or not to buy this in the first place, not least because despite my fond attachment to all things San Francisco, and its airport, which I love the layout of, it’s a bit silly having a dead/dying airline in the middle of England.

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Curiosity however got the better of me. AC have made an attempt to improve their models in the last year, despite the fact they insist on staying with the old, languid and too-low landing gear.

Virgin America, the great customer service thorn in the side of US airlines generally, having repeatedly stolen the highest customer favourites and service awards, was finally killed off by its vengeful competitor Alaska. Alaska had fought tooth and nail, along with most other US airlines, to try to stop VX from ever getting off the ground.  But it did and it thrived.

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With US laws forbidding foreign ownership of airlines beyond a quite low percentage,  Richard Branson’s Virgin Group was a minority shareholder and despite wanting to stop the “merger” – they always make it sound voluntary – it wasn’t possible. Many wanted Virgin America to maintain its separate branding, and though they paid lip service to the idea, Alaska never had the slightest intention of operating two brands, no matter how valuable Virgin America’s was.

The original VX ten-aircraft A321neo order was the first in a strategic move to take the airline into new territory and expand its offering, further enabling its ability to compete against American and jetBlue who both use A321’s to offer improved up-market trans- continental services from the East to West coast, jetBlue’s Mint service being an example.

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Quite what happens to the rest of the order has yet to be agreed with lease owner GECAS, and Alaska will certainly want to phase out the VX Airbus A319/20/21 fleet and replace it with 737’s. However a second is already in service and a third is due next month (September 2017). It could be years before they see the end of an Airbus fleet, but the first Alaskan liveried A320’s cannot be far off. I’m half expecting some of these A321’s to be delivered in the Alaska livery.

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N921VA is named “neo kid on the block”. Fitted with CFMI LEAP-1A33’s rather than the troublesome Pratt & Witney’s, she seats 8 First Class, 18 Main Cabin Select and 159 Main Cabin (economy) passengers for a total of 185. Since entering service she’s rotated through Reagan National in Washington DC, JFK, and Honolulu from her home base at SFO. I’m hoping to get to see her in September.


Pricing:

These were £1.00/€1.10/$1.30 cheaper in Europe than the UK and matched the USD exchange rate even after accounting for sales taxes. I only ordered them in Europe to make up numbers in a multi-model order. AC 320 series models translate as having a good global price equivalence.


1.Fuselage

Still no question that Aeroclassics have the best mould for the Airbus A321, they always have had, and they still do. They used to suffer from a small amount of sloppiness, but that seems to have mostly gone – hence my greater interest in them of late.

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The print and definition are excellent – high quality and fault free, equal to anything anyone else produces now. They tend to leave off roof markings, which isn’t brilliant but is no problem, it’s like the aerials. When you know they’re not going to be there it’s not an issue. Gemini might put 4 out of 5 on a model, when they do that at the prices they charge, it’s just being cheap skate, but when you know they aren’t going to be there you can’t complain!

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Aeroclassics seem to offer up the essentials, with none of the extras, they do what it takes to make it look good from a distance, and frankly once they go into a collection and you’re not pawing at it for a review, you tend not to see these things as much. I’ll tell you one thing too, I have never had an AC model fall apart or bits drop off, with the exception of the wheels!

2.Wings and landing gear

The wings are excellent up top, neat, precise and yet over painted with gloss. It’s not a thick gloss but it’s taken away the ability to see detail on the upper surfaces mould. The darker metal grey on the centre of the wings is better for being closer to a silk finish.

Of note are the splendid US flags on the sharklets, they look excellent.

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The usual faulty mould fit – which stops the right wing from touching the fuselage quite as smoothly as it should, has been carried over again. Amusingly, Panda whom AC alleges have stolen their mould (and I’m pretty sure they have), copied the same fault into their models.  I suspect it’s a problem with the internal lock insert that keeps the wing in. The fact neither of them have fixed the mould after all this time speaks volumes.

Landing gear. Why can’t AC sort this one issue out? Their A330’s are excellent in this respect so why do the A320 series have to have such cheap kit applied? Now they are better than they used to be, but the issue is they’re still tyres on spigots, not tyres on wheels on spigots! It just seems a bit cheap when on a really nice model.

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3.Engines

The same mould as on all other versions, but superbly made and distinctly superior to the Gemini/JCW mould. As we discovered with the Lufthansa neo’s, AC have the engine pylon and engine design spot on, another huge failing of the Gemini. I’m looking forward to getting the Phoenix A321neo – I wonder how good (or not) that is? Did Gemini use that mould for their Virgin America A321neo version?

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The Silver fans on these engines are not quite so violently bright, but still too much really. The rims are OK, much better than in the past, but a little rough. Not so bad that it’s visible from 24″/60cm away it has to be said. Exhausts and pylons are excellent.

4.Nose detail

The minimalist but high quality detail works adequately enough, there is nothing detrimental, but nothing so awesome as to require a remark. In essence, perfectly competent.

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5.Tail detail

Generally really very good, but the port side of the vertical has mildly wobbly silver at the top edge. Otherwise everything fits, and its painted superbly.

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6.Colour

Once again, Aeroclassics has managed to get the colours right. This was once a major failing of theirs, but they seem to have gotten to grips with it in the last year and this is no exception. Excellent.

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7.Score and conclusion

  • -2 for the slightly rough rim silver paint
  • -1 for the very slightly wobbly paint on the upper vertical stabilizer
  • 97% is an outstanding score for Aeroclassics

What can I say? To my amazement there’s nothing really wrong with this model other than the tiny little issue of the rim paint and the wobbly silver on the vertical stabilizer.  It’s exceptionally nice, Aeroclassics have come up a long way. I don’t care they don’t have aerials, if they get the details to the standard this has, the quality is high and the colour right. This has it all, so in my book, it’s a winner.

My recommendation: Superbly made, a quality item from Aeroclassics, and well worth the money. If you can find one, buy one!

 

 

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