The Estes Starship Enterprise Flying Model Rocket is a piece of geek and Star Trek history. Released in 1975, the rocket is a tie-in for the original series.
Think about that. No movies. No Next Generation. No Deep Space Nine or any of the other series and films that followed it. Just the original TV series and its animated follow-up.
Hell, I was four-years old when this rocket came out. I hadn’t even seen Star Trek yet.
I inherited the rocket from my dad. He had two copies of the Starship Enterprise and one copy its companion ship, the Klingon Battle Cruiser. He didn’t build either one, though he started on the Enterprise (but didn’t get beyond assembling the saucer section). I suspect the technical difficulty of the kit was a big reason why: it’s Skill Level 4 (of 5) and consists of a mix of plastic, balsa wood, and cardboard parts. Actually assembling it is difficult enough – I haven’t worked much with plastic models – but the paint job will present its own challenges. There’s a lot of fine detail, such as the red portions of the warp nacelles and the gold deflector dish.
Still, what’s the point of having a rocket if you never build it? The challenge is worth it, and when it comes to the Enterprise, I always have a second model rocket if I mess this one up.
August 20, 2022 Update
This is a tough build. A very tough build. Most of the rockets I’ve built in the modern era have been balsa wood and cardboard tubes. They haven’t always come together perfectly, but it wasn’t anything I hadn’t worked with before.
The Enterprise includes a lot of plastic – the primary hull (aka the saucer section) and the secondary hull (aka the part the warp nacelles stick out of, and where the deflector array is attached) are all plastic. It’s also lightweight plastic. That makes it easy to damage when trimming it with an X-ACTO knife and it makes it exceedingly hard to get a good, smooth seal between parts. It’s also unclear to me exactly how hard I should be trying. They call for a seamless seal, but as you can see from the forward and top views in the gallery below, there’s there’s a ridge where the two sides fit together. I can’t tell if this is by design, or if they truly should have been seamless; if so, that’s beyond my ability right now.
I tried finding pictures of completed versions of this rocket for comparison, but unsurprisingly, it’s difficult to find “under construction” pictures for a rocket released 47 years ago (there was 25th anniversary re-issue in 1995 … but that didn’t help much either).
The next time I work on a model like this (or if I build the other rocket, perhaps calling it the U.S.S. Constellation…), I need to take advantage of the experts over at The Rocketry Forum. I suspect if anyone knows how to do this correctly, it’ll be the folks there. For now, I’m doing my best.
August 21, 2022 Update
Progress! The warp nacelles are complete and the saucer section is attached.
August 27, 2022 Update
I tackled the most dubious part of the Starship Enterprise build today: the probe.
The “probe” is what Estes calls the forward section of the rocket. It consists of a 2+ foot long body tube and nose cone (actually two body tubes joined together, but when finished, they’re effectively one). It attaches to the engine mount, just under the saucer section (aka the primary hull). It’s held in place by a cardboard joiner and a metal clip. It also contains a retaining clip that keeps the probe from separating from the saucer during launch.
The probe serves a couple of purposes:
- The Enterprise on its own is not flight-worthy – she’s unwieldy and unbalanced. The probe, which has a weighted nose count – serves as a counter balance for the main ship.
- It contains the parachute, allowing for a soft recovery of the rocket.
- It makes the whole thing look ridiculous.
I get why it’s there. I understand it’s purpose, and that there wasn’t a way to make the Enterprise fly without it. I like that you can detach the probe and display the rest of the ship without it – it’s a nice touch, and much appreciated. It may be that the whole thing will look slightly less crazy once it’s painted and on the launch pad… but I don’t have a lot of hope for that.
November 26, 2022 Update
A busy fall kept me away from the Enterprise, but a warm Saturday in November (meaning temperatures were above 40 degrees F) mean I could get some painting done. Today’s work was priming the main Starship and the probe section with dark gray spray paint. I’d started priming it with it with Rust-oleum’s “Perfect Gray”, but there just wasn’t enough contrast between the gray of the paint and the white of the plastic. Thus, I went back and painted it again with the gray, which makes it easier to visually confirm that I got all of the exposed surfaces.
This is particularly important with the Enterprise because it’s got so many nooks and crannies (the warp nacelles, the deflector array, the saucer section, the primary hull, etc.). There’s a lot to miss, and I expect I’ll need to prime it twice to get everything.