This Old Starship Kit

    The real Enterprise is an 11 foot, 2 inch long model made of wood, plastic and metal which was used to portray one of the Starfleet's finest ships on the 1960s TV show Star Trek. Built in 1964 and considered an icon by the show's fans, it is currently on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.
   When I was doing research for this project, good references for the big model were few and far between. One resource was Kalmbach Books' FAMOUS SPACESHIPS OF FACT AND FANTASY AND HOW TO MODEL THEM which has some photos of the model taken after it was acquired by the Smithsonian in the early 1970s. There is also some interesting info about the studio model and useful tips on building the AMT Enterprise, some of which were used for this project.
from The Making of Star Trek
Click for a larger image
    Most of the "blueprints" available, including those in Franz Joseph's STAR TREK BLUEPRINTS and his STARFLEET TECHNICAL MANUAL are inaccurate. They appear to more closely resemble a drawing, left, which was published in 1968 in THE MAKING OF STAR TREK. A few years later, AMT would put the same drawing on the side of the Enterprise kit's box.

    For a drawing that more accurately depicts the contours and details of the big model, look for the "Bonhomme Richard class" starship 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.

   As for actual pics of any fine detail on the Enterprise, most of the color stills that were found were simply screen shots photographed directly off of the TV which were never sharp enough for a good look at the model. 

   The best available photos at the time were from a series of black and white publicity stills taken during the show's production that showed the big model in great detail against a starry background. Prints of these photos were a rarity but could sometimes be found at Star Trek conventions and fan shops in the 1970s and '80s with an 8 x 10 print usually selling for $60 or more. Copies of these pictures showed up in books like THE MAKING OF STAR TREK and FAMOUS SPACESHIPS but were either printed poorly or just too small to be useful for research.

   Some resources weren't available until after I finished the Enterprise model. One was the February 1998 issue of FINE SCALE MODELER magazine in the article "Intergalactic Color and Camouflage: The Starship Enterprise". 
   "Intergalactic Color and Camouflage" was a play on the name a regular feature of the magazine, "International Color and Camouflage," which would showcase the correct color and markings of actual military vehicles. 

  In 1996, SCI-FI and FANTASY MODELS magazine ran an article which included color photos of the studio model taken during its 1991 restoration. More about that restoration in a later chapter.

  In the late '80s, home computers hadn't yet become commonplace and Internet Access was something that Al Gore and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency or DARPA had not yet made available to the general public. (We had cable TV, Compact Discs and drip coffeemakers - we weren't total barbarians!) Today, the Internet makes available many resources for model research. Without listing them all, some excellent websites are Starship Modeler, CultTVMan and Memory Alpha. These sites contain a good number of articles and have links to other websites that also offer a wealth of information on any topic Trek.

   In early 1989, I went to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. The Enterprise studio model was on display in a hallway at the entrance to an exhibit about the future of spaceflight and was one of the more popular attractions at the museum.

   Sadly, the big model was in poor condition. Some pieces were missing and there were visible water stains in some places. Some of the paint looked like it was wearing away. Most of the lights weren't working and the spinning effect of the Warp engines was replaced by some very sad looking blinking lights. Parts that were missing when the Smithsonian acquired the model were replaced with inaccurate replacements.

   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 nearby stairway directly in front of it. There was no way to get a good look at the model from above.

   This was still a better look at the Enterprise than anything else that was available at the time. I was able to take a few dozen pictures of the big model and 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