Having a PhD in History, one of my favourite things in the world is finding an aircraft that’s actually got one worth talking about. Add to that if it happens to be run by an airline that is in itself more than a little tinged with controversy, all the better. Then just to add spice to the already delicious indentation in the fabric of space-time this aircraft presents, to find it links to another recently reviewed aircraft model, and an economic-political mess, is even more tantalising.
Atlas Air is more generally known for its huge cargo operations. It flies or has flown aircraft on behalf of, Amazon, it’s own brand, Polar, DHL, Southern Air, Panalpina, DHL Express, Qantas Freight, Etihad, the Boeing Dreamlifter contract, and many others.
Few people realise it still operates passenger aircraft of which this is one of a pair, the other being N322SG.
The company has a dreadful relationship with its pilots. 2017 was consumed by a long fight that still isn’t over. Management refuse to conceded that pilots are over worked and underpaid, even as those very pilots make a bee-line for the exit. It seems to prefer confrontation to resolution except on its own terms, and it’s no coincidence that the one single cargo group, that failed to make hay while the golden sunshine of cargo heaven shone on them during the last half of 2017, and which saw global cargo revenues break every record – was Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings.
This particular aircraft, in its golden livery was produced both by JC Wings in their Flightline 400 range and by Phoenix – but despite the ready availability of the Phoenix, it’s such a hideous mould nobody really wants it. The JCW version, this one, is a totally different beast.
This aircraft, N263SG was delivered to Atlas Air in April 2010. She was first delivered to ANA in March 1999 as JA404A, until withdrawn in 2007 and sold to Oasis Hong Kong as B-LFC. They offered a remarkably far-sighted concept – low cost long haul. Sadly the massive financial crash of 2008 ended their ambitions, and the aircraft which had trained at Manston in Kent, England, were repossessed before the airline could really get going.
She was parked up by owners Wells Fargo Bank Northwest for almost two years before being bought by Atlas Air.
Technically speaking the 744 pair is operated on behalf of an Angolan airline, SonAir. The airline was set up with one purpose, transporting the Angolan state oil company workers into the African interior and the oil fields. SonAir itself has reached a point where it operates just one 737-700, D2-EWS.
A more thorough understanding of what international long haul air travel has done to Angola’s people – by bringing in expatriates from the rest of the world, who earn high salaries paid in their home countries, and a government riven with corruption in the pay of “Big Oil” while ordinary people are in the grip of a famine, have a look at TAAG Angola’s 777 review here. It’s a harsh lesson, and a rare example of how airlines have made things much worse, rather than bringing benefits to all.
Sadly this aircraft and her sister are another contributor to the problem. It’s prime purpose is to bring Texan oil industry workers and managers to Angola. It’s main flight is from Houston to Luanda and back, around four times a week, a distance of 7,634 miles. She sometimes flies to China, they have a strong involvement in Angola’s oil and rare earth resources for their own ends and their experts are often shipped back and forth to Shenzen.
Powered by four CF6-80’s, the aircraft is fitted with an unusual layout: 10 first class, 143 business class and just 36 economy – which sort of tells you the income level and expectations of the people flying there and back, merely emphasising further the inequalities of the countries plight.
This is the standard JCW/Gemini 744 mould which has been and remains, excellent. Pre-aerials, the model is surprisingly good.
The paint is as good as anything we see now, dust free and faultless. Technical detail is all there and printed to a very high standard.
The gold under body is exceptionally good. Not only is it a good colour, it’s a quality paint job.
There really isn’t anything to complain about.
The cradle system wings have a generally tight fit, not quite there ate the front of the wing root, but not awful by any means.
Upper surfaces have a good quality colour and finish, with plenty of detail visible and not swamped in paint.The undernath is just as good and just as consistent.
The wing tips are gold with highly defined logos both sides.
The main gear is all tyres on small silver wheels on axles and all of them work. They roll and tilt at the bogies and the centres are sprung.
The nose gear is excellent.
A rather outstanding set it has to be said, with superb rims, exhausts and good nacelle paint. There is visible detail missing from the nacelles however, that’s clearly visible in photos.
The fans aren’t awful, they’re silver but of a much darker and less reflective type than usually seen in this period.
A little light on the finer detail, no nose cone for instance, otherwise everything seems to be where it should be. Neat and tidy.
Actually excellent, superb antique gold paint, neat logo superbly assembled, really nice quality all round.
No problems, in fact exceptionally good. It’s an odd colour to use on an aircraft but it stands out all the more for it.
8. Score and conclusions
There is no score for this model as it’s too old to be judged by 2018 standards. However it would be quite high. Its well made and excellent quality. A little light on some details, but things have moved on so much since then.
I’d recommend one, as an operational passenger 744 with an unusal livery, well worth the effort of locating one.
THERE ARE NOW 500 REVIEWS AVAILABLE – JUST CLICK ON THE SQUARE TOP RIGHT OF THIS PAGE TO SEARCH, OR GO TO THE HOME PAGE AND SCROLL DOWN