China Modernises: CAAC Boeing 747SP-J6 N1304E by Skywings

Skywings have in 2017 expanded their interest in producing Chinese airliners using their own StartCollector mobile app (see Skywings Innovates – New Models and New App for further details). This has necessitated them moving away from only using Panda models moulds and towards JC Wings, who have moulds for types like the Hercules, 757-200, CRJ-900 and Boeing 747SP. So it is that recently both Skywings and JC Wings have released a trio of Chinese 747SPs, however which is best?

THE REAL THING

N1304E at SFO in 1981. From the FlickR account of Bob Garrard. Used with permission.

The seeds of reform in China’s civil aviation industry can be traced back to the years immediately following the death of Mao in 1976. Though the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) was by this time operating a mix of modern aircraft (including Boeing 707s, Hawker Siddeley Tridents, Ilyushin IL-62s and Vickers Viscounts) its fleet was primarily made up of obsolete Soviet types and the network and traffic numbers were both small.

On December 19, 1978 the CAAC took a step towards modernity by signing an agreement with Boeing for three new Boeing 747SPs. It was only the second order that China had made with Boeing and the first of the three aircraft, B-2442, entered service on April 2, 1980. They were configured with 30 First class and 261 Economy class seats. The initial service was between Beijing and Paris and I recall regularly seeing the SPs on the service to London Gatwick during the late 1980s.

The third aircraft delivered gained a US registration and entered service on September 23, 1980 as N1304E. This was due to a US government directive that needed to be complied with so that the aircraft could operate the first China-USA revenue services. This took place between Seattle and Shanghai on October 1, 1980 as part of a 6 flight sequence organized by General Motors.

This time N1304E is at LAX in October 1982. Photo by Aero Icarus from Wikipedia

By 1982 CAAC was showing interest in a 4th 747SP and it just so happened that Boeing had one available. Braniff had ordered a 4th 747SP of its own on July 24, 1979 but due to the airline’s terminal implosion it never took delivery and the aircraft had been in storage since its first flight in December 1980 as N1608B. It wasn’t until June 15, 1983 that it became the property of CAAC and also it kept an N registration being registered as N1301E.

Both N reg SPs did not gain a Chinese registration until January 1988 and soon after they were transferred to the new flag carrier Air China on July 1, 1988. N1304E became B-2452 and N1301E became B-2454.

Later in its career N1304E gained a white nosecone. At Paris in 1985. Photo by Michel Gilliand from Wikipedia

By 1988 airline reform was well underway in China. It was decided in 1984 that CAAC was to be split so that it would continue to exist as an administrative body, but no longer have control over direct airline operations. It would however retain responsibility for aviation safety, air traffic control, route entry, pricing levels and financial and safety controls on new entrants.  Its airline component was to be split into multiple separate carriers based upon the existing administrative regions.  Additionally other government departments, local authorities and businesses were able to start their own airlines and airports were gradually to be transferred to local authorities.

The former Beijing regional bureau became Air China and took over the majority of the widebody CAAC fleet including all the 747s. Despite delivery of new 747-400s, and briefly A340s the 747SPs continued in service until 1999 when they were replaced by new Boeing 777s. All four joined UT Finance Corp but only one saw much further service. This was B-2452, which after many years of storage eventually joined Pratt & Whitney Canada as an engine testbed aircraft in June 2009. She still serves with them, registered as C-FPAW.

Air China has of course gone on to become one of the world’s largest airlines but the beginning of this journey is marked in its history by the 747SP.

THE MODEL

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 MOULD

Gemini Jets and JC Wings have gone to a lot of trouble in recent years to improve a selection of old Gemini moulds so they can continue to be used after 2015. Sometimes, as with their DC-8, I wish they didn’t bother but sometimes it has really been worth it as with the 747SP. The original Gemini 747SP was not bad for its initial release date of 2000. It always had a good nose section and general fuselage shape. You could argue that the change in angle from radome to cockpit windows isn’t quite abrupt enough but it is still a good representation.

