Jay Dennis’s Romulan Bird of Prey

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This is the AMT/Ertl Romulan Bird of Prey kit (#S957) produced in 1975.  I originally built this actual kit when I was a kid, but I kept it stored away all of these years with plans to rebuild it someday.  I wish I had taken pictures of how it looked before I started and some in-process photos to show the amount of change it has undergone.  Just trust me when I say it looked pretty awful.  It had at least two coats of old paint and the original “bird-of-prey” decal was long gone, but I had hand painted a bird-of-prey design on it many years ago.  Fortunately, my modeling skills have improved over the years and I have learned many tips and techniques from modeling web sites like this one to finally do the model justice.  I didn’t want to just rebuild and repaint the same old basic kit with all of its shortcomings, I also wanted to accurize it as much as I thought was reasonable to approach the look of the original studio model as well.   I did take a few liberties along the way for ease of build and just because I liked the way it looked.  Anyone familiar with the AMT kit as it compares to the studio model knows that it is quite inaccurate.  There is a vacuformed Romulan Bird-of-Prey kit made by Sci-Fi Miniatures that appears to be much more accurate, but the old AMT kit can be turned into a nice replica as well.

Section 1: Research and Model Preparation

I began by researching the web and looking through reference books I owned to get as many pictures of the studio model and as much other helpful information that I could find.  The actual studio model whereabouts isn’t known for certain, but it has been reported to be in the possession of a private collector.  Consequently, any studio model reference photos are quite rare.  Through my limited research, I was able to find enough information to get started.  Many photos and references can be found on the CultTVman and other web sites.

If you have this kit still unbuilt, you can skip down to the next section, but if you are refurbishing an already built kit, you may need to prepare it first.  For my model, I needed to remove as much of the old paint as I could.  I did this using “Easy-Off” oven cleaner.  I just sprayed it on and let it soak several hours, (a garage or similar isolated area is best to prevent the fumes from disturbing anyone) then washed the resulting sludge away with a garden hose.  I had to repeat this process a few times to get most of the paint off and I also used an old toothbrush to help scrub loosened paint away from the model’s nooks and crannies.  The oven cleaner also loosened many of the old glue joints which helped in the refurbishment process as well.  With the model now prepared for refinishing, I had to decide on how much accurizing I wanted to do.

Section 2: Accurizing Steps

The following is a list of inaccuracies that the AMT kit has compared to the studio model that I “fixed” and how I did it.  I don’t claim that it is complete and some of the kit inaccuracies can’t really be fixed short of some serious scratchbuilding, but I think my result is around 90% accurate to the studio model shape and look.

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1. Engine nacelle forward detail – This is an easy one.  The kit has a 3/4 sphere cap on the front of each engine and I replaced those with 0.5″ diameter hemisphere caps made from 0.5″ diameter wooden spheres bought at a craft store.  I sanded the wooden spheres down to hemisphere shapes with a moto-tool.  I used a moto-tool throughout this refurbishment process and I don’t know if I could have done it as easily without one

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2. Engine nacelle rear detail – Another easy one.  The kit’s engine exhaust caps where too short, so I replaced them with longer exhaust caps, fashioned with a moto- tool, from wooden dowel stock, also from a craft store.

3. Main hull sides – This was probably the most difficult part to modify, but it really wasn’t that hard.  The kit’s hull sides are vertical and the studio model’s hull sides angle outward from bottom to top at approximately 25-30 degrees.  .

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To achieve this, I glued strip styrene (0.040″ x 0.080″) onto the outer hull diameter in a stair-step pattern all the way around the hull edge (with the exception of where the wings attach to the hull).  For the top stair, I used three strips, for the next stair I used two strips, and then a single strip for the 3rd and 4th stair.  On top of this I added 0.020″ sheet styrene plating glued oversized and then trimmed to the desired shape after the glue had set (see the figure which simply shows a cross-section of the original vertical hull side, stair-stepped styrene strips (blue) and sheet styrene (green)).  If I were to do this over again, I’d probably start out with four strips and step down to three, then two, then one to get a more pronounced angle than what I achieved

This technique, with a little putty and sanding around the resulting new edges and surfaces gave a fairly close approximation to the hull angle I was looking for.  Note the step down from the original top hull edge and the new built up angled edge.  This recreates the studio model look as well and is simple enough to do by placing the top stack of stair steps about 0.020″ below the original hull corner.

4. Top superstructure height – Easy.  Using a moto-tool with a cutoff wheel, remove the upper hull superstructure by cutting on the vertical wall near the main hull deck, sand down the superstructure vertical edge a bit, and reattach after first completing step 5.

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Rear upper and lower hull shape – Easier than it looks.  The kit hull shape does not have the concave, triangular upper and lower rear fantails like the studio model.  The kit is convex shaped in those areas.  Most of the studio model reference pictures showed the bottom hull to have the concave shape, but I didn’t actually find any pictures that showed the upper hull also had this shape.  The Sci-Fi Miniatures kit is concave on top and bottom.  I decided to modify both the top and bottom of my AMT kit.

