The Federation Starfleet first encountered this vessel in 2266, when a single ship of this type crossed the Romulan Neutral Zone and attacked several border outposts, destroying them utterly. The USS Enterprise responded to the alert and engaged in a tense game of cat-and-mouse with the intruder for more than ten hours, before the Bird-of-Prey was destroyed. (TOS: "Balance of Terror")
The Romulans later used larger numbers to patrol their border with the Federation in force. Typically during an incursion, one Bird-of-Prey will bring a starship out of warp with a plasma torpedo to allow the ships in its battle group to attack the target en masse. When the Enterprise violated the Neutral Zone on the orders of Commodore Stocker in 2267, it was ambushed by a squadron of ten Birds-of-Prey. (TOS: "The Deadly Years")
After the Romulan-Klingon Alliance of 2268, the Bird-of-Prey was largely supplanted by the more massive and more versatile Klingon D7-class battle cruiser, although some were used in concert with the D7s. (TOS: "The Enterprise Incident")
Remarkably similar in design to contemporaneous Federation starships, the Romulan Bird-of-Prey was designed with a sole primary hull configuration.
Grey in color, with its namesake bird design painted on the hull, the Bird-of-Prey was essentially a saucer with parallel warp nacelles mounted port and starboard of the main body. The aft of the ship was designed with a raised "fin." (TOS: "Balance of Terror", etc.)
Although incapable of matching the Federation's Template:ShipClass starship one-on-one, the ship still featured several technological advances that were previously unattainable to Federation science: the first practical invisibility screen, and the massively powerful plasma torpedo. This class of starship had a single forward torpedo launcher. It also carried a number of nuclear weapons.
The main bridge featured a rather small command center, providing access to four computer terminals facing each other in a centrally located console. These terminals maintained the vessels course control, tactical and cloaking systems. No seating was provided for any of the officers. The bridge had direct access to a corridor in the aft and a viewscreen in the forward section. (TOS: "Balance of Terror")
Ships of the class
- VOY: "Drone" (computer display)
The Romulan Bird of Prey model was designed and built by designer/sculptor Wah Ming Chang and measured approximately 2,5 feet in width. Built in about two weeks, Chang delivered the model to the studio unpainted. At the studio, the signature "Bird-of-Prey" graphics were applied to the model. A full-fledged internally lit studio model, constructed out of vacuum formed plastic, plaster and metal parts, it was then sent to Linwood G. Dunn's visual effects house, Film Effects of Hollywood where the only footage of the model was shot (used in both original versions of "Balance of Terror" and "The Deadly Years").
It was rumored the original Romulan Bird of Prey model was lost shortly after use, damaged, destroyed or simply disappeared, causing the Template:ShipClass to be used in its place in "The Enterprise Incident". (The Star Trek Compendium), though it is also concurrently likely that the producers wanted to showcase the new model as much as possible among others as a courtesy to model kit company, Aluminum Model Toys (who actually paid for the D7-model) under their exclusivity agreement, in order to give them the most exposure for their new model kit (No. S952).
The whereabouts or fate of the original Bird of Prey model are currently unknown though there are essentially two theories about its fate. The first one is that it somehow disappeared. William S. McCullars related on his now defunct IDIC-website, that he was told in 1992 by a curatorial assistant of the Smithsonian that the model was not included in the Star Trek Smithsonian Exhibit of 1992, because the private collector who held the model at that time did not want to give it up for public display. The second theory states that the model was destroyed shortly after the episode was filmed, either by mishap on the studio lot or by Chang himself, as he himself reportedly revealed in a 1982 National Public Radio interview. The latter resulted from a conflict with the propmaker's union. Chang as a non-member was not allowed to fabricate props for the show nor was he allowed to join. On Robert Justman's urging, who considered Chang's work to be superior to anything else available, the studio devised a ruse to make it appear that the props were bought as pre-existing and off-the-shelf from Chang and it was reflected as such in the invoices Desilu were sent by Chang (in the process also explaining why Chang never received credit for his work). This part of the problems with the union was later confirmed by Justman in his book Inside Star Trek: The Real Story, pages 119-120. In the case of the Bird of Prey, however, the union got hold of evidence that the model was specifically built for the show and agreed to drop the grievance against the studio if Chang did not receive payment for the model. Desilu gave in and returned the model unpaid to Chang, who in a fit of anger smashed the model to bits in his backyard with a sledgehammer. Both theories explain that the model was no longer available by the time the third season of the original series went into production.
New CGI visual effects of the Bird of Prey were created for TOS remastered at CBS Digital, supervised by Dave Rossi and Niel Wray. In addition of recreating the original angles of the ship in space, a new shot was included showing the aft three-quarters of the ship, which was previously unseen in the original airing of the episode. In the remastered series the Bird of Prey, apart from the two original episodes, also made an appearance in The Enterprise Incident, where one of three D7s was replaced by a Bird of Prey.
The question of whether the Bird-of-Prey had warp capability is one without an easy answer. The Star Trek Encyclopedia claims that the vessel only had impulse engines. Scotty's precise line from "Balance of Terror", however, actually says "their power is simple impulse," possibly referring to their power generators, not necessarily their propulsion system. Kirk did say "We can outrun them", which seems to imply that the "impulse" Scotty was referring to was in fact the propulsion system. It seems reasonable to assume that Scotty meant that they did not use the same type of power system (matter/antimatter reaction) used by the Federation, and that the Romulan ship was capable of propelling itself faster than light with the (rather large) engines it mounted, inducing a warp effect by a simpler, brute-force method.
Whatever was said, the Romulans must have some form of faster-than-light drive or they could not have engaged the Earth in an interstellar war in the 22nd century. Perhaps the fuller meaning of Scotty's line is that the Romulans did not have FTL drive of the same type or capabilities as the current type of warp drive used by the Enterprise, or that the early cloak required so much power that it couldn't be used at the same time as warp engines.
Visual evidence (such as the presence of warp nacelle-like objects on the model) also suggest that the ship had faster-than-light capability, as does the fact that the Enterprise was traveling at warp speeds for much of the engagement with the Romulans.
In season four of Star Trek: Enterprise, the three-part Romulan story arc features a refitted warbird that was warp-capable. That would make it seem highly unlikely that the Bird-of-Prey would not have warp drive when it was built more than a hundred years later.
The bottom line is that no matter what Scotty's "their power is simple impulse" line was meant to mean, the fact of the matter is that the ship had to be traveling faster than light in order to travel the distance they traveled. If Scotty's line was indeed referring to the ship's speed, then really all that we need to do is realize that this was either just an error or the speed the Romulan Bird-of-Prey chose to maintain or could only maintain. The latter of the two seems most likely since it was clearly established in "Balance of Terror" that the Bird-of-Prey's fuel was "low" and "all but gone" with the fuel reserve completely "gone."
- The frequent mentions of fuel status also tie in nicely with dialog from "The Doomsday Machine" (among other episodes) that suggests that impulse power (ie, a fusion reaction) can propel a starship at faster than light speeds, but at a severe loss of "fuel efficiency", and possibly a lower top speed.
One non-canon source that attempted to explain this was the novel Final Frontier by Diane Carey, which depicts smaller Romulan vessels being deployed by a warp-capable mothership that carried them into location. However, none of this information was ever referenced in canon.
Birds-of-Prey were seen in Star Trek: Tactical Assault as light cruisers. The Tactical Assault light cruisers were also armed with 3 disruptors,[2 forward ,1 aft.]