I spent five years on-and-off building this model of the USS Enterprise-D from Star Trek: The Next Generation, finishing it in 1993. I started with the AMT/Ertl kit and made MAJOR modifications which included cutting over 1000 windows into the hull, installing a lighting system using five 6″ fluorescent tubes, adding blinking running lights, upgrading detail on the hull, and more. I documented my build in great detail and submitted an article to Finescale Modeler in 1993. The article was published in the March, 1994 issue and reprinted in Famous Spaceships of Fact and Fantasy 2nd Edition.


I cut 1013 windows into the hull using the same basic workflow for each. I’d first drill a single hole into a window with a pin vise from the outside, usually in a group of windows. Using those holes as a guide I’d then thin the plastic on the interior with a rotary tool. This would make it easier to drill subsequent holes in the window and create a more realistic scale for the hull thickness when lit from the inside. I’d drill 3-4 more holes along the length of the window, then use an X-Acto knife to remove the perforations, creating a smooth edge.

I elected to randomize my windows rather than replicate the symmetrical pattern of the 4′ filming miniature. Once all of the widows were cut out I spray painted the interior black, then silver, and finally gloss white. I had to prevent light leaks while making sure there would be an even white light behind each window.

Once the hull was painted I glued .010″ clear styrene into the divots I’d carved into the interior. I sanded the clear plastic first to frost them and diffuse the light.

fluorescent lighting

I have to credit Ritchie Kinmont for generously helping me with the fluorescent lighting I employed to light the nacelles, battle hull, and saucer section. He was marketing beautiful custom builds of the Enterprise ($8950) and a Romulan warbird ($5400) at a convention in Los Angeles in the early 90s (I think I was wearing my Borg costume at this Con). He used 6″ fluorescents in his engines and fiber optics for the windows. He described how to slim down the components to make them fit in the model and how to wire them up to starters and ballasts.

For these F4T5/CW tubes to fit in the nacelles I had to strip them down to their bare glass and wire components. This required cutting off the pins, peeling off the aluminum shielding, and scraping off the insulation. I did this for all five tubes I used. It was an easier matter to remove the starters from their cans.

I added some sheet aluminum heat shields to protect the plastic from the heat of the tubes. In retrospect there was no way to allow that heat to escape, so I’d rarely keep the model switched on for more than 10-15 minutes. I tacked in strips of theatrical lighting gel to tint the engine glow blue.

I modified a clear styrene toothbrush box to create mounts for the other tubes. I had to reinforce the connection between the saucer section and the neck with bolts and glue after opening up that area to accommodate the diagonal tube going through the neck.

The main impulse engine and deflector would be lit by the diagonal tube. I airbrushed the clear deflector part to create a smooth transition from the opaque orange surrounding to the blue inner glow.

other lighting

I used miniature yellow LEDs wired to a simple 555 timer circuit to create blinking running lights. Similar to the windows, I drilled holes and then thinned out the plastic inside to let the tip of the LEDs sit just proud of the hull. I used .060″ fiber optic to create the non-blinking running lights, lit by the tubes.

For each bussard collector I mounted a pair of red LEDs in styrene mounts I fabricated. Multiple coats of flat clear spray paint frosted the clear bussard parts.


Each fluorescent tube required a large, heavy 89G48M ballast to create the voltages required to light the tube. I housed those ballasts in a base that would connect to the hull through an 8-pin DIN plug and jack. The base would also house a transformer and rectifier to step down 120V AC to 12 volt DC, which was further reduced to 5V to drive the LEDs and timer circuit (which is inside the hull due to lack of connectors in my DIN plug).

I laminated multiple layers of sheet styrene to create a mounting box for the DIN jack. I drilled a hole into that to house the jack, added a retaining ring, then added additional clear bracing running diagonally to glue to the top half of the secondary hull.

I used 30 gauge single-strand wire for the interior wiring. This probably wasn’t as beefy as it should have been.

Wiring the nacelles proved to be challenging as the struts are solid plastic. I would have to run five wires to each nacelle to power the tube, the bussard collector, and the flashing running lights. I scribed a trench along a panel line on the top of the strut and glued four pieces of 30 gauge solid strand magnet wire into it. I puttied over the trench then super-glued another piece of wire over that to replace the panel line I’d sacrificed. I ended up running the fifth wire AS a panel line on the forward edge of that strut detail to complete those power needs for the nacelle.

