Build Report: Joseph Osborn’s AMT Ertl 1/650 Start Trek: Generations Klingon Bird of Prey

Red Alert

Joseph Osborn sent in this detailed build report on his Klingon Bird of Prey. Great work Jospeh!

History
I’ve had this “Generations” boxing of the original AMT/Ertl Klingon Bird of Prey kit for at least 15 years.  The details are lost to the fog of memory, but I don’t think I paid more than seven or eight dollars for it.  I glued a few pieces together and then packed it away with my other models because I had more important things to do, like build a house and take care of a new son.  Fast-forward to early 2011.  I need a “stress relief” build and the 1/72 Spitfire that I had chosen to fill that role just wasn’t working out.  I also needed another “cool” model that I could give my oldest and best friend for his collection of my models.  What’s cooler than a Klingon Bird of Prey?  Well, lots of things, but for the sake of argument, the Klingon Bird of Prey fits the bill.  Also, this would make the third Klingon ship I’ve built for his collection.

The Kit
The model itself is probably the best Star Trek model ever produced by AMT.  It doesn’t have too many parts and most of them fit together very accurately.  The main hull has plenty of interior space for lighting, and AMT provided clear engine and torpedo tube parts to facilitate the lighting process.  Decals are included, but they are not the greatest quality– very thick and the colors are not registered well.  I could have recreated the decals but decided to skip them and concentrate on painting.  I know there are some aftermarket parts available for this kit, but I did not want to add expense to the build so I didn’t even bother looking at them.  The recent release of this kit includes new parts to display the Bird of Prey in a “landed” configuration.  The KBoP went through many incarnations during the various Star Trek movies and TV shows; sometimes it was a small scout vessel and other times it was a huge starship.  I prefer to think of the ship as it was originally intended: a small scout vessel with a crew of about a dozen or so.  Using those parameters, the scale of this model is better thought of as 1/350 instead of 1/650.

The Build
From the start, lighting was going to be an integral part of the build.  Fortunately, the lighting on the KBoP is very simple with no strobes or blinkies at all.  I decided the easiest way to represent the bright navigational lights was to use a single very bright LED and fiber optic strands to place the lights where they were needed.  For the engine, I elected to use a single red LED modified with a flickering circuit from an LED tealight candle.  The hull windows would be illuminated by flooding the interior with white light.  More red LED’s would provide the detail lights under the mid-hull and around the torpedo launcher.  On the studio model, there are two landing lights at the forward end of each wing root.  I could not find any instance in either Star Trek III or Star Trek IV of these lights being lit while the wings were in “attack” position, so that greatly simplified my lighting scheme since I didn’t have to run wires out of the main hull and into the wings.  Like some of my previous builds, I used 4 AA batteries to power the LED’s.  They provide 6 volts and that’s plenty of power for these few LED’s.  I would hide the batteries in the wooden base and transmit the power to the model up through a brass rod to a DC power plug that would mate to a jack in the bottom of the model.  A push-button switch in the base turns the juice on and off.  I normally use miniature toggle switches because they look cool, but for this build I decided to use a push-button switch because there is less a chance of scooting the model & base around if you’re just pressing down.

I made five separate circuits for the LED lights: a very bright 16,000MCD 5mm white for the fiber optics, a wide-angle 5mm red for the engine, two 1.8mm reds for the accent lights under the hull, another wide-angle 5mm red for the torpedo, and two wide-angle 5mm whites for the interior floodlights.  I could have paired the red engine light and the torpedo light together, but the flicker module would have caused both LED’s to flicker, and I wanted the forward light to be steady and bright.  I used www.uniqueleds.com for all these LED’s.  The fiber optic strands were from http://thefiberopticstore.com.  I used a resister for each separate circuit, calculated for the specific requirements of the LED’s to keep them working with the 6-volt power source.  I used an online resister  calculator available at http//led.linear1.org/led.wiz to determine the optimum values for my resisters.      I used a new tool to make the wiring connections on this model: a wire-wrapping tool.  This is a small screwdriver-looking device that wraps very fine wire tightly around the leads of your components and is much, much faster and easier than soldering each connection.  I used white wire for negative wires and red wires for positive.  I soldered the resisters directly to the LED negative leads and then wrapped wires to the resister and the remaining positive LED lead.  The thin wire makes the LED easier to handle compared to the 22 or 24-gauge wire I’ve previously used.  Most all the hardware I used for this build came from Radio Shack with the exception of a few resisters that have been in my electrical parts box for many years.

