This Old Starship Kit

    The real Enterprise is an 11 foot, 2 inch long TV prop made of plastic, wood and metal which portrayed one of the Starfleet's finest ships on the 1960s TV show Star Trek. Built in 1964, it's the largest prop ever constructed for a television show. Considered an icon by the show's fans, the Enterprise is on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.
   When I started this modeling project in 1989, good references for the big 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 closely resemble the studio model than the 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
    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, Ertl would put the same drawing on the side of the kit's box.

    For a drawing that more accurately depicts the contours and details of the big model, I found 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.
   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 the Smithsonian acquired the model. 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 that 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.

   In early 1989, I visited the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. The Enterprise studio model was on display at the entrance to an exhibit about spaceflight in fiction and literature and was one of the more popular attractions 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. Some of the paint looked like it was wearing away and there were visible water stains in some places. Replacements for parts that were damaged or missing when the Smithsonian acquired the model were inaccurate. (The "Main Sensor" dish looked like it may have been pilfered from some other unfortunate model.) Most of the big model's lights were not working.

   This was still a better look at the Enterprise than anything else that was available at the time. I must have taken over a 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