The USS Enterprise (Refit) from Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Build Log:  Part 13

Well, it’s been a while, but I’ve got a few things done in the time since I last updated here.  I had almost begun on the secondary hull, but found a few things that needed handling before that was done up, so I put that part on hold until my next installment.  Instead, I did work on the neck and the O-Lounge, so let’s get to them!

The Officer’s Lounge

This room featured in the original Motion Picture as a meeting room where Kirk, McCoy, and Spock discussed the incoming V’Ger threat.  It didn’t feature in the Wrath of Khan at all, and in fact this room was replaced in the 1701-A ship with an Officer’s Mess (which was

Notice the colors of the uniforms, walls, and chairs. From a long distance we have to be able to give these impressions.

used in Undiscovered Country to host the diplomatic dinner with the Klingon Chancellor).  There is a 3rd-party piece available for the Officer’s Mess, but I’m building a non-A version about the time frame of Wrath of Khan, so I stuck with the stock O-Lounge part.



Left – the part before paint; Right – after soaking in an acetone bath. Good if I was going for an “Alien” Gieger look, but not so hot for Star Trek.

Initially I primed up the O-Lounge with a grey that turned out both too dark and too thick, it smothered the detail I wanted.  I should have known better than to go directly to this paint, as I’d got it from a craft store and had never used it on a model before.

My second big error:  when trying to strip the paint off, I soaked the part in acetone.  Very poor choice, as acetone will slowly melt polystyrene.  The bath pretty much wrecked the part (and in my search for a replacement that’s where I discovered that Don’s Light and Magic offers the O-Mess part).  Thankfully, I was able to secure a replacement of the original part through the kindness of someone on the SciFiModelAction boards.

Liquid mask up front, masking tape behind

First, the Officer’s Lounge has two big screens in its rear, and both of these I intend to have back-lit to appear like big TV screens.  To keep these safe, I used a liquid mask over them before priming, and put some masking tape on their back.  This way I just have white plastic that light can pass through easily.

Masked the areas where the part will glue onto the saucer, and primed it with black for light-blocking,

Primed and trees clipped

Chairs and screens ready, tree trunks glued on

then Tamiya light grey to match the walls in the film.  Next, since I’m going to install real-looking plants, I cut off the plastic trees that are scattered around the floor.  I have some 1/35th scale trees that I use for WW2 armor dioramas, and I clipped a branch or two from one to use as the trunks of the “real” trees that I was going to install here.  I glued them all in place with super glue, since they weren’t the same as the polystyrene.

The chairs, couches, and tables were next, because I can’t paint them easily after the foliage goes in.  I used an orangish color that I mixed to match the appearance in ST:TMP.  See the sort of “hallway” in the back, that goes up to the center screen?  That’s the set where the scene was filmed.

Crew and Decals for the Lounge

I then took a set of 1/350 people from a Tamiya navy crew set, painted them up in uniform colors based on both TMP and WOK, and cut the HDA Modelworx decals out to put into place.  Setting the decals was a simple matter of cutting them to fit, and gluing the figures just took a little CA super glue.  To get McCoy sitting properly in his chair took a little carving from behind the knees and waist to get it to bend right, but eventually it stuck properly.

Crew and decals in place

Once everyone was in the right place, I could glue the foliage to the trees.  Using the same deep green foliage from the 1/35th scale trees worked perfectly, giving a really nice look to the lounge.  A little sprinkle of light green fluff gave some contrast the foliage and added some depth to the effect.  Spray with satin finish to protect everything and add a little extra “stay put” factor, and it’s done.

The O-Lounge completed – even has Kirk, Bones, and Spock in the back section (this doesn’t look great when you’re right up in its face, but from one meter away it’s exactly what it needs to be).

The Fantail

The rear endcap for the secondary hull, the Fantail is one of the easiest of the subassemblies to make.  Four pieces make this one up – the fantail itself, the two side panels, and the overhead red lighting.  The faintail is a white plastic, while the other three are clear.