Gentle-reader, I will not bore you with the mundane details of a typical buildup.  Suffice it to say that the fit of this kit is very good, so there was little to do other than glue the pieces together and add a little filler here and there.  I left the wingtip subassemblies separate from the wings for easier handling during the paint process.  To open the windows in the hull, I first drilled a series of tiny holes through the window locations and then used a #11 blade and a square needle file to shape the opening.  I used a small piece of styrene sheet to replace the horizontal separator between the windows.  For the torpedo launcher, I did not attempt to light the kit’s clear part.  After examining the studio model as seen in the movie, the only time the kit’s clear part ever lit up was when a torpedo was fired.  However, there is a ring of red light around the launch tube that is constantly lit.  This ring is represented on the model with some depressions that are easily drilled-out and shaped with the tip of a #11 blade.

Much of the time I spent on construction was actually spent putting the lights inside the hull halves.  One of the crucial steps in lighting a model is light blocking; the LED’s are quite bright and will shine right through the model’s plastic, even with a few coats of paint on the outside.  Highly-pigmented opaque paints are needed to block the transmission of light, and for this work I prefer to use acrylic craft paint applied with a brush.  I painted the interior with several coats of black followed by a few coats of white.  The white is intended to reflect the interior floodlights somewhat evenly.  I secured the LED’s into place with five-minute epoxy.  To separate the engine from the rest of the main hull, I fixed a thick styrene sheet bulkhead with a hole drilled for the red LED.  This bulkhead and the back of the engine LED was painted to block the red light from bleeding back into the main hull.  The fiber optic strands for the navigation lights were bundled together and epoxied into an aluminum tube.  A bright white LED was epoxied into another piece of aluminum tube that slipped around the fiber bundle, and the whole lot was epoxied together and installed into a corner of the main hull.  I tried to position this assembly so there would not be so much stress on the individual fibers.  I used some fairly hefty 1mm and .75mm fibers, and they are not very flexible.  I secured the fibers where they exit the model with small dabs of epoxy, and I left about 1/8” of fiber exposed on the outside of the model to be trimmed after painting.

The bottom half of the hull has a slot for the kit’s display stand.  In order to fit my DC jack, I  filled this slot with Aves Apoxy Sculpt and drilled a larger hole.  I went through several rounds of test-fitting the LED’s and adjusting them to achieve the lighting effect I desired.  This process revealed several light leaks through the small gaps in the plastic where the parts go together to form the neck, so I used some Aves to fill the gaps from the inside and block out the light.  To block the red torpedo light from the white light in the upper “head,” I made a styrene separator and installed it into the front of the upper hull.  When all these tasks were done, I soldered the final connections from the LED’s to the power jack and glued the hull halves together.

The surface detail on the kit is good, but I found several ways to add more.  I studied the reference photos of the studio model but resisted the temptation to go overboard and try to duplicate all the detail I could see.  That would take weeks or months!  I started the extra detailing by adding tiny strips of styrene to the upper hull surface.  It didn’t take too long until I realized that my glue (Plastruct) was not doing a very good job of keeping the styrene strips in place.  I switched instead to using strips cut from doubled Tamiya tape.  To toughen the tape strips, I applied a tiny amount of thin CA glue to them.  I added some strips of stretched sprue to the sides of the “head” as well to represent detail that was missing from the model.  The rear end of the model was very devoid of detail, though the studio model had a fair amount of detail in this area.  I used some Evergreen styrene strips to “busy-up” the tail section on either side of the engine “exhaust.”

The crystal-clear exhaust port provided a great window to see the LED inside the hull, so I sanded the inside of the clear port with fine sandpaper.  This diffuses the LED’s light and spreads the red light across the inside of the part.  I painted the edges of the exhaust port black and attached it to the fuselage with epoxy.

Painting
All the time spent on the model until now was nothing compared to the time I spent planning and executing the painting.  The paint process started with masking out the clear engine area and the fiber optic navigation lights with liquid latex mold rubber built up in several thin layers.  I used a sharp #11 blade to trim the edges of the latex mask.  I used two different airbrushes on this model: an Aztek with a big color cup to apply the clear coats, and an Iwata Eclipse for the color.

After a good wipe-down of all the parts with dishwashing detergent to remove any oils, the model was ready for primer.  For the primer coat, I used my new favorite, Floquil SP Lettering Gray enamel mixed with lacquer thinner.  It’s much cheaper than Tamiya spray primer and works very well as an anchor for the color coats.  I sprayed this primer over everything in an even coat and allowed it to dry for a day or so.  I also wanted to represent the beat-up appearance at the ends of wings that I saw on the studio model, so I sprayed some metallic paint at the ends of each wing and applied some wet salt to make a random mask.  For the preshading along all the panel lines, I used Model Master Acryl Interior Black.  Right after this, I bought a set of Medea Com-Art airbrush paints.  The color selection is nowhere as extensive– I can’t just go to the store and buy a bottle of Gloss Gull Gray– but I see it as a chance to improve my mixing skills.

