World Expo 2019: Air China Boeing 737-89L B-5497 by Panda Models

About the only ones who can withstand an opportunity for a special livery less than the Chinese airlines are the China based 1:400 scale model manufacturers so it is no surprise at all that hot on the heels of the unveiling of the new special livery for the Beijing Expo 2019 that they are falling all over each other to release representative models. As well as the A350s both JC Wings and Panda Models have announced the 737-800 version with the latter the first to market. It is a lovely scheme so let’s take a closer look at it.

THE REAL THING

Photo by Mar Chang from Airliners.net

What is Expo 2019? It is the upcoming Bureau International des Expositions horticultural show which is scheduled to take place in Beijing from April 29, 2019. It is far from first time it has been held in China with versions of it (there appear to be several types) held in Kunming in 1999, Shenyang in 2006 and Shanghai in 2010.

The expo will last for 162 days and feature exhibits from 97 countries such as the UK, Germany, Netherlands, Japan, India, Singapore and Thailand. As is normal for major Chinese events it obviously requires a gargantuan construction programme involving more than 4,000 construction workers to build the exhibition park.

Photo by Brian from Planespotters.net

As you’d expect the event sounds very harmonious:

“The Chinese government has carried out full deployment of the construction of ecological civilization from the strategic height of the Chinese nation’s sustainable development. The core of the “ecological civilization” concept is “harmony and coordinated development of man and nature” which embodies the new philosophy of respecting nature, conforming to nature and protecting nature. 

Holding the Expo via the medium of plants will raise the general public’s appreciation of gardening, boost international cultural exchanges, promote the connections between China and other countries and enhance mutual understanding and trust between China and the rest of the world.”

Isn’t that nice? From an aviation perspective the Chinese state’s no 1 ambassador for such things is Air China, which helpfully has its homebase at the Chinese capital too. They have accordingly unveiled not one but two special liveries to advertise the Expo and both are beauties. The main scheme is worn by one of the new A350s (to be registered B-1083) plus the 2009 build 737-800 B-5497. A slightly quieter but still very attractive flower scheme is worn by the 737-800 B-5425.

Photo by N509FZ from Wikipedia

The Chinese have a proven knack for delightful special schemes and these two join a lengthy back catalogue of attractive schemes worn by the Chinese majors. It makes me happy to collect modern Chinese airliners.

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

The next generation series of 737s has had a lot of action in 1:400 scale but on a series of dubious moulds each of which has some kind of pretty major flaw. In recent years JC Wings have improved their mould so that it easily beats the Phoenix version, however for me the best of the bunch is the Panda Models mould. Even so it is not perfect.

Pleasingly the nose region is good and in fact traces of angularity around the cockpit people have mentioned in the early releases appear to be gone. The nosegear is also good with a correctly angled, sized and shaped nosegear door. The tyre however is a weakness as it lacks the wheelhub although to its credit it is well sized.

Another area of strength is the wing, engine pylons and engines themselves. The ground clearance of the engines is good, which is a failing of the JC Wings / Gemini examples. The engine exhausts are a little long and the underside of the engines not flat enough but overall the central area of the model is very good as is the entire rest of the fuselage.

In fact, it is only the undercarriage that is a real weakness on the mould. The maingear tyres lack a distinct hub and the length and shape of the maingear doors is incorrect. The Panda 737NGs tend to sit a little nosedown also due to the nosegear not being quite long enough.

Overall some new undercarriage would do the mould the world of good but as it is it still out performs the existing competition.

SCORE – 8

PAINT & LIVERY

The Expo 2019 livery is a very attractive mix of colours combined with the usual combination of the Expo logo (a stylized flower) and a couple of ‘cute’ mascots – in this case a pair of cartoon children. All elements are present on the aircraft fuselage with the tail keeping the traditional Air China VIP Phoenix emblem. The central element of the livery is a large feathery style banner which begins on the forward fuselage and flows towards the tail. The colour transitions along its length make this a challenging scheme to reproduce.

I can’t complain about the placement of the livery components, they are all accurately spaced and located. Small details like the Star Alliance emblem, Expo logo and the cutesy children on the rear of the feathery banner are all good. The complicated shape of the banner itself is also good, all the more impressive since it doesn’t have simple straight edges.

The multiple colour shades (there are at least six) appear bright and in general fade into each other well as the banner progresses along the fuselage also. There are two areas where I think some improvement could be made albeit neither mar the model substantially. Firstly, there is way too much green present. On the real aircraft it doesn’t really begin until the p of Expo and looks like it finishes about halfway through the 0 of 2019. The model however has a too obvious green transition which is also too early (around the x of Expo). At the rear margin and the first pagoda on the model is almost totally green when it should be mainly blue.

The other minor inaccuracy is the strength of the upper light blue banner tip closest to the tail. On the real thing it is very lightly present, but on the model, it is too heavily defined, albeit in the correct colour.

I am perhaps being a little nitpicky with my criticism of what is a well-presented version of the scheme, however on a larger aircraft type I feel these issues would be magnified. It’ll be interesting to see how JC Wings and Aviation400 manage on their A350s wearing the same scheme.

SCORE – 8

PRINTING & QUALITY CONTROL

Panda have high quality printing and on this model this is most clearly seen near the tail. Blocked out windows and detail lines around the tail bumper look excellent. The model’s wings are correctly painted white with good quality emergency escape markings and pleasingly the engine fan blades are a nice dark shade of gun metal not bright silver or dark black.

There are no issues with printing errors or build.

SCORE – 10

CONCLUSION

Close to a third of my Chinese collection sport special colours of some kind and this scheme and model must rank up there as one of the most attractive of an impressive range of colourful liveries. With the arrival of so many 737 MAXs it is likely we will see a lot less NG releases in 1:400 however this model is a reminder of how many of them are flying and how important the type still is. I doubt we will see any new 737NG moulds anytime soon and so it is good that Panda continue to produce high quality NGs such as this one or I’d be forced to fall back on the inferior Phoenix offerings. I would suggest searching this version out if you too are looking for the Expo 2019 scheme on a narrowbody.

FINAL SCORE – 26

1/400 Review Scoring Chart

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