When Star Trek first appeared on TV in 1966, it gave viewers something new. The show's creator, Gene Roddenberry devised a Future History with a Universe populated by humans and alien races that traveled among the stars in spaceships unlike any seen before in TV or movies.

  Star Trek's heroes explored the galaxy aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise, a spaceship nearly a thousand feet long and carrying a crew of over 400. The look of the Enterprise was inspired by the flying saucer mythos of the 1940s and '50s, the rockets of America's nascent space program and the streamlined look of American car design in the 1960s.
    By mid-1967, Star Trek had been on TV for a full season. Though its ratings weren't the best, it was gaining a very loyal following. That same year saw the release of what may possibly be the best selling Sci-fi model kit of all time.
For an excellent article on the history of the AMT U.S.S. Enterprise kit, see "A History of the AMT Enterprise Model by Jay Chladek" on the CultTVMan website.
    AMT's Star Trek U.S.S. Enterprise model kit was BIG. The few space or sci-fi kits available in the day built up into models less than 10 inches long and usually sold for under a couple of dollars. This one was a massive 18" Long Assembled, included lights for the saucer and sold for a whopping $4.25!

   The kit sold too, not without the help of myself and a few of my friends. We all wanted to see who would be the first to have a finished model of the Enterprise.

    It was a fun, easy kit to build, even for an 11 year old kid. Without much in the way of modeling skills, I managed to slap the model together and successfully wire up the lights for the saucer domes. What little painting I did was guided entirely by the box art since my knowledge of the Enterprise would be based on seeing Star Trek on a 17 inch black and white TV. (The show was in syndication by the time I finally saw it on a color TV set in a local department store.)

   I proudly hung the finished model from my bedroom ceiling and couldn't wait to talk about it with my friends. Of course, I was the weird one. The other kids got bored with the kit long before finishing it. I was the geeky kid who thought building and painting scale models was cool and went on to build more stuff.

    Two years later at the age of 13, I was introduced to the world of Fourth of July fireworks. Having a fondness for high drama, I decided to combine this new interest with my other hobby and blow up many of the models I had so carefully assembled and painted, including the Enterprise. (Did you know that an "Ash-Can" was a perfect fit inside a warp engine nacelle? I'll bet you do!)

    In 1974, I was an 18 year old college freshman who hadn't built any models since the seventh grade. Scale Modeling was ignored as interests shifted to girls, cars and guitar playing. Star Trek was canceled five years earlier but was more popular than ever thanks to syndication and reruns.

   A friend from college was an avid fan of the show who had built the AMT kit but never painted it. I suggested that the model could look better with some color and offered to paint it for him. I bought a brush and a few of bottles of Testors Enamels from a local Toys 'R' Us and spent an evening painting some details onto the model. I was pretty happy with the way it came out. My friend was pleased enough that I was rewarded with an Enterprise kit of my own.

  Using what little modeling skills I had at the time and whatever resources were available or even known to me, I did my best to build and paint a Trek-worthy Enterprise, one more refined than my first build eight years earlier.

   References were few, limited to the book THE MAKING OF STAR TREK by Stephen E. Whitfield and Gene Roddenberry and reruns of the TV show. At least this time they were viewed on a color TV set. It took about a week to finish the model.

    The model which came to be known as the Star Drek Enterprise is mostly un-painted white plastic. All paint was brushed on by hand. Decals were applied directly to bare plastic without any overcoat, leading them to inevitably peel off. Extra windows and markings were painted or penciled on with a minimal attempt at accuracy. Part seams and gaps were not filled or blended and show themselves proudly.

   Not a Best in Show but given my skill level at the time and the resources that were available, I thought it came out really good. Years after building it, I still proudly display it alongside more recently built models.

   Building the Enterprise again re-kindled my interest in scale modeling. Over time, I was able to develop, expand and improve my modeling skills. In 1986, at the age of 30, those hobby skills became job skills.

    With dreams of building models for a Hollywood special-effects house, I became a professional Model Maker, using my skills to build prototypes for a manufacturer of retail store displays. Not glamorous but it was a steady, full-time job in a well equipped model shop and it gave me access to a wide selection of modeling tools and materials. I also had the good fortune to work with more experienced modelers who enjoyed sharing techniques and ideas.

    My work environment motivated me to take on a variety of modeling projects and to experiment beyond building model kits out of the box. I'd thought about building another Enterprise but was hesitant, knowing what I wanted to do if I got my hands on the AMT kit again. It was sure to turn into a bigger project than I was interested in taking on.

    At the November, 1988 exhibition of the Long Island Historical Miniatures Collectors' Society, I met Ed Dietrich. Ed brought photos of his model, the U.S.S. Lucifer, a modified AMT Enterprise. (By this time, AMT had been bought by the Ertl company which continued to sell most of AMT's kits under the AMT-Ertl label.)

   Trekkies, Trekkers and Trek-techies will recognize the Lucifer as the "Destroyer Type" variant on the design which had come to be known as the Constitution Class Starship, seen in Franz Joseph's book the STARFLEET TECHNICAL MANUAL. Ed did a "conversion" on the kit by relocating, replacing and modifying parts and added scratch-built details and custom made markings to create a great looking, one-of-a-kind starship.

Starship U.S.S. Lucifer photos used with permission

   The Lucifer was a perfect illustration of how with some work, the AMT Enterprise could be built up into a really good looking model. I was inspired and wanted to see what I could do with the kit.

   The project I wasn't ready to take on now seemed do-able. I wanted to re-work the kit to build a more accurate Enterprise and also add lights to it. All I had to do was get my hands on a kit (easy) and come up with a plan for how I was going to modify it and light it up (not so easy).

   To first get a good idea of what I wanted my Enterprise to look like, I went hunting for whatever research and references were available at the time. This included a road trip to Washington DC.

chapter 1
chapter 2
chapter 3
chapter 4
chapter 5
chapter 6
chapter 7
chapter 8
chapter 9
chapter 10