For the base green color, I mixed equal amounts of Opaque Hansa Yellow with Opaque Ultramarine Blue.  Com-Art colors are a bit transparent, even the opaque ones, so the gray primer took on a lovely dark green hue.  I used this base color to paint over the entire hull but I did not paint the wing “hinge” baffles.  Instead, I base-coated these parts with a small 1/4-oz. bottle of Acryl Oxidized Aluminum.  For all of this painting, I used a light touch so that the preshading was not obscured.  Next was a light coat of white over the “feather” areas underneath the wings.  I scraped off the salt mask on the ends of the wings to reveal a mottled metallic appearance.

The KBoP studio model was painted with several shades of green, gray, and blue-green which yielded a mottled appearance but the colors stayed “within the lines,” so there was a somewhat ordered logic to the paint scheme.  I went to work with my Tamiya tape and masked and painted individual panels, following the photos of the studio models closely but not religiously.  At no point was I attempting to replicate the studio model, but rather sought to represent it.  It’s much less stressful to represent something!  The most time was spent on the red “feathers” under the wings.  I masked each individual panel in the design.  I used a system, though: I masked two non-adjacent panels on opposite sides of a wing at a time and painted them, then switched to the other wing while the paint dried on the first wing.  I was able to keep a constant sequence of masking and painting, and I painted all the panels in two sessions; a total of about four hours.  With Tamiya tape, it’s possible to use the same strips of tape over and over again before they are too worn out to stick down properly.  With the Com-Art paint, I had plenty of time to work without having to worry about the paint drying in the airbrush.  In fact, I would put some paint in the cup at the beginning of the session and simply wash out the excess at the end of the session.  And virtually no tip-dry, either.  I used air pressure of about 12psi or less for detail painting and about 20-25psi when covering larger areas.

When all the primary painting was done, I sealed the paint job with a coat of JW Etc’s gloss varnish in preparation for the oil wash.  A KBoP should be a little rusty, due to all those atmospheric flights and apparently really poor Klingon metal and painting practices, so I mixed my oil wash to appear rusty.  I used Yellow Ochre and Crimson as the base for the wash, and darkened it with varying amounts of Black depending on the location of the wash.  To thin the wash, I like to use odorless mineral spirits because it seems to dry the oil paint faster than turpentine.  I used a lighter color of the wash on the outer ends of the wings and around the guns, and used a darker version on the main fuselage.  I let the wash dry for a day or so and then I cleaned it up with a brush moistened with mineral spirits.  I cleaned the brush often during this process so that I removed the excess wash instead of moving it around on the model.

Final assembly
There are only a couple of small parts that have to be added after main painting is done; the Torpedo Tube under the neck of model, and the Cloak Generator on the prow of the bridge.  I painted the Cloak Generator a dark red and glued it in place, and added some airbrushed tones to blend it into the ship’s colors.  The final tasks in the paint job were some drybrushing to highlight some of the details and some airbrushed toning to even out some contrast in the panels and add a sense of scale.  A coating of JW Etc’s satin varnish was the final clear coat.  I removed the latex masking at this point and trimmed the fiber optic navigation lights to their final shape.  I epoxied the wings assemblies (baffles, main wing, and outer wingtip) together.  Instead of gluing the wing assemblies to the fuselage, I replaced the locating pins with stiff wire.  This allowed me to set the wings onto the fuselage securely, but also allowed for their removal.  A concurrent project was the display base.  I used an inexpensive oval wooden plaque and drilled and routed it for the battery pack, the switch, and a brass support rod.  I stained the plaque and added several coats of gloss polyurethane until it had a nice shine.  I rubbed the brass tube with metal polish to give it a nice shine.  I completed the base by fixing the parts of the base together with epoxy and soldering the wires together.  The model plugs into the connector at the top of the support rod and when the button is pressed, a fearsome warship comes to life!

Conclusions
This is a great model and I had an enjoyable time building it.  As a stress-reliever, it served wonderfully.  As a display piece, it is very unique.  As a gift for a friend, I think it will be well-received.  The Klingon Bird of Prey ranks as one of the most original and unique ships in the Star Trek universe, and this kit builds into a great replica.

Bio
I started modeling with Aurora figures when I was literally a toddler.  I’ve built all kinds of models over the years, but I’ve always had a soft spot for space ships and helicopters.  I started Fireball Modelworks in 1995 to provide resin upgrade parts and decals for helicopter modelers.  I reside in North Alabama with my wife and teenage son.

2 thoughts on “Build Report: Joseph Osborn’s AMT Ertl 1/650 Start Trek: Generations Klingon Bird of Prey”

  1. This will be my next ( and 2nd) model project .
    I sincerly thankyou for this excellent write up I am particually impressed with the tea light led idea for the engine , brilliant!

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