Danube class starship

Danube class starship
Danube class
Uss yangtzee kiang.jpg
The USS Yangtzee Kiang, a Danube class runabout
First appearance "Emissary"
Affiliation United Federation of Planets
General characteristics
Armaments Phasers
Photon torpedoes
Defenses Deflector shields
Propulsion Warp drive

The Danube class is a class of small, multi-purpose starships (commonly referred to as runabouts) appearing in works of the Star Trek science-fiction franchise, primarily the television series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9).

The Danube class vessels are larger than shuttlecraft seen in previous series of Star Trek, but significantly smaller than previously depicted starships. They operate with a crew of two to four, and are equipped with warp drive, transporters, and accommodation for long-duration missions. Several were assigned to the space station Deep Space Nine in the first episode of DS9, and a high rate of attrition saw individual runabouts regularly replaced, with eleven distinct vessels appearing across the series. All named runabouts took their name from rivers.

The runabouts were designed by Rick Sternbach and Jim Martin, under the supervision of Herman Zimmerman. They were conceived as a way to allow DS9 to continue on with Star Trek's main themes of exploration and discovery with a show set on an immobile space station. From the third season onwards, the starship USS Defiant took over much of the runabouts' previous role in allowing characters to move off Deep Space Nine. Despite this, runabouts continued to make regular appearances during the show's seven-season run. Although primarily seen in DS9, a Danube class runabout appeared in a single episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation; this was the only episode of Star Trek that showed an interior section of the runabout other than the cockpit. An updated runabout design, the Yellowstone class, is shown in a single episode of Star Trek: Voyager; inconsistent stock footage from DS9 was used to portray the new design.

Note: The abbreviation DS9 refers to the television series, while the unabbreviated Deep Space Nine refers to the fictional space station.


Concept and fictional background

The idea for the runabout came from the need to provide a way for characters to move away from Deep Space Nine, and also allowed the show to explore Star Trek's themes of exploration and discovery despite DS9 being set on an immobile space station.[citation needed] In order to help the new show establish its own identity separate from The Next Generation, the decision was made to have something larger and more capable than the shuttlecraft seen in previous series of Star Trek.[1] The series bible describes the Danube class vessels as "the symbol of the Federation presence in [Deep Space Nine's] sector".[2] The Starfleet design elements were intended as a touch of familiarity for the characters (and in turn, the viewers) in environments dominated by alien designs and structures, specifically the Cardassians and Bajorans.[3]

The hull of the Danube-class runabout is shaped roughly like a long, rectangular box. A downward-curving 'wing' is located on each side of the vessel; these start near the top of the hull, and curve down to the warp nacelles. The runabout's impulse drives are located between the wings and the vessel's body. The Deep Space Nine Technical Manual gives the runabout's dimensions as 23.1 metres (76 ft) long, 13.7 metres (45 ft) wide, and 5.4 metres (18 ft) high.[4] The runabouts have a two-person flight crew, and can carry two other crew.[5] They are fitted with a two-person transporter and accommodation bunks for long missions.[5][6] According to the first season episode "Dax", they were capable of speeds up to Warp 5. Although not explored in the series, background materials indicate the runabout had a modular mission payload system, where the middle section of the runabout could be swapped out for modules carrying different equipment.[5]

From the third season of DS9 onwards, much of the exploration aspect of the series was facilitated by the starship USS Defiant, which took over much of the runabouts' previous role in allowing characters to move off the station.[7] Defiant was introduced because the producers wanted the series to have a better connection with the themes of exploration and discovery shown in previous Star Trek works and needed a way to have more than two or three characters at the same place 'off-station', while the introduction of the Dominion as an antagonist during season two created the in-universe requirement for a more powerful and combat-capable starship based at Deep Space 9.[7]

In The Star Trek Encyclopedia, Michael and Denise Okuda speculate the Sydney-class transport Montgomery Scott (James Doohan) is rescued from in The Next Generation episode "Relics" may have been, in-universe, an early runabout design.[5] Although the name "Danube class" appeared in supplementary materials like The Star Trek Encyclopedia, it was not spoken onscreen until season four episode "Hippocratic Oath".

