The Romulan Bird of Prey model on the soundstage

Creating the Romulan Bird of Prey

Unpainted Romulan Bird of Prey model
Unpainted Romulan Bird of Prey model

The Romulan Bird of Prey was designed by Wah Ming Chang in just two weeks’ time. He also built a small model of the ship although it isn’t clear if this was the same as the internally lit studio model that was sent to Film Effects of Hollywood where the footage was shot and used in both the episodes “Balance of Terror” and “The Deadly Years.”

Wah’s contributions to Star Trek were largely unknown at the time. He worked for the show independently from his home studio in Altadena, California. Due to union complications and restrictions, he wasn’t credited on screen even if Wah supplied most of props and many costumes, including the Romulan helmets in “Balance of Terror,” for The Original Series.

Producer Robert Justman, who considered Wah’s work superior to anything members of the propmakers’ union came up with, invented a ruse to make it appear that Wah’s creations were bought for the show off the shelf. His true involvement in the making of Star Trek only became known a decade after it first aired.

After filming, the Bird of Prey model disappeared which may account for the Romulans showing up in Klingon D7 cruisers in the third season episode “The Enterprise Incident.” It may also have been the case that the producers wanted to display the D7 model as much as possible as a courtesy to the model kit company Aluminum Model Toys which actually paid for it. In any event, the model’s whereabouts remain unknown.

A Romulan Bird of Prey appears in the remastered version of "The Enterprise Incident"
A Romulan Bird of Prey appears in the remastered version of “The Enterprise Incident”

The inconsistency of Romulans piloting Klingon ships was partly mended in the remastered version of “The Enterprise Incident” when an original Bird of Prey was added to the scene where three Romulan vessels surround the Enterprise. Romulan markings were also added to the underside of the D7s.

The remastered version of “Balance of Terror” includes a new shot showing the aft three quarters of the Bird of Prey.

2 thoughts on “Creating the Romulan Bird of Prey

  1. Regarding the use of Klingon D7s instead of Wah’s ‘Bird of Prey” in “‘The Enterprise Incident”, IMDB gives two different explanations :

    “In the opening segment, in regard to the enemy vessels, Spock declares “Romulans now using Klingon design!” The actual reason for this was that in unpacking the models to shoot this sequence, a production assistant stepped on and broke the Romulan Warbird model that was going to be used, so they pulled out their Klingon battle cruiser model and wrote the line to cover it up.”

    However later on it is stated that:

    “Although long thought otherwise, from the very first draft, the script had the Romulans using Klingon ships. The series had a lot of money invested in the Klingon model and needed to get its money’s worth.”

    Yet another explanation is mentioned at Wikipedia:

    “Another report – one considered most likely by Trek historians and somewhat confirmed by model master and sculptor Wah Chang in a 1982 National Public Radio interview – was that the original Bird-of-Prey model was destroyed after its initial use in “Balance of Terror”. According to Wah in the interview, there were some issues over payment for the model – which he had designed and built – following a complaint by one of the special effects unions over Wah’s non-membership. While Wah’s membership was an issue because the union refused to allow him into their guild for the simple reason that his skills were superior to most of the guild’s current members, Desilu and the Star Trek production staff used his talents anyway, claiming that the props he made were already made and “bought off the shelf”. However, the local guild had evidence that Wah had built the Bird-of-Prey model specifically for the show, and after some negotiation agreed to drop the grievance if Wah received no payment for the model. Desilu capitulated, and returned the model to Wah. In a fit of anger, Wah took the model into his back yard, and proceeded to bash it to bits with a sledge hammer.”

    It looks like the truth in this matter has its own cloaking device…

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