I thought that 2018 had been a good year but 2019 proved just as good, if not better, mainly I admit once again due to the impact of NG Models. Then again, it hasn’t all been roses as arguably the legacy manufacturers have continued to struggle against the new players (not just NG, but also Aviation400 and to a lesser extent Panda) and a couple of smaller brands seem to have gone by the wayside. Of the exiting brands HYJLwings made great models and admittedly it has more been subsumed within NG Models, for all intents and purposes, rather than gone out of existence. The other departee, seemingly, is Retro Models who managed only a single release on their new Tupolev Tu-104 mould. The mould itself was great but the business relationship between Retro Models and Inflight (who made the models) clearly was a disaster. It seems that the whole thing has died, which is a shame. On the bright side there will supposedly be at least two new Russian moulds out this year – one from Panda and one from NG Models.
Above: I really hope we see some more models on this very nice Retro Models Tupolev Tu-104 mould
Below: The HYJLwings A321 is now being used by NG Models. Sad to see HYJLwings exit but glad NG will use the moulds
This past year I reviewed 48 models and as usual I have tried to represent the release market as best as I can. This isn’t always easy since I buy the models I review. Frankly, I am less than impressed with most of Phoenix Models output and largely disinterested with most of what Gemini Jets produce. With the former it is the case nowadays that almost everything they do is done better by someone else, and with the latter Gemini’s models just rarely fit my collection criteria. Even so here is what I reviewed by manufacturer:
In terms of scoring as you hopefully know I review models in three scored categories:
- 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 total score then falls somewhere in the following range:
The overall scores for 2019 actually show a minor decline from 2018 in the case of the mould (down 0.4) and the overall average (down 0.2) but an improvement in terms of paint (up 0.3) and print/quality (up 0.1). I’m not sure these minor changes mean anything, especially when literally hundreds of 1:400s were produced and I reviewed only 48 so take them as you will. Only one model scored less than 20 but five others, all from different manufacturers, scored between 20 and 22. Eleven models fell into the 23-25 range leaving a commendable 31 models to hit the heights of the 26-30 range.
Above: Big Bird Mk3 are largely an irrelevance and neither of the models they managed to finally put out this year were great sadly
In terms of why I review the models I do, as well as being ones I want in my collection, and being from a range of manufacturers, I also strive to achieve a range of aircraft moulds and livery types. There’s little point in me reviewing the same mould tens of times but obviously this can also limit the veracity of the scores. Nonetheless, I think that looking at each of the manufacturers, where I have reviewed more than 2 models, there is some wisdom that can be gleaned.
Above: Phoenix releases are lazy, boring and far too often poorly put together like this 777.
What follows is 2019 rundown from the 6 qualifying manufacturers (where I’ve reviewed more than 2 models) from worst to best. It may seem odd that Phoenix doesn’t make the grade and I know many people still swear by them, but really why? Their models are ordinary at best most of the time, rarely original and aside from the A380 there are better moulds across the board from others. The two I did get this year failed to impress me.
Gemini Jets = 23.40 (last year 25.20)
Above: The BA 100 year series. Much better than Phoenix’ efforts, but that’s not hard.
Without Phoenix to prop up the table it is Gemini that end up on the lowest rung of the ladder. Last year they actually did very well, but this year’s score sits right next to the 2017 score of 23.44. That original low score came from reviewing a whopping 18 models, while last year’s high score came from reviewing only 5. So what is the difference this year? Partly it is due to the Pan Am Tristar 500 I reviewed dragging the score down. The other models I reviewed were pretty decent – three scored 26 each and the fourth 23. So this average score may seem ungenerous to some. I think overall 23.4 is a fairly accurate representation of what Gemini are offering. What is that? An ordinary set of releases on ordinary moulds with pretty good printing, but often pretty bad quality. That’s just my opinion I guess, and Gemini are capable of hitting it out the park at times. Those times are just not as frequent as the price of the models suggests they ought to be.
Above: Not my favourite model of the year, but actually somehow better than the Lockness Tristar 500!
Below: Much better. Lovely little muscle machine 580
Positives from Gemini this year has been a small move back towards a more diverse release set, using some of their (and JC Wings’) vast mould back catalogue. Although the moulds are rarely spectacular it is great to see the odd Convair 580, Ilyushin IL-62, McDonnell Douglas MD-80 and the like amongst the sea of 777s and A320s. Negatives for Gemini this year must surely be their failure to stop the encroachment of NG Models, Aviation400 and even Panda onto their turf. The impact of these manufacturers trying out modern US aircraft and European majors, like Lufthansa, must be painful for Gemini to swallow. Even so, their negative is a positive for the collector, as on the whole Gemini still have a selection of moulds that are sometimes inferior even to their stablemate JC Wings (hello 777s and 787s).
