On The Bench 221c: Richard Hopkins’ Refit Enterprise

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Seeing Star Trek: TMP in early 1980 as a wide-eyed eight year old really blew me away. Sure, even then, I knew the plot was a bit hokey, but seeing the Enterprise on a movie screen, looking big, beautiful, and, well, real, was an experience I’ll never forget. The spacedock sequence still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up every time.

The “refit” Enterprise has been my favourite sci-fi ship ever since, and while I’ve built a couple of AMT/Lesney/Ertl/etc kits over the years, the last one was well before I had access to the web, and the levels of photo reference we enjoy now, and I always wanted something that was big enough to get respectably close to the detail level of the shooting model, and really be imposing to look at, something that wasn’t possible with the AMT ship. The Northstar model was out of my reach financially, so needless to say, when I first read that Polar Lights were working on the 1/350 kit, I got very interested, and there was a fair bit of excitement when the courier arrived with a large box a couple of months ago.

When I got the major components out and taped them together, I knew there was the potential to make this the Enterprise I always wanted, and after a lot of thought and planning, I’ve finally got to the early stages of construction. My key aims for the build are:

External finish as per ST:TMP

Lighting fit as close to the shooting model as possible (including multiple circuits so it can be lit up sequentially, as per the movie)

Display on a single-point, ventrally mounted pillar that acts both as stand and wiring entry

Internal details – Shuttle bay, arboretum etc to be retained, accurised (officers lounge/rec room etc) and lit.

There are a few obvious difficulties here. There are plenty of photo resources of the model in its later ST:V and VI repaint, but much less of the infamous original job, but I’m scouring existing resources and trying to find out as much as I can, as well as sourcing potential suppliers for the sort of lacquers I think I’m going to need. The single-point stand would also be an issue given the size and weight of the model, and the desire to retain the internal detail in the sec. hull. As this posed a load of questions about structure and strength that would need to be addressed before the lighting could be designed, this is the first thing I’ve dealt with.

The weight of the kit out of the box is quite significant, even before lighting and paint, and I was conscious that some sort of strengthening would be needed in order for my aims regarding the finished model to be achievable. In particular the dorsal interconnect didn’t seem to be anywhere near strong enough to take the weight and torsional force of the primary hull without the additional support provided by the stock stand, while mounting the stand in my preferred location would be problematic due to the arboretum being present. The shooting model “cheats” a bit in this respect, I think, and doesn’t include a fully detailed arboretum, but I wanted this one to be as good as possible, and it seems a shame to drill a hole just to fit a through-mount stand.

It seemed that rather than try and reinforce the injection moulded parts on a piecemeal basis, the best approach would be to create a dedicated, subchassis that would fit snugly inside and be rigid enough to assume nearly all the structural loads, reducing the chance of the model either failing or, at least, distorting/drooping over the years I hope it’s going to be occupying pride of place on my shelf. Hell if it turns out like I want I may stick it in a show or two!

Coming up with the basic concept for the structure was simple enough, but soon got complicated by the need for the lighting to drop in around it, and for it all to go together as the kit is being assembled and painted, without the need to drill and re-fill holes for access to nuts and bolts.

As you can probably see from the pics, the materials used for the subchassis are carbon fibre and aluminium, for maximal strength to weight ratio. I’m lucky enough to have a small machine shop at home, so I can make the metal parts easily and quickly, and I managed to find a reasonably priced source for sheet carbon-fibre, keeping costs under control.

The resulting structure only weighs a few ounces, but is very strong (I can stand on parts of it!), and achieves pretty much all the goals set. The structure will be bonded into the mouldings, creating a rigid spine for the ship, and in many cases replacing adhesive, allowing the ship to be disassembled more easily and less destructively, should emergency surgery become necessary in future.

All the weight of the saucer is now directed through the dorsal strengthener (the dorsal mouldings, parts #19 and #20 are now basically “cosmetic” and non-loadbearing) into the engineering subchassis. The lower plate of the subchassis sits underneath the aboretum, and it’s to this that the stand will eventually be attached. After taking some time to work out the vertical, lateral and longitudinal levels on the ship, and designing the structure to suit, it should also take the hassle out of getting the saucer, dorsal and engineering section perfectly aligned during final assembly – it should all just bolt together square and true, in theory at least!

The presence of the substructure doesn’t prevent the model being assembled in conveniently sized modules and the major components can also be bolted together through existing seam lines and openings, no need to drill and fill additional access holes. The engineering hull is held together by two screws that fit through the top section, which are then concealed by the dorsal. The fixings for the dorsal are then concealed by the deflector dish assembly, so it all works out quite neat!

There’s still a bit of work to be done to the warp engine pylons. They need some internal reinforcement, and their joints into the engineering section need to be strengthened and linked through to the subchassis, which all needs to be done with a considerable amount of forethought as I’m gonna need to run a fair few wires thru to be able to do what I want with the lighting.

From there, I can get into designing and building the lighting fit in detail. Have already settled on cold cathode fluorescent tubes for the warp coils – with the inverter located in the secondary hull underneath the shuttlebay. Elsewhere, the presence of the shuttlebay and internal structures mean it’ll probably have to be Lightsheet for the bulk of the window illumination and LED’s for most of the remainder. Inverter(s) for the Lightsheet are initially planned to go in the saucer, unless balance proves an issue, in which case I’ll try them mounted in the stand.

Also trying to think of a way of getting the deflector dish to transition from that yellowish brown colour seen just after startup to the bright blue when it’s fully energized. Easy to do in theory with a couple of LED’s, but getting both of them to focus on the middle of the dish, and project a nice round circle of light, without the shadow of one LED polluting the output of the other is proving a little tricky. Still, where there’s a will, there’s a way, and the way could be with mirrors…

Richard Hopkins

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