Niagara Class Reconstruction

Two starships of the Niagara class were shown or mentioned altogether, the USS Princeton NCC-59804 and the USS Wellington NCC-33821 (registry visible in TNG: "The Measure of a Man"). The Princeton appeared as a heavily damaged ship in the graveyard scene at Wolf 359. Our article identifies the ship in the scenes from TNG: "Best of Both Worlds II" and reconstructs its look.

The Wolf 359 Research Project was initiated and is maintained by Mark Delgado, Balapoel, Bernd Schneider, Chris Spinnler, Timo Saloniemi, Masaki Taniko, The Red Admiral and Nick Angeloni.

 

References

Two of Greg Jein's models for TNG: "Best of Both Worlds II", both built mostly from scratch, were shown at an exhibition in Japan in 1991. The guidebook of the exhibition showed Jein holding one of them, the Niagara-class USS Princeton NCC-59804. The Star Trek Fact Files and the Star Trek Encyclopedia II (individual entry) incorrectly list the registry number NCC-58904. More pictures are available since 2002, from the additional footage of the TNG season 3 DVD, and this ultimately confirms that the ship possesses an Ambassador-like engineering hull.

 

Analysis

The depiction of the Princeton in the Star Trek Fact Files, with two nacelles above and one underneath the engineering hull, essentially matches the vessel as seen on the reference photos and screen caps. Still, many details like the saucer superstructure are quite different. It is possible that the Fact Files artist was lazy; he took a Freedom-type saucer and distorted it a bit, along with a secondary hull reminiscent of the Ambassador class. I was able to create a schematic, whose proportions match better with the model images and make the ship more pleasant looking anyway. Kris Olinger additionally decreased the nacelle size relative to the secondary hull, which may be taken from the Ambassador model. It is good to know that Jein didn't build quite a butt-ugly ship as the Fact Files suggest. Masaki modified the nacelle struts which, according to the new visual evidence from the TNG DVD, really look like depicted in the Fact Files. Summarizing, we must admit that the depiction was not as bad as we thought (and hoped), but only the details were inaccurate.

The Princeton is the vertical ship seen on the right edge when the Enterprise-D is just entering the debris field. For a long time, the vertical ship has been commonly identified as the Excelsior study model II. The saucer seemed to be of the correct shape, however, many details just didn't match. Mark disproved this theory. The ship in question is the Niagara.

In the scene just before the Enterprise passes the vertical ship, probably the very same ship appears on the viewscreen. Here it is horizontal, which could be explained in that the ship could be spinning or the Enterprise has changed its orientation. Only a small portion of the saucer is visible, but the battle damage left of the bridge seems to be the same. Most obviously the nacelles are the same; the left one has lost its Bussard collector, while the other one is fairly intact. So far the ship on the viewscreen has been occasionally identified as the (Nebula-class!) Melbourne, since it would perfectly match the dialogue "The Tolstoy...the Kyushu...the Melbourne." However, while it can't be definitely disproved that it is not a Nebula-class ship on this particular screen capture (after all the additional nacelle could have been torn off and could be floating), it is almost surely the vertical ship in the following scene and therefore not a Nebula class.

The structure of the Niagara model perfectly corresponds with the shot of the vertical ship in TNG: "Best of Both Worlds II". The ultimate proof is Mark's comparison between the screen cap and the 3D reconstruction of Jein's model. Even the damage patterns are all identical, so that it's 100% safe to say we have identified the ship in BoBW as the Princeton.

Yet, if one looks closely at the rear end of the saucer in the screen cap with the Enterprise, there is an oddity. There is something additional, half-circular above the saucer. Following the outlines, we can recognize another nacelle, besides the left nacelle that is missing its collector as visible on the reference images.

The fact that there seems to be a central nacelle in the screen caps where there is none on the photo has to be explained in that the nacelle pylons have been accidentally or intentionally tilted this way. Given the identical damage patterns on the Bussard collector (whose "lens glass" is missing) and the nacelle rear end, there is no doubt that the alleged central nacelle is actually the right nacelle.

This gives us the following nacelle arrangements (from dorsal view):

Image Left Center Right
Screen cap
Port nacelle (roughly aligned) Starboard nacelle (moved to the middle) Nothing
Model photo
Port nacelle (oblique) Nothing Starboard nacelle (where it should be on the intact ship)

It is also possible that the ship in the screen cap is seen from an odd angle, and the actually slightly elliptical saucer is tilted in a way that it appears to be round. In this case the starboard nacelle might appear just above the ship's centerline.

Masaki has analyzed the structure and size of the USS Princeton studio model (still with the larger nacelles), as seen on the photo with Greg Jein. It appears that the saucer, which doesn't have any familiar details, is a custom-made part. The nacelles seem to come from a Galaxy 2-foot studio model, while the nacelle pylons are probably custom-made parts. The Ambassador-class (Enterprise-C) studio model already existed at the time BoBW was being shot. Jein may have kept the molds to make another cast of the secondary hull.

Another rendition of the Niagara is based on the idea that the secondary hull from the Ambassador class is in scale with the Galaxy nacelles, as it doesn't appear as if two models of different scales were taken. The assumption of correctly scaled components increases the secondary hull compared to the nacelles. If the nacelles are the same as those of the Galaxy class, this would give us a length of 565m for the ship.

Masaki further analyzed the available photos of the Niagara miniature. He found some details, especially of the saucer surface, which are missing in the Fact Files top view. The analysis of the newer image from the DVD, on the other hand, also confirms that the nacelle pylons actually have the strange "kink" like in the Fact Files.

 

Conclusion

We have been able to verify the "vertical ship" in "Best of Both Worlds" as the Niagara-class USS Princeton NCC-59804. The ship was built by Greg Jein, using parts of a Galaxy studio model and several parts built from scratch. The ship possesses heavy battle damage, which is also expressed in the fact that the nacelle orientation on the photo is different than on the screen cap.

 

Credits

Thanks to Pedro, Kris Olinger and Alexander for image material, to Robert Minnes for a useful hint and to many other individuals who helped us find the truth.

 


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