Sunday, 11 August 2019

What If Voyager - The Official Starships Collection Bonus Edition USS Altair

Alongside the Enterprise-J this has to be one of the thinnest, most fragile craft to come out of the Starships Collection.

If nothing else, the USS Altair offers a revolutionary design and unique backstory which might leave you wanting more from this distinctive starship.

The slender Altair is also incredibly light with the main swept wing underside and forward upper section being one piece of metal which pulls the weight of the ship to the nose when she's slipped into the thin plastic stand grip. More on that later by the way.

What the ship lacks in surface area it certainly makes up for in detail and fortunately the magazine includes the Ships of the Line image that this craft first properly appeared in. It's origins do go back to the mid-90's and Voyager concepts however tit's become more than that.

Led by that unusually prominent bridge dome right at the front, the Altair bodywork is crammed with panels, grates and recesses right across the depth and slightly more breadth of the wing. The painting finish is immaculate with the darker grey shading of the raised sections playing well to enhance the lighter dipped sections of the hull.

It's surprisingly light on decals too with no registry or ship name emblazoned across the hull at any point nor are there any visible Federation pennants streaked across the tail or engines as you might expect. In fact the only discernible decal on the whole thing appears to be the cargo hatch just behind the bridge dome. The plastic rear edge of the swept wing (before it steps down to the tail section) also has a series of windows carefully painted against the edge adding some sense of scale to the ship where the decals might.

On the top section only the port/starboard red/green lights mark out any visible differences before the hull sweeps back into an almost Cardassian tail piece. Here the raised upper tail section does have a dog-ugly join to raise the pincer ends up above the flat tail before diving back into a unique aztec-ish two tone grey/beige colour combo that darkens towards the back. Nice fade in with this and what you appreciate is that the metal of the swept wing actually curves back to provide extra stability to the back of the tail meaning there's zero bend. The upper "pincer" piece merely adds decoration not support.

Now to the engines. Mine arrived with the starboard nacelle at an awful rake to it's sister on the other side. The connecting plastic is very malleable allowing me to tease it back into place and perfect alignment but I would be worried if this ever gets dropped because the pylons are horribly fragile. 

The warp nacelles are evidently the inspiration for the Enterprise-J's propulsion units, possibly aspiring to be even more spindly and delicate. Each is adorned by its respective port/starboard light to the rear which also continuing what I would term as a speckled grey two tone pattern to the very tip. The tiny bussard collectors are well formed but not translucent with Eaglemoss instead opting to paint them in a solid burnt orange and then stick the warp grilles as small tubes to their backs. These will be just as unforgiving as the engine tops so be aware!

Flip the Altair over and the finish is very reminiscent of a hammerhead shark with a distinct black arrow marking across the front of the wing and then forking down into the centre tail section. In the middle of this there is space for a shaded deflector with a hint of blue fading to white - quite a cool little touch adding depth to what is actually quite a shallow indent in the underside of the metal hull. 

Aside from the distinct stripe, the excellent level of panelling detail continues with the two shades of grey highlighting the recessed and level metalwork. Even along the edge of the hull Eaglemoss have managed to paint in the very tiny windows which curve around the surface. It's a tiny area of detail you could very well miss and indeed choose to miss out but it's in there on the Altair and duplicated on the model. 

Underneath you can also appreciate the flimsy nature of the nacelles with a better look at the warp grilles which stand proud of the upper casing. The Altair surely couldn't have been produced in the early years of the collection given the delicate nature of some of its parts especially around the engines and it's been well worth the wait.

The stand positioning displayed in the magazine shows that the Altair should just balance on top of the plastic vertical grip however it does actually slip into the claws which gives it a decent midriff position. Even with the slimline body and thin shape, the stand isn't intrusive into the design and allows for it to be fully viewed when displayed.

The magazine offers bumper info on the Altair and it's in-universe details on size and technical specifications are fascinating especially concerning its revolutionary temporal core. The plan views allow a good comparison to the model and are - thanks to a full double spread dedicated to them - larger than the included ship. 

The section dealing with designing the Altair focuses on the process to create Voyager which saw this unusual concept first come to light. The work of Mike Okuda and Doug Drexler is deservedly recognised for their efforts to bring Voyager to life and thereby accidentally creating the ship we're discussing here. Lots of sketches and 30 year old CG as well as spin offs into the Congo and the Universe classes that were inspired from the basics of this concept. Add in the Ships of the Line image that finally unveiled the final design of the Altair and this is a killer issue. This once more allows for a decent comparison with the finished version/image and the model. Here I might note the hull colouring does seem darker and the lighting adds a lot to the feel of the starship. In the case of the latter there's no way this is possible without doing exactly that and there's physically no space to do so. That does detract from the effect although it's still a great recreation.

Closing out the issue we have Drexler's Voyager concepts which reveals that some of the ideas within the "throwaway" nature of these renders actually turned up in the final onscreen Intrepid Class starship; take a good look at the shape of that primary hull for one...

Unexpectedly better than I thought even if this is one of the smallest, thinnest starships to grace a plastic and cardboard box this side of Vulcan. I love the detail, the feel, the delicate nature of the Altair which make it an interesting bonus edition. Voyager fans will certainly lap this one up and stick it alongside Rick Sternbach's first concept for due comparison. Star Trek's most "out there" design for a few decades - and I like it!

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