One of the coolest and most popular of Star Trek’s many starship designs came about because of the most mundane of reasons. When designing the new ships to appear in the second TNG film, First Contact, the main aim was simply to have ships that were not at all traditional.
“The goal with all these ships was to make them look completely different from the Enterprise,” said designer Alex Jaeger. “We were introducing the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-E in that film and the producers didn’t want people going ‘Wait, which one is the Enterprise?'” From that simple directive we got some truly amazing designs, but arguably the most striking was that of the Akira class USS Thunderchild – the largest of the new designs, and a massive diversion from Starfleet ship designs in a lot of ways.
Ironically, the Akira class is the most conventional of the four new classes from First Contact. In a lot of ways, it’s quite similar to the Miranda class, first seen The Wrath of Khan, with its downward angled nacelles and roll-bar-mounted weapons pod. But look a little closer and it’s a quite radical departure. Like many of the First Contact designs, it does away with a separate engineering hull, but it goes further by having that weapons pod set back from the main hull, in this raking, dangerous looking position, almost like that of a scorpion’s tale. It shares the angled warp nacelle’s, too, of the other designs, but also extends the booms supporting the pod and nacelles forward onto the main saucer, so that, from the side, the bridge module is completely obscured.
And the ship is sleek, too – all curves and sweeping lines. The Akira looks fast and dangerous in a way few other Star Trek designs have ever managed.
The Akira class is unique not only in its design origins, however, but also in its ‘real world’ specs. That roll-bar, for instance, is not just for looks. It’s a dedicated torpedo pod, and it doesn’t just pack one or two tubes – it’s got a staggering thirteen tubes! Seven face forward, while there are three more on either side, facing the rear. There’s two more tubes above and below the main deflector, which is tucked into the saucer’s dorsal surface, and another pair on the flanks to the saucer, facing port and starboard. The Akira class is easily the most heavily armed ship in the Federation fleet, though it is limited in phaser arrays – it only has three, and they’re all on the forward sections of the saucer.
Like a lot of Starfleet designs, the weapons pod is designed to be modular, but it’s first role is for combat.
The Akira’s shuttlebay is also a massive departure from standard Starfleet designs. While a lot of non-canon ships, like those of the popular but rare Ships of the Starfleet Volume 1, feature a through-deck design, every canon Star Trek vessels has had shuttle bays facing in one direction. There may be multiple bays, as in the Galaxy class, or there may be multiple access points to one bay, as in the Miranda design. Shuttles may even launch forward, as in the Saber class, but the Akira is designed from the keel out as a shuttle – and fighter – carrier, with a through-deck design that allows small craft to be recovered from the rear of the vessel, as other craft launch forward.
This means the Akira class is not only a perfect vessel for evacuations and other disaster responses that require a lot of shuttles and small craft, but in times of war, it also makes her an ideal carrier. Some fan sources speculate that an Akira can carry up to one hundred fighters! In the battles we see in Deep Space 9’s Dominion War arc, where there are lots of Peregrine class fighters, I can only imagine that the Akira class vessels of Starfleet are playing the most important role in supporting those ships.
When you look at this design – as a carrier, ideally meant to hang back in a fleet engagement – the Akira’s torpedo heavy armament makes even more sense. She’s effectively a stand-off platform, able to menace any heavy element that comes too close, and with tracking torpedoes aplenty should it in turn be attacked by enemy fighters.
Alex Jaeger, you really knocked this one out of the park. If you want to see a rather large cutaway of this great design, you can find one the author has stitched together from now out of print Strategic Design blueprints here.