Aviation in Russia is nowadays a lot more businesslike than it was during the 1990s and early 2000s; in part due to the regular financial crises the country’s economy undergoes, but also due to interference from the Russian government. Rossiya has been one of the major beneficiaries of recent events and with its growth into large widebodies comes a new commitment to conservation of Russian big cats. That has given Gemini Jets the opportunity to try their hand at a wonderful special scheme and a wonderful standard livery, which combines together on the ‘Queen of the Skies’.
THE REAL THING
Rossiya began life as the 235th Independent Air Detachment, operating for the Soviet Federal Government, with many of its fleet in VIP configuration. In 1993 the 235th IAD was renamed as Rossiya – Russia State Transport and 5 years later it actually began operating airline services as well as its original government role. Originally it operated mainly from Moscow Vnukovo but in 2006 it tookover St Petersburg based Pulkovo and grew in size substantially. In the past decade there has been a lot of state interference in Russian aviation, protecting and strengthening Aeroflot; so it was little surprise that in 2010 Rossiya officially became part of the Aeroflot group. Since then Rossiya has merged with two other Aeroflot subsidiaries, Orenair and Donavia, to form Aeroflot’s St Petersburg domestic scheduled and Russia wide charter arm. Rossiya benefited substantially from the collapse of Transaero in October 2015 and now operates 59 aircraft many of which (737s, 747s and 777s) were formerly with Transaero.
In June 2015 Transaero unveiled the result of its collaboration with the Amur Tiger Centre with a special livery applied to one of its Boeing 747-400s (EI-XLN). Following Transaero’s bankruptcy seeing as Rossiya acquired a good chunk of their fleet it seems only fitting that they also took over the collaboration too. It really shouldn’t be a surprise since the Amur Tiger Centre was founded by Vladimir Putin! In September 2016 Rossiya’s 6th 747-400 (EI-XLD) was rolled out wearing a similar Tiger scheme and nicknamed ‘Tigrolyot’. She was painted up at Alitalia’s maintenance facility in Rome. The aircraft seats 522 with 12 in business class and 510 in economy. Since then, just this month in fact, she has been joined by a former Transaero 777-300 (EI-UNP) wearing a similar Amur Leopard livery.
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 total maximum score of 30.
With the purchase of Witty’s moulds JC Wings (who manufacture Gemini jets) now have the two best 747-400 moulds available at the current time in 1/400 scale. Unfortunately they appear to much prefer to use the old Gemini Jets 747-400 rather than the superior ex-Witty/BigBird mould. It’s not ideal but it’s also not the end of the world and this old Gemini mould knocks the spots off of the lump of excrement that Phoenix believe is a 747-400. Anyway rather than comparing this mould to the others let’s look at it on its own.
Gemini’s old 747 moulds have been around since nearly the start of 1/400 production and they are solid and reliable. In recent years they have been upgraded with new undercarriage and now antenna too. The tail, rear fuselage and wings are well done. The age of the mould shows rather with the cumbersome engine pylon/wing join, this is a well known ‘feature’ of these Gemini 747s. I can live with it, whilst the cradle wing/fuselage join is tastefully done. The mould would be improved if it were seamless and had better pylons but given its age it seems silly to moan too much about it.
The nose of the mould is probably its weakest point for me but even here it is still pretty good. I think it’s a bit too pointy but it still looks like a 747, whilst the addition of modern landing gear and aerials (2 above below at the front plus one tiny one just before the tail) has done the mould wonders.
So it’s not as good as the BigBird 747s, but little is and this Gemini version does have aerials.
SCORE – 8
PAINT & LIVERY
In July 1997 Rossiya began painting its fleet in a standard livery for the first time. This scheme was predominantly grey and in fact gained the nickname ‘abominable grey’ amongst Russian spotters. I have to admit although it was unusual it did not look particularly nice, especially on Western types. Fortunately the new combined Rossiya (incorporating Orenair, Donavia and a good chunk of Transaero) was in line for a rebrand and in April 2016 their first ex-Transaero 747-400 (EI-XLE) was delivered wearing the new livery. It is a wonderful scheme based on aircraft contrails, made up of a series of red and white chevrons that change shape and blend into each other towards the rear of the aircraft. The airline also has a new R logo which features an aircraft at its top side.
