1:400 History Pt3: 2008-2014
If the previous 7 years between 2001 and 2008 had seen expansion of 400 scale and brand proliferation the next six year period, from 2008 until 2014, would see a contraction and consolidation in the scale. How much of this was due to the impact of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) is hard to say but certainly the emergence of the JC Wings brand did much to reduce the number of mystery brands in production. Another factor was the end of the majority of the first round of retailer related sub-brands most of which appeared and disappeared between 2003 and 2007.
Below: A timeline of 1:400 scale brands and manufacturers from 2008-2014. Colours are used to illustrate general associations:
By 2008 the previous big three major 400 scale brands (Aeroclassics, Dragon Wings and Gemini Jets) had been joined by Phoenix Models but not all would survive the next six years as major 400 scale brands.
Aeroclassics in its Prime
Following the Zinc Rot scandal and its fallout with Witty Industrial, the owners of the Jinbo factory, Aeroclassics had shifted to a new production facility at Aoxiang in Qingyuan, Guangdong. This looks like it was a good move for Aeroclassics as during this period their brand went from strength to strength, producing an impressive range of largely classic airliners on a rapidly expanding mould catalogue. The quality of the moulds being produced was excellent and during this short period Aeroclassics produced over 1,500 separate releases.
Below: A random selection of Aeroclassics from the 2008-2014 time range illustrating the impressive diversity of airlines and moulds available to Aeroclassics during this period.
Aeroclassics also expanded in 2009 into modern airliners with its Baby Bus range of A320 series aircraft, followed up in 2011 with its Big Bus range of A330/A340s. Once again these moulds were top of the range and better than the majority of the alternatives available at the time. Aeroclassics began to embrace some of the innovation coming into the hobby, like rolling gears, but actively avoided some of the other aspects, such as aerials.
The End of Dragon
Although Dragon Wings continued to make civil airliners for the whole of the 2008-2014 time period 2014 was the last year that they seem to have made any. In truth they had become irrelevent in the scale, in terms of new production, years earlier. Standard releases continued into 2012 but after that it looks like only Airbus house colours models were made.
Dragon had not improved its models in any real way since it started production and despite having seamless moulds the plastic components, simple undercarriage and low detail printing could not compete with newer brands and innovations. Although missed by many by 2014 their model style was obsolete.
A New Age at Gemini
With competition from the likes of Seattle Models Co squashed, a strong manufacturing partnership with Phoenix established and strong business relationships with corporate clients Gemini came into 2008 seemingly in a strong position and was at this point undoubtedly the most important 400 scale brand.
I admit to not knowing the details but I believe the GFC hit Gemini especially hard, probably due to the drop in corporate sales, and put an end to the large production runs that had been common before it. Previous to 2008 runs would often be in the 1500-2000 range but after that time the run numbers dropped and began to not be publicised. Instead models were now made only in 'limited' numbers.
Below: A selection of Gemini releases from this period using their classic moulds (note several have been updated with rolling gear)
It also seems around this time that Gemini changed factories, although it may have been a gradual shift. They had been using the Phoenix production facility and benefitting a little from new Phoenix moulds. For example in 2008 they used the awful new Phoenix 747-400 to make a Qantas example (GJQFA859) but the next year they had reverted back to their old seamed version when they made another Qantas 747-400 (GJQFA926).
Gemini moved its production to the factories of Johan Chan, the man behind the new JC Wings brand, and together they created a new line of 400 scale models covering some interesting moulds such as the 2008 made Bristol Britannia 100/300, BAC One-eleven 200 and 500 and 2009 Ilyushin IL-86. I tend to think these moulds were JC Wings and used by Gemini so I will cover them under the JC Wings section. Certainly JC Wings had access to a wider range of smaller regional type airliners significantly expanding the releases possibilities for Gemini.
Below: A selection of Gemini releases from the period using moulds either developed with or borrowed from JC Wings
Gemini's split with Phoenix doesn't seem to have been one that involved acrimony as even during the period when they had moved to JC Wings they still used some Phoenix moulds - most obviously the 767-300 between 2011 and 2015 when they needed a version with winglets. A similar story exists with the 787-8, which used the Phoenix mould into 2014 before a reversion back to the old seamed Gemini mould. Of course it is possible that these models were made years before their release and sat in a warehouse for years, which may account for the moulds appearing out of sequence with events.
