Made in China: China Northern McDonnell Douglas MD-90 B-2103 by JC Wings

Skywings have been making interesting and often historic Chinese airliners for a while now and have expanded their reach to use JC Wings moulds as well as those of Panda Models. Interestingly some of the Skywings releases on JC moulds have been released by both manufacturers (CAAC 757 and 747SP) whilst some have been only Skywings releases (China Express CRJ-900). This model was originally announced by Skywings but the box advertises it purely as a JC Wings release. I guess it doesn’t really matter who made it as a China Northern MD-90 has been on my want list for a long time and this model also represents an important milestone in Chinese civil airliner production.


B-2103 in 2003. Photo by Peter.Pan from

McDonnell Douglas never really recovered its strength following the DC-10 and even the apparently successful MD-80 series largely owed its success to American Airlines and a lack of competition. As soon as the 737 Classic series appeared, and later the A320, orders largely dried up. Limping somewhat into the 1990s the MD-90 was a lukewarm makeover of the MD-80, which never really troubled Boeing or Airbus. In fact Boeing successfully stole orders away from the MD-90, most notoriously Alaska Airlines switched from the MD-90 to the 737-400.

McDonnell Douglas had for several years been pouring money into the TrunkLiner programme with the Chinese government for very little reward. Initially it was expected that 40 MD-90s would be built under license in China. This was later cut to 20 to be built by Shanghai Aviation Industrial (SAIC). Following Boeing’s takeover of McDonnell Douglas the TrunkLiner programme was cancelled in August 1998 at the request of the Chinese Government and Aviation Industries of China (AVIC). Nonetheless construction of two MD-90-30Ts continued, albeit massively delayed.

Still in CN colours into 2004. Photo by nvgui from

They eventually saw the light of day in 2001 and were delivered in September as B-2100 and B-2103. The Chinese government initially allotted the pair to Shenzhen Airlines but that carrier had by this time become a staunch 737 operator and didn’t want the Douglas jets. In fact this is the story of the MD-80/90 in China. Whilst Douglas was working hard to curry favour with the Chinese government, and build the aircraft in China, Boeing simply stole in and sold US built 737-300s to almost all the Chinese airlines.

A home was instead found for the pair of MD-90s at China Northern, which along with China Eastern, were the only existing operators of the type. China Northern, one of the original six ex-CAAC divisions setup in the late 1980s, was one of the few Chinese airlines to not favour Boeing products, and already operated a fleet of 27 MD-80s and 11 MD-90s. Their last new MD-90 was previously accepted in March 1999 but the two extra frames slipped into the fleet with no hassles and far from being inferior to US made aircraft (one of the worries the Chinese airlines had) have had successful careers.

Looking bright and still in CN scheme in mid-2005. Photo by Xiao Min from

China Northern itself was, rather perversely given the names, merged into China Southern as part of the great state led consolidation of Chinese carriers in 2003. The entire fleet of MD-90s continued in service until 2011 when they were snapped up by Delta (B-2103 became N965DN) which nowadays operates just over half all the MD-90s that were built. Delta has had no issues with the pair of ‘Made in China’ MD-90s and indeed aside from that note on the safety cards there is no obvious difference between these frames and usual Long-Beach built MD-90s. Although both the TrunkLiner and MD-90 programme were both failures the aircraft they produced have turned out to be valuable money-makers in service and proven the concept that has been perfected by Airbus of assembly in China of Western airliners.


The format for my reviews is to split them into three key areas:

  • The mould of the aircraft
  • The paint and livery
  • Printing and quality control

Each can get a maximum score of 10 for a section giving a maximum combined total score of 30.


The MD-90’s ancestor the MD-80 has been treated very poorly in 1:400 scale whereas the MD-90 has had a decent selection of releases made for it given the small user base. This mould dates from 2008 but in many ways is superior to the much newer MD-80 that Gemini almost never uses.

Certainly it avoids the major issues with the front end that the newer MD-80 mould has. The shape of the nosecone is good and the nosegear positioned well; having said that the underside of the fuselage does seem to thicken towards the nosegear for some reason. It is only really noticeable from the side and not a major problem.

There is a tailtop seam but it doesn’t impact a very nice rear end

The rear of the mould is excellent with a nice tailcone (it could perhaps be a little squarer), good engines and a pleasant tail. There is a seam at the tailtop to allow the placement of the horizontal stabilisers for the T-tail but it isn’t too obvious.

This is also a cradle mount mould meaning there is also a seam around the wings, however it is so discrete you can only see it from underneath.

Initially the antennae look too large but they aren’t actually.

Relatively recently the mould has been fitted with antennae, which initially look too large. A look at the real thing however confirms that the antennae on the MD-90 are unusually tall and therefore those on the model are actually well sized and shaped. Plus all three antennae are present also.

This is a great mould and it is a shame that JC Wings could not simply modify it into an MD-80 rather than making a new inferior mould.



This scheme is right up there with the classic China Eastern and Southern liveries. Old fashioned? Nah – just classy

Chinese airlines have historically had very conservative liveries and it has only been recently that newer private airlines have adopted more modern and garish ones, whilst sadly the euro-white tendencies of many foreign airlines also appear to be seeping into China belatedly. China Northern had a particularly attractive and intricate scheme with a complex four colour (light blue, dark blue, white and red) cheatline along the entire aircraft’s length. On the tail was China Northern’s white bird logo in a blue roundel. The bird is so stylised I don’t think it can be identified as any in particular however the angular wings recall the tapering of the dark blue cheatline element near the nosecone.

The tail roundel may be just a tiny bit too large. Now that’s nitpicking!

The scheme is one of those where depending on lighting conditions the light blue colour appears either very bright or much drabber. Certainly this version of it is well within acceptable tolerances. The roundel on the tail is slightly too large, but not enough to cause any issues, and maybe the MD-90 titles on the engines are slightly too high.

Other details of the livery are excellent. The grey belly, the small black nosecone and the complicated titles (repeated on both sides of the wings) are faultless.

SCORE – 10


Printing quality is superb and there are no faults with the reproduction. It is perhaps true that the grey belly slight masks some of the underside detail, like the rear airstairs, but this is a minor concern. In terms of painting the only complaint is the overly silver colour of the fanblades of the engines, although the blades are mainly in shadow due to the rims.

The detail is there but sometimes a little obscured by the grey belly.

I am glad to say that there are no construction problems whatsoever. It is true that models made for Skywings anecdotally tend to have better QC but I would also say that JC Wings has improved over the past year.



China Northern was one of those important but nowadays almost unknown Chinese airlines that was destined to remain underrepresented in 1:400 since Aeroclassics doesn’t have any Mad Dog moulds. It is very pleasing to see Skywings interested in not only newer Chinese aircraft but also historic ones and great that they have been able to stimulate JC Wings into action. Even better this is a nicely made model that is more than a deserving addition to any fleet, just like the MD-90 itself is to Delta’s.


1/400 Review Scoring Chart