Creating the Romulan Bird of Prey

Romulan Bird of Prey model
Romulan Bird of Prey miniature

The Romulan Bird of Prey was designed by Wah Ming Chang in just two weeks’ time.

He also built a small model of the ship, although it isn’t clear if this was the internally-lit studio miniature that was sent to Film Effects of Hollywood, where the footage was shot for “Balance of Terror” and “The Deadly Years”.

Chang’s contributions to Star Trek were largely unknown at the time. He worked for the show independently from his home studio in Altadena, California. Due to union restrictions, he wasn’t credited on screen, even though Chang supplied most of props and a few of the costumes of The Original Series, including the Romulan helmets in “Balance of Terror”.

Producer Robert Justman, who considered Chang’s work superior to anything members of the propmakers’ union could design, invented a ruse to make it appear that Chang’s creations were bought for the show off the shelf. Chang’s true involvement in Star Trek only became known a decade after the show aired.

After filming “Balance of Terror”, the Bird of Prey miniature disappeared, which may be why the Romulans showed up in Klingon D7 cruisers in “The Enterprise Incident” in Season 3.

It may also have been the case that the producers wanted to display the D7 model as much as possible as a courtesy to the model kit company Aluminum Model Toys, which paid for it.

Romulan Bird of Prey
Romulan ships in the remastered “The Enterprise Incident” (Trekcore)

Chang told National Public Radio in 1982 he had destroyed the model after the propmakers’ union had complained about his unsanctioned work for Star Trek and Desilu, in a concession to the union, refused to pay him for his work.

The inconsistency of Romulans piloting Klingon ships was partly mended in the remastered version of “The Enterprise Incident”, when an original Bird of Prey was added to the scene in which three Romulan ships surround the Enterprise. Romulan markings were also added to the underside of the D7s.

The remastered version of “Balance of Terror” includes a new shot showing the aft three-quarters of the Bird of Prey.

8 comment

Great article! Would you happen to have any photos of the WW2 aircraft fighters from “Shore Leave”?

Jeff Shipman (Dec 11, 2013)

Regarding the use of Klingon D7s instead of Wah’s Bird of Prey in “The Enterprise Incident”, IMDB gives two different explanations:

“In the opening segment, in regard to the enemy vessels, Spock declares “Romulans now using Klingon design!” The actual reason for this was that in unpacking the models to shoot this sequence, a production assistant stepped on and broke the Romulan Warbird model that was going to be used, so they pulled out their Klingon battle cruiser model and wrote the line to cover it up.”

However later on it is stated that:

“Although long thought otherwise, from the very first draft, the script had the Romulans using Klingon ships. The series had a lot of money invested in the Klingon model and needed to get its money’s worth.”

Yet another explanation is mentioned at Wikipedia:

“Another report – one considered most likely by Trek historians and somewhat confirmed by model master and sculptor Wah Chang in a 1982 National Public Radio interview – was that the original Bird-of-Prey model was destroyed after its initial use in “Balance of Terror”. According to Wah in the interview, there were some issues over payment for the model – which he had designed and built – following a complaint by one of the special effects unions over Wah’s non-membership. While Wah’s membership was an issue because the union refused to allow him into their guild for the simple reason that his skills were superior to most of the guild’s current members, Desilu and the Star Trek production staff used his talents anyway, claiming that the props he made were already made and “bought off the shelf.” However, the local guild had evidence that Wah had built the Bird-of-Prey model specifically for the show, and after some negotiation agreed to drop the grievance if Wah received no payment for the model. Desilu capitulated, and returned the model to Wah. In a fit of anger, Wah took the model into his back yard, and proceeded to bash it to bits with a sledge hammer.”

It looks like the truth in this matter has its own cloaking device…

Homalis (Dec 13, 2016)

Wah Ming Chang even developed the Gorn, along with the other things he’s made part of Trek history. While we as fans appreciate his work, it was sad he never got the credit he deserved at the time.

Anthony (Jun 10, 2017)

Well if Wah Chang in the NPR interview in 1982 said he brought it home and destroyed it with a sledgehammer then he must be believed. So why is anyone else believing all that other crap that somebody stepped on it. That’s a joke, just people spreading false information they know nothing about.

The man said it in the interview what else do you need a video?

Frankie (Jul 12, 2019)

And I remember when the AMT model came out for this ship. For a goofy 12 year-old, that Bird of Prey decal was a B I T C H to apply.

Dean L. Norton (Jul 28, 2019)

I was 12 years old at the time as well. And yes, that bird decal wasn’t for an amateur builder.

Jeff Shipman (Jul 28, 2019)

It STILL is! And it is STILL hard to figure out the paint scheme! Based on my study of the pictures, color and otherwise, It is my considered opinion that the top was painted as follows: The dorsal as per remaining color photos and the ventral; main hull and sides dull silver with “wing” tops dull white. Ditto for the fin with the “feathering”. I get the impression that the silver might actually be a semi-gloss. Again, it’s one bear of a scheme to figure out. IMHO, anyone who can figure this out accurately deserves their own “Pulitzer for Science Fiction” (not that there is such a thing) for work above and beyond the average for digging it out. I hope this helps. Cheers!

Larry Mager (Jul 14, 2021)

I made a mistake. The ventral (bottom) should be per the color photos and the blueprints.

Larry Mager (Jul 16, 2021)

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