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'Star Trek' - the Klingon Bird-of-Prey

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This entry is for reference purposes only. The Star Trek name, fictional characters and all references to Klingons and the Klingon Bird-of-Prey remain the copyright of CBS Paramount Television.

The Klingon Bird-of-Prey

The Bird-of-Prey scout ship is a formidable weapon in the arsenal of fighting ships of the Klingon Empire. There are two principal variants: Scout class and Cruiser class. Scout class vessels are the smaller B'Rel  (as seen in Star Trek 3: The Search for Spock and Star Trek 4: The Voyage Home) and the similar D-12  (as seen in Star Trek: Generations). The Cruiser class is a much larger, but otherwise identically designed ship – the K'Vort class. The Scout class Bird-of-Prey is not big by Starfleet standards – just over 50 metres in length and with a wingspan about half as wide again – it is a fast, highly manoeuvrable vessel with the fire-power to inflict serious damage to an adversary. Its weaponry includes forward-firing photon torpedoes and wing-tip-mounted rapid-fire disruptor cannons, but perhaps its greatest asset is its 'cloaking' device, technology acquired from the Romulans during the brief period in which the two races forged an alliance.

The normal ship's company of the B'rel and D-12 scouting vessels is 12 crew members, that of the larger K'Vort cruiser 24. Cruising speed is Warp 5, with a maximum speed of around Warp 8 to 9. Like Federation vessels, the Bird-of-Prey can activate deflector shields to defend itself against photon torpedo and phaser attacks. The Bird-of-Prey seems to be the most successful warship when fighting Starfleet. No other class of ship is seen destroying anything like as many ships, Birds-of-Prey took out two Enterprises, and one of them was the Federation flagship at the time. Birds-of-Prey are also the most successful class of ship in the Dominion Wars.

In addition to the scout and cruiser Birds-of-Prey, the range of Klingon battleships includes the much larger K'T'inga- and D7-class battle cruisers as well as the huge Vor'cha- and Negh'var-class attack cruisers, the latter being over 650 metres long.


Everything on board a Klingon Bird-of-Prey is designed for one thing and one thing only – battle. Comfort is not a word that figures often in Klingon dialogue, nor did it occur much to the Bird-of-Prey's designers. Everything is functional and to Federation eyes appears to have been assembled from bits foraged from a scrapyard. Rust-brown is the predominant colour and metallic plates the primary decor. Lighting it kept at a very low level, which adds to the feeling of gloom. Crew's quarters are very utilitarian, containing little more than a metal-framed bed with a wire-grid sleeping platform. Most off-duty time is spent in the mess hall, a large space with a long table at which meals are eaten. In the mess hall crew members can relax, discuss old battles and indulge in one of their favourite pastimes – brawling. The Bird-of-Prey is not designed for comfort, nor is it designed as a restaurant. Ideally, a Klingon likes his (or her) food fresh to the point of being barely killed and preferably still putting up a fight for survival. Much use is made of live worm-like creatures or animal intestines, but the Klingon restaurant on DS9 also serves tlhllm'qach – a fruit dish, and ghlaDst – an oyster-like seafood, both of which are popular with non-Klingons, as well as skull stew (never named in the series). Picard develops a taste for gagh – live serpent worms. All Klingon food tends to be strongly flavoured.

The Cloaking Device

Classified cloaking technology enables the Bird-of-Prey to literally appear and disappear in front of your eyes. To be faced with a suddenly-materialising fighter on your detector screens is an unnerving experience for many United Federation of Planets starship captains. A characteristic shimmer is the only evidence of a Bird-of-Prey cloaking and uncloaking. Once cloaked, it is virtually undetectable. While this gives the Bird-of-Prey the tactical advantage of stealth, it cannot fire its weapons while it is cloaked, and there is a brief window of risk while it uncloaks and before it raises its shields, when it is both visible and unable to fire. The cloaking device uses a lot of energy; Federation starships do not possess this technology.

