Saturday, June 1, 2019

Making Sense of Star Trek 3: the Classes of Axanar

In my previous post on this subject I defined the various ship classes of Star Trek and their roles within the fleet. Now I'm going to return to where I began this series by explaining how the ship designs of Prelude to Axanar just make sense to me (unlike those of later Treks).

We're going to ignore the Klingon ships, because let's be honest, most fans care more about the Federation ships anyway.

One of the things which I noticed is that the saucers on the first four ship classes, i.e. the ones which existed prior to the Four Years' War (and if you don't know what I'm talking about, go watch Prelude again) have the same radius. Look at the measurements under the names: the first is length, the second is width, and the third is depth. Notice that the second measurement of all four ships is the same: 122 meters. Notice that the nacelles don't extend out further than the saucer, either.

Why is this important? Because it means Starfleet was using standardized saucer sections across ship classes. I don't know about you, but I think that's brilliant, because it suggests to me that Starfleet had standardized specifications for hulls, nacelles, etc and instead of designing a ship wholecloth they just plugged parts into a design to get what they wanted.

Yes, they got the name wrong. I'm guessing there was a last-minute naming convention swap between the Hermes and the Geronimo (see below). 

The USS Hermes, on the far left, is a frigate. (See this post for an explanation of what that means.) It has one engine, meaning it's not very powerful (see my explanation of nacelles = boilers here.) It's obviously a scout which has been retrofitted for war by attaching a weapons "roll bar" to the top of the saucer in order to give it the ability to fire photon torpedoes.

The joy of this is that classes are now configurable for their missions. Do you need a Fast Frigate? Add a second nacelle to the top (this would obviously not be compatible with the rollbar). Need an Endurance Frigate? Add a secondary hull instead... you know, like the USS Kelvin.

Image found on Pinterest

Want a ship with the power of two engines that can also shoot photon torpedoes? No problem, that's the destroyer USS Magellan, just move the mounting points over to accommodate two nacelles on the ventral side and integrate the photorp launcher into the saucer, right above the impulse engines and ready to absorb energy straight from engineering. You can easily see how this design became the USS Reliant.

Want a destroyer with more endurance? Just put a secondary hull onto it and call it the USS Korolev, a light cruiser. Now it has more flexibility, more sensor power, more small craft.

I'm sure some of you are wondering why it has a notch cut out of the saucer. I contend that it's there to add visual distinction to the design, because otherwise it would be confused with the Magellan class. It already looks like a Magellan with a secondary hull, so adding a cutout increases its visual distinctiveness. It's bad reasoning for a navy, but it makes perfect sense for a movie.

Talking about saucer cutouts brings us to the USS Geronimo (erroneously labeled the Hermes in this picture. I don't know why they decided to halve its primary hull, as its double secondary hulls and dorsal nacelles (a design not seen again until the Constitution) looks plenty distinctive already. I truly can't explain why they gave up so much valuable real estate. But if you look at the top-down picture where the photorp launcher is, you can see that the dome on top of it is in almost exactly the same place as the one on the photorp launcher of the Magellan.

See, I told you they switched the names. 

That one very odd quirk notwithstanding, I really like this ship. It's clearly a medium cruiser and it seems optimized for two things:
  1. Science operations, with its double forward sensor arrays in the navigational deflector dishes of the secondary hulls;
  2. Small craft operations, with a plenty of room for shuttles (and Fast Attack Craft in wartime) in its deep double shuttlebays. 
In other words, it's a carrier that also doubles as a sensor platform -- all the better to coordinate small craft attacks and carry out electronic warfare during battles. 

All of this uniformity of design changed during the war, because as per Prelude to Axanar, the Klingons were handily defeating Federation ships in all battles which necessitated a bespoke design. Still, you can see how the design of the USS Ares is an example of "Like the Korolev, only moreso" with its longer secondary hull and more widely-placed nacelles.

Of course, everyone knows this lady. The Constitution class is certainly dramatic looking, with her long goose neck and swept back nacelles.

From a tactical standpoint, these design choices don't make sense, but it's worth repeating that the Enterprise was designed, first and foremost, to have a striking and unique design for a visual medium. In that sense the designer Matt Jeffries succeeded beyond his wildest dreams, as the Enterprise is still iconic 50 years later. This is, unfortunately, also where Starfleet designs stop making sense to me, with far more exposed parts and each class a custom design with a unique hull configuration.

Thank you for riding with me on this in-depth geek-out regarding the ship classes of Starfleet. I hope you had fun! Leave your comments below. 

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