Design and depiction

Overall design of the runabout was supervised by Herman Zimmerman, with Rick Sternbach and Jim Martin responsible for the design work.[5] According to Sternbach, initial designs for the Danube class were based on the 'Spacedock Ferry' that appeared in the film Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.[8]


The cockpit set was designed by Joseph Hodges, and constructed over a nine-week period.[5][9] The set was laid out with the two flight crew facing forward and out the windows, while consoles for the two other crew have them facing the sides of the runabout.[10] The runabout's transporter was located in the centre rear of the compartment.[10] The set was overhauled between the second and third seasons, with the primary change being new computer consoles around the cockpit.[10] Another major overhaul occurred between seasons four and five, with the transporter bay moved aft behind a large door (which was usually kept open), and a free-standing console added in its place.[10] The set was redressed on four occasions to serve as the control areas of other vessels: a Maquis raider during "Caretaker", the pilot episode of Star Trek: Voyager, mirror universe ships in DS9 season three episode "Through the Looking Glass" and season four episode "Shattered Mirror", and a shuttlecraft from USS Enterprise-E in the film Star Trek: Insurrection.[10]

A set for the runabout's aft living quarters was built for "Timescape", an episode in the sixth season of The Next Generation (running concurrently with DS9's first season).[9] The set was designed by Richard James, and was funded from The Next Generation's budget, in order to take pressure off DS9's finances.[5][9] The aft set consists of a set of bunk beds on either side of the door, and an open area extending to the sides and the rear of the runabout, with a table and chairs in the centre.[10] Unlike the cockpit construction, design and fabrication of the aft set had to be completed in nine days.[9] This was the only appearance of the Danube class outside of DS9, and although the set was intended for use on DS9, it was never used again to depict a runabout's interior.[5][9][10] The bunks were later reused for quarters aboard Defiant.[10]

Filming models

The filming model was built by Tony Meininger.[5] Filming of the runabout was done by Image G, along with all other miniature effect work for the series.[11]

One runabout, USS Ganges, appeared in season one episode "Past Prologue" with a 'roll-bar' mounted over the top of the ship.[12] The roll-bar was a separate miniature that could be mounted on the filming model.[13] This roll-bar, described as containing sensor equipment, was added to the model to help viewers distinguish between Ganges and the runabout USS Yangtzee Kiang during a chase sequence.[12] Eight subsequent episodes of DS9 show Danube class ships with roll-bars, including second season episode "The Maquis, Part II", where two runabouts with roll-bars are depicted flying alongside a third, without the roll-bar.[13] A prototype for an updated runabout design, the Yellowstone class, appears in an alternate timeline depicted in the Voyager episode "Non Sequitur".[13] This episode used stock footage from various DS9 episodes; incongruously, the runabout's destruction depicts the vessel with a roll-bar, while all previous scenes show the vessel without one.[13]

Season six episode "One Little Ship" had a runabout carrying Jadzia Dax (Terry Farrell), Julian Bashir (Alexander Siddig), and Miles O'Brien (Colm Meaney) shrunk down to tiny size, then having to rescue the rest of the cast when Defiant is captured by the Dominion.[14] Screenwriter René Echevarria conceived the 'little ship show' idea as a comedic filler episode early in The Next Generation's run, but despite suggesting it multiple times, did not receive the chance to go ahead until late in DS9's run.[15] Meiniger built a new, 6-inch (150 mm)-long runabout model: dialogue in the episode specified that the runabout had shrunk to 4 inches (100 mm), but a model that small would have had problems with lighting and detail.[16] The model was mounted on a specially built three-axis head, which allowed for easier miniature effect work than with the original filming model.[17]

Computer-generated imagery model

Season six episode "Change of Heart" depicts a runabout traversing an asteroid field, then landing on a planet.[18] This was the first episode in which runabout sequences were done completely with computer-generated imagery: complex scenes where the ship weaved through the dense asteroid field were achieved without weeks of miniature effect work, and camera movements during the landing sequence allowed the runabout to be shown from multiple angles in the same scene, as there was no need to conceal a 'mounting point' for the miniature.[18] After the CGI model for the Danube class was developed by Digital Muse, no further miniature work was performed; episodes depicting runabouts used a combination of CGI effects and stock footage.[13][18]


