This Old Starship Kit

    Built in 1964, the "real" Enterprise is an eleven foot, three and a half inch long TV prop made of plastic, wood and metal which portrayed the Starfleet's finest ship on the TV show Star Trek.  Considered an icon by the show's fans, it is the largest "miniature" ever constructed for a television show.
   When I started this modeling project in 1989, good references for the big studio model were few and far between and it would be a while before there would be such a thing as Internet Access. I wanted my finished model to more accurately resemble the real thing than the AMT kit built out of the box but researching the Enterprise turned out to be a challenge.

from The Making of Star Trek
Click for a larger image  
   The drawing on the left was published in 1968 in THE MAKING OF STAR TREK. Despite being innacurate to both the Enterprise studio model and the AMT model kit, Ertl put the drawing on the side of the model kit's box in the 1970s.

   This same drawing went on to inspire most of the blueprints that appeared later on,
from the drawings in Franz Joseph's popular STAR TREK BLUEPRINTS and STARFLEET TECHNICAL MANUAL to the schematic drawings that were included with Star Trek role-playing games.
    For a drawing that more accurately depicts the contours and details of the big model, I found the U.S.S. Essex (2257) in SHIPS of the STAR FLEET, Vol. One, a fan-published listing of Star Trek era vessels. The image below is modified from that drawing.

from Ships of the Star Fleet Vol. 1

   Reruns of Star Trek were not very useful references in the days of Standard Definition TV. At the time, the best video prints of Star Trek episodes were available on a "newly mastered" set of VHS tapes and Laser Discs. Even when viewed on a quality TV, it was still tough to make out a lot of details on the ship.

   Kalmbach Books' FAMOUS SPACESHIPS OF FACT AND FANTASY AND HOW TO MODEL THEM has black and white pics of the big Enterprise taken during production of the show and after Paramount Studios presented the model to the Smithsonian Institution. There is also some interesting info about the big model and useful tips on building the AMT Enterprise, some of which were used for this project.

   The best available photos at the time were from a series of black and white publicity stills taken during the show's production which showed the big model in great detail against a starry background. Prints of these photos were rare but could sometimes be found at Star Trek conventions and fan shops with an 8 x 10 print usually selling for $65 or more. Copies of these pictures showed up in books like THE MAKING OF STAR TREK and FAMOUS SPACESHIPS but in both cases were printed very small and not of much use for model research.

   Naturally, the best resource would be the Enterprise, itself.

   The Enterprise studio model can be seen at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. When I visited the Smithsonian in 1989, the big model was on display at the entrance to an exhibit about spaceflight in art, fiction and literature and was a popular attraction at the museum.

   The model was hung from the Museum's ceiling about 15 feet off the floor in a narrow hallway. The strange location and position limited the views to either directly underneath or from a small platform on a nearby stairway in front of it.

   Sadly, the 25 year old Enterprise model was in poor condition. The paint looked like it was wearing away in a few places and most of the lights were out. Replacements for parts that were damaged or missing when the Smithsonian acquired the model were inaccurate. The Enterprise looked less like the mighty starship seen on TV and more like the fragile, aging replica that it was.

   This was still a better look at the Enterprise than anything else that was available at the time. I must have taken over two dozen pictures of the big model and admittedly, having Trekkie tendencies, felt like I'd been photographing a major celebrity.

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