Building a wireless, LED lit version of the NX-01 Refit

I love Doug Drexler’s concept for the Enterprise NX-01 Refit – an idea that the ship would get an overhaul in the mythical season 5. I swooned over the original NX-01 design since I saw the first Enterprise teaser, and after seeing it available as a model kit I knew it was time to get back into the hobby.

This seemed to be an ideal kit to reintroduce myself to the hobby. The 1/1000 scale is nicely sized for my bookcase to display, the kit snaps together easily and the Aztec pattern would give me a chance to learn to paint – something I always struggled with as a teenager.

She has some beautiful angles

After I bought the kit though something began to linger in the back of my mind. As a teen, I owned NX-01, TMP Enterprise and Enterprise E Bandai snap-together kits. These were super simple. No painting, no decals, not even glue. Just wire up some lights and literally snap it all together. While I liked the look of them lit up (sadly I don’t have any photos) I hated that if I wanted to take the ship off the stand and hold it in my hands, it couldn’t be lit as the batteries were in the base.

The Goal

So I decided to do something daring with this Refit kit. I wanted to make sure this ship would light even off the base. This required me to learn some things:

  1. Firstly, painting a ship. I can’t understate how terrible I was at this and how little I used to enjoy it.
  2. Learn basic LED electronics.
  3. Figure out a way to power it off the base.

It took a lot of research, a lot of tinkering, a few dozen burned out LEDs and a lot of trial and error, but I soon figured out how I would do it.

Electronic Frontier

Refueling the antimatter

I would power the model with a lithium-polymer battery stored inside the saucer of the model. I would build a small circuit board that would connect the battery, switch and LEDs together.

At first, I wanted to use wireless Qi charging to charge the battery. I quickly decided this was a step too far for a first project, so instead, I chose to power it by a Micro-USB charging board I found online. I would allow me to charge or power the model via USB. This presented my next problem.

In the Bandai kits, the power connectors on the secondary hull could be hidden by a separate hull piece. I liked the idea, but that hull piece had a tendency to go a-wandering. I wanted to hide the charge port in a similar way but needed a good place to do it.

NX-01 refit charge port
In close up photos this looks terrible! But in real life at 1/1000 scale there are no burrs and the port is almost completely hidden away.

I cut away a small section at the back of the saucer (the main aft observation room) and glued the board inside. The wide piece underneath contains the E/V airlocks, and on the kit, it is being held in by two small posts. I snipped away one of the rings that would hook over it, turning it into a grasp instead. This means I can swing the piece out and get clear access to the USB port! This allows the model to charge, and the piece just snaps back into position when I close it.

Engage!

Now that I had found a place for the charge port, I needed a place for the switch. This proved to be a bit trickier. I’d gotten my hands on a bag of 50 “2 position” switches on Amazon, chosen for their simplicity and small size, but they seemed a lot bigger when trying to find a place for them!

My first thought was to put it in the top of the secondary hull, just nested under the hull. It would be out of the way and difficult to notice, so I cut out a gap large enough for it. However, once I tried fitting in the switch I found the curvature of the hull meant the plastic toggle wouldn’t stick out enough for my finger to be able to switch it back and forth. I needed something more reliable.

In the end, I found a flatter space underneath the secondary hull. The switch is a little more prominent than what I had in mind, but it works really well.

You can see the switch just tucked underneath the secondary hull. For my next model, I’ll try to hide it better or use some kind of capacitive button underneath the hull.

Computer, lights!

I was very interested in some of the third party lighting kits I’d seen online but couldn’t fork out the money for this project. Instead, I decided to try building my own circuit.

I hadn’t played with circuits since school and my education wasn’t particularly in-depth, so I had to learn everything from scratch. I watched a YouTube tutorial on soldering, bought a cheap kit and got to experimenting.

After buying an LED basics kit from Amazon, I started blowing up LEDs while learning how to solder resisters to them. I learned that red bulbs needed higher resisters so they weren’t brighter than the other colours. I learned how voltage was divided differently across serial and parallel circuits, and I eventually had a working prototype on a breadboard.

Next I bought some circuit boards, cut them down to size and started putting the final circuit together.