Experimental Refit Version

The Klingon Bird-of-Prey commanded by the conspirator in 'The Undiscovered Country' (ST: VI) – the Klingon Chief-of-Staff General Chang, who is opposed to the peace negotiations between the Klingon Empire and the United Federation of Planets – is an experimental refit version with the ability to fire torpedoes while cloaked. It was this unseen ship that fired the photon torpedo at the Klingon flagship stationed alongside the Enterprise. Spock and McCoy modified a photon torpedo to lock onto the exhaust produced by a ship at impulse speed. The resulting explosion showed up the Bird-of-Prey, which was instantly destroyed by the two Federation starships. General Chang was killed. No subsequent Birds-of-Prey have had the fire-while-cloaked ability.

On Land, Through the Air and in Space

Unlike the Galaxy-class starships like the Enterprise, the Klingon Bird-of-Prey can enter and fly in the atmosphere of a planet, and can indeed land on that planet. To enable it to do this the Bird-of-Prey's wings can be set to one of three configurations. In normal space flight, the wings are set in a position slightly above horizontal. For atmospheric flight, or to land, the wings are raised to an angle of about 45 degrees. This reduces the clearance needed to land the vessel and keeps the wings clear of the landing gear that is lowered from the underside of the ship. Both landing and take-off are performed vertically. The third configuration, with the wings lowered to an angle of about 45 degrees, is the attack configuration when in space. The Bird-of-Prey's weapons can be fired with the wings in any of these configurations.

Time Travelling Bird-of-Prey

Following the self-destruction of the Enterprise, the events on the Genesis planet and Kirk's appropriation of a Klingon Bird-of-Prey, in the Council Chamber of the Federation, the Klingon ambassador calls Kirk a quintessential devil and accuses him of being a renegade and terrorist. The Federation President rules that Kirk should stand trial on nine Starfleet charges – including conspiracy, assault on Federation officers, theft and sabotage of Starfleet vessels and disobeying direct orders – but will not be handed over to the Klingons.

At this moment Kirk and his crew, aboard the HMS Bounty1  – the Bird-of-Prey they commandeered, hear the planetary distress call about the alien probe which is scouring the oceans, causing dense cloud-cover2 and threatening to ionise Earth's atmosphere in its search for whales (which are extinct in the 23rd Century). They decide to travel 300 years back in time to locate some whales and bring them back to their present in order to satisfy the probe.

In 1986 they are able to avoid detection due to the Klingon cloaking device, landing and parking in Golden Gate Park! Kirk makes friends with cetacean biologist Dr Gillian Taylor in order to help them secure George and Gracie, the only two humpback whales in captivity, which she just happens to be responsible for. Unfortunately the whales are released without her knowledge and when she goes to the park to find Kirk she bumps into the invisible Bird-of-Prey. Banging on the outer hull, she calls out to him and Kirk beams her aboard the alien craft. While helping the unsteady passenger off the Klingon transporter, Kirk says:

Hello Alice, welcome to Wonderland.

They compute a course to find the whales using the radio frequency Dr Taylor provides them with, but a whaling vessel is already in pursuit and about to fire a harpoon. The cloaked Bird-of-Prey manoeuvres between the whales and the boat, their just-released harpoon strikes the invisible hull and falls harmlessly into the sea. The whalers attempt another shot but the Bird-of-Prey decloaks in front of them, causing a mad scramble to turn the boat around. Scotty then prepares to beam aboard their precious cargo plus several million gallons of seawater.

When the Bird-of-Prey crew have their whales safely on board they manage to slingshot back around the Sun and emerge back over San Francisco Bay at the instant they left in the year 2286. They release the whales who answer the probe, which departs from whence it came. All charges against Admiral James T Kirk – except disobeying direct orders – are dismissed. At the end of ST IV: The Voyage Home, Kirk is demoted to Captain and given command of NCC-1701-A, the new Enterprise, a fair punishment for saving the Earth.

1Christened by Dr McCoy after the famous ship in Mutiny on the Bounty.2Enough to block out the Sun, which would eventually render all life on Earth extinct.

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