Jan 27, 2018
Welcome back to SYFY WIRE's Flight Deck, where you can safely dock and climb aboard the history of an entire armada of awesome sci-fi spaceships, interstellar vessels, and cosmic warcraft.
Continuing the legacy of bad guys always grabbing the coolest spaceships in science fiction, the ominous and intimidating shape of a Klingon Bird-of-Prey and its many mothballed offspring are some of the most recognizable objects in the Star Trek Universe.
These raptor-like warships were heavily deployed by the Klingon Empire for the Klingon Defense Forces from the late 23rd century into the late 24th century. If you add in its appearance in the Enterprise series timeline (complete with glowing nacelles), we can date this iconic battle-bird back to at least the year 2151.
Though the exact origin of the nickname is lost to the obscurities of time and memory, it's often been cited that this provocative moniker was bestowed upon the wicked predatorial crafts of the Romulans, who later shared cloaking technology with the Klingons during the Romulan-Klingon Alliance, and had painted their scout ships like soaring carnivores.
One early hatchling relative of this badass bird appeared in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Balance of Terror," broadcast on December 15, 1966, and was of the variety operated by the hostile Romulan Star Empire. Helmsman Stiles is the bigoted crewmember who utters the phrase "painted like birds-of-prey" to Captain Kirk. As originally conceived by show creators, the Klingon variant was actually a Romulan-type ship given an elongated neck, bulbous bridge, and outstretched wings, though many believe the Romulans to have imitated a much earlier Klingon design. In true Trekkie style, much debate has been spent trying to determine the exact chronology.
In the remastered episodes released in 2006, the more ominous Klingon creation appears in Star Trek: The Original Series in the Season 1 episode "Errand of Mercy." Though this is the chapter introducing the Klingons, this episode aired in March of 1967 without the D7-class Klingon battlecruiser featuring a clean gray hull, unornamented and steel-gray in color, firing magnetic pulses at the Enterprise. No enemy ship was seen and was digitally added in for the remaster. This angular, avian-like ship was conceived in stark contrast to the saucer-and-nacelles appearance of the USS Enterprise and other less frightening Federation Starfleet ships.
When the series was first aired in the late '60s, the D7 was not actually revealed until Season 3 and was showcased in "The Enterprise Incident" as a Romulan ship acquired from the Klingons. During The Original Series, the exact term "bird-of-prey" was never spoken by any character and instead the menacing machines were simply catalogued as a "Klingon ship" or a "Klingon battlecruiser." In the original sequence of broadcast episodes, the D7 wouldn't appear as a Klingon Empire ship until "Elaan of Troyius" since they were aired in reverse order.
In 1978's Star Trek: The Motion Picture, a trio of K't'inga-class variants of the original D7-class battlecruiser are used in the thrilling opening scenes, before we all were all put to sleep by the extended tour of the Enterprise. Andrew Probert is officially credited as the designer of the K't'inga model in its filed design patent, while the guttural class designation was christened by Gene Roddenberry himself.
The sight of a swooping D7 or Bird-of-Prey, solo or as part of a fearsome flock, was never a joyous sight. In service for nearly 200 years, the Klingon's rugged, mainline assault weapon has a graceful, menacing shape that imitates a ravenous interstellar vulture.
Capable of Warp 9+ speed and fully armed with an arsenal of laser cannons, forward- and aft-firing photon torpedoes, wing-mounted particle beam disruptors, magnetic pulse emitter, tractor beams, and advanced deflector shields, the advanced Bird-of-Prey is as formidable a starship as ever devised and could be configured for multiple scouting, attack, or raider mission purposes. A usual complement of 12 Klingons manned this notorious craft, but it could accommodate up to 36.
Being a race of warriors, Klingons dispensed with the more benign exploration, research, and discovery vessels employed by the Federation and instead manufactured an armada of battlecruisers to spread their tyranny and iron-fisted expansion.
That first Klingon D7 ship design used in Season 1 of The Original Series was designed by concept artist Matt Jefferies to replicate a shape similar to a giant manta ray, something that presents a threatening and instantly recognizable form for fans. We'd like to also imagine they were partly inspired by the howling Ju-87 Stuka divebombers used by the German Third Reich in blitzkrieg attacks throughout Europe during World War II.
Later variations of the Bird-of-Prey, especially those appearing in Star Trek III: The Search For Spock were typically outfitted with a sophisticated cloaking device, letting it sneak up on unsuspecting enemies while prowling the Neutral Zone. Prototype 23rd-century models' cloak function permitted the use of communications and/or the ship's transporters, but those operations were rendered useless while the ship exercised its bank of vicious weapons. Wings could be fixed in multiple positions depending on flight mode.
Rolled out in the mid-23rd century, the K't'inga-class cruiser was one of the most advanced and versatile warships in the Klingon Imperial Fleet for 93 years. Although the exact tactical superiority of the K't'inga compared to other warships was never precisely established in Star Trek canon, it was an indomitable opponent even against the pomp and circumstance of a decked-out Constitution-class cruiser.
The older K't'inga model was later revisited for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, in which Industrial Light & Magic enhanced the original studio model with shimmering engine nacelles and altered the color scheme from softer gray-greens to light gray with gold trim and maroon hull accents. This fancy diplomatic version carried Chancellor Gorkon to a summit meeting on Earth and had an air of superiority over the more utilitarian combat models.
A D11-A prototype was developed by a secret team working under General Chang that was capable of firing torpedoes while invisible to opponents' eyes, but the invention of plasma homing torpedoes quickly rendered the development obsolete.
Numerous souped-up variants, refitted specialty models, and larger advanced iterations appeared throughout the Star Trek family of shows, like Deep Space Nine, Enterprise, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Voyager, and the modern rebooted Star Trek films helmed by J.J. Abrams and Justin Lin. It even carried humpback whales in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home!
For over two centuries, this grand technological raptor roamed the galaxies inflicting terror and torment on peaceful races and their own spacegoing vessels. Upgraded and improved as its role in the expansion of the Klingon Empire evolved, it remains a testament to engineers and scientists whose imaginations made it one of the most feared and versatile spacecraft in the Star Trek Universe.
Which version of the Bird-of-Prey makes your geeky heart take flight?