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Polar Lights 1/350 scale Star Trek USS Enterprise

RELATED TOPICS: SPACECRAFT
Kit:POL880/04 // Scale:1/350 // Price:$139.99
Manufacturer:
Polar Lights, 574-243-3000
Pros:
Ease of construction; sturdy parts; optional windows; set up to be lit; accurate shapes
Cons:
Paint and decal instruction only on box
Comments:
Injection-molded, 218 parts (1 metal), decals
FSM-NP0213_40
FSM-NP0213_42
No. MKA007/06; Price: $149.99 - Pros: No experience necessary; plug-an-play wiring. Cons: Connectors need wiggling to work; instructions could confuse novices.
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Arguably the most recognizable spaceship in the history of television, the USS Enterprise has been around in model kit form since the first season of  “Star Trek” in 1966. Since then, modelers have wanted newer, more-accurate, and bigger models. A 1/350 scale Enterprise made it to the fifth spot in FSM’s “most-wanted kit” poll in 2010.


Polar Lights answered the call with a 1/350 kit, and it’s pulled out all the stops to create a model that builds well and looks awesome — the finished ship is 32" long. As if that’s not enough, the company has several aftermarket sets to finish your starship as you like. I added the lighting set.


The big, heavy box — and I love the box art— is slam-full of plastic. At first glance, most of it appears to be molded in the same shade of gray. But there are subtle differences; the parts are in a color close to their final appearance. 


The sensor dish and its housing are molded in copper, and the windows are supplied in clear, white, and dark-tinted plastic. The latter can be combined to replicate the lit and unlit windows seen on the show’s miniature. 


Clear parts are provided for running lights, domes on the primary hull, and the Bussard collectors on the warp-engine nacelles.


The kit includes a detailed bridge and shuttle bay, with optional doors for the latter to be open or closed.


The kit builds into the ship seen during production of the series, but Polar Lights produces a supplemental parts pack (No. MKA004) for either of the pilot versions.


A sturdy metal tube with a black hemispherical base rounds out the parts. Decals provide markings, including screens in the bridge, placards in the shuttle bay, and two shuttles. Painting and decaling instructions are on the sides of the box’s lower tray. This is the weakest aspect of the kit for me; I found it difficult to use the drawings when the box was full of parts or subassemblies. 


The lighting set reproduces many of the clear parts in the original kit in translucent red, blue, orange, and green for various effects. There are two motors to spin the Bussard collector fans, 95 LEDs, four circuit boards, and an AC/DC power adapter. The instructions accommodate people like me who don’t know electronics; keep them handy for both sets, because parts from the lighting set, especially the clear bridge and shuttle bay, replace kit parts.


The lighting set offers the option of lighting the intercooler grilles on the warp engines’ inboard sides and the impulse engines. These were intended for the filming model but ended up cut from the budget.


The basic kit is beautifully engineered, and the sturdy locating pins simplify construction. The kit accepts the lighting set with mounting pins and locators for wiring and LEDs. Major components have a tongue-and-groove join to prevent light leaks.


After painting and decaling the bridge (with a choice of three view-screen images) and shuttle bay, I installed the windows. They attach in groups from inside; I referred to the box images to form a pattern of clear and dark windows to match the studio ship. This meant cutting some of the inserts apart. This isn’t difficult, but the plastic is brittle and can crack if you aren’t careful. Since I was lighting the model, I painted the inside of the dark windows black to block light. I sprayed the inside of the clear windows with Testors Dullcote to soften and disperse light. If I hadn’t been lighting the ship, I would have used the white plastic to represent lit windows.


I had a problem installing the strip LEDs in the primary hull (due to my electronics inexperience, not the kit). The strips are polarized, so they won’t work if they’re backwards; the instructions clearly state this. What isn’t clear is which side of the connectors is positive. The LED strips were clearly marked, but the connectors on the wires were not. From the instructions, the darker (black) wire connects to the positive side of the strips, but it should be the lighter (red) wire.


The connectors slip onto the ends of the strips but need to be wiggled to find just the right spot for current. This was a tad frustrating when installing a long series of LEDs. Joining the hull halves jostled wires enough for some LEDs to go out, so I retested at every step before gluing.


Most of the lights fit easily, but the LEDs around the shuttle bay were more difficult. The secondary hull’s stern is narrow, and there’s a lot to fit. I had to grind out part of the inner hull, the outside of the shuttle bay, and even some LED bulbs before the hull would close. Styrene and putty shims filled gaps.


I neglected a note in the light set and painted part of the outside of the clear parts for the shuttle bay. So, light doesn’t transfer as well as it should and the bay is a tad dark.


The Bussard collectors have individual plastic bulbs. These are clear in the base kit and need to be painted to match the orange glow of the real thing. The lighting set provides colored bulbs.


This is where the light set truly stands out. Each nacelle has a disc-shaped circuit board with 10 LEDs that fit around motors that spin the fan sections. These boards control the motor spin, the constant glow of the orange bulbs, and the random blinking of the smaller multicolored bulbs. Follow the schematics carefully — reversing the polarity to the motors so the fans spin in opposite directions — and you’ll be rewarded with a great-looking effect. At first the blinking bulbs didn’t work, but they’ve gotten better since. The port nacelle runs perfectly every time; the starboard takes a few minutes.


The ship’s sleekness rates the time I spent filling and sanding the long seams on the nacelles and secondary hull. The gap around the saucer needed careful attention — lots of windows to avoid.


I painted subassemblies with the kit’s suggested body color: Tamiya Japanese Navy gray (XF-12) lightened slightly with flat white (XF-2). This greenish gray looks just right compared to pictures of the original at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.


Hand-painting details gave me an appreciation of the ship’s elegance.


Bringing the four subassemblies together is simple for the basic model. Locating tabs and holes are large and hold the parts firmly, a nice touch given the vessel’s top-heavy design. However, the wiring complicates matters: As I threaded the pylon wires through the small opening in the mounts and out the front to the secondary hull, I wished I had three extra arms and a larger vocabulary of curses.


But all problems went out the window when I plugged the model in and everything worked — well, almost everything. There are a couple of LEDs in the secondary hull that stopped working during construction. But the thing is lighted well as it is.


Size alone makes the finished model impressive. But the attention to detail — I’ve noticed stuff I’d never seen before — makes it a winner. I spent about 35 hours on my Enterprise, although only about 10 on construction. I had a few problems installing the lighting set (some of my own making), but nothing I couldn’t overcome. Now all I need is Polar Lights’ 1/350 scale refit Enterprise to display next to it.


Note: A version of this review appeared in the September 2013 FineScale Modeler.

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