Black Hawk: Pan Am Lockheed L-1011 Tristar 500 N511PA by Gemini Jets

I try not to review truly bad models often. Why? Well I have to pay for them for starters and then I have to dispose of them afterwards. Occasionally though I feel that I must acquire and review certain models, either because they are subjects I care about, or because they have a relevance to the rest of the collectorate; The new Gemini Jets Tristar 500 is one of the latter.

Gemini announced a new Tristar 500 in November and predictably have made United and Pan Am examples so far. At the time I wrote about this and I wasn’t convinced it wasn’t just a spoiler for the upcoming NG Models Tristars – see Cynical Spoiler or Great Tristar: Gemini’s 500. That doesn’t really matter as long as Gemini have done a good job. The typical Gemini release photos make it very hard to tell much about a model but gradually better photos began filtering out and it was clear they had not. Nonetheless people don’t like it when I write about a model without first hand experience of it so let’s see whether my first inclinations are accurate or not.


Perry Hoppe [GFDL 1.2 ( or GFDL 1.2 (]

Pan Am’s acquisition of 12 Lockheed Tristar 500s in 1978 came off the back of something all to rare in the airline’s last 25 years – it making money! The airline had almost been killed by the costs of acquiring huge numbers of 747s, the 747’s early teething troubles, economic recession, the effects of the oil crisis and the general disfavour towards it in political circles. In December 1971 the ex-Air Force General William T. Seawell was installed as the new chairman and CEO, but by 1975 Pan Am was on the edge of bankruptcy.

Somehow by 1976 Pan Am had begun to sort itself out, temporarily at least, and by the end of that year it somehow made a profit of nearly $100 million. This was partly due to economic recovery and partly due to cost-cutting at the airline. The profits continued into 1977 and 1978 and suddenly the airline could look at acquiring new aircraft again. It needed long haul aircraft that offered lower capacity to its 747-100s so it could right size itself on routes like Madrid, Nice and Hamburg. The decision made was to acquire 12 new Lockheed Tristar 500s – the rather desperately shortened version of the standard Tristar that gave it comparable range to the competing DC-10-30. In hindsight further 747SPs would have perhaps made more sense since Pan Am already operated the type.

Photo by Kjell Nilsson from

The first Tristar 500, N503PA, arrived on August 8, 1980 and the last, N514PA, had joined by mid-December 1981. Unfortunately, by then Pan Am was back in trouble. By 1978 the vicious cuts to the network made by Seawell had meant Pan Am only had 7.5% of the international market from the USA (compared to 20% in the 1950s). Competition was everywhere and the CAB and Washington still had a marked distaste for Pan Am. Worse the airline had suicidally acquired National Airlines at an inflated cost and was choking on trying to merge it into itself. In 1980 Pan Am lost $248 million, followed by another $115 million in the first quarter of 1981.

Even with Seawell gone by 1982 Pan Am went from crisis to crisis and the great firesale of assets continued. This included the almost new Tristar 500s. At the end of 1984 three were sold to the Royal Air Force and three more were sold to Delta. It wasn’t enough and the April 1985 sale of the entire Pacific network to United for $750 million included 18 aircraft, six of which were the remaining Tristars. It was a crippling blow to the airline, representing about a quarter of the network and one of the only profitable areas. Pan Am simply had no choice.

Photo by Kambui from

The Tristars, including N511PA, joined United but only served with them for a few years before being sold, mainly to Delta. This aircraft, former Clipper Black Hawk, didn’t go to Delta and instead joined LTU as D-AERV in April 1989. Sold in 1994 she was converted to a private jet for the Saudi Royal Family and registered as VP-CGF.


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.


This new mould appeared very suddenly at the end of 2018 and if you were being pessimistic you would have thought it was rushed out to head off the forthcoming NG Models Tristar 500. This may or may not be the case but if it is not then there is absolutely no excuse for it being as poor as it is. This may technically be a Tristar but it bears little resemblance to any Tristar that ever existed in real life.

Gemini once had an old Tristar 500 mould but this was used only a few times way back in 1999 and is hopelessly outdated. It doesn’t seem like they have re-engineered the old mould but instead they look like they have taken the decent Witty Tristar 1 mould and created a shortened version of this. The Witty mould is now part of the JC Wings / Gemini Jets stable and has recently been used for several JC Wings releases, sadly with awful rolling gears. Using it as the basis for a Tristar 500 mould is an appalling mis-step if, like Gemini, you have paid absolutely no attention to the design of a Tristar 500.