Below: Both of these 767s, GJDAL1346 from 2013 and GJUAL1396 from 2014 still used the excellent Phoenix 767-300 mould
Despite these changes and the gradual adoption of aerials from 2014 this is the period where I would say that Gemini began to fall behind the competition. The majority of their mould catalogue for popular types (737, 747, 757, 777, 787, A330, A340, A380) used old moulds that dated from well before 2008 and although updated with rolling gears could rarely compete with newer moulds being offered by Aeroclassics, Phoenix and Witty Wings.
Worse it is becoming clear that Gemini had a problem with Zinc rot during this period. A depressingly large number of standard Gemini releases between 2010 and 2014 are beginning to show issues.
The transition to JC Wings meant that Gemini were completely dependent on JC's mould production and arguably Gemini has not made a new mould purely for its own use since before 2010. Certainly JC Wings own mould production has improved substantially in recent years but they have not always seemed to share the new moulds immediately with Gemini and in this 2008-2014 period much of JC's own mould production was focused on smaller types.
Another change noticeable during this period and perhaps a response to the GFC was a change in releases away from classics and more focused on modern airliners, especially from a core of US and European airlines, presumably as a result of corporate deals and improved sales volumes for these types. The diversity of releases didn't quite match that from Gemini's earlier years. Despite this Gemini survived the 2008-2014 period still as one of the most successful and important 400 scale manufacturers so whatever criticism you can level at them they navigated what appears a challenging time and came out the other side strongly.
By 2008 Phoenix had grown into one of the major players in 400 scale. In that year they made 77 models, which wasn't dramatically less than Gemini did. They had undoubtedly benefitted from using the same production facility as Gemini Jets, and had access to many of the Gemini moulds (A320s, 737s, 757s, 767s, MD-11s etc), but had also built up their own mould catalogue impressively, if not always successfully.
Phoenix Models output was mainly of Asian airliners but, at least in these earlier years. they also included a nice array of European, Australasian and Russian airlines, albeit ones that didn't compete with Gemini. The total lack of North American airlines was no doubt down to a non-compete clause with Gemini.
Below: Many releases from the 2008-2010 period continued to use old Gemini moulds - sometimes updated slightly with new gear (like the SF 737-400 and China Southwest 757)
In terms of mould production they were making new slot in wing, not cradle mount, moulds with rolling gears and has been since before 2008. In 2006 for example they debuted their seamless rolling gear Boeing 787-8 and in 2007 their similarly equipped Airbus A380. Both of these moulds were very well recieved and the A380, at least, continued to be a gold standard for the type until 2023, when the AV400 mould was released.
Above & Below: Phoenix began to produce its own moulds as replacements for Gemini versions such as the 737-900 (above) and 737-800 (below)
During this period they were quite prolific although not all moulds were fantastic. Some moulds were excellent (Airbus A330 (2010), Airbus A340-600 (2010), Boeing 777-200/300 (2007), Ilyushin IL-96 (2012)), some ordinary (Airbus A320 (2013), Boeing 737-800 (2011), Boeing 787-8 (2006)) and some decidely awful (Airbus A300 (2008), Boeing 747-200/300/400 (2007)).
For reasons that remain unclear Gemini moved its production out of the Phoenix facility sometime in the 2008/2009 sort of region and gradually their usage of older Gemini moulds tailed off to be replaced largely with their own mould versions. They did however keep hold of some Gemini moulds (whether these are copies or blanks provided by Gemini I don't know) and updated them with rolling gears although not always successfully. Moulds to get this treatment included the MD-11 and less impressively the 757-200.
Below: 21 random Phoenix releases from this period. Note that some have acquired aerials. Also note some of the sloppy cockpit printing on the 737s.