Aerials have been added and they are very nice

The updates Gemini and JC Wings have made to the mould have all been for the better (for full details see my 747SP Mould Review). The second seam at the horizontal stabilizers is gone and HF aerials have appeared at the wingtips. The undercarriage has been replaced with nicely detailed gear legs and rolling gear also. The latest modification has been the addition of aerials. Three of the actual four are present with just the smallest rear underside one missing. The aerials are well sized and add something extra to the model.

HF aerials have been added to the wingtips. They are maybe a little thick

Where the mould falls down is the same place as all Gemini/JC Wings 747s – the wing/engine join. The blocky clunky join of the engine pylon to the wing is all too obvious. To be honest the shape of the pylons isn’t very accurate anywhere and the engine nacelle maybe a tad small too. It is a shame but would probably require a completely new wing to fix and to be honest it doesn’t actually bother me that much.

The engine pylon join to the wing is not very nice but I can live with it

Being redesigned from an older mould this updated SP is also still a cradle mould and not a slot in wings effort. The seam is tight, fits the contours of the real thing and doesn’t concern me at all.

Even though this is not as good a mould as the, almost never used, Herpa 747SP it is still very good and I am only knocking a couple of marks off for the engine pylon/wing join.

SCORE – 8

PAINT & LIVERY

Air China basically inherited the old CAAC livery but with the new VIP bird logo on the tail. That gives their fleet a pleasing retro feel, which looks even better when the huge Communist Chinese flag resides on the tail. It’s a nice livery with some classy elements like the winged CAAC logo forward and the anti-glare shield ahead of the cockpit.

I should note that the JC Wings and Skywings CAAC 747SPs differ in this last point as JC Wings forgot to add the anti-glare shield to its release (for more on this see The Saga of the CAAC 747SPs). Skywings sent its models back to be fixed! Missing the shield is a major sin so it’s good to see Skywings attention to detail here.

Perhaps the stars on the tail flag are a little too small?

The colour of the CAAC blue used for the twin cheatline tends to vary impressively in different photos depending on the lighting. Gemini and JC usually take a lighter blue than Aeroclassics and it fits well within my expectations of the colour. The Red used for the national flag on the tail is fine also.

The cockpit anti-glare shield is a bit too rounded. Compare to the real thing photos above

The CAAC logo and titles are nicely done and the tail flag is placed well too. I do think the stars in the flag are slightly too small but it’s a minor point. The grey fuselage belly is fine also, which leaves just the anti-glare shield. Whilst I am very glad to have it present I do think it is slightly the wrong shape. From the side it does seem too rounded. On the real thing from the side view it forms a pointed triangle not a curve.

These criticisms of the livery are very minor and well within the realms of acceptability.

SCORE – 9

PRINTING & QUALITY CONTROL

Older aircraft tend to have less need for detailed printing and that is true to this 747SP as well; having said that the printing that is present covers everything and is well done. Features like pitot tubes, landing lights, the radome casing and doors are well rendered. The starboard side belly cargo hold doors are outlined in a very light grey that almost disappears with the medium grey belly but they are there. There are no printing defects or fingerprints.

Construction quality is also topnotch. Everything is well fitted and properly glued. There maybe slightly too much glue on the port horizontal stabilizer but you’ve got to be really looking to find it. The landing gear is nicely put together also and on all those tyres there is just one small tab. I should perhaps say that some of the tyres don’t roll well but frankly I don’t care. To take off any points for these small comments would be very harsh.

SCORE – 10

CONCLUSION

I was excited to see this model get announced and then upset when I heard of JC Wings mistake with the anti-glare shield. I am lucky that I was able to acquire this Skywings version instead of the JC Wings version, although I admit it wasn’t cheap. It is an excellent model and shows the value of having an engaged customer to keep the larger manufacturers in line.

FINAL SCORE – 27/30

1/400 Review Scoring Chart

2 Comments

  1. These 747SPs are a very welcome return of one variant of the Queen of the Skies to 1:400. I hope they are selling well, and that JC releases more. There are other Asian 747SP’s such as Korean and China Airlines that need to be redone on the improved mould, and JC should lend the mould over to Gemini to do North and South American SP’s that need to be redone, like TWA and Aerolineas Argentinas.

    Maybe JC should allow Skywings to handle their US sales so that we can get correctly-detailed models with glare shields, to! >:+(

    Jim

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