Above: Great to see the IL-62 back in use, although the earlier scheme would have been nicer
Hopefully 2020 will continue to see the odd retro model and greater access to JC Wings newer moulds. There are certainly signs that the latter is occurring as they already have access to JC’s improved A350 and the new 777-9. I don’t wish Gemini ill and I hope they can do better in 2020.
Aeroclassics = 24.80 (last year 24.3)
Above: Aeroclassics are still the only company making propliners at all regularly and they generally do a fine job. This DC-6 was a gem.
It has been a rather turbulent year for Aeroclassics, I would say, and yet they have actually improved their average over 2018. As with Gemini the average doesn’t tell the whole story as my detailed reviews skipped entirely over the Lockness Tristar moulds. Why did I do that? Well frankly I don’t need the stress and it is water under the bridge now, especially as Aeroclassics appear to have accepted that they don’t compete with the NG Tristars and understand also that they have a strong mould back catalogue crying out for more use. In fact, the Tristars aside the trend for Aeroclassics has been for them to return to well loved and respected moulds (such as the DC-9, DC-10, 707-320 and 737-200). So if this is the legacy of the Tristar mis-step then it is a good one. Aeroclassics release sets are always exciting and in general made up of excellent choices, with something for almost everyone.
Above and below: Great moulds and great choices but not always great printing or research. Sloppy livery application cost both of these, otherwise high scoring, models points.
Despite this it is still not all good news for Aeroclassics. Even ignoring the L-1011s the newer moulds aren’t as strong as their predecessors and where they compete with others (like the 737 MAX-8) they are usually inferior. The average score for the paint (i.e. livery reproduction) has also gone down by 0.3, which is a reflection of poor research and avoidable mistakes in pre-production and production. Aeroclassics also still often gets the colours too dark. On the plus side the printing quality and quality control has improved by an impressive 1.07. I don’t want to get too excited with this as December’s releases alone had multiple models with wonky tail printing, but it is a step in the right direction.
Above: The AC MAX is not a great mould but Aeroclassics do at least use it to make a more interesting range of airliners than anybody else does.
Below: The 767-200 has been a success and some of the models, like this VARIG, have been very nice.
Somewhat surprisingly of the ten models I reviewed only one reached the dizzying heights of 28/30 (this was the Northwest DC-6B). Four others got to 26 but there were also two 23s and a single 21. Aeroclassics remain for me of great importance, but innovative and stretching to be the best they are not, at least not often enough. Into 2020 I hope to see more of the excellent moulds they have to use and perhaps a return of some older moulds that haven’t been seen in many years.
JC Wings = 25.40 (last year 26.75)
Above: JC Wings’ new moulds are usually excellent and their A330-900 is particularly good
2019 was very much like 2018 for JC Wings and I could probably just recycle the text I used last year. They continue to infuriate collectors with their release announcements, which invite pre-orders but then take 6 months or more to arrive to market. They also continue to build some lovely new moulds, at least when it comes to widebodies, but also are taking eons with the new 747-400, which if they are not careful will end up being released after an NG 747-400 (NG have not announced they will even make one but the JC mould’s gestation has been so extreme that you have to think they have paused working on it). Their annual average has actually gone down from last year despite me continuing to avoid most of the moulds I don’t rate (like the A320 series, which does actually seem to have been improved and I should check out again this year).
Above: Their 747-8i is also very good
Below: Their A330ceos are the weakest in 1:400
Individually their mould score has gone down by 0.5, mainly because I don’t rate their A330, but their livery recreation has gone up by 0.5. Printing quality is still good but a couple of sloppy efforts drag it down by 0.1. Despite these small fluctuations I still believe JC Wings are in good health and are in a much stronger position to compete against NG Models, Aviation400 and Panda than Phoenix or Gemini are. The latest new moulds, for the A330neo and 777-9, are excellent and they still command a huge mould back catalogue on which to slip out interesting unusual models from time to time (something Phoenix never does). Plus of the big 4 legacy manufacturers they have the best printing.
Above: JC Wings to sometimes use their big mould catalogue, whicn includes the old Witty moulds, to release models like this 707.
Below: Presumably the new 747-400 mould will be released at some point. Until then we have to accept the older 747-400s. Still a million miles better than Phoenix!
I’m sure 2020 will see a good chunk of the 2019 announcements eventually hit the shelves as well as the usual selection of new livery/aircraft combo releases, competing strongly with Phoenix. Even so they do need to check to make sure that their quality remains high as only one of the ten 2019 models I reviewed scored 28 and oddly that was a 767. Three others scored 27 and one a 26, but there was also a 22 at the lower end of things.
Aviation400 = 26.00 (last year 26.7)
AV400 have built on a solid initial year and with new 777-300 and A350-1000 moulds they are really beginning to compete with JC Wings, Gemini Jets and Phoenix. I haven’t actually reviewed a 777 of theirs since like JC Wings their release announcements pre-date the actual releases by sometimes months and months. The only 777s to market so far are China Airlines ones and they are nowhere near my collection criteria. I have reviewed an A350-1000 though and it was as good as the A350-900, which is generally considered to be best of breed for the type.
