Andrew Probert Enterprise-C painting

Designing the Enterprise-C

An Andrew Probert painting which served as inspiration for the Enterprise-C's design
An Andrew Probert painting which served as inspiration for the Enterprise-C’s design

The design process for the Enterprise-C began two years before the ship appeared on screen.

When Andrew Probert was designing Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s lead ship, he prepared a design lineage to establish a continuity between Kirk’s original Enterprise and the new show’s starship, which was supposed to be the fifth in the line and a hundred years older.

Probert assumed that the Enterprise-B was an Excelsior class ship. This wasn’t confirmed until Star Trek: Generations, but a relief model of an Excelsior was put in the Enterprise-D’s Observation Lounge. Probert reasoned that the “C” would have design elements in common with both ships. “I wanted there to be evidence of the ‘C’ growing from the Excelsior and then the ‘D’ growing from the ‘C,'” he told Star Trek: The Magazine (August 2002).

What I did was I took a side profile of the Excelsior and I took a side profile of the Galaxy class. Then I put them in the same scale one above the other and simply drew lines from one to the other at various important points, whether it was the saucer, the impulse engines, the bridge, the engineering hull, whatever. By doing that I came up with a composite which became the Enterprise-C.

Enterprise-C sketch
Enterprise-C sketch by Andrew Probert

When Probert left the show at the end of the first season, the rest of the studio wasn’t entirely sure what those designs he had prepared were for. Rick Sternbach, who took Probert’s place on the second season, figured they must have been rejected designs for the Enterprise-D, although he noticed the similarities with the Excelsior.

Intermediate step

When the Enterprise-C was to make its appearance in “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” Sternbach’s thinking went similar to Probert’s:

The logical starting point for this design was an intermediate step between the Excelsior class and Galaxy class. This little color sketch of Andy’s from the first season looked like it would be great to start with. The nacelles were a bit different. I assumed from the sketch that it had more of a round saucer. It had a very Excelsior-looking neck.

Sternback took some of the ideas and threw up a top view and a side view in ortho.

I showed those to the producers and made the case that this would an intermediate step and could very well be the Ambassador class.


Sternbach was more practical than Probert in that his design was less curved. “I remember making the cross section of the engineering hull circular, simply because it would make fabrication go faster,” he recalled.

Enterprise-C elevation by Rick Sternbach
Enterprise-C elevation by Rick Sternbach

Even so, the elliptical saucer was more difficult to create than a round one, like the Excelsior had, as Michael Okuda called in 2008:

Round is indeed more expensive to build than sharp and square, but elliptical can be a lot more expensive than both. This was a big deal for a model that had to be built on a very tight schedule for an episode that was already very expensive.

Okuda and Sternbach quickly decided to make the Enterprise-C’s saucer circular as well.

“Rick will be the first to admit that the resulting design wasn’t as elegant as the original concept,” said the former, “but I think he did a great job of preserving as much as possible of Andy Probert’s vision while keeping the cost low enough that our producers wouldn’t be forced to reuse the Excelsior or the movie Enterprise.”

Because they had little time to build the model, Greg Jein delegated the fabrication of the warp nacelles — which Sternbach had intentionally oversized compared to the Enterprise-D — to David Merriman and the creation of the secondary hull to Ed Miarecki.

Following its introduction in “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” Jein modified the model to appear as different Ambassador class starships in later The Next Generation episodes. The saucer and nacelles were attached at further distance from the engineering hull, resulting in a slightly larger ship.

5 thoughts on “Designing the Enterprise-C

  1. Probert and Sternbach may have thought the C was a transition between the Excelsior and the D, but to my eye — and what I like best about the C — is how the C looks like a kluge of the D and the original series Enterprise. The C’s saucer/secondary hull/engines proportions are a lot like the original 1701’s. But the saucer and engines are definitely D-inspired.

    In some ways — especially thanks to the red bussard collectors — this looks like more of a modern update of the original series Enterprise than even the Motion Picture version. The round saucer may not have been their first choice but in the end it was the best choice.

  2. I agree that the Sternbach design for the Enterprise-C looks like a link between the original series Enterprise and the next Generation Enterprise-D (here is a thread / treatise that contains an illustration:

    The one thing I do not understand is why nobody thought about going to the Conference Lounge studio set for orientation what the Enterprise-C was supposed to look like. The sculpture wall featured the Probert Enterprise-C throughout the first four seasons of Star Trek – The Next Generation.

    1. That was just because they had limited time to build a scale model of the Enterprise-C and Proberts design was more complicated to build. For that reason they advised Rick to design an easier to build version based on Proberts design. It was a decision made for budget/time reasons, not carelessness.

  3. Probert’s design is much more elegant and I like that one so much better. Too much sentimentality for the 1701 & 1701-A. That’s why it was called TNG. Gene wanted it that way.

  4. I think the clunky C was better than the more sleek one giving the D much greater distance design wise in the future. So the one that finally made it on the screen however it may have happened was the best choice and now it’s part of star trek history.

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