For the stand I created a fiberglass mold from an aluminum light shade and cast a positive from fiberglass. I glassed in a shaft to hold the brass mounting tube, into which I glued in the DIN plug with JB Weld. I added a little support piece to the front of the tube as the model was very nose-heavy, despite my adding nearly a pound of lead to the back of the engineering section.

I used an old turntable to airbrush the hemisphere as a gas giant planet.

hull detailing

I was aiming for my model to resemble the four foot filming miniature that was built for the third season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The original six-foot model was very smooth and ended up looking a little bland onscreen. The four-foot model had more pronounced surface detail to catch the lighting. While the panel lines on the AMT/Ertl model are proud of the hull, rather than recessed, they do a decent job of creating interesting shadows when properly lit.

That said, I ended up sanding down those panel lines a bit (especially on the nacelles) so they wouldn’t be quite so prominent.

I wanted the phaser banks to have more detail than the flat versions molded into the hull, so I created templates that helped me scribe parallel lines into all of the phaser banks. I then glued in wire to give them extra dimension.

The model is missing a bay of windows forward of the Captain’s Yacht. I cut out that section of hull and glued in an insert I fabricated from sheet plastic.

I used a razor saw to replicate the scribed grooves around the bussard collectors.

I created a tiny back wall and table for the briefing room behind the bridge, lit by the fluorescents in the primary hull.


With so many subassemblies I painted the ship as I went along, starting with the engines and moving forward to the primary hull. I recorded episodes of Star Trek:TNG directly off of the satellite at KGUN-TV to a broadcast-quality videotape and made a highlight reel of special effects shots of the Enterprise to guide my paint job.

To create the stencils I needed to replicate the aztec paint scheme I laid strips of Scotch Tape onto the hull and made pencil rubbings of the raised surface detail. I transferred those stripes to wider clear packing tape lightly tacked to a piece of glass. I then proceeded to cut out the patterns with an X-Acto knife.

I made a custom mix of white, black and blue enamel paint and airbrushed that onto the hull. I then applied my stencils and airbrushed on a slightly darker coat. I took great care to prevent the second coat from being too contrasty, as I think overly-contrasting colors make the model look like a toy. With some modifications I was able to flip these stencils to do the port sides of the ship, using Spray Mount to tack that half down.

I used a similar technique to mask the lifeboats and transporter emitters. I elected not to use the decals as I felt they were too distinctive and contrasty compared to what I was seeing in my videotape clips.

Where I could I stenciled and airbrushed the red pinstriping and pennants visible on the hull. I thought this would be easier than trying to make the decals conform to the surface detail. I used a mixture of white glue and decal setting solution to hold down the markings I couldn’t paint.

I used a Rapidograph to ink in the unlit windows. The model doesn’t have windows molded in for the outer edge of the upper saucer. I made a rubbing of the windows on the lower saucer, cut stencils, and airbrushed those windows onto the upper saucer. I used the same approach for the edge windows on the upper engineering hull.

finescale modeler

I pitched my article to Finescale Modeler on July 9, 1993 with a detailed description of what I planned to cover and a few representative photos. I noted that Star Trek: The Next Generation would be entering its seventh and final season and was probably at the height of its popularity. There might never be a better time to publish an article about the Enterprise D.

On July 26 the Managing Editor, Mark O. Thompson, replied “You bet, we want an article about your wonderful Enterprise.” He suggested a good photo of my model could be used on a cover, but it never made it there.”

I wrote the article on our Mac IIci, sending the text on a floppy disc. I included numerous photo prints with their corresponding negatives. On some photos I attached tracing paper with diagrams identifying various components or stages. I drafted three illustrations showing the layout of the lighting in my model and the construction of the stand connector I mounted in the hall. I included a schematic for the electronics (which turned out to have an error-oops.) I sent it all off to Wisconsin via certified mail in early August.

Mr. Thompson replied in letter dated August 30, 1993. “I thought you would like to know that you scored a direct hit at FSM with your articles on the lighted starship. We appreciate the extra effort to photograph the steps and you color photography makes a nicely finished package.”

I was offered a payment of $320 for the rights to publish the article.

My build was teased in the back of the February, 1994 issue and published the following month. IIRC my article was voted as the favorite in a reader poll a year later in the spacecraft category.

The article was tweaked and republished in Famous Spaceships of Fact and Fantasy 2nd Edition. This was a particular honor as the first volume made a significant impact on my modeling skills when it was printed in 1979. It was one of the first books to show clear photos of many filming miniatures from iconic sci-fi films and TV shows