Chris St. John reviews ERTL's Ambassador class starship.

Starship Modeler - The complete information source for modelers who build sci-fi, fantasy and real space subjects

Building ERTL's Ambassador-class Starship: Part 2

By Chris St. John - images & text © 1999

Construction - Major Subassemblies

I began by gluing the 2 saucer halves together. The 4 locator pins give the halves a nice fit, and although there is a seam between them, it's minimal, and requires a relatively small amount of filler work. The ease of the saucer, with no interior shuttlebay floors or pre-painted sensor strips to worry about, reminds one of the assembly quickness of the Excelsior kit, although without the impulse deck to worry about.

After the saucer was rubber-banded, I started in on the secondary hull. First in line was the checking on the cylinder/neck halves. There was a small amount of flash at the back of the neck top that was easily removed, but I found the seam edges along the middle of the aft hull undercut to be a little too harsh for my taste, so I filed them down a bit and then smooth-sanded them. After that came the pylon wing structure. It fit together well, and after the glue was dry, the vertical pylons needed a minor amount of puttywork, which went quickly.

Now it was time to attach it to the rest of the secondary hull. On the instruction sheet, they tell you to first assemble the 2 cylinder/neck halves and then slide the wing into the designated slot, but experience with the similar design on the Voyager kit has taught me that it's easier to slide one of the halves on first—gluing the wing in place--and then attach the second half to both. It makes a potentially discouraging experience much easier. Once the glue dried and the entire assembly was strong enough, I went to work on filling the gap in the wing attachment slot. No matter how many rubber bands you wrap around it, no matter how much pressure you apply to the surrounding hull, you are GOING to have that gap. It didn't take a lot—just 4 nice continuous caulking strips—but the drying time and sanding process creates a major delay in what otherwise is a fast-assembling hull.

So, having filled that gap….next up was the back of the neck, where the impulse deck sits. A single piece, it slips in nicely, although the gap at the top, too, required some minor puttywork. Sanding was achieved by first using a triangular file, then wrapping strips of sandpaper around the same file to reach into the small area. At this point, the ventral phaser strip was glued into place, and I began to check the seams of the hull. Most of them fit quite nicely, with only the small one above the secondary shuttlebay and the seam running through the aft hull undercut requiring any filling. During my check, I noticed that the edges of the neck hadn't quite lined up right. A careful exam of the area showed that the problem laid not in my assembly, but in the casting of the parts—the starboard side upper neck edges are a mere millimeter longer than the other side, but the difference brooks no problem, and so can be left alone.

I wanted to check for proper alignment, so I fitted the neck tab into the slot on the saucer. The sight was amazing to me, as it always is when I see how a ship starts to come together.

[Wing assembly]

^ Pylon support assembly. Note the gaps.

[Completed lower assembly]

^ Completed secondary hull sub-assembly.

[Underside of hull]

^ Underside of secondary hull, showing new details.

[New emitter pads]

^New transporter emitter pads on the secondary hull.

But still something wasn't right. It turned out that the wing structure was slightly crooked, with the portside pylon a little too low, and I was able to manually bend it ever so slightly to correct the problem. As soon as that was fixed, my eyes noticed the saucer wasn't sitting exactly even on top of the neck. The problem was with that same starboard-side half: there was a small rise on the aft neck "shelf" that was simply filed down to solve the quandary.

Now it was time to tackle the stand hole. I've always liked my ships to be able to be played with, and the people I build them for like that as well. This means that they can't have any kind of holes in the hull for a stand, which is fine, since I usually balance the ships on a new stand anyways. This philosophy required that I fill in that monster of a stand hole. Using the plug intended for the hole as a template, I cut a circular plate out of 0.67 mm sheet styrene, filed down the edges to fit inside the hole, slightly bent it to match the hull curvature, and affixed it. When the glue had dried, I filed and sanded down the piece of plate to give it a smooth even curve match to the hull.

The major subassemblies completed, a few extra details were added before painting. As stated above, this ship was intended to be a variant, incorporating elements of the Enterprise type AND the Yamaguchi types. I affixed the 12 extra lifeboat hatches, placing 8 of them in the aft ring position behind the main shuttlebay and the other 4 on the upper aft curved surface of the secondary hull, just forward of the secondary shuttlebay. The 2 packaged extra transporter emitter pads were placed in the position shown in pictures of the Zhukov, and the 4 new pairs I had created were placed flanking the bridge citadel on the dorsal saucer, forward of the bow lifeboat hatches and flanking the point of the neck on the ventral saucer, and on the ventral surface of the pylon wing. The lack of any kind of detail for the aft hull undercut saddened me, and so 4 small pieces of 0.25 mm strip styrene were affixed, along with 5 designs drawn onto and cut out of paper. This gave the area the feel of raised relief, but did not clutter up the smooth lines with extra height of the pieces. It was time to move on to painting the hull.


