Picture of the boxart

NCC-1701D Enterprise, Formerly Christmas tree edition

project start: early 2002

Years ago, a friend gave me this kit as a birthday present. It is also a very large, and when completed undoubtedly impressive kit. Thus, whatever I decide to do with it, I feel I should make sure I do it well. For years though, the real problem was what to do with it in the first place. I knew that once completed, I would have nowhere to display it. Building it, then throwing it out was obviously not an option, but I saw no real alternative, and so the kit sat unused in some dusty corner.
Then, the friend in question went and had her first child, and I had a sudden case of inspiration. Children usually don't sleep in completely darkened rooms, so I figured I would turn this kit into the most impressive nightlight ever seen. There's plenty of room in the engine nacelles to house a pair of miniature TLs, and I should be able to wire up the required electronics to make it work, and hide them somewhere in the kit or display stand.
So far, so good. However (watch it, this is where trouble starts), I realised the engines aren't the only thing that lights up on the "real" thing. There's also the windows on the hull and soucer, which have bright lights behind them. In my folly, I decided to light up the whole ship.

Picture of the sprues Picture of the sprues

The pictures above show most of what's in the box (I left off the elaborate display stand). The parts are large (you can compare the small tin of Humbroll paint also in the picture), and rather crude. There are huge raised panel lines all over the ship. These are sometimes intersected by viewports, which seems illogical to me. The various parts just plain don't fit. There are what I can only assume are ejector markings, 6mm across, that in several places actually twisted the underlying detail by several degrees, giving the impression of a huge, improperly aligned panel on the ship. I'm sure this can all be built into a good impression of the Enterprise, but it will never stand up to close scrutiny. In all fairness, I don't think the kit was meant for modellers at all, but rather for ST-TNG fans. They can pick nits with the best of us, but their skills are directed at episodes rather than plastic.
Also in the picture on the right is one of the miniature TLs, with its 12V DC to whatever high AC voltage the TL runs on converter.

Picture of the saucer section with windows drilled out

Lighting up the whole ship is not fundamentally difficult. All that is required is to stuff the whole shebang with LEDs, and open the windows. That is, open all 2500 windows. There's some strength in numbers, and I'm beginning to feel outnumbered by about 2500 to 1, which is, erm..erm , not good. Add to that, that the plastic this bird is made of is very thick, very soft, and very easy to melt, in other words, will turn a 0.3mm drill into a 1mm blob-of-blubbery-plastic coated piece of metal, which is really unsuited to making small holes. As a bonus, when the drill isn't melting its way through the plastic, it throws up buckets full of staticaly charged plastic curls, which stick to everything.
As can be seem from the picture to the right, I got about halfway through the bottom half of the soucer section before despair set in.

I decided I needed a better trick to make this work.
First thing I tried was to arrange for water cooling. I bought me a flexible drill shaft in order to keep the electrical bits away from the water, shoved the plastic under water in a shallow basin, and went to work, and learned a new definition of the phrase splatter movie. The drill head moved, and every inch of me got splattered with water. Aside from being wet, all this water flying around made sure I couldn't see what I was doing any more. I then tried a deeper basin, making sure all rotating parts were completely submerged. This worked better (for one thing, I didn't get wet anymore), but the water in the immediate vicinity of the drill head started to whirl, which once again ruined visibility. I think I'm close to a working solution here, but it needs further refinements I can't figure out (yet).
With water cooling abandoned until the next flash of inspiration, I tried using a wash. After all, most of the windows will not be lit, but very dark. Problem is, there an enormous amount of contrast between the almost white hull of the ship, and the almost black of the darkened windows. As a result, the wash turned most of the surrounding area sort of dirty grey, which is entirely against Starfleet regulations. I've never been good at washes, but I can see them working with a darker tone over a similar base colour. In this situation though, I fear its hopeless.

If anyone reads this, and has some idea of how make these windows work without sacrificing what remains of my sanity, please help.

Yes, it's been that long. And no, nobody came to my rescue about the windows. I've had it, this thing has been taking up space waiting for inspiration that just isn't going to arrive long enough. It has also become obvious that cutting channels for the wiring is going to cause irreparable damage to the engine pylons. I went in over my depth, and it's time to admit defeat. Also, the child mentioned earlier by now stands about as tall as my shoulder, and is far more interested in horses than starships.

