I see a great deal of aviation news and constantly see emails about products, models, games, video, you name it, that covers one or other aspect of this fascinating industry.
At the core of me however is an unapologetic historian. Some say my knowledge is encyclopaedic, but I can tell you it’s far more than that, and that is being modest. I am one of those geeks that cannot know a little about something. I have to know everything, every last scrap of minuscule detail until there is nothing left to know.
I tell you this because while I prefer modernity in style and Scandinavian simplicity to live with, I do like genuine historical items, real things that were part of something, pieces of genuine, tangible, history.
Models represent something tangible, that has or does, and even might exist. Yet they are not the real thing, just a copy and sometimes, depending on who makes it, not a very good one.
And that brings us to the subject of this review, Aviation Tags.
I first came across one in Lufthansa’s shop in Frankfurt and used up a wedge of my Miles&More points to buy one. They had a choice of a Lufthansa blue or white, so I chose the blue.
They are universally tagged with a number as they are by definition limited in production runs, they after all, made from the skin of the aircraft engraved and printed onto the tag.
Real, proper metal skin, that flew for millions of miles, landed and took off thousands of times, visited heaven knows how many airports and carried probably some 4 million passengers in its lifetime if it’s as this is, a piece of a 747.
My first one is D-ABVC, 02338 of 20000 made. Lufthansa told me they couldn’t get enough of them fast enough.
I didn’t originally pursue any others, until I spotted an online ad, and that the company who made this one, had a range of different aircraft tags. Then I found out they weren’t the only ones doing this, another company in the US was doing the same thing, although theirs are a lot more expensive – around $39 rather than Aviation tags average around $24.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the US Plane Tags company was doing three Virgin Atlantic aircraft, and one of them is the iconic 744 G-VFAB, as well as A340-600’s G-VEIL and G-VNAP. They were must-haves, especially G-VNAP as I’d flown on her.
Just two days after I made those purchases, having them delivered to our San Francisco house to pick up later this year (the duty and fees in importing them would have been silly, so I’ll bring them back as luggage), an email from Aircraftmodelstore.co.uk announced they were going to start selling the European Aviation Tags company product, which is much more reasonably priced.
I instantly leapt on the fact they had a Swiss A340-300 skin, HB-JMK, which I’ve photographed flying over the house on more than a few occasions in years gone by, as they route overhead on their way from SFO or LAX to Zuhrich. I’ve also got models of two of her sisters HB-JMJ and JMG, so it was a wonderful idea to have piece of the real thing!
I emailed Ben Curtis at AMS and said I’d do a fuller review if he would send me some unopened, which I’d send back afterwards, but he kindly offered me any one of my choice gratis for the mention in this review – not something that happens often as model makers and sellers aren’t overly thrilled about my reviews in general!
Normally I wouldn’t go along with such sponsorship, but this isn’t a model, and its something that I think deserves much wider attention – I really do think that many of you would find these quite a fascinating way of owning something genuine, historic and attractive, limited in availability (as all good collectables should be), and potentially practical if you insist on using them for what they’re designed for!
So, in the space of a few days I’ve gone from one to six and I know full well this won’t be the last! I love them.
I chose the KLM blue 744 tag as my extra one. Aviation Tags operate a database of lost and founds – but I’m not sure I could bring myself to use it as a luggage tag. Scrub that, I KNOW I wouldn’t, the idea of loosing one would be too much!
The tags are genuine aluminium aircraft skin cut outs (which means they vary greatly in thickness and weight, but that’s half the charm and makes them unique), with an engraved and printed front and in Aviation Tag’s case a web address printed on the back for lost and found returns, but you do have to register it first. There seems to be a concerted effort to provide appropriate colours – the Virgin ones came in white or Virgin Atlantic red or purple. Lufthansa blue or white and so on. Some are one colour only.
The Swiss A340-300 one, 05501 of 20000, is excellent, every bit as good as I’d expect it to be. Plain white with grey engravings and a light green back.
The KLM one is KLM blue, and while it looks perfectly OK from a distance, the front finish on the blue looks like somebody used very sticky fingers, and it’s left marks that just won’t come off, and I’ve tried everything to remove them so that’s getting replaced. Some levels of hand-made authenticity you can do without.
There’s an extraordinary mix of aircraft types to choose from and the rarest ones can get very expensive. I spotted one for a piece of a B-1 Lancer at $125 on the PlaneTags site in the US. Then again they only had 1,000 pieces.
Aviation Tags in Europe, which you can buy from Aircraftmodelstore.co.uk, have AirFrance A340’s, 737,s A320’s and A321’s DC3’s, Fokker 50’s, DC-8’s and Piper PA 28’s, as well as one I must have from a Lockheed SuperConstellation – how can you not want a piece of that?
What I especially like about them is the screw lock mechanism if you do decide to use it. It’s incredibly strong, not easy to undo quickly, so unlikely to be stolen, but easy enough if you need to remove it yourself. It’s an excellent compromise. Both manufactures seem to have similar fixings.
So next question…do you take them out of the packaging or not? The ultimate collector conundrum!
Buy Aviation Tags from Aircraftmodelstore.co.uk
Buy Plane Tags from Planetags.com
Just remember that duty and charges are payable on imports over £35 in value from the US – thats 10% tariffs, plus 20% VAT on the retail and the tariff, plus Royal Mail’s Admin fee of £8. That’s payable after it arrives in the UK, they’ll make you go to a post office to pay it or do so online then you can arrange delivery or go and pick it up.
If you do have to get a refund of duty charged in error, it’s a complex form requiring all the original documents to be sent off, and takes 6 months to get just the duty and VAT back, The Royal Mail fee is non- refundable. Been there done that, worn the T-shirt!