Spotting the Ships from the Star Fleet Technical Manual

by Jörg Hillebrand and Bernd Schneider

In 1975, the Star Fleet Technical Manual (SFTM) by Franz Joseph Schnaubelt was published, the first comprehensive work on the technology and the starships of Star Trek. Read my review of the book for more details. After such a long time the book is outdated in many regards (albeit this is mostly not Franz Joseph's fault) and is not regarded as a part of the canon Star Trek Universe. Yet, in "Star Trek II" and "Star Trek III" excerpts from the SFTM appeared on computer screens on the Enterprise bridge, giving rise to the question whether at least these parts of the book shouldn't gain canonical status. The debate among the fans is still going on, although in official publications like the Star Trek Encyclopedias or the Star Trek Fact Files Franz Joseph's work is ignored.

Aside from the well-known Constitution class the Star Fleet Technical Manual introduces four new designs which are essentially created using a Constitution-style saucer with nacelles in different arrangements. The ship types are:

The Starship Database has more information on the designs.

The following screen cap analysis will clarify which of the above starships from the SFTM appeared on screen in canon Trek, and in which form. Furthermore it will elucidate how the sequence with excerpts from the SFTM was assembled.



Single pages from the Star Fleet Technical Manual are shown on different computer displays on the Enterprise bridge in "Star Trek II" as well as in "Star Trek III". For this purpose a well-ordered sequence of graphics was compiled, which is the same in both movies and which is repeated in a loop. "Star Trek III" gives an overall more complete impression of the sequence, which is why most of our screen caps have been taken from this movie.

Initially the screens show some maps and technical details from the book. Among them are the map of the Federation from page T0:02:07:02 and the phasers from page T0:01:08:52.

The following appearances of the ships all adhere to the same pattern: One screen depicts an upper half of a page, the next one the according lower half.

The first ship images in the sequence are the ones from page T0:01:04:00 ("Fleet Ship Classifications"). Here we can easily spot the Constitution class from the upper half of the page. The Federation-class dreadnought, however, whose dashed hull outline can be found above the Constitution on the same page is unrecognizable. The lower part of the page contains depictions of the Saladin/Hermes and of the Ptolemy class, the latter with transport pods. Both ships are identifiable on our screen caps.

Page T0:01:04:10 about the Constitution class is the first in a line of reproduced pages that depict three views of one ship class at a time. Once again, we are first shown the upper half (with the Constitution's top view) and then the lower half (with the side and fore views).

The next page with images in the SFTM is T0:01:04:12 about the Saladin class, and we can see the according page reproduced on the screen.

If we compare the following screen caps with those of the Saladin, we can see that an unrecognizable text fragment is missing between the heading and the top view of the vessel. This text fragment reads "Photon torpedos P/S" [sic!] on the SFTM page about the Saladin-class destroyer and is not on page T0:01:04:14 about the Hermes-class scout. The torpedo launchers are the only obvious difference between the two classes. Likewise, in the "particulars" about the Saladin class in the SFTM there is accordingly one more line, which can be verified in a comparison of the two screen caps of the lower halves. This correspondence confirms that both ships, the Saladin and the Hermes, appear on screen.

The SFTM page T0:01:04:16 about the Ptolemy shows the ship design without the transport containers. The depiction of the Ptolemy class on the monitors follows the usual pattern yet again.

After the Ptolemy the loop starts over with the reproductions of maps and devices.

It is worth mentioning that the individual page T0:01:04:24 about the Federation-class dreadnought is not among the pages that were rendered on the computer screens. Although it is possible that the ship with its rather odd look was intentionally not included to the sequence, the easiest explanation is that it was accidentally dropped. We doubt that much contemplation was invested into a series of random images that would be barely recognizable even in the theaters. This may also be the reason why obviously no one in the Art Department noticed that the Saladin and Hermes look so much alike that it wouldn't have been worth the effort of creating distinct graphics for both of them.



We could figure out how the identical sequence on the computer screens in "Star Trek II" and "Star Trek III" was assembled and which pages in the Star Fleet Technical Manual or parts thereof were utilized to create it. The starship types that can be clearly identified are the Constitution, the Saladin, the Hermes and the Ptolemy. The three-nacelled Federation class is not recognizable, not even a single piece of its hull outline is visible.

It may be a matter of personal preference how much credence is given to the SFTM. In a rather strict view, but in compliance with Star Trek's canon policy since the time of TNG, we may explain the sighting of the new ships in that they are just generic depictions of Starfleet vessels, without knowing their names or any specs. No text was legible on screen that could reveal anything specific, whilst the SFTM does not exist in the Star Trek Universe as a book with starship images and specs. In other words, the SFTM, although it came first, is a book only in our real world whose layout coincidentally looks like the canon depictions of the ships in question.

In this case, without the knowledge that it should be there too, the Federation class does not exist canonically because it was never visible. Regarding the Saladin and the Hermes, the distinction of these two classes does not become evident on screen, so in canon Trek they look like they are the very same class. Likewise, the idea that destroyers have a single nacelle and that dreadnoughts have three nacelles belongs into the non-canon realm (see False Canon), since the according text is illegible on screen.



Thanks to the Guardian of Forever for the book scans and thanks to Titan Fleet Yards for the Federation-class side view.


Forgotten Starships @ Trekplace
another analysis of the SFTM ships in the movies


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