Even some of the old TucanoLine moulds got upgraded (MD-80, TU-154) but the majority of Phoenix production was by 2014 of modern Asian twinjets. In general this was an excellent period for Phoenix, which changed from something of a leper to being one of the top brands in 400 scale.
During this period Phoenix showed an innovative spirit and appear to have been the first manufacturer to introduce aerials and domes onto their models as additional components. It looks like the first aerials appeared in 2013, possibly on the new A320 moulds, and they were quickly fitted to the remainder of the Phoenix catalogue.
This lead would be followed in 2014/2015 by everyone else making 400 scale, at least on their narrowbody and widebody jets, except for Aeroclassics and their sub-brands. Andrew Klein, the owner of Aeroclassics, has gone on record many times as saying he believes they are an out of scale gimmick and eyesore in 400 scale that makes the aircraft look unrealistic.
Although they have added complexity and more quality control issues the market has clearly spoken and many collectors will nowadays not buy models that don't feature aerials. Some of the early Phoenix aerials were a little mis-shapen, and Gemini Jets / JC Wings aerials are often a little large, but in general aerials have improved 400 scale. Newer brands have elevated their accuracy considerably and they are here to stay.
Aviation400 to Witty Wings / Apollo
As related in part 2 the story of the first Aviation400 and the subsequent Witty Wings and Apollo brands stems from the fallout of the departure of Aeroclassics from the Jinbo factory in 2007. The Aeroclassics departure led to the establishment of the new brand Aviation400 (not associated with the modern Aviation400) using a combination of updated versions of the Aeroclassics / Big Bird 707, 747s and 767-300s, downscaled Inflight200 moulds (737, DC-10s) and new moulds (A320s, L-1011s).
Aviation400 lasted from 2007-2010 and produced a rather eclectic range of often obscure models. Their disappearance in 2010 suggests financial trouble at the parent Witty Industrial. They reappeard as Inflight400 briefly in 2012 before rebranding as two lines - Witty Wings and Apollo Models.
These last incarnations used many of the Aviation400 moulds but also showed an impressive capability to produce new moulds of high quality. In the short period between 2012 and 2014 they created excellent new moulds for the Airbus A380, Boeing 777-200/300 and the Boeing 787-8. They were also the first brand to introduce another new innovative feature - see through engines with individual fan blades.
Unfortunately just as they appeared to be gaining traction and making models that could compete against Gemini and Phoenix they went bankrupt in 2014. Their assets were hoovered up by Johan Chan who was strenghtening his position in the 400 scale world with his own brand.
Jet-X Phase Two
Brian Wiklem's Jet-X, which had grown into a major brand by partnering with Dragon Wings (see Part 1 and 2), amicably split from Dragon as they explored making their own moulds. This resulted in 2006 to the debut of a new series of 400 scale British Aerospace 146 family aircraft that would be used heavily over the next four years.
The new moulds were made in partnership with Jimmy Wu's Blue Box brand and also meant Jet-X was able to use the Blue Box Tristar. Sometime in 2006/2007 Brian sold Jet-X to Jimmy Wu and he gradually merged his own Blue Box brand into it with Jet-X as the surviving name.
The number of available moulds expanded rapidly and the number of models being released grew accordingly, making the new Jet-X a major player. This didn't last long however as the rise of Johan Chan's own JC Wings from 2008 (Johan was seemingly a partner in Blue Box and the new Jet-X) saw the older brands fall out of favour. The Jet-X brand name was last used in 2012 and its assets taken over fully by JC Wings.
This period started with at least 15 brands active in 400 scale and ended with only 7. This is all the more remarkable when you consider that Herpa and Hogan barely made any models in the period but are included in the 7 survivors. A major driver in this was the consolidation of JC Wings but financial factors also played a key role.
Below: Once again I should mention Herpa were still about in 1:400 Scale. Although they sometimes produced great models like this Tu-144 they made very few releases and still concentrated on 1:200 and 1:500 scale.
The loss of so many brands does however appear to have left a gap in the market and from 2015 new challengers would begin to appear some of whom have shown the capability to strongly challenge the status quo. We will look at those newcomers and how the old guard has fared into the present day in part 4.