^ Basecoat



^ Top and bottom of saucer, showing transporter emitters and lifeboat hatches picked out.

Painting—Hull Basecoat

Once again, AMT's paint guide is less than optimal. The basecoat they called for was 80% FS 37875 Flat White, 20% FS 36495 Light Grey; the 2-tone colors were then similar percentages of the white and FS 35044 Insignia Blue. Needless to say, I was unimpressed. I decided to make my basecoat pure Light Grey. I should note at this point that I use the Testors Model Master paints, and the names of colors reflect that. Where possible, I'll give the FS number as well.

The parts held the paint well, as is normal for AMT's kits. I found that the saucer was easier to coat when I brushed radially (towards the outer rim) than in large concentric circles, and the secondary hull coat worked better when brushed along the bow-to-stern longitudinal axis. Also, since I had already assembled the secondary hull prior to painting, I mashed a toilet paper tube into the front hole where the deflector dish would go to hold it while painting. While I waited for the basecoat to dry, I went to work on the nacelle endcaps and field grills. I've found that most starship modelers keep certain colors in their inventory for specific items, and I am no exception.

The endcaps were done in Guards Red, as was the impulse exhaust, and the grills in French Blue, both sets being coated inside and out to give a healthier "glow" to them. As I set them aside, I painted the navigational deflector in a deep rich metallic blue nail polish that I bought expressly for this purpose. A word about nail polish—many times, I've looked for a metallic look that normal model paints are unable to afford me. Then a friend told me about looking in the nail polish aisle. Since then, I've almost always used one of 2 bottles of polish for navigational deflectors. I like the look, and most go from wet to set in 60 seconds or so. Indeed, this one did so, and I painted the rim in the Light Grey, while doing the "strakes" on the inside of the dish in Rust.

When the basecoat was dry, I set upon doing the 2-toning.

I was a little confused as first, because AMT made a mistake in the color chart (quelle surprise): for the dorsal view, the dark ring pattern that encompasses the lifeboat hatches and the phaser strips is listed as 80% Flat White and 20% Light Grey. THIS IS INCORRECT. The REAL color is supposed to be 80% Flat White and 20% Insignia Blue. This is born out by the fact that the lighter part of the pattern uses the same colors in a 90/10 percentage.

In any case, I ended up dropping the percentages altogether and using FS 36375 Light Ghost Grey for the darker areas. I had a little problem with contact onto the Light Grey, but nothing that wasn't fixable. After the Light Ghost Grey had gone on, I realized that I needed a lighter color for the rest of the pattern--and I didn't have one that fit. Eventually, I ended up mixing Light Grey and Light Ghost Grey in a soda bottle cap (which make great disposable mixing dishes), the ratio being about 10% Light Ghost Grey to 90% Light Grey, give or take 2% (the resulting color was about FS 36458 for those who can eyeball it). For once, I actually found the deflector gridding on this kit to be a benefit to painting, rather than a detriment. It helped easily demarcate the borders of the pattern lines, a nice point for someone who isn't always exact like myself.

The instructions call for the gridding on the secondary hull to be the lighter 2-tone, with outlines in the darker. This is simple for experienced modelers—I found it to be child's play—but beginners may want to skip that part. Another slight annoyance was the aforementioned lack of guidelines on the nacelles. I eyeballed mine to the best of my ability, not staying ENTIRELY within the specified areas….but it was good enough. I wanted a bit of contrast, and so the parallel line design on the neck and the insets on the nacelle tops were painted in Primer. When it all dried, I did a quick dryfitting and remarked to myself that the ship looked like she was built out of volcanic ash.

Detailing and Finishing

Detail painting the Ambassador kit isn't as much of a chore as the Galaxy kit is. The small amount of lifeboat hatches I mentioned above helps, as does the smaller amount of windows. The hatches came first in line. AMT's instructions call for them to be painted Flat White. NO. I used my usual hatch color, FS 33613 Radome Tan. It's nice, it's light, and it seems to go right with ANY hull scheme. After this came the RCS thruster quads—4 on the saucer rim and 4 each on the aft end of each nacelle. Again, the instructions call for 50% Flat White and 50% FS 33637, which is a teench bit darker that the Radome Tan. Again, I went with my usual RCS assignment, FS 33538 Insignia Yellow. I've always liked the yellow blocks and was glad to see that they've made a recent comeback. This then justified this ship having been "refit" recently.