EI-XLD of course features the Tiger scheme too, however this isn’t exactly the same as was on the Transaero Tiger 747 – in fact in detail it’s quite different. On that plane the Amur Tiger Centre logo was just aft of the cockpit, however on XLD it is near the end of the hump with the Tiger now having ears added where the logo used to be. The Rossiya scheme is also a lot more complex around the muzzle and the black lines are more vertical. There’s no denying that the special scheme is an outstanding feat of work, although the Tiger only really looks like a Tiger from the front of the aircraft. So the package of a great base livery with a great special scheme on the awesome 747-400 should make a spectacular model – how have Gemini done with it?
Looking at the standard livery and they’ve done an ok but not perfect job. The base colour of the new Rossiya scheme is an off-white/light grey. Quite often it’s hard to see because the aircraft are photographed in overcast conditions, however with this livery elements of the tiger face are pure white so it’s more obvious. I think Gemini have got this ok although the grey isn’t quite as dark as it ought to be. I’m not totally sure about the red colour Gemini has used either. In photos the red seems a bright scarlet and on the Gemini release it is more matt and darker.
This is a really complex livery and you’d have to be mad to try and count the chevrons/triangles. Even so it’s fairly clear on really close inspection that they have too many triangles around the rear door and horizontal stabilizers. It’s like the designer has got carried away and added some extras in! I’m also not convinced that the red majority part of the vertical stabilizer finishes high enough. These issues may be caused by the mould itself – it’s hard to tell. Even so these discrepancies are not really obvious and most of the scheme is well applied. The red engines, R logo on winglets, main titles (Russian on port, English on starboard) and aircraft name (Yuzhno Sakhalinsk – all Rossiya 747s are named after cities) are all correct.
Moving onto the Tiger elements and the Amur Tiger Centre logo and titles are fine. Looking at the Tiger face and the printing quality is excellent. This is superhard to get exactly like the real thing especially as the 747 mould isn’t perfect around the nose. I think Gemini have done well, although if you look really close the markings around the ear aren’t strong enough, the large cheek stripe is too simple, the muzzle too high and stripes down from the eye too strong. For me the worst part is that the animal’s eyes are too slitty; having said all that I don’t want to sound like I’m unhappy with the representation. In general it looks good. Nose on is the real test and from the front the eyes don’t look quite correct and you can’t see the white whiskers well. There was plenty of room for Gemini to make a real hash of this complex livery and they haven’t done that.
I have to knock off a few points for the colours and imperfections with the scheme, around the horizontal stabilizers and Tiger eyes, but let’s face it Gemini have done well with one of, if not, the most complex liveries in existence. This Tiger does look very good and it’ll be interesting to see how JC Wings compares with their upcoming Rossiya Leopard 777.
SCORE – 8
PRINTING & QUALITY CONTROL
With such a complex scheme it is imperative that the quality is there and I am relieved to say it very much is. In fact it is so good I’m struggling to find any printing issues at all. The detail of printing is exquisite including tiny text elements like the city name, Boeing 747-400 titles and ‘cut here in emergency panels’ – great work. If there is criticism it is probably to be found on the wings. The silver wing leading edge should be grey and I note that other Rossiya 747s have the registration on the wingtop. Does this one too? I’m not sure as I can’t find any photos of that part of the wingtop. I’ll give Gemini the benefit of the doubt especially seeing as they have added the wingtop black stripe, which this aircraft has and other Rossiya 747s sometimes do not.
In terms of the manufacturing of the model, it is near perfect. I can’t find any faults that I care about. Initially I thought it didn’t have rolling gears but it turns out that one does in fact roll so I can only assume that the others are supposed to as well. Rolling gears are a constant source of issues with models and in my opinion they are nothing but trouble and add very little. I guess I should take a point off for the non-rolling gears but otherwise this model would get top marks in the printing and quality area.
SCORE – 9
This is a very hard model to pull off and perhaps because of that I’m being a bit soft on it. Even so it simply is a good model. Slightly modify the colours, make the Tiger eye bigger and change the wing pylon join and it’d be near perfect. As it is it is a very nice addition to any collection and should see the Phoenix Rossiya 747-400 reduced to scrap. In fact it’d be nice if Gemini released a standard livery version of the model, but as this is Gemini they won’t. Anyway even if you are allergic to cat hair and hate Putin you should still go get this 🙂
FINAL SCORE – 25/30