Runabouts with Rollbars
by Jörg Hillebrand and Bernd Schneider
Runabouts of the Danube class may be equipped with a "rollbar"-mounted pod, whose exact purpose is never really revealed in the series and is only outlined in secondary literature such as the DS9TM. The underlying real-world idea of the rollbar is that it would allow the viewer to tell apart two runabouts that otherwise look identical, especially in situations when one is in pursuit of the other. Since three runabouts were assigned to Deep Space 9 as stated in DS9: "Emissary", such problems were foreseeable when DS9 was created. In several episodes that featured more than one runabout at a time the it was chosen to equip one of them with the rollbar. There were, however, exceptions such as "Visionary" or "The Reckoning" where all runabouts looked alike.
Runabouts with rollbars could be seen on more occasions than many fans think, and in nine DS9 episodes altogether. Most of these appearances fall into the first two seasons. Four runabouts were mentioned by name: the Ganges, Mekong, Orinoco and the everlasting Rio Grande. On all later appearances the runabouts remained nameless. Since every one of the four named runabouts could be seen without the rollbar on other occasions, it is absolutely safe to conclude that rollbar runabouts are not a class variant, but that it is an additional mission-specific module. In fact, the only named runabout of the first two seasons that was seen without the pod was the USS Yangtzee Kiang, but the ship got destroyed as soon as in "Battle Lines" anyway.
There is only one type of a rollbar-mounted pod. Technically, there used to be just one miniature of the rollbar that could be placed atop the Danube-class model. Still, there are some subtle differences in its appearances, and possible slight inconsistencies that are discussed in the following.
A rollbar runabout, the USS Ganges, appears in DS9: "Past Prologue" for the first time. The rollbar is useful to distinguish this ship from the pursuing Yangtzee Kiang in its standard configuration. The front side of the pod is unlighted throughout the episode.
DS9: "Melora" shows a runabout with an unlighted pod as well, this time the Rio Grande. The second scene in the episode is only stock footage of the Ganges at warp from "Past Prologue", and it will not remain the last re-use of the same scene. In this episode the Rio Grande is in pursuit of the Orinoco (the latter without the pod), hence the rollbar trick was deemed useful.
In DS9: "Armageddon Game" we can see the Ganges for the second and last time with a rollbar, but this time the front of the pod exhibits two yellow "headlights". No other runabout appears next to the Ganges, but it was a good idea to include the rollbar just for statistical purposes. The Ganges is destroyed by a phaser beam from the T'Lani cruiser, which apparently cuts through the cockpit. When the ship explodes, however, no hull breach is visible in this region.
The next rollbar appearance is the Orinoco in DS9: "Paradise", and it can be seen next to the Rio Grande that retains the basic configuration. The first scene in which we can see the front side is another re-use of the warp flight from "Past Prologue", and hence without the lights. The yellow lights are visible in the newly filmed second appearance in this episode, however. The yellow lights must have been included after "Melora".
The Maquis, Part II
This episode is the first appearance of two rollbar runabouts side by side, namely the Orinoco and the Mekong. While this is only plausible, the special effects people conceived a trick to allow a distinction of the two vessels nonetheless. They gave the Orinoco pod red lights, and the Mekong pod green lights. These colors are consistent, with the exception of one scene. In this scene the Orinoco has yellow lights, which can be readily explained, as it is stock footage from "Armageddon Game", only left-to-right reversed. The re-used scene ends just before the Ganges is destroyed.
Besides this red, yellow and green "set of traffic lights" we can also see the Rio Grande, without the pod.
Some time later in the episode the rollbar of the Orinoco is blown away. If we look closer, we can see that the struts are not on the detached pod, but we can't make them out on the runabout body either.
All three of Deep Space 9's runabouts come into play in DS9: "The Jem'Hadar". One of them, the Mekong, is equipped with the rollbar, while the Rio Grande and the Orinoco keep the basic configuration. The lights on the Mekong's pod are red.
By Inferno's Light
It takes until the fifth season that we see a runabout with a pod again in DS9: "By Inferno's Light". This unnamed runabout is one of two that leave the station without playing a particularly important role. The rollbar is beneficial for statistical reasons, however. The lights of the pod are yellow again.
The unnamed runabout that takes the salvage team to Empok Nor has an unlighted pod. The first appearance in this episode (at warp) is yet another re-use from "Past Prologue", only mirrored. The other shots, showing the runabout at the station, were accordingly arranged to comply with the stock footage.
The final appearance of a runabout with a pod is in DS9: "Resurrection". The scene showing the unnamed vessel at Deep Space 9 is only unchanged stock footage from "Empok Nor".
VOY: Non Sequitur
This is not really an eleventh appearance but an error. The schematic diagram as well as all other exteriors of the Yellowstone-class runabout depict this vessel without a rollbar. Yet, one scene, which is stock footage of the Ganges from DS9: "Armageddon Game", shows the rollbar. Only the explosion (after fire from a Nebula-class ship has hit the runabout) was modified by removing the phaser beam and blurring the crack in the cockpit. It seems that the special effects for Voyager were not quite as carefully prepared as for DS9.
The table shows all appearances of the rollbar runabout at a glance:
|Ship type||Name||Episode||Pod lights||Stock footage?|
Danube with rollbar
|Ganges||DS9: "Past Prologue"||-||No|
|Rio Grande||DS9: "Melora"||-||Yes, partially from DS9: "Past Prologue"|
|Ganges||DS9: "Armageddon Game"||Yellow||No|
|Orinoco||DS9: "Paradise"||-||Yes, from DS9: "Past Prologue"|
|Orinoco||DS9: "The Maquis II"||Red||No|
|Yellow||Yes, from DS9: "Armageddon Game"|
|Mekong||DS9: "The Jem'Hadar"||Red||No|
|-||DS9: "By Inferno's Light"||Yellow||No|
|-||DS9: "Empok Nor"||-||Yes, partially from DS9: "Past Prologue"|
|-||DS9: "Resurrection"||-||Yes, from DS9: "Empok Nor"|
|Yellowstone||VOY: "Non Sequitur"||No pod||No|
|Yellow||Yes, from DS9: "Armageddon Game". This is an error, the vessel does not actually have a rollbar.|
In the final two DS9 seasons there was only one rollbar appearance, in DS9: "Resurrection". The most likely reason is that after the appearance of a new miniature of the Danube class for "One Little Ship" no new scenes with the miniature were filmed. A CGI model of the basic Danube was created for "Change of Heart". A combination of stock footage from old episodes and new CGI scenes may have sufficed for all purposes. There is apparently no CGI model of the rollbar, and hence no episode showing the rollbar.
The frequency of rollbar appearances only in the first two seasons is easy to explain as well. With the introduction of the much bigger and more powerful Defiant in DS9: "The Search" the runabouts lost their exclusive role of transporting important characters or of pursuing other (hijacked) runabouts. The Defiant became the first choice. A modified runabout was no longer required to allow a distinction.
Other Small Federation Vessels - and probes
Variations of the Runabout Interior - a detailed look at the changes to this regular DS9 set over the years