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This was actually pretty simple and merely required cutting the hull triangular portions away from both the bottom and top hull pieces (cut along the red lines in the diagrams) and flipping them over and reattaching them.  For the top hull, you’ll need to remove the superstructure piece first per note 4 and also cut along the back of the hull to remove the part.  A little styrene reinforcement on the inside hull surfaces (rectangular shapes) were required to give the reversed pieces a surface to glue to.  The final hull shape is shown below.

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6. Dorsal fin – Easy.  The kit dorsal fin is about twice as thick as it needs to be and if you modify the hull per steps 3 through 5, it needs to be reshaped anyway.  I just replaced it with 0.080″ styrene cut to the desired shape

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7. Plasma weapon emitter  – This requires a little scratchbuilding.  The AMT kit doesn’t come with this particular detail, but I was able to fashion one from some odd pieces from my parts box and some tube styrene.  I used pieces from a Revell USS Arizona battleship kit bridge/superstructure for the oval shaped piece and tube styrene for the details, but many different things could be used, I’m sure.

Section 3:  Finishing and Detail Painting

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Once the model is assembled, you are ready for the finishing work.  On my model, I filled the remaining seams, sanded and primed the kit.  Sanded some more, reprimed, then sanded some more.  I finally achieved the desired “seamless” look and then airbrush painted the whole model a light ghost gray.  I then gloss coated it with “Future” floor finish sprayed through an airbrush in several light coats until I achieved a good glossy surface for decal application.  I purchased the large bird-of-prey decal for the model from JTGraphics through the Federation Models web site .  Jeffrey Waclawski is the creator of this excellent aftermarket decal set.  He offers two versions of this decal set, the only difference between them being the number of pieces they are divided into.  I purchased set #1 which has the most divisions, consisting of six separate parts to the bird-of-prey decal.  He also offers a set of decals tailored to the Sci-Fi Miniatures kit which contains additional decal markings that aren’t on the AMT replacement decal sets.

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I added some of those additional detail markings with homemade decals to the top of the model (figures 4 & 9).  For the homemade decals, I used Deneba’s Canvas software to make the patterns and printed them off on JetCal decal paper using a color laser printer.  The studio model pictures I found only show that the dorsal fin markings  were definitely present, but I thought the additional markings on the top  wings and the rear of the top hull improved the looks of the model, so I added them.  I then sealed the decals by giving the model a Floquil flat clear coat and then lightly weather streaked the model front-to-back with a slightly darker gray than the hull color.  You may need to tone down the weathering a little by lightly airbrushing over the whole model with the base hull color again.  I figure the Bird-of-Prey is probably capable of atmospheric flight as well as flight through outer space, so the weathering would be appropriate

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(As a side note, the Sci-Fi Miniatures kit shows what looks like three landing pad/leg doors on the bottom of the hull, but I didn’t add those doors to my kit.  It would, however, make a nice diorama display showing the model with its landing gear deployed, but the bird-of-prey markings wouldn’t be as easily seen.)  The next step was to hand paint the engine front caps (hydrogen/Bussard collectors?) a gloss blue color, the engine exhausts aluminum or steel, and a few highlighting colors on the plasma weapon emitter.  .

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The window markings were made using black and yellow paint pens (figures 8-11).  Again, the reference photos I found showed the locations for the windows fairly well, but I took a few liberties here too

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Section 4: Displaying Your Model and Final Comments

The AMT kit came with a unique three-legged display stand, but I never liked it because it didn’t elevate the model so that you could easily see the bird-of-prey markings on the bottom of the model.

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I built a simple display stand using a wooden base from a craft store and a wooden dowel support.  Now I could angle the model nose upward to allow easier viewing of the underside as well as the topside.  During model assembly, I drilled a hole at the bottom rear of the model at the desired angle and used a styrene tube sleeve support for the stand’s wooden dowel to insert into.  This location doesn’t interfere with the large decal or the dorsal fin.

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I am pleased with the result and am very glad I kept my old AMT kit all of those years.  I’ve also got an old built up AMT K-7 Space Station model that’s begging for a similar refurbishment treatment, but that will be a future project.  Getting the AMT Romulan Bird of Prey kit today will probably cost you at least $100 if you can find one still in the box.  If you’ve still got an old kit leftover from many years ago, but its a stinker like mine was, you can transform it into something you’d be proud to display.  With the above-described simple modifications and a little imagination, you too can turn the old AMT bird into a close approximation to the actual studio model.

Jay Dennis
Additional References:

  • Star Trek: The Magazine, #4, August 1999.
  • Spaceships at the Final Frontier, Rick Jackson, Finescale Modeler publication, 2000.
  • Agatha Chamberlain’s Romulan Bird-of-Prey reference drawings available on CultTVman’s web site.
  • Star Trek Mechanics, Volume 4, 1999.
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