Side panels of the fantail masked.

After trimming and sanding, the fantail gets light-blocked.  When doing this, make sure to do your light-blocking on the outside of the piece, not the interior – the fantail has a limited amount of contact area with the secondary hull, and you don’t want to get paint on that.  It’ll interfere with your ability to glue it in place, so make sure to mask the rear properly before spraying/airbrushing.  After the black dried, some white Vallejo finished the painting.

The overhead part got zapped up with some crystal red clear paint (I used an airbrush to get a uniform coverage).  This ended up making the part a little too big for the socket it was to fit in, so I filed out the space where it belonged to ensure a good seating.  Some canopy glue on its back and that was done.

Light-blocking the fantail sides

The two side panels are a little funny.  When you look at the studio model, they are darker than the fantail itself, and they have not only those three blue horizontals, but a few small red spots on their lower halves.  I put some liquid mask into the horizontals, and blacked the pieces on their front (I pressed them into some blue-tac putty to hold them in place while spraying, and this also masked the rears to keep them from collecting extra paint).  Once the light-block was dry, I zapped them with some Tamiya light grey to provide contrast with the fantail.

Interior of the fantail with putty closing the light leaks

After the paint dried, I used a .5mm drill to put a few holes in the paint on the lower side, and to put one spot above the horizontals on each.  A little crystal blue in the horizontals (and the spot above them), followed by a drop of crystal red in the spots beneath them, and they were ready.  Glued in place with canopy glue, then checked for light leaks – which there were several around the sides.  I filled in the sides with plastic putty, and that took the leaks out of the picture.  Finally, after masking the back I applied a coat of automotive clear gloss on the exterior to protect everything and get it ready for decals.

Fantail is ready for action – the side panels look a little rough close-up, but at the one-meter judgment scale, they look great.

The “Neck”

This turned out to be deceptively complex, and just calling it “the neck” seems like an understatement.  It contains the torpedo launcher section, and is the first assembly of the model that actually has windows in it.  As well, it has two travel pod docking rings, which have some photo-etch parts to go with them.

Notice the lights in the travel pod docking ports.

Looking at the film shots, the travel-pod docks have lights on either side of them, which I decided to use fiber-optics for.  The holes are deep enough that a small drill bit will work fine, and a .25mm FO strand fits perfectly in there.  The fibers I was using were a bit stiff, and required some heating to get to bend properly – and once you cement them in place they become quite brittle, so my best advice here is maybe not to do that at all.  It was a royal pain in the ass, and I think I might skip that if I had to do it over again.  However, they’re done now, and I wouldn’t be doing you justice if I didn’t mention them.

Inserting fiber for the pod lighting

“Mushrooming” the ends of the FO







After threading the fibers through the drilled holes, I used a soldering iron to ‘mushroom’ the tips just a little, and then pulled them flush with the inside of the docks.

Travel pod PE parts – there are quite a few of these, make sure to get them oriented right (the little flat spot goes on bottom)

Next, I secured the photo-etch parts to the travel pod docking rings with some CA glue.  In hindsight, these PE parts should go on after the completed assembly has been painted, and a final dusting of the white overcoat can be applied to cover up the metal.  Having them in early resulted in the detail being obscured by several coats of hull color paint, and I ended up having to go back and wash the paint out of the docking rings with acetone before re-applying a thin coat to preserve the details.


Masking applied to the Raytheon zones

A big splotch of liquid mask then was applied to each side of the neck to provide a Raytheon lighting spot (in the film studio model, this area was lit up with a spotlight that wasn’t actually on the model, but you couldn’t tell that from the way they shot the scene).  A tiny dot of mask was also applied to the ends of the fiber optics in the pod rings.  Light-blocking time!  Masking up the edges to avoid screwing up the parts that would be glued together, the exterior of each part got a coat of black.