Plan B was obviously called for. Despite it's technical flaws, I think this kit can be built up into a fair representation of NCC-1701-D, if not for point blank scrutiny, then at least as decoration on a wall somewhere. Recent experience with Viper 1 has also shown me a good way of mounting ships like this on walls. Plan B thus became sealing up all the holes I'd drilled so far, and building the ship as a wallhanger.

I've glued up the saucer sections, and filled in the open windows. The latter will take some more work, but the fit of the parts looks set to provide sufficient entertainment that the anount of work added by window filling will not be disproportionate. The secondary hull sections have also been joined, and fitted with a threaded rod for mounting on the wall. The large deflector dish will remain at least semi-transparent, so I've sprayed the inside of the secondary hull silver, as well as the insides of the engine nacelles. Remarkable how fast this kit takes on the rough shape of a starship when you're not trying any silly tricks with it..

Turns out this kit can be built really fast. Granted, I've had to tweak, fiddle and fudge just about every join so far, but properly coerced, they'll mostly line up. All the saucer bits are now stuck together, and whatever the parts between the engineering hull and the saucer are called are also fixed to the saucer. I don't expect much building effort there anymore. I've mounted the lower halves of the engine nacelles on the pylons, mostly to have some way of grabbing hold of them once I get down to the fidgity bits with the transparent sides and domes. The sides of the engines have been sprayed with clear blue, while the domes underwent some surgery. Some brilliant engineer at AMT figured smack center on the front of the domes was a great place to put big, deep ejector markings. Various grades of sandpaper and Future were required before these were again workable. Once the Future has cured, I'll get down to spraying the transparent red parts, and finish assembly. I've slightly redesigned the wall mount I used on the Viper to account for the rather different geometry of this ship, and work on the mount should also start soon.

picture of the mostly assembled ship

Assembly is all but complete, as can be seen from the picture on the right. The rod for wall mounting is in the very same location as the intended spot for the display base that came with the kit. I have no idea how that was ever supposed to work out. The centre of gravity of the kit far to the front of that position. In fact, the ship is so badly out of balance that I'm convinced that without countermeasures, it will either tear the mounting rod out of the hull, or out of the mount, with destructive results. After some head scratching, I found a solution: well over a pound (7980 grains, to be exact) of lead hidden in the engine nacelles puts the center of gravity almost on top of the rod, although still slightly to the front. It also means the ship now feels like it weighs a ton. Save for some very minor finishing, it's now ready for cleaning and painting.

It seems this kit is determined to fight me all the way. I had the ship finished and cleaned rather quickly, but masking the transparencies proved a nuisance. The kit is very unwieldy due to the weight, and the fact that not all parts take kindly to having to support that weight, and complex curves that seem to be mandatory in Federation design. Primer went on without further issues, as did the blue for the sensor rings. Unfortunately, said blue also came off again at the slightest provocation. As a result, Tamiya paints are now banished from my home. I cleaned off the faulty blue, and re-shot with an old rattlecan from the local DIY (I could have used any number of blue paints of course, but at this point I was feeling a bit unsubtle). Once dry, this blue coat had to be masked off. To my good fortune, the width of the rings happens to match the width of two types of masking tape, so this should have been a breeze. It would have been too, if not for the fact that the recessed sensor rings are not quite constant in width, which gave the tape plenty of opportunity for clinging where it shouldn't and not clinging where it should. Still, I got it taped, and am now in the process of painting it very pale grey. The first coat alone took up the better part of a jar of paint, and I'm guessing at least three coats will be needed. That would mean the three jars I bought should be sufficient, unless something nasty comes up. With this kit, that's a big 'unless'..
Work on the wall mount is also proceeding. The various bits of wood have been joined, and I'm almost done with the basic shape. At that point my only remaining bandsaw blade broke, so I'll have to find a replacement before I can continue.

Light grey, as it turns out, didn't give the right effect on a model this big, so I switched to white. This would have been a lot better, had I managed to finish it, but after the first jar of paint had gone on the kit, the masking tape started to peel away from the transparancies. Probably has something to do with the ribbing on those transparencies preventing the tape from gettin a good grip. OK, fine, I stripped the tape, and then parked the kit for a bit. Available time had run out again, and taping this ship is a bitch. Some time later (OK half a year, I'd been busy with other stuff) I wanted to resume work, only to find that the kit had collapsed under it's own weight. The soucer section had separated from the secondary hull, and given the degree to which those parts do not fit together, I didn't really see how I was going to get those two to stay together. That did it. This kit had been little more than a constant source of frustration, and I don't even like the TNG Enterprise. Trashcan time...

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