When I first saw the TNG model Phaser rifle in “The Mind’s Eye” I was hugely disappointed. It was just plain ugly. Rather than develop something cool and interesting, it really looked like someone had just taken a cobra head Phaser and made it into a rifle. We had to suffer through this model of Phaser rifle all the way through DS9 as well. Even with the introduction of new models of Phaser rifles in First Contact, midway through the DS9 run, that model of Phaser rifle was kept on the sideline until Voyager.
That being said, there isn’t any coherent set of descriptions of 24th century Federation Phaser Rifles. Many people use many different designations. So in order to bring order to where there is only chaos (apologies to the Borg), I have put this article together, that I think will help us all communicate accurately in the future. This article is written for prop collectors and doesn’t delve into the histories of the guns in the context of the Star Trek Universe. For that, go to the web sites I note at the end of this article, most notably www.phasers.net.
The rifles are referred to as Type 3 Phasers, because in the nomenclature of TOS, the Type 1 Phaser was the small hand held model, while the Type 2 was the pistol Phaser. Type 3 was assumed to be a rifle. This naming system is referred to throughout the various Star Trek Technical Manuals.
The first Type 3 Phaser Rifle we saw was in the TNG episode “The Mind’s Eye“. This rifle was used sparingly in TNG, showing up only twice more, in the episodes “Descent” and “Lower Decks”. The original Type 3 Phaser Rifle props were made by Proper Effects, who did most of the hand props for The Next Generation early on. There were actually a bunch of these made, but all are in private hands now. IAW never had any of these, and the last of them seem to have been sold at Christies. There are rubber ones often available, but they look like crap, suffering from bending and bad paint cracks.
The Type 3 Phaser Rifle, first seen in TNG, then DS9
When DS9 came around and the production needed lots of Phaser Rifles, Proper Effects had been replaced by HMS. HMS didn’t have the molds for the Type 3 of course and so were in a quandary. One of the guys at HMS knew that Scott Brodeen, one of the prop shop hands, had a copy he had made from an original. Scott had taken an original TNG Phaser Rifle and recast it for his own collection, changing aspects of it subtly so that no one would think it was an original. Well, with no original TNG rifle to use to recast, HMS asked to use Scott’s rifle and so his copy became the master for the DS9 rifles! So while this doesn’t really matter for Star Trek canon, it does matter to prop collectors, who can find two different types of Federation Type 3 Phaser rifles. The DS9 style also gave birth to the scoped variant seen in “Change of Heart”, and other DS9 episodes .
With Star Trek: First Contact, new Phaser Rifles were needed for the big screen. But instead of a single new version, we wound up with three. The first style is the square nosed Type 3a. This was the version Picard was tinkering with when Lilly barges in on him, and can also be seen in the foreground of the armory scene. This is designated the 3a in the Star Trek: Ds9 Technical Manual.
The Type 3a Phaser Rifle
This type wasn’t well liked by the powers that be, and so the Type 3b, was introduced during the production of First Contact. Essentially a Type 3a with a new, rounded, black barrel. This is the version we see Picard, Data and Worf carry through the hallways while they search for Borg. The type 3b carries through the rest of the Star Trek movies, most prominently featured in Star Trek: Insurrection as well as being featured heavily in Voyager. This type is frequently referred to as the “Insurrection Style” as it was heavily featured in that movie.
The Type 3b Phaser Rifle
The third type featured in First Contact is the Type 3 EVA. This was used only in the scenes on the surface of the Enterprise hull, when Picard, Worf and Hawke go after the Borg by the deflector dish. It is totally different than the other types for the movie, with an open trigger and dual grips, ostensibly to make it easier for Space suited crew to keep a grip on and use. We have never seen this rifle used again.
The Type 3 EVA Phaser Rifle
Star Trek: Nemesis brought us the Type 3c. This was a modified version of the Type3b with a new scope, which was actually a real, modern day scope, with an integral flashlight. The prop also featured aluminum (for the hero) or foil, (for the background) appliqués to the sides of the rifle, giving it a much more polished look.
The Type 3c Phaser Rifle
Finally we have the Voyager Compression Phaser Rifle. Big, bulky and ugly, for some reason the powers that be wanted a new rifle for Voyager. The biggest downside was it was a rifle that could not easily be handled with one arm. And while this rifle went through some changes (The scope was turned around after the first few episodes and a light put in), the rifle was ugly and unwieldy and so was eventually dropped in favor of the Type3b during later Voyager episodes.
So there you go. A brief history of the Type 3 Phaser Rifle from TNG through Nemesis. If you want information on the rifles from a show perspective is http://www.phasers.net/ . This is a great web site that covers all Star Trek weapons and how they fit into the Star Trek universe. And Lee, the owner just recently updated his site and so his naming conventions correspond with those I have given here.