Light blocked…

…and hull color applied.  Notice on both that there is masking tape covering where the glue seams will be.


Once dry, I stripped off the masking film, sanded the edges where necessary (not really needed, but I wanted to be sure), and put on several coats of Vallejo white primer as a hull color.

Some of the interior printed on transparency sheet

After this the windows were going in, and even though they were circular ports through which not a lot can be seen, I printed out some interior hallways on transparency film to glue in place behind them.  Cutting small sections of these out and gluing them behind the windows gives a little variation in the amount of light passing through the windows, and I suppose someone with better up-close eyesight than mine might be able to make out the detail.


Some of the larger windows needed “convincing”.

Some of the window parts for the neck are a bit large, and don’t fit perfectly, so they had to be clamped while the canopy glue dried.  In hindsight, I might have been better off to slice these up with a Dremel or something, and apply them in pieces, but I did them whole.  I let them dry overnight to be sure.



Doesn’t hurt to cut some of these windows to make them easier to handle.

There are also two pieces which are molded to extend over the inside of the travel pod docks, and if you have put fiber in there, you’ll have to cut these in two pieces (discarding the middle section of them).  Not a big deal, they still attach fine after cutting.




“Floodlight” ports on base of neck

Double-layered with clear styrene and glazed with matt clear frosts them for lighting from underneath.

There are two “spotlight” sections on the lower rear of the neck, squarish holes that are intended to splash light up on the neck.  I didn’t like the way the clear parts for these holes protruded, so instead of those I just took some small pieces of clear styrene and glued them to close the holes up.  A bit of clear matte on these frosts them up and scatters light out from beneath them nicely.

Now it was time for the interior lighting.

Setting aside the two sides, I took an inventory of what lights would need to go into the neck section:

Lay out your lighting components to get ready to do some soldering.

2 LEDs to feed the fiber optics (one for each side) – I went with a 3mm cool white for each

2 LEDs to supply the Raytheon effects – I used 3mm cool white here too

4 3-chip LED strips for the interior lighting in warm white

This is what LED strip-lighting looks like when tinned up properly.

Those strips need a little description – they are sold as 5-meter rolls, which is more than most people will use on a model like this (or three, probably), and they aren’t wired up when you get them.  They do have conveniently-marked cutting lines, but the rest is up to you.  Having cut the four sections out, I also assembled wire leads that would be connected to them (using a hot iron and sandpaper to remove the lacquer insulation from the ends I wanted to use).  Tinning the strips basically means putting the tip of your iron on each of the

Once your wires are in place, they should resist a gentle tug.

copper receiving circles to heat them up and then touching solder to them to leave a drop on its surface.  The 36-gauge magnet wire I use here won’t tin well, so once it has been stripped of its insulation it’s basically ready to use.  Put the LED strip into a set of “helping hands” and hold the magnet wire in your off-hand.  Heat the solder up on the strip while holding the magnet wire against the drop.  As soon as the drop goes molten, wiggle the wire into the blob and remove the heat immediately.  A little blowing on it will solidify the metal right away, and a gentle tug on the magnet wire will confirm that it is locked onto the strip.  Repeat for the other connector.  Once both are connected, test your wiring with a battery or other source of current to make sure the soldering worked.  If they don’t, you’ll have to repeat the job.

Dirty, dirty solder

Clean solder looks shiny and “silvery”

Any time you use your soldering iron, clean it before using it again.  Having dirty solder will potentially screw up its ability to make an electrical connection, and it will be much harder to work with.  Clean solder on your iron will look silvery, while a dirty iron will have a lot of black slag on it.  Just use a wet sponge or soaked rag to wipe off the hot iron and keep it clean in between every use.

Placing the LED strips and FO feeder light – note the colored leads for pos/neg ends.

For each of the 3mm LEDs, a 470-Ohm resistor gets soldered on (make sure it goes on the negative side, which is the shorter of the two legs), and wire leads go on as well (color code your leads so they are always the same – usual convention in all electrical work is to use black for your negative, and colors for positives).  Test your connection to make sure it works.

