Proto-Nebula Class Reconstruction
The Nebula class that we are familiar with is not a kitbash. It is a full-scale custom-built starship. The saucer and nacelles are largely identical to those of the Galaxy class though, in order to insinuate a design lineage. The Nebula engineering hull, on the other hand, has a completely different shape than on the Galaxy. The triangular pod (or already the elliptic pod on the Phoenix in TNG: "The Wounded") is quite different from anything on the Galaxy anyway. Before the Nebula first "officially" appeared (namely in "The Wounded"), however, the ship class was seen as a study model, then still using all the required parts from the AMT/Ertl 1/1400 Enterprise-D kit. We found out that originally at least two of these models were built by Ed Miarecki, one of which was terribly damaged for its role as a wreck in TNG: "The Best of Both Worlds" (BoBW). The "Proto-Nebulas" appear in three different variants. Since there are three variants of the regular Nebula (the one represented by the full-scale studio model) plus two different CGI variants, this gives us eight known Nebula variants altogether! The analysis on this page will focus on the prototypes.
The burning ship in the graveyard visible in BoBW on the viewscreen as well as in open space was widely accepted as the Rigel-class Tolstoy for a long time because this was recounted from Mike Okuda's slide show. Still, it doesn't match the fandom description from the slide show very well. According to Okuda's more recent statement the Tolstoy was probably not on screen at all, so there is no longer a reason to assume it is the Tolstoy. Something seems to be wrong with the model anyway. If Galaxy and Constitution model kits have been used to build it (which is already awful enough), why did they take such tiny nacelles for a massive ship? Maybe the saucer is taken from the 1/1400 Enterprise-D model kit, while the nacelles are from the 1/2500 model kit. This is the solution!
Actually, the ship wreck in question is not the Tolstoy but the destroyed Nebula-class study model mentioned by Okuda, one of two largely identical models built by Ed Miarecki. Both versions were labeled as "USS Melbourne NCC-62043", but one (denoted as Nebula prototype #2 in the following) was heavily damaged for the scene. The ship on the low-quality photos has a Galaxy-class secondary hull close to the main hull which seems to be the case on the screen caps too. The question is what the undersized nacelles are about. The solution can be found at Ed Miarecki's website. He shows a photo of the other, intact model (prototype #1) that appeared in TNG: "Future Imperfect". This Proto-Nebula has no pod, but two additional small nacelles. Markus Nee saw both versions of the Nebula class with his own eyes and confirmed this assumption.
The two images above are the ultimate proof that the ship in question is the Nebula-Melbourne #2. Compare the damage patterns to the screen grabs. They match perfectly. Even better, Mark Delgado discovered that this very Melbourne was in DS9: "Emissary" too (image). It is the ship which can be seen just before the Saratoga explodes - actually the last unidentified ship in that episode. Sisko is intentionally upside down, to allow a better comparison of the above top view and the screen cap. The only difference is that something must have happened to the port nacelle which seems to be missing in the image from "Emissary". Another difference is that the wreck in BoBW is burning. Maybe forcefields were still containing fires when Sisko left the ship, while they had failed when the Enterprise arrived some time later.
The schematics below show prototype #2 as it was seen in BoBW and "Emissary" and the intact #1 from "Future Imperfect" which was later modified with a pod as #3 for Sisko's ready room. Note the long and sleek Galaxy-style secondary hull on all versions, unlike the shortened version on the final version of the Nebula that appeared as the Phoenix or the Sutherland.
Masaki illustrates how the Melbourne was built. Ed Miarecki used the AMT/Ertl 1/1400 Enterprise-D kit and two small warp nacelles from the AMT/Ertl 1/2500 Enterprise-D kit.
In 2015 and 2016, Rick Sternbach managed to dig up several more photos of the various ships built by Ed Miarecki and used for the Wolf 359 shoots, all taken before the models were damaged. They include the first good pictures of the undamaged Nebula prototype, labeled as "USS Melbourne NCC-62043".
Looking at the still intact model, we can recognize a pod above the secondary hull. This pod is made from an originally clear cockpit hood taken from the Treadmaster, a highly configurable toy from the 1980s. The same part was used for the upper pod of the Chekov. Two more parts from a Tomy Tomics set, the Rotary Commander, can be found on the top of that pod as nacelles pylons.
We have identified the Nebula-class Melbourne in the wreckage and refuted the idea that this could be the Rigel-class Tolstoy, which is in fact non-existent. There are two study models for the Nebula class, one of which "survived" and was later seen in Riker's and in Sisko's ready rooms. The destroyed one had a second appearance in DS9: "Emissary", and it is the only ship that can be seen in both Wolf 359 episodes.
Despite the fact that there was a model labeled "USS Melbourne NCC-62043", (Proto-) Nebula class, in both episodes about Wolf 359, the only plausible explanation is that the only USS Melbourne NCC-62043 to exist should have been the Excelsior class. After all the name and number were both clearly visible on the Excelsior in "Emissary", while the Nebula-Melbourne was not even identified as Melbourne class for a decade, let alone its registry. Read more about the naming conflict.
Nebula Class Observations - a close look at four variants of the design
The History of the Nebula Class Studio Models - all screen-used models (miniatures and CGI) and their modifications
Thanks to Frank Gerratana and Harry Doddema for some of the images. Special thanks go to Markus Nee and Gary Perry for the decisive hints and photo, respectively. Thanks to Gidian for the hint about the nacelle pylons. Big thanks also to Rick Sternbach!