The 12 transporter emitter pads were painted using a mix with a Radome Tan base and small amounts of Insignia Yellow and Light Ghost Grey. The end result should look a bit like an egg yolk for those who wish to duplicate it. The phaser strips were done in FS 36118 Gunship Grey and were a little difficult to cover. Although I appreciate the new corrugated detail on the strips, it now takes longer to paint—getting into all the crevices is not as easy as it seems. Black was used in place of the FS 13538 Chrome Yellow on the nacelle side vent strips, and also to outline the impulse deck as well as the photorp tubes, which were tipped in Guards Red. A stripe was added to the secondary hull structural spine and the separation line on both sides of the neck using FS 31136 Insignia Red, the small vents on the pylons were done in Russian Flanker Blue/Grey, and the final touch was to paint the small squarish blocks comprising the upper sensor platform around the bridge in Flanker Pale Blue.

At this point, I attached the deflector dish in its place. There was a small gap around it, but otherwise it fit well, and the gap was enough where I didn't mind it that much. The ventral saucer clear dome was also affixed here. Earlier, I had dryfitted it and found that its stem was a bit too long to fit in the hole, so I cut off about half of it and glued it in place. It was now time to begin the inking. "What need is there for ink?" you may ask. I shall explain.

Rather than sit there hunched over with a paintbrush filling in every window for hours upon end, I find it easier to simply ink them in using black india ink and a set of technical pens. I was given a set of Koh-I-Noor rapidographs 6 years ago for Christmas and I cannot build without them now. It was a simple matter to ink in all the windows, outline all the lifeboat hatches, ink the RCS quads, and place the gridding on the transporter emitter pads using them. The whole process took about 75 minutes. It also brought up a very interesting point, though not a surprising one—the window pattern on the saucer, both dorsal and ventral, is off by about 2 degrees. I started noticing the asymmetrical pattern and attempted at first to compensate by inking in the missing windows (like on the Sovereign kit), but it soon became apparent that this would not be easily fixed….so, when in Rome, right? Until now, the ship had yet to tell me her name, which was very annoying, especially as I now needed to ink it and the hull number onto the pylons. After doing yet ANOTHER dryfit and reviewing my list of Ambassador-class ships, it was revealed to me, and it was inked onto the pylons, the ends of the dorsal nacelle halves, and the fantail.

At this point, the nacelles needed to be built. These nacelles are a little tricky in a few aspects, especially in that AMT has made them very "unit-specific"—the nacelle/pylon joints were molded so that they MUST be on the specified side. The endcaps have little tabs in different positions that will only fit into one nacelle. The field grills seemed to be the same way, as if the locator pins were off by a millimeter or so—just enough where the smart builder would testfit all the parts to get them in their right places. The various dryfittings had also shown me that the pylons needed to be pressed down onto the joint tabs, and so I decided to build them up on the pylon.

[Final Assembly]

^ Final assembly.

Click on the following images for a larger view.

[Top View]

[Bottom View]

[Front View]

[Rear View]

[Hull details]

^ The completed model.

The bottoms were glued into place. The joint is VERY strong, so there's no problem with immediately going to work with completing the nacelles, which I did. The field grills were carefully positioned into the locator holes, and the endcaps were glued into place. When I finally brought the tops down to button the nacelles up, I made certain to get the aft locator pin into its hole first. This insured that I couldn't misalign the forward pins. The nacelles were then immediately wrapped and left to dry. At first, I thought I had screwed up, since the field grills seemed to be set back inside the nacelles too far, then I realized that this was the intended design and breathed a sigh of relief at not having to crack open the units.

The nacelles dried rather fast, and I was soon able to affix the decals. I found many of them to be a little redundant, and since this was neither Enterprise nor Yamaguchi, I only used some of them—specifically, the nacelle detail ones, the secondary hull spine stripe, and the 4 small "UNITED FEDERATION OF PLANETS" that were to go on the nacelle ends under the hull number (which I had to cut apart from the rest of the decals intended for that area). I didn't want to have to cut out the words "STARSHIP U.S.S. ENTERPRISE" from the hull pennants included—I've done it before and it's no fun—so going on the "it's been refit" concept, I used 2 of the newer hull pennants left over from an old Sovereign kit, cut them to fit, and applied them in place. The final touch was to ink on the name and hull number to the dorsal and ventral saucer. Once done, the saucer was finally glued onto the secondary hull, and the entire assembly was left sitting upside-down with a weight on it overnight. When I awoke the next morning, the seal has set, but there was a small gap at the back of the saucer/neck joint. A little putty, a little touchup paint, and she was finally done.

She is USS Amphitrite, NCC-21036, named after the Nereid who was Poseidon's wife and the goddess of the sea. Except for the few annoyances, this kit wasn't so bad to build. The accuracy was better than usual, the ease-of-building has become IMMENSELY better, and the kit offers a nice amount of possibilities to it. All in all, well worth the $23.31 I paid for her.

Click here to read another build-up review or the kit preview.

Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the reviewer.
Read other readers' reviews of this kit      Submit your own review of this kit

Go back up | Starship Modeler Home | Site Map | Feedback

This page copyright © 1997-9 Starship Modeler™.
Last updated on 28 June 1999.