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Runabout (Star Trek)

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Runabouts are a class of small, multi-purpose starships in the Star Trek science-fiction franchise, primarily the television series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which aired on syndicated television between 1993 and 1999. They were the primary means of transport for the crew of the DS9 station. As the station had three launch pads, its normal contingent of runabouts numbered three, though a high rate of loss often reduced that number until a new ship or ships could be assigned (see "Disposability" below).

Uss yangtzee kiang.jpg
The USS Yangtzee Kiang, a Danube-class runabout
First appearance"Emissary"
Last appearance"What You Leave Behind"
AffiliationUnited Federation of Planets
General characteristics
Armaments6 Type VI Phasers
2 micro Photon torpedoes. (variable)
DefensesDeflector shields
PropulsionWarp drive & Impulse engines

This fictional spacecraft design, was created primarily by Herman Zimmerman, Rick Sternbach and Jim Martin in the 1990s for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and later used throughout the franchise such as in books, comics, and games.[1]


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 minimum crew of one and are equipped with warp drive, transporters, and accommodation for long-duration missions. The Runabouts assigned to DS9 are usually named after various rivers on Earth.

Although primarily seen in DS9, a Danube class runabout appeared in a single episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation ("Timescape") (June 14, 1993); this was the only other episode of Star Trek that showed an interior section of the runabout other than the cockpit apart from the DS9 episode Tacking Into the Wind.

Concept and fictional backgroundEdit

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 a 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.[2]

The series bible describes the Danube class vessels as "the symbol of the Federation presence in [Deep Space Nine's] sector".[3] 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.[4]

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.[5]

The runabouts have a two-person flight crew, and can carry two other crew.[1] They are fitted with a two-person transporter and accommodation bunks for long missions.[1][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.[1]

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 Nine.[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.[1] 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 depictionEdit

Overall design of the runabout was supervised by Herman Zimmerman, with Rick Sternbach and Jim Martin responsible for the design work.[1] 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.[1][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]

A remodeling of the set occurred 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.[1][9] 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.[1][9]

Filming modelsEdit

The filming model was built by Tony Meininger.[1] 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] 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 modelEdit

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] The CGI model for the Danube class was developed by Digital Muse.[18]



Name Registry Depiction Named for
USS Danube NX-72003 First ship of the class. Mentioned in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Technical Manual. Notable river in Central Europe.
USS Gander NCC-73624 Taken by Ezri Dax to search for Worf.[19]
- Destroyed by the Jem'Hadar.[19]
River in Canada or river in France
USS Ganges NCC-72454 Captured Tahna Los.[20] Rescued Vash from the Gamma Quadrant.[21]
- Destroyed by a T'Lani Munitions Cruiser.[22]
Notable river in India
USS Mekong NCC-72617 Helps rescue Benjamin Sisko from the Jem'Hadar.[23]
- Abandoned during the Obsidian Order/Tal Shiar attack on the Founder's homeworld in the Omarian Nebula.
Notable river in Southeast Asia
USS Orinoco NCC-72905 Helps rescue Benjamin Sisko from the Jem'Hadar.[23]
- Destroyed by the Cardassian terrorist group The True Way.[24]
River in South America
USS Rio Grande NCC-72452 Vessel aboard which Jadzia Dax and Benjamin Sisko discover the Bajoran wormhole.[25] Later located the missing Sword of Kahless. Helps rescue Sisko from the Jem'Hadar.[23] Longest surviving DS9 runabout. Major river in Texas
USS Rubicon NCC-72936 Added to Deep Space Nine's fleet in episode ”Family Business” to replace Mekong, abandoned, and presumably destroyed, in episode ”The Die is Cast”. Shrunk to 6.5 centimeters in episode ”On Little Ship”.[26] River in Italy famous as boundary crossed by Julius Caesar on his march to Rome.
USS Shenandoah NCC-73024 Taken by Jadzia Dax and Worf to rescue a Cardassian informant from the Dominion.[27]
- Severely damaged by the Jem'Hadar en route to deliver diplomatic message to Grand Nagus Zek.[28]
Eponymous river of the Shenandoah Valley in the United States
USS Volga NCC-73196 Participates in botanical survey of Torad IV.[29] Longest and largest river in Europe
USS Yangtzee Kiang NCC-72453 Hijacked by Bajoran terrorist Tahna Los.[20]
- Became the first DS9 runabout to be destroyed when it crashed on a moon in the Gamma Quadrant.[30]
Longest river in Asia
USS Yukon NCC-74602 Stolen by Founder in failed attempt to destroy the Bajoran sun.
- Destroyed by USS Defiant.[31]
Major river in northwestern North America
Unknown Unknown Transports Enterprise-D staffers to and from conference.
- Destroyed blocking power transfer between Enterprise and a Romulan warbird.[32]
Unknown Unknown - Destroyed in orbit of Torga IV with the loss of all hands.[33]
Unknown Unknown - Destroyed on Ajilon Prime during the Klingon bombardment of the Federation colony.[34]
Unknown Unknown - Destroyed by a Cardassian soldier at Empok Nor.[35]
Unknown Unknown Used by the Cardassian Liberation Front en route to stealing a Breen weapon.[36]

Yellowstone-class (alternate reality)Edit

Name Registry Depiction Named for
USS Yellowstone NX-74751 Prototype for an advanced runabout designed in large part by Ensign Harry Kim and Lieutenant Laska in an alternate timeline. Destroyed by antimatter containment loss. A river in the western United States, also the first national park and a volcano.


