Big Bird 400 Your Craftsman
# OF MODELS MADE: 250+ USING BIG BIRD NAME
# OF MODELS MADE: 200+ USING AEROCLASSICS NAME
Big Bird, aka YourCraftsman400, was a major 1:400 scale manufacturer but one that was active for only a relatively short period. Nonetheless its impact on the hobby, especially among fans of Jumbos, has had lasting ramifications to the extent that its name is still regularly spoken of and its products highly sought after.
Big Bird 2002-2005
Big Bird was initially formed and owned by a Johnny Lo from Hong Kong. Believe it, or not, he started out selling sports shoes before moving to model aircraft and setting up the Aviation Center Hong Kong. From there he formed Big Bird, which joined Aeroclassics in 2002 at the Jinbo factory in Donguan, Guangdong.
Big Bird was active in both 1:500 and 1:400 scales, indeed they appear to have initially produced more 1:500s than the larger scale. They commissioned several 1:400 moulds from the factory. The four moulds that would form the backbone of Big Bird production were the:
- Boeing 767-300
- Boeing 747-100/200/SR
- Boeing 747-300
- Boeing 747-400
All the moulds were very impressive for the time and remain in 2020 as considered to be some of the best moulds of those types ever made. The 747s came with the nosegear detached to avoid breakages. Big Bird made no attempt to acquire licenses for production of their models and typically made relatively small runs of between 100 and 500 units per piece.
The models were very well received by collectors and very competitive against contemporary Dragon Wings and Gemini Jets Boeing 747s. They remain highly sought after today and Big Bird 747s continue in 2020 to generally be the most expensive models on the seconds market in 1:400 scale.
The models were also expensive compared with rival brands at the time, but this was offset by the quality of the moulds and explained in part by lower production numbers. That being said Big Bird were not immune to the usual sort of mistakes that all manufacturers have made with colours and details.
Initial 1:400 scale production began in 2002 with the Boeing 767-300 but overall, this mould only accounted for 31 Big Bird models. It was the 747s, that came online in 2003, that became the primary equipment of the brand and of which hundreds of variants would be produced.
Big Bird shared factory premises with Aeroclassics, and later Seattle Models (SMA), and there was an agreement between them to mould share. Aeroclassics actually made good usage of the 767-300 and would use the mould 22 times up to 2005 alone. SMA restricted itself to using the Big Bird 747 only once but Aeroclassics again was a major user of the 747 moulds, although in the 2003-2005 period only the 747-100/200.
Given both Big Bird and Aeroclassics often used unbranded boxes it is basically impossible to really tell the difference between a Big Bird release and an Aeroclassics one unless you are checking the database or the underside of the model as a logo printed. With the effective amalgamation of the two brands in 2005 it is rather academic anyway.
Aeroclassics Steps In
Despite the apparent success of the models and their frequent selling out at pre-order all was not well at Big Bird. In mid-2005 Johnny Lo vanished owing the Jinbo Factory a substantial amount of money. This marked the end of an independent Big Bird brand. From that point it was taken over by a figure known as ‘Kermit’. In reality what had actually happened was that Aeroclassics had taken over the brand itself and used Kermit as a frontman. The identity of this Kermit figure remains a mystery.
Effectively from this period onwards Big Bird became a sub-brand of Aeroclassics. Big Bird production continued and the price of the models was decreased, but releases focused more exclusively on airlines which took their licensing seriously, such as British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Lufthansa and Qantas. Correspondingly usage of the 747 and 767 moulds by Aeroclassics for its own models increased substantially.
Big Bird was also used for a small number of releases on the Aeroclassics Airbus A300 and Douglas DC-8-61/62 moulds – mainly for releases featuring Japan Air Lines or its logo, which again was almost certainly due to licensing issues. The 5 Japanese A300s marked the only time that an Airbus product was produced under the Big Bird name. As late as 2008 a couple of All Nippon 747s were produced, which were probably held over 2007 production since by this time Aeroclassics had lost access to the moulds.
When Aeroclassics moved from the Jinbo factory in 2007, due to disagreements with the expanded set of characters involved in the factory, it lost access to the 747 and 767-300 moulds, which were still owned by the factory. This cut off Aeroclassics use of the moulds but also the creation of future Big Birds. The name henceforth ceased to be used, at least legitimately.
Fake Big Birds and Big Bird Mk2
Towards late 2005 it seems Johnny Lo came back onto the scene. He had reverse engineered the original 747 moulds (still owned by the Jinbo factory) and effectively recreated Big Bird as a brand elsewhere. The mould was largely indistinguishable from the originals but these became known rather ironically as Fake Big Birds. Aside from the boxes used it was almost impossible to distinguish between them. Production appears to have continued into 2006 and perhaps 2007.
To further complicate things during 2006 another brand appeared known as Big Bird Mk2. These appeared to use another copy of the Big Bird 747s although these renditions were not as good as what had come before. This brand appears to have been linked to Johan Chan and Jimmy Wu who were the principles behind Blue Box models and various other mystery brands.
Over this period there was a proliferation of mystery brands usually selling Boeing 747s, many of which appear to have connections with Johan Chan also. Brands in this mystery meat space included C&C, Magic Models, Sky400 and Net Models. The quality of these models was highly variable and many have not aged well at all.
Gradually the mystery brands disappeared and Johan Chan’s business consolidated into what is today JC Wings, however the 2005-2008 period makes it quite difficult to determine what is and isn’t an official Big Bird release. Sometimes this doesn’t matter much as many of the Fake Big Birds appear as good as the originals.
Since Big Bird models were produced in the Jinbo factory during the period 2002-2004 they have not been immune to issues of zinc rot. Some models have also suffered from bubbling on the fuselage and wing surfaces. Ironically if anything this has only made the surviving models more desirable due to their rarity. For more on Zinc rot and the Big Bird models affected see:
Post 2008 Usage Of The Name
The old Big Bird moulds moved into usage by Witty Wings and its various sub-brands (especially Apollo) and so in many ways the direct ancestor of Big Bird is these brands, which will be discussed under their own pages.
It is also worth mentioning that in December 2014 a new Big Bird appeared (generally known as Big Bird Mk3). They operated out of the JC Wings factory, which by then owned the original Big Bird moulds following their purchase of all the Witty Wings moulds. I have written about the brand here:
Despite initially producing some promising models in the end they made only a few releases spread over the years 2014-2018. The Big Bird moulds have however seen further use as of July 2020 when Aeroclassics once again got access to the 747-100/200 for a limited number of new releases.
The history of Big Bird is somewhat complicated but from a collector’s point of view at the time whomever was behind the brand was producing a best in class stream of Boeing 747s that have rarely been beaten since. There are many fakes and competitor brands most of which have produced decent but inferior 747s. As for Johnny Lo, apparently, he opened a coffee shop in Dongguan and avoided paying the money he owed to the Jinbo factory.