LED strips have tape backings, and you can peel them off and stick them in place.  Although this is convenient, I don’t trust it for a long-term connection…I want this model to still look great in ten or twenty years, and I know tape adhesives dry out in that sort of timeframe.  Once the tape strips were anchored, I dabbed some CA on each one every centimeter or so.

The 3mm LEDs for the fiber went on next, also using CA to get them to stay put.

By the way, if you get tired of holding pieces in place while you wait for CA to set, you can pick up some ‘zip kicker’ in a spritz-bottle that forces CA to set instantly.  It’s a bit stinky, but it works great.  Once the LEDs for the fiber were locked down, I gently bent the fiber to meet the bulbs of the LEDs (some heat was required to soften the fibers, and this was really difficult to do – too much heat and the fiber melts, too little and it stays brittle and just shatters where it passes through its hole) and glued them on with CA.

Next, the Raytheon LEDs got a resistor put on, then lead wires.  Pop them in place behind the spots on the neck and secure with CA.

Wrap the wires where you can to avoid clutter, and always label your wires when they’re tested good. You’ll thank me for that some time.

Now we’ve got a bunch of loose wires hanging out, and that makes for later mistakes and accidents, so to make things a little more manageable we can twine a few together.  The fiber optics will be on the same circuit as the interior lighting, so that’s a good set of candidates right there.  Take the negative leads from the LED strips, and wind them around the black (negative) wire from the 3mm LED for the fiber.  Do the winding so that the last few centimeters of the magnet wire wrap around the tinned end of the negative lead.  You can then re-tin that lead to lock the magnet wires in place there.  Repeat with the positive leads from the strips around the white or colored (positive) lead of the 3mm fiber LED.  Now you’ll have only two sets of leads from each side – one for the interior lighting/fiber, and one for the Raytheon/floodlights.

Using masking tape, or some other form you are comfortable with, label your wires now.

Go ahead and test again using a battery or source of current to make sure everything still works.  You don’t want to glue everything together and find out later that somewhere you have a bad connection.

Since I’m paranoid about glue, I decided to apply hot-glue all over the place too, to make sure it all got triple-secured.

Crew inside the windows looking out.

So now all the wires and LEDs are in place, and I can fix the window dressing in place.  Using the transparencies I’d cut out earlier, I scissored a section and glued it behind some of the windows with canopy glue.  I also took two of the Tamiya naval crew figures and cut sections of them to go behind a couple of windows.  Don’t think they’ll really be all that visible, but their shadows will, and that’ll make things look like there are people walking around in there.

More crew observing the travel pod dock.

Time to work up the torpedo launcher.  It isn’t black, but a very dark grey, and the insides of each tube are glossy (during the 10-minute fly-by tour in ST:TMP you can pause it on one of the frames to get a really good close-up look at them).  I put some liquid mask in the ‘mouth’ of each tube, and some masking tape across the back, then just sprayed it with black followed by a dark grey.  You will probably have to do multiple coats (I did), because although the first coat might look good to the naked eye, it will still be light-permeable and won’t look very good.

Once the painting on the torp launcher is good, you have a choice – lit or no.  If you aren’t going to light it, light-block the back of it to prevent leakage and it’s ready to go.  If you are going to light this section…

First, widen the portion of the neck sections to enable the wiring to pass more easily.

Torpedoes fired in “The Motion Picture”

Next, you get to decide how the launcher will behave while firing.  In ST:TMP, a background light of red within both tubes fades in when the torps are armed and ready, and the torpedoes themselves are bright blue.  In WOK, there is no back-lighting and the torps are red.  Take this into account when determining which lights you choose.



“Wrath of Khan” torpedo launch

I went with a combination – I want the red back-lighting like TMP, and I want my torpedoes to be red like WOK.

