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Klingon Bird of Prey
Possibly the strangest ship in all of Star Trek history, the Klingon Bird of Prey is one of the most commonly seen Klingon vessels - yet it was originally meant to be a Romulan ship! As the Encyclopedia explains... 'The bird-of-prey was originally established to be Romulan in 'Balance of Terror' (TOS). An early draft of Star Trek III had Commander Kruge stealing a Romulan ship for his quest against Kirk. The Romulan connection was dropped in later drafts, but the ship somehow remained a Bird of Prey.' (3rd edition, 'Klingon bird-of-prey', p244)
Despite this convoluted introduction, the ship would subsequently become virtually the definitive Klingon design. In common with almost every other Klingon ship seen it has the twin hull configuration, with a forward 'head' containing the command centre and a torpedo launcher, an aft engineering hull connected to the head by a thin neck, and a pair of wings attached to the engineering hull. In appearance, the only significant difference between this ship and other Klingon designs is that the Bird of Prey has no nacelles on the wing tips - indeed, it has no nacelles at all! Rather the wings carry a pair of cannon, while the warp coils normally carried within the nacelles appear to be carried within the engineering hull.
The wings themselves have one other unique feature, the ability to be raised and lowered as needed. There are three wing configurations generally used; in normal flight they are generally kept in the horizontal position, during landing operations they are raised to about 30o above horizontal, and during battle they are generally lowered to about 30o below the horizontal. Why this might be has never been specified. Official sources have indicated that hull shape is a factor in the efficiency of warp drive propulsion, in much the same way that it is in aerodynamics. Presumably the level configuration can therefore be thought of as the most efficient shape for travelling in a straight line at high speed, while the wings down position may be better for heavy manoeuvring at warp speed (although most battles take place at impulse, warp speed fighting has occurred on several occasions so the ships must be designed for it). The raised wings for landing would reduce the effective wingspan somewhat, allowing the ship to land in a smaller area, but the difference isn't all that great and seems hardly worth the bother. More likely it's intended to keep the wings and disruptor cannon well clear of the ground during landings, especially during landings on rough ground or in bad weather.
The head section also carries what is widely claimed to be the cloaking device. The raised bump around the centre of the head - sometimes coloured reddish - is often labelled as the 'cloaking coil'. It's not stated whether this is the whole of the cloaking device or just some small part of it, but such devices are generally quite small - the cloaking devices seen in both the TOS episode 'The Enterprise Incident' and in DS9's 'The Emperor's New Cloak' were both about one to two metres long, so this technology hasn't changed size greatly over the last century or so. Given this, the bulge on the Bird of Prey head is more than big enough to house a cloaking device in its entirety.
The housing of warp coils within the main body of the ship is an interesting choice. The tendency to put nacelles away from the ship on most designs indicates that close proximity to the warp coils is in some way undesirable, so presumably those ships which have internal coils suffer a penalty from it. This might be in the form of a less efficient drive system, or perhaps dangerous radiation which would require some type of shielding around the compartment holding the warp coils. If the bird of prey does suffer from some inherent efficiency penalty from having the warp coils within the engineering hull, we could say that the designers went to the trouble of adding variable geometry wings in order to make up for this loss.
As well as the warp and impulse drives, the engineering hull is shown in Star Trek IV to hold the warp core, complete with dilithium chamber, the transporter room, and a small cargo bay. This latter feature will prove to be of major importance in discussing by far the greatest problem with the Bird of Prey design; that of just how large it is. It is this and related issues which the remainder of this article is concerned with.
Star Trek III
The Bird of Prey was designed by Nilo Rodis (who also helped to design the Spacedock model seen in this film) and built by Industrial Light and Magic. The designed length of the ship is widely reported to be 109 metres, and the majority of the effects in the first film support this length. The primary hull of the refitted Constitution design is 140 metres across, so looking at the images below we can see that the Bird of Prey is indeed about a hundred metres long.
Star Trek IV
The problems begin with this film. Consider the scene of Vulcans taking equipment into the ship :
Another Bird of Prey appears in Star Trek V. There are relatively few scenes which allow us to judge the size of it, but there is one good comparison with the Enterprise at the end of the film. The Bird of Prey appears to be fifty eight metres across, which would make it about forty metres long. This is the shortest of the lengths we've looked at so far, even shorter than the 55 metres some scenes indicate for the ship in Star Trek IV.
In Star Trek VI we meet another Bird of Prey, a modified version designed to fire torpedoes whilst cloaked. There is no scene which allows its size to be compared with a known object. My assumption is that this vessel is based on the hull of a standard 109 metre long Bird of Prey.
In Generations we meet another variant, this one described as 'a class D12 Bird of Prey'. These were described as having been retired due to defective plasma coils, a part of the cloaking device. Picard refers to this specific ship as being twenty years old, so they must have been in production until at least 2351. Despite the disparaging way Picard talks says this line, twenty years is not all that long in Starship terms - the Enterprise-D was already seven years old at this point, after all. However, if the date at which the class was retired was also 2351 or thereabouts, making this particular ship one of the last built, then they would have gone twenty years without significant upgrading of their systems. This would better account for the condescending attitude towards the ship, since it's established in 'Yesterday's Enterprise' that twenty two years is sufficient time for a whole new generation of weapons technology to evolve.