Above: Great A350s.
Below: Ordinary A330s.
I am less impressed by the A330s, which is what drags the average score down a bit. They also have not been immune to livery mistakes, although the models I have reviewed have not featured them. With NG Models creating a new A350 it will be interesting to see how AV400 respond, as A350s still make up the lion’s share of their release set at present. Having said that I think Phoenix has far more to worry about from an NG A350 than Aviation400 does.
Panda Models = 26.75 (last year 27.25)
Above: Love them or hate them as a brand the models on their own are very good
2019 was something of an odd year for Panda Models. On the one hand they have become more mainstream, having begun to participate on the forums and gaining resellers in the USA, but on the other hand some of their behaviour is a little odd and they have released a lot less models than they previously did. This has had almost no impact on the quality of the models and in fact their mould average is up by 0.5 and paint average up by 0.25. Their quality average is down by a massive 1.25 but with only four reviews one poor model will have a major impact.
Despite the loss of access to the ARJ21 and Y-20 moulds they still have a very good, albeit limited, catalogue to choose from. They have also introduced new moulds in 2019 in the form of a 737-600 and A321, both of which have been rather under-used. I also found their retirement of their 737-800 a little odd and can only read it as a direct response to NG Models new 737-800. They have moved towards a more international market with their livery choices and I admit that doesn’t really suit me since I relied on them for Chinese narrowbodies (a market rather poorly tended to in 2019, especially when I won’t buy the JC A320).
I’m not too confident about where they are going in 2020. They are producing a 737-400, a new 737-800 and apparently a Russian type as well, but the poor usage of the 737-600 and 737-300 doesn’t necessarily convince me that they will actually use any new moulds as much as they should. Regardless they remain a strong contender for quality models.
NG Models = 28.50 (last year 28.4)
This will hardly come as a surprise to anybody. NG Models have gone from strength to strength and seem hellbent on dominating this scale. Not only do they produce top quality models but they are making lots of them and commissioning new moulds with some abandon. If they keep up this pressure I’m not sure I see Phoenix surviving, and I expect Gemini and JC to suffer some hardship. This year NG Models has added to its portfolio of 1:400 scale moulds with the Airbus Beluga XL, Boeing 787-10 plus Lockheed L-1011 Tristar 1, 200 and 500. They have also gained access to the ARJ21 and Y-20 and now also have taken over HYJLwings Airbus A321. On the horizon to come are the Boeing 747SP, 757-300 and Airbus A350-900 at least.
NG Models also continue to be a pleasure to communicate with, although understandably they do seem rather overwhelmed with the sheer volume of requests and the expectation levels that their arrival and openness has brought. I can understand that and people should really scale back the more outrageous requests for new moulds. They have tried their best to modify moulds and releases when issues have been raised. This hasn’t always been to the mould’s advantage (the 787-9 has suffered a little here) but is a commendable attitude.
There is no real questioning that their entire mould catalogue is best in show. Only the JC Wings 787-9 competes on the same playing field as any of their existing moulds. Even better their livery research and printing quality is impeccable and of the highest standard. I’m not sure how they have managed to be this good from the off but they have kept it up all year, with only rare slippages. Certainly their models review almost too well. Of the ten I have reviewed the lowest score received was 27! It is an amazing effort from them yet again.
Quite obviously NG Models are once again the manufacturer of the year in 1:400 scale.
As for model of the year I am only selecting from the models I have reviewed. Seventeen of the forty eight models reviewed scored 28 or above and ten of those were from NG Models. It stands to reason that one of those has to receive the top prize of model of the year since they were the only models to score top marks. Bringing up the rear for the other manufacturers of the reviewed models the following four are the best in class:
- Northwest Orient Douglas DC-6B N573 (Aeroclassics)
- Jet2 Boeing 737-300 G-CELS (Panda Models)
- Cathay Pacific Airbus A350-1041 B-LXI (Aviation400)
- PLAAF Boeing 767-300 B-4025 (JC Wings)
That leaves a long list of NG Models to choose the winner from. I really appreciated the Qantas ‘Yananyi Dreaming’ 737-800 and the China Southern and Aeromexico ‘Quetzalcoatl’ 787s, but for me the new Tristar moulds have been a revelation, just as the 757s were last year, and therefore it must be to one of these that the prize is given. I literally only just reviewed the British Airways L-1011 last week and so instead I will give the model of the year to the first NG Tristar release I reviewed back in August – that of Hawaiian Airlines. I have collected the majority of the NG Tristars to date and so far I think most would score near top marks.
2019 Reviewed Model of the Year: Hawaiian Airlines Lockheed L-1011 Tristar N765BE
Thank you to all readers. I hope to continue reviewing into 2020, which is gearing up to be another superb year in the scale.