The beginnings of the 777 date back to the 1980s when Boeing started looking for an aircraft to compete with the DC-10 market. The 767 seemed like a good starting point, but to reach the same passenger capacity as the DC-10 the 767 would have to be stretched too much, so that idea was shelved. In the meantime, Airbus entered the fray with their medium-range A330 and long-range A340, while McDonnell Douglas answered back with the MD-11. Boeing took a second look at this market and decided to fight for its share in a unique way: by asking what the airlines wanted.
Building a team of eight major carriers, the initial consensus was a desire for a fuselage wider than either the MD-11 or the A340. Thus Boeing started with a fuselage that was 25 inches wider than the A340 and 7 inches wider than the MD-11, making it the first airliner to be designed specifically from the inside out. Boeing also departed from its traditional design practice by choosing a circular cross section instead of the double bubble cross section. During this study phase two engines showed themselves to be the best choice for cost and performance, and with this information in hand the Boeing Everett plant went to work.
Another innovation by Boeing was extensive ground-based testing of the plane systems. Basically Boeing wanted ETOPS (Extended-range Twin Operations) certification immediately after delivery rather than the usual long waiting period. The long tests on the ground, followed by an intense flight test program, resulted in quick ETOPS certification for all three engine types. The engine choices were also impressive, with Pratt & Whitney, General Electric and Rolls Royce all providing powerplants. The Pratt & Whitney PW4084 with its 112-inch diameter fan, selected by United, was the first engine flown, followed closely by the 123-inch diameter GE90 and the Trent 800. All put out an incredible amount of thrust and are capable of moving this big plane through the air with just one engine.
The first delivery took place in May of 1995 with United, operating on the London-Heathrow to Washington-Dulles route on June 7, 1995. The first GE-engined 777 went to British Airways in December of 1995, while the first Rolls Royce Trent-engined 777 went to Thai Airways International in March of 1996. Since then the 777 has been stretched, providing room for over 360 passengers, all of whom ride in comfort and style even in economy.
Minicraft's kit of the Boeing 777 is the second injection-molded 1/144 777 kit to come out and it is very welcome indeed. Having looked at the Doyusha kit (and with a $70 price tag, looking is all I'll ever do!), I can honestly say that the Minicraft kit is the best 1/144 injection-molded 777 kit on the market today. You get a total of seven sprues of white plastic and one clear piece, plus a nice decal sheet. The parts all have recessed panel lines and there's no flash present. Minicraft is planning on releasing all three engine choices, but in this kit you only get the Rolls Royce Trent 800 engines that fly on the American birds.
For those of you that are familiar with Minicraft's recent kits and were hoping that this would be tooled as nicely as the MD-80, I'm sorry but that isn't the case. In fact this kit looks more like the people who did the 707 kit. What that means is that the panel lines aren't as fine as they could be and the trailing edges of the wings & tailplanes will need to be thinned down, but these issues aren't that big of a deal and a bit of work in building it will take care of it. Of course, if you absolutely MUST havefinely recessed panel lines you can always shell out the bucks for the Doyusha kit, but....
Here's one area where the Minicraft kit shines. This model when built up will look like a 777. Where the Doyusha engines were toys, Minicraft has provided beautifully engineered power eggs. The front intake lips are molded separately as a single piece so there's no worrisome seam down the middle. The hot section is molded in with the pylon, giving a nice deep engine body inside the outer nacelle. The pylon assembly fits into a large notch in the wing, making it very easy to see where it goes. For the nitpicking beancounters: the fan blade count on the front is short by a couple fans. Noticable? Not really.
The undercarriage is hefty, but so's the real thing. There's several United 777s parked close to the fence at Paine Field (at least there were a few weeks ago), so I was able to look at the real gear up close and aside from having the in-between part of the oleo scissors filled the main gear looks to be quite accurate. If you've got a lot of time on your hands, though, you can keep busy superdetailing these struts. I'll post up some pictures of the 777 landing gear next month to give you an idea of all the plumbing required but let's just say it's substantial (and impossible to replicate in injection plastic, I might add).
The decals provide the American livery, resplendent in its polished metal fuselage and red/white/blue stripe. The instructions have you paint the fuselage silver and the wings & tail Boeing gray, but careful study of photos will reveal an interesting patchwork of gray painted composites, especially around the stabilizers & wing. Some careful masking and the use of Alclad II will result in an impressive finish. The decals are spot-on in terms of color and registration. The only complaint I have is that the window decals aren't separate from the cheatline, but I'm sure the aftermarket guys will cover this in the near future.
So what's the verdict? Well, while it does have its problems this kit is very buildable and will be a welcome addition to the airliner modeling world. I'm looking forward to the other releases with the Pratt & Whitney and General Electric engines, and I hope that Minicraft decides to come out with the stretched -300 variant as well. Even if they don't, though, it wouldn't be that tough to cut up a second kit and stretch it. With a price of around $25 it's much more affordable than the Doyusha kit, making that kind of conversion very viable. Now come on, decal companies, let's see some great liveries for this big kit!