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 in "The Wounded", however, the ship class was seen as a study model in TNG: "Future Imperfect", then still using 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 II" (BoBW). The "Proto-Nebulas" appear in three different variations. 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, and especially on the damaged one.
Besides the variety of reference photos of the fully-fledged Nebula class, as of the year 2000 we only had two low-quality photos of a Nebula-like ship with extensive battle damage. We can see on the top view that there are two small extra nacelles, whereas the bottom view view shows a Galaxy-like secondary hull between the two main nacelles. Our goal was to identify this vessel in the Wolf 359 graveyard.
The burning ship in the graveyard visible in TNG: "The Best of Both Worlds II" on the viewscreen as well as in open space was previously believed to be the Rigel-class Tolstoy because this was recounted from Mike Okuda's slide show. Still, the screen cap doesn't match with the fandom description from the slide show very well. According to Okuda's statement from 2000, the Tolstoy was probably not on screen at all, so there is no longer a reason to assume it is the Tolstoy.
Actually, the ship wreck in question is the destroyed Nebula-class study model mentioned by Okuda and shown on the two low-quality photos. It is 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. Prototype #2 has a Galaxy-class secondary hull close to the main hull, which seems to be the case on the screen caps too.
The damage patterns on the prototype #2 model match perfectly with the screen caps. Even better, Mark Delgado discovered that this very Melbourne was in DS9: "Emissary" too. It is the ship that can be seen just before the Saratoga explodes - actually the last unidentified ship in that episode. 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 TNG: "The Best of Both Worlds II" is burning. Maybe forcefields were still containing fires when Sisko left the ship, whereas they had failed when the Enterprise arrived some time later.
Ed Miarecki's website showed a photo of the other, intact model (prototype #1) that appeared in TNG: "Future Imperfect". This Proto-Nebula had no pod, but two additional small nacelles. The same applies to prototype #2. Markus Nee saw both versions of the Nebula class with his own eyes and confirms this assumption.
Our schematics 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 "Proto-Nebulas", unlike the shortened version on the final version of the Nebula that appeared as the Phoenix or the Sutherland.
Masaki illustrates how the prototype #2 aka 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.
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!