I can’t decide if this is either a mess or quite neat, but it was definitely fun.

My final configuration had two boards. The primary board was in the saucer. It has white LEDs mounted to it for the window lighting and had to soldered wires for the engine lights as well.

The secondary board was stored in the secondary hull. This was used to mount the window lighting for the secondary hull, consisting of both yellow and white bulbs for variety. It also contained the connection from the battery to the switch and back up the next to the primary circuit board.

The Nacelles

On the nacelles, I deviated from the instructions for the Refit because I wanted them to glow blue on the inside rather than be solid hull. I also wanted the Bussard collectors to glow red. It would have been fantastic to have the swirling “gas exchange” effect from the show, but this scale is too small for this.

I assume that with most Star Trek kits, the nacelles are the most difficult to light, and it’s definitely the case here. Each is a thin, long space that requires an even amount of blue light along the length and the pylons are really too thin to house the wires.

I had a bit of a brainwave about keeping the blue light even when I found some reflective tape at a local store. I lined the interior of the nacelles with a strip of it and, while not perfect, was a big help in distributing the light along the length.

A test with the reflective tape inside. The camera shows a much bigger dip in brightness in the middle of the nacelle than you notice in real life.

I played with the idea of running the wires on the outside of the pylons and stick them down and paint over them, but I would’ve hated how they looked and it wouldn’t have saved me much effort. Instead, I did a lot of tedious filing away to create grooves in the inside and holes to punch the wires into both the nacelle and the primary hull. It was definitely worth the effort but has caused the pontoons to not seal quite as nicely as I would have liked, causing some light leakage from the impulse engines.

This is a very tight fit and was probably the most finicky part of the whole project.

Painting the model hull

The painting was the aspect I was looking forward to least but was determined to conquer. I wasn’t going to go to all the effort of lighting it myself to fail at the last hurdle, so in reality, I painted the model first and then did the electronics ?. Regardless.

I used enamel paints as a teen and despite hearing good things about acrylics decided to stick with what I knew. However, brush marks on previous kits were the bane of me, so I bought a cheap airbrush and some cans of compressed air (way too expensive, I’ll need to invest in a compressor if I keep up the hobby) in order to paint as even a coat as possible.

So, of course, I decided to make this job even more tedious and difficult by adding the Aztec pattern. I found a vinyl mask set on StarshipModeler.biz and couldn’t resist.

The instructions described paints that were more in line with the Original Series Enterprise than the NX-01, since this refit was a stepping stone between the two. However, for this I preferred the NX-01 metallic look and so I laid down a base coat of metallic silver.

My first coat

I think it looks amazing. I absolutely loved it and was very happy I’d chosen to airbrush it rather than manually brush it on. It was nicely reflective without going over the top. Next, I had to lay the masks.

Masks

The instructions were very clear and informative and, using the tip of a scalpel to place them, the masks were not too difficult to add into place. It was tedious, stomach-cramping work, but I actually had a lot of fun doing it.

Of course, peeling them off what better. I added some lighter grey to my base coat paint and spray over the pieces again. When the paint was tacky but not yet try, I took the scalpel and a pair of tweezers and went about lifting the masks.

Peeling the masks off was heavenly

The result is amazing and I’m absolutely elated with it. The difference in tone between the two paint coats turned out amazingly! They had great contrast, clean lines and the masks came off very neatly.

The unmasked pieces

The Devil in the Decals

I suck at putting on water slide decals. They’re fiddly and the break apart so easily when I put them on the model. I don’t have much to say except I put them on patiently and carefully this time. Some still broke, but I fixed them as best I could and left them to dry. If I can avoid decals in the future, I will.

I have noticed that the decals have left a sheen on the model that distracts when viewed at certain angles. Not sure what I can do about that.

Launch from Drydock

I’m elated with the final build! It took months of planning, experimentation and hard, fiddly work, but I’m very, very happy with it. There are many things I would improve for next time, most notably fixing light leaks and making the navigation lights blink, but I wouldn’t change a thing about this build.

It ticks all my boxes, I learnt a hell of a lot doing it and I’m very proud to have it on my bookcase.