First, I drilled a center-hole in the back of the torp launcher piece, and glued a red SMD with CA into it.  This will be the source of my backlighting.

Each torpedo tube is molded with a hole behind it, so that’s convenient.  Into each one I first put a red SMD, gluing it in place with CA.  Behind that, I then stuck a white SMD and glued it with CA.  After the CA was dry, I plopped some canopy glue in as well.

While you’re waiting for this to dry, paint the inside of the “mouth” that holds the torp launcher on each side of the neck.  Just use matt black here.

Get some painting done while you wait.

What I’m going to do with these is program an Arduino board (I’ll highlight that in a future installment of this build log) to fade-in the backlight, then do a fire-one / fire-two sequence using rapid fades of the two red and white SMDs to look like the firing sequence in the films.  I also have sound clips of torpedo firing which I’ll include on a cheap-ass Chinese MP3 player that will also be controlled by the Arduino board, and will play from whichever speakers I hook the thing up to.

There’s a final piece of the neck that goes into the rear of it when it’s complete, which I assume is some kind of venting port for the torpedo launchers.  It’s just black in the films, so I painted it matt black on the showing parts.  No lights, very simple.

Time to glue all the parts together!

Making sure to be very careful of the wiring…

I stuck the torp launcher carefully into one side of the neck (it takes some firm but gentle pressure to get it to seat properly) and glued it there with canopy glue.  Wait for the glue to dry.

Again being careful of the wires…

Next thing is to put some canopy glue into the other side of the neck where the torp launcher will sit.  Get your polystyrene cement out, and glue the small vent into the side that already has the torp launcher seated in it.  Before this is done drying (because you’ll need to adjust it a little), line the neck side with glue on the edges where the neck will come together and in the post holes and posts, then press the whole thing together firmly.

Check the fit of the torp launcher and the rear vent, and adjust them as needed to make sure they are lined up correctly.  The neck should fit together pretty well, I didn’t have too many seam problems, but to hold it while it dries is a bit of a pain.  Use some clamps to hold the pieces together (I wrap mine in a soft cloth and put them in a vise, and clamp in places where the vice is too big to grip).  Let it sit and cure for a day, and check in on it every fifteen minutes or so for the first hour, correcting the fit if necessary.

Styrene reinforcement strip – just cut to fit where you can slide it in, and make sure it has a good bit of glue on it.

Lay them in, front and back, and press them down. This will strengthen the bond holding the halves together.

Once the whole thing was cured, I cut out some strips of styrene to reinforce the neck’s connection, sliding them into the structure and bridging the two pieces.  I also used silicon black seal on the back of the torpedo launcher to guarantee zero light transmission between the neck and the torp launcher.

The few seams I had, didn’t take a lot of fixing – a little wipe with some plastic putty, a little sanding, and a short blast with some white Vallejo (masking all my windows) and it was clean.

Once this was done, I painted some of the larger highlights with an airbrush (the duck-egg blue on the ribbed top section, the silver “mouth” around the torp launcher, the light grey “throat”, and the light grey space directly beneath the launcher).

Finally, once I was satisfied with the paint job and the glue was completely cured, I put a coat of automotive gloss clear on the entire assembly (masking off the top and bottom where it’ll need to glue onto the other parts of the ship) so it’d be clean and ready for decals.

With that, it’s ready to roll!  Into a bag it goes, and in my next installment I’ll discuss the Arduino board for the torps as well as probably getting into the secondary hull.


She’s ready for prime time! Next stop, the secondary hull.


USS Enterprise – Build Log Part 12

USS Enterprise – Build Log Part 14

This entry was posted in Build Log, Model Kits, Sci-Fi and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The USS Enterprise (Refit) from Star Trek: The Motion Picture

  1. Pingback: The USS Enterprise (Refit) from Star Trek: The Motion Picture | Borked Code

  2. Pingback: The USS Enterprise (Refit) from Star Trek: The Motion Picture | Borked Code

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.