The Tristar 500 isn’t just a short standard Tristar. These are the differences:

  • A decrease in length by just under 4 metres
  • A redesigned and shorter forward and rear wing fairing where it meets the fuselage
  • An increased wingspan (by an extra 3 metres) at the tip.
  • The different middle engine / fuselage connector (shared with the L-1011-200)

Aside from the length Gemini have got everything else wrong! The wings are too short at the wingtips and match those of a standard Tristar. The wing attachment fairing ahead of the wing is the incorrect longer form of a standard Tristar (Gemini add insult to injury by printing the correct rounded outline in grey over the wrong shaped fairing). Lastly the new updated Tristar 500 central engine intake fillet is the wrong shape. On the model it is convex when it should be concave.

The issues continue at the nose. It is a little too long and not rounded enough, although with the awfulness of the cockpit printing (discussed later) it is hard to tell whether my opinion is unfairly impacted by the windows. The undercarriage is also still too short by a significant margin and the poor look of the model from the side is further aided by the wings. From the top they look ok but from the front and side they clearly are way too level. The wings should angle upwards but on the model at about the point the engines attach they change angle, with the result that the wingtips are way too low.

The maingear undercarriage is poorly designed with the gearleg and geardoors effectively one piece. I have the 1999 Dragon Wings Pan Am Tristar 500 and it is no exaggeration to say that that 20-year-old model is light years better than this. Dragon has the correct length wings, well angled wings, the correct fuselage fairing, better maingear detailing, a better nose and better undercarriage height. How can this Gemini mould be so bad given it is new and it is 2019?

In several respects the new mould is worse than the original 1999 Gemini Jets model too:

I can go on and on about this mould, for example they haven’t bothered putting an engine fan inside the number two engine (just like on the Gemini MD-11). Yes, it has aerials and the tail is well-shaped (as is the central engine exhaust) but frankly so much is wrong I am staggered. I thought the Phoenix 747s were bad but even if I only subtract a single point for the most grievous errors this mould is easily the worst I have ever reviewed.



The Tristar 500s were delivered in the 1976 short titles, slanted flag cheatline version of the classic globe colours, and looked pretty damn good in it too. This model however doesn’t wear the livery very well as it has been poorly applied. There is nothing wrong with the tail, which wears the slanted US flag and globe logo well. The flag is a tiny bit too far backwards but it is a tiny distance out.

Unlike the tail, the fuselage is a real mess mainly because, as with the United Airlines release, Gemini have printed the entire livery too high. There should be no clear line of silver belly above the wing and in fact it should be cut in two by the painted grey wing/fuselage fairing. It is not on the model and is therefore about 1 mm too high. It doesn’t sound like much but it sure makes a difference.

The grey belly is too high and so is the cheatline

Due to the printing height the cheatline meets the cockpit and horizontal stabilisers too high and the details in the doors are too close to the cheatline and squashed in. There is also a quite obvious over print line where the white paint beneath the cheatline has been overprinted onto the silver base. This creates a rather obvious line along the white, which shouldn’t be present.


At the front the black nosecone is too large by a smidgen. My last point of criticism is the main fuselage PAN AM titles. They aren’t dreadful but the shape of the inserts for the P and As are not quite correct. On the plus side the Clipper name and outlining around the horizontal stabs are very good. The sloppiness of the livery application on this model assists in the generally odd look it has.



No maingear doors

You can say a lot about Gemini but the printing on their models is usually a strongpoint. Printing on this model is up to the usual standard aside from two glaring problems. Firstly, the main undercarriage doors are absent (the bottom of the model is actually quite bare). That isn’t such a problem. The second issue is much more troublesome and that is the cockpit windows.

The cockpit windows on a Tristar are large and tall but on the Gemini version they are the wrong shape and not high enough either. The JC Wings Tristars also had this problem but not as badly as here. It really damages the model’s appearance and is one of the largest issues that make this Tristar look like some chimaera of different aircraft bolted together.

Just to add to the overall naffness of this release the quality of the build is poor as well. This is yet another model with a loose wing (in this case the starboard one). It easily comes right off, but at least does so without damage and reattaches quite firmly. Worse are the horizontal stabilisers, neither of which have a tight fit to the fuselage and although both are glued firmly there is a clear gap for nearly half their length.



This model is a shambles all across the board and I don’t know what Gemini think they are doing putting out such releases. I am not Gemini’s biggest fan, I admit it, but I try to be fair in my reviews and this model has very little to recommend it. This is all the more galling as I see Gemini has produced a 1:200 version of this model which looks pretty decent. Certainly, it has the essential characters of a Tristar 500 in place, with good cockpit windows and they’ve printed the livery correctly. Despite their PR machine saying that they are not trying to gazump NG Models, by pushing out these far from adequate competing models in advance, the argument is surely hardly convincing anyone when the models are so rushed and so poor.


1 Comment

  1. This is worse than I imagined! Thanks for all the gorely details Richard and your honest reviews count for a lot. Perhaps this is Gemini’s ‘comeuppance’ for trying to stop dealers selling NG models? Now I will await the ‘better’ Pan Am TriStar.

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