A large number of runabouts are damaged or destroyed over the course of the series. In the third-season episode "Family Business", Kira Nerys (Nana Visitor) quips, "The rate we go through runabouts, it's a good thing the Earth has so many rivers" (referencing the naming tradition of the Danube class vessels), and in Star Trek 101, authors Terry Erdmann and Paula Block comment that the series "goes through runabouts like potato chips".[6]

The show's art department joked that any runabout travel should be done on the USS Rio Grande, referring to its distinction as the only Danube class ship to survive the entire seven-season run of DS9, so therefore must be the safest one. It appeared in the series pilot "Emissary", the final episode "What You Leave Behind", and eighteen other episodes in between.[37]


In 1993, AMT/Ertl released a 1:72 scale model kit for the runabout USS Rio Grande.[38] 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.[39] 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.[40][41]

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.

Runabouts appear in several incarnations in the Star Trek Online massively multiplayer online role-playing game. Danube and Yellowstone classes appear as both playable 'small craft' starships and as decorative non-combat pets to be displayed when using larger starships. The Danube class starship and pet correspond to the DS9 appearance, with the roll bar equipped. However, the Yellowstone runabouts have a different visual design to the ship's appearance in Star Trek: Voyager.


In 2017, CBR ranked the Runabout, the fifteenth most powerful spacecraft of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.[42] They note they were an important vessel in the television show early on before the arrival of the USS Defiant spacecraft.[42] They felt they were a big upgrade over smaller shuttlecraft of the period, and while they land the occasionally lucky shot against larger starships, they were no match for them in general.[42]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Okuda & Okuda, The Star Trek Encyclopedia, p. 423
  2. ^ Reeves-Stevens & Reeves-Stevens, The Making of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, p. 36
  3. ^ Reeves-Stevens & Reeves-Stevens, The Making of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, p. 83
  4. ^ Reeves-Stevens & Reeves-Stevens, The Making of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, pp.83 & 143
  5. ^ Zimmerman, Sternbach, & Drexler, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Technical Manual, p. 140
  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 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 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. ^ a b "Penumbra". Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
  20. ^ a b ."Past Prologue". Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
  21. ^ "Q-Less". Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
  22. ^ "Armageddon Game". Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
  23. ^ a b c "The Jem'Hadar". Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
  24. ^ "Our Man Bashir". Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
  25. ^ "Emissary". Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
  26. ^ "One Little Ship". Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
  27. ^ "Change of Heart". Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
  28. ^ "Valiant". Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
  29. ^ "Body Parts". Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
  30. ^ "Battle Lines". Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
  31. ^ "By Inferno's Light". Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
  32. ^ "Timescape". Star Trek: The Next Generation.
  33. ^ "The Ship". Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
  34. ^ "...Nor the Battle to the Strong". Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
  35. ^ "Empok Nor". Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
  36. ^ "Tacking Into the Wind". Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
  37. ^ Okuda & Okuda, The Star Trek Encyclopedia, p. 412
  38. ^ Jackson, Spaceships at the final frontier, pgs. 4, 9
  39. ^ Reeves-Stevens & Reeves-Stevens, The Making of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, p. 236
  40. ^ Jackson, Spaceships at the final frontier, p. 43
  41. ^ Waugh, Deep Space Nine Model Kit
  42. ^ a b c "DS9: The 15 Most Powerful Ships In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine". CBR. February 18, 2017. Retrieved July 14, 2019.

See alsoEdit



Journal articlesEdit

  • Kaplan, Anna L. (November 1998). "Star Trek Deep Space Nine". Cinefantastique. 30 (9–10): 32–4, 38, 43, 47, 51, 54, 59, 62, 67.
  • Kaplan, Anna L. (November 1998). "One Little Ship". Cinefantastique. 30 (9–10): 39–42.
  • Kaplan, Anna L. (November 1998). "Visual Effects". Cinefantastique. 30 (9–10): 55–8.
  • Waugh, Archie (June–July 1994). "Deep Space Nine Model Kit: Pointers on assembling the AMT/ERTL DS9 space station". Strange New Worlds (14). Retrieved April 1, 2011.


External linksEdit