The Next Generation
The Bird of Prey design makes several appearances in the next generation, and it is here that the sizing problems begin in earnest. The first appearance is in 'A Matter of Honor'. In this episode we get a good comparison of the Enterprise-D to the Klingon ship Pagh :
Deep Space Nine
Some interesting comparisons are possible in 'Way of the Warrior'. Several Bird of Prey style ships can be seen, firstly in the attack on the Cardassian Galor class vessel which the Defiant goes to meet. It's hard to judge the size of these ships, but the scene in which one of them chases the Defiant in close proximity to a Vor'cha class assault cruiser makes it look about right for the 109 metre length.
However, the most interesting shot is this one :
The Official Story
The official version of events is given in the Deep Space Nine Technical Manual, which states that there are two types of Bird of Prey. These it calls the B'rel and the K'vort. It claims the B'rel is 157.76 metres long, 181.54 metres wide and 98.54 metres tall while the corresponding figures for the K'vort are 678.36, 780.62 and 423.72 metres respectively. Rick Sternbach has indicated on his news group that the K'vort figures were dictated by the scene in 'The Defector' showing the Klingon ship close to the Romulan warbird. Unfortunately, this story doesn't hold very close to the facts. The only mention ever of a K'vort class was in the alternate timeline of 'Yesterday's Enterprise'. There is absolutely no use of this word outside that episode. The only use ever made of the B'rel name is in 'Rascals', in which it is applied to a ship which is identical to the K'vort. It has to be identical to the K'vort, because the same piece of film is used for both ships! So, the B'rel must be around 300 metres long. The K'vort could exist within the regular Trek timeline as a variant on the B'rel, but since there's no actual evidence of it then really, it's simpler to assume that any 300 metre versions of the design are actually B'rels.
As far as the DS9 TM sizes are concerned, they are right that 'The Defector' indicates a variant of the Bird of Prey which is over six hundred metres long. But the length of 157.76 metres for the smaller variant in the book is too long for the 35 and 109 metre version Bird of Prey, and too short for the 280 and 300 metre version. So while the DS9 TM has the size of the 600 metre version about right, but not the name, it has both the name and size of the smaller ship wrong and ignores the evidence of a 35 metre and 300 metre version completely. This is not to denigrate Rick Sternbach's work on the book or claim he is incompetent in any way. Rather, I think he just tried to come up with a reasonable compromise of one big and one small ship. He used the only two proper class names mentioned in the show and seems to have picked a size for the smaller one which is roughly in the middle of the 35 metre - 280 metre range, while his size for the bigger one conforms to the biggest version shown. It's a reasonable compromise attempt, but it's not necessarily the best explanation of the screen evidence.
There are those who choose to believe that all depictions of ships at other than their designed size are nonsense, and just chalk it up to errors in the special effects. This is a perfectly reasonable thing to do, but personally I've always favoured explanations that explain as many aspects of canon as possible. There's no inherent reason why a ship design cannot be scaled up whilst keeping its external appearance identical, as I explain on the scaling article. It's purely a matter of personal choice, and while official sources clearly think that two variants of the ship are enough, I don't mind having more. I've complained in the past that species like the Klingons and Romulans don't have anything like enough ship designs in their fleet when compared to the legions of Federation classes, so I'm more than happy to flesh things out a bit.
So far as I can tell, there are four different distinct sizes for the Bird of Prey design. Firstly, the 109 metre version. The first in service, this is the one Kirk used in Star Trek III/IV. I choose to ignore the evidence that this ship is 55 metres or so long since the majority of the evidence says otherwise. This ship seems to exist in at least four distinct versions; the one Kirk used, Chang's modification, the D-12, and the version which is still in use in the TNG/DS9 era of which the Rotarran is a member. We could assume that Kirk's original model was in fact a D12, but it seems odd that a ship could be in continuous production for at least sixty six years before then being retired en masse because of a faulty cloaking device. I call Kirk's ship a D11, Chang's a D11A, and the TNG era version the D13. Realistically there should probably be several more versions between the D11 and 12, but I've stuck with the minimum for the sake of simplicity.
In TNG, the same design is often 280 - 400 metres long. You could probably spin off half a dozen or so variants within this range - virtually every depiction of a ship is going to scale it slightly differently, due to the nature of the special effects process. For the sake of simplicity I choose to call all of these a single variant which is 327 metres long. I pick the upper end of the range because it is the only depiction which has received a name in canon - the B'rel.
The ship seen in 'The Defector' seems to be another variant, this one over 600 metres long.
Finally, there is a variant which is rather smaller than the normal Bird of Prey - the 35 metre long version seen in 'The Way of The Warrior'.
We have no names for any of these ships besides the B'rel and the D12 variant of the 109 metre ship, which is why I have been forced to invent names for the very large and very small variants. For the 109 metre model I have just stuck with a generic 'Bird of Prey' tag, with the invented D numbers to distinguish them. For the others I have invented Klingon sounding names. So here are the variants :
|35 metres|| ||K'pak||Seen in 'Way of the Warrior'. Name is speculation.|
|109 metres|| ||Bird of Prey |
|Actual designed size of the original model, supported by most of the evidence from ST III/IV. Variants of similar size appear in further films and TNG/DS9. D numbers of all but the D12 are speculation.|
|327 metres|| ||B'rel||Seen and named as the B'rel in 'Rascals'. Ships of this approximate size in TNG are assumed to be B'rel class also.|
|654 metres|| ||T'pai||Seen in 'The Defector'. Name is speculation.|
So that's the story behind the Bird of Prey, surely one of the most convoluted designs in all of Star Trek history!
|Yellow text = Canon source||Green text = Backstage source||Cyan text = Novel||White text = DITL speculation|
|Copyright Graham Kennedy||Page views : 9,181||Last updated : 1 Jan 1970|