Danube class runabouts appear in 62 of DS9's 176 episodes, with eleven distinct runabouts identified: USS Gander, USS Ganges, USS Mekong, USS Orinoco, USS Rio Grande, USS Rubicon, USS Shenandoah, USS Volga, USS Yangtzee Kiang, USS Yukon, and an unnamed vessel with the registry NCC-73918. Five episodes of DS9 include unidentified runabouts. The runabouts depicted in DS9 are named after Earth rivers.[5] A large number of runabouts are damaged or destroyed over the course of the series; in season three episode "Family Business", Kira Nerys (Nana Visitor) quips that "the rate we go through runabouts, it's a good thing the Earth has so many rivers.", while in Star Trek 101, authors Terry Erdmann and Paula Block comment that the show "goes through runabouts like potato chips".[6] The show's art department joked that any runabout travel should be done on USS Rio Grande, as it is the only Danube class ship to survive the entire seven-season run of DS9 (appearing in series pilot "Emissary", final episode "What You Leave Behind", and eighteen other episodes in between), and therefore must be the safest.[19] An unnamed Danube class runabout appeared in The Next Generation episode "Timescape", and a Yellowstone class runabout was depicted in Voyager episode "Non Sequitor".


In 1993, AMT/Ertl released a 1:72 scale model kit for the runabout USS Rio Grande.[20] During the filming of season two, one of these models was put together by the show's art department for a miniature effect shot where a runabout exploded, instead of having to assemble, then destroy, a more-expensive filming model.[21] Later, the company released a 1:2500 scale model of Deep Space Nine itself, which included three runabouts to place on the station's landing pads.[22][23]

In 1994, Playmates Toys released a "Runabout Orinoco" playset, in which two of Playmates' 4.5 inches (110 mm) action figures could be seated.

A runabout was amongst the Star Trek Micro Machines produced by Galoob. As well as the standard toy, bronzed and silvered versions have been released in collectors' sets.

Several 'ship' cards from Decipher, Inc.'s Star Trek Customizable Card Game depicted Danube class ships. A generic Runabout card (based on the appearance in The Next Generation) was included in the original set, with named runabouts appearing in subsequent sets.


  1. ^ Reeves-Stevens & Reeves-Stevens, The Making of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, p. 36
  2. ^ Reeves-Stevens & Reeves-Stevens, The Making of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, p. 83
  3. ^ Reeves-Stevens & Reeves-Stevens, The Making of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, pp.83 & 143
  4. ^ Zimmerman, Sternbach, & Drexler, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Technical Manual, p. 140
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Okuda & Okuda, The Star Trek Encyclopedia, p. 423
  6. ^ a b Erdmann & Block, Star Trek 101, p. 127
  7. ^ a b Pierce, New ship to defy constraints on 'DS9', p. C6
  8. ^ Reeves-Stevens & Reeves-Stevens, The Making of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, p. 125
  9. ^ a b c d e Nemeck, Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion, p. 251
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h Hillebrand & Schneider, Variations of the Runabout interior
  11. ^ Reeves-Stevens & Reeves-Stevens, The Making of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, p. 225
  12. ^ a b Okuda & Okuda, The Star Trek Encyclopedia, p. 168
  13. ^ a b c d e Hillebrand & Schneider, Runabouts with Rollbars
  14. ^ Kaplan, One Little Ship, pp. 39-40
  15. ^ Kaplan, One Little Ship, p. 39
  16. ^ Kaplan, One Little Ship, pp. 40-1
  17. ^ Kaplan, One Little Ship, p. 41
  18. ^ a b c Kaplan, Visual Effects, pp. 57-8
  19. ^ Okuda & Okuda, The Star Trek Encyclopedia, p. 412
  20. ^ Jackson, Spaceships at the final frontier, pgs. 4, 9
  21. ^ Reeves-Stevens & Reeves-Stevens, The Making of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, p. 236
  22. ^ Jackson, Spaceships at the final frontier, p. 43
  23. ^ Waugh, Deep Space Nine Model Kit


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