The making of the
Aircraft Carrier PC

So I was walking around a toy store waiting for my wife to finish looking at the Barbie toys one day (before anyone asks, yes, she is more than eight years old and I love the fact that she is still into toys) and I saw this cool looking toy of the aircraft carrier Enterprise. I looked closer at it, and thought that it might be big enough to hold one of those great mini-itx motherboards from VIA. Since the toy was only $19.99, I decided to get it.

Upon getting home, I ripped open the box and confirmed that the width of the toy at it's largest area was a little over 17cm wide. The mini-itx would be a tight fit, but it would work.

I could see it all now - runway lights, planes on the deck, control switches on the command center - it looked great. All that was left was the planning, cutting, building, painting, and tweaking. No problem!

In reality, it was a 4 month project that was more difficult than many would claim just by looking at the mod. Let's go over the individual pieces and show what it took to create the mod.


At first, I bought a cheap ball mouse with the idea to paint it like a ship. I would have a "missile bay" on the back by placing rows of red/white/blue LEDs. I also masked off alternating sections of the white mouse cable and dyed the cable as well, leaving some sort of a warning tether.

After doing all this, it worked but it didn't really look like a ship to me. I loved the way the cable looked, however.

Another trip to the toy store and I found a small police hydro-foil ship. I bought it, took it apart, bought another mouse (optical this time), and transferred the guts into this new toy. The result is a little strange and different, but cool (I think).

There were several challenges along the way. For example, the guts of the optical mouse were way too long and wide. For the length, I cut off the sections for the buttons since I would be using my own buttons anyway. The problem with the width was more difficult. I used my Dremel to grind away the outer traces on the circuit board and used bits of wire to reconnect the traces.

This was the original mouse I bought. My idea was to color it like a ship and have a row of red/white/blue missiles on the back.
I also decided to color the cable in a red/white pattern like a warning tape/tether. This is the masking tape on the cable.
After a little (a lot) of red vinyl dye.
The completed cable. I really liked the look of this.
The finished mouse. Nice, but... not interesting.
A toy I purchased at my local toy store.
Disassembled toy. I had to remove all the guts and all those 'waxy' plastic pieces.
The bottom with a hole cut for an optical sensor and plastic to cover all the wheel holes.
Putty to fill the holes, and some sanding.
The top piece with some sheet plastic added to cover the holes.
Some putty & sanding, and a slight coat of primer. I've also drilled holes for some LEDs and some buttons.
The nearly complete top/bottom halves.
Optical mouse electronics. Note that this is a second mouse - the original had a ball that would never fit in here.
It was too big - I had to cut off the pieces with the buttons and reroute some traces with wire and grind away the side of the board.
Adding some LEDs to the top. I carefully dimmed the LEDs using resistors so they were not so bright.
For the buttons I used some micro-switches I had lying around. I epoxied the top of some red LEDs to the switch.
The completed circuit board with all my tweaks. It still worked!
The electronics housed in the mouse. Basically it's held together with 3 screws.
Front view.
Rear view. The rear also has another piece of flat plastic to cover the original hole.
I used the original Teflon feet from the first mouse.
With the power applied, the front lights up red/white/blue.
Angle shot, lights still visible.
This is how it's held. The front button is the left mouse button, the one behind is the right. It looks strange, but doesn't feel that bad.


The keyboard was the easiest piece. Basically, modding the keyboard amounted to buying a cheap keyboard and disassembling it so I could replace the LEDs for the caps lock (and other lights). I also painted (actually dyed using vinyl dye) the keyboard.

With the LEDs, I replaced the existing green LEDs with ultra-brite LEDs in a red/white/blue pattern to be patriotic. The problem was, the keyboard used a clear piece of plastic in front of the LEDs. I was having a problem with the red LED contaminating the white LED with some of it's color. The solution was to cut the solid clear plastic piece and paint the edges black to prevent the color bleed. The parts were glued back together and I had no more problems.

The keyboard top was painted grey to remind people of a ship hull. The bottom was painted grey to simulate the water line. Lastly, the grey multi-media keys were painted white to remind people of missiles.

The cord was dyed similar to what I did for the mouse.

This is the keyboard I started with. It was only $15 new.
This is the piece that covers the lights. Since I was using ultra-brite LEDs, the colors would shine through adjacent holes. The solution - cut the piece and paint the ends.
Each key has an individual rubber nub. What a pain.
The final product.
Note the custom dyed cable and white buttons up top. Both were white to begin with and were dyed colors that went with the theme better.


On the deck of the aircraft carrier, I wanted several planes to give the mod a cool, realistic look. The die-cast planes that came with the toy were junk, so I went to a hobby store to find some plastic model kits. Finding appropriate types of planes/helicopters was difficult in the scale I needed. Everything was too big or too small. Eventually I found 2 F-14 aircraft and decided that would have to be good enough.

I wanted to make at least one of the F-14s light up, so I decided I would put lights in the engines and cockpit of one of them and have it be the hard drive activity light. I came up with the idea that if I used a couple of solid metal pieces as the power leads (like the pins from an LED), I could make the plane removable. What good is a toy with small planes if you can't remove the planes and play with them?

There were only a couple of problems with the planes above and beyond what building any plastic model kit entails.

First, since these were very cheap kits from some company I had never heard from before these kits were of pretty low quality. Thus when gluing the top/bottom halves together the pieces didn't line up very well. I ended up using modeling putty to fill the holes and sanding the pieces down. Very difficult when the section you are trying to sand is only a few millimeters long. In the end, looking closely you can tell things didn't line up well. But without someone mentioning it, you probably wouldn't notice.

Second, adding the lights to one of the planes was pretty difficult. Besides the small spaces I had to work with, the main section of the plane was best painted as one piece, rather than gluing two already painted pieces together and have it looking poor. I had to seal the electronics into the already glued together model, but cover the LEDs with tape and leave enough space for the wires to stretch so that the LEDs would not interfere with the painting.

In the end, I liked the results.

The model kit that the accessory planes would be coming from. I bought two kits, this is one.
All plane pieces laid out.
I cut them off the tree so I could see how to assemble them. I was going to put electronics in one of them, and leave the other more traditional.
The plane ultimately assembled into 3 main pieces.
The main body that would hide most of the electronics.
The power leads are just the leads from an LED clipped off and epoxied into holes I drilled in the model.
Some wire was soldered onto the LEDs in the engine bay.
I had to leave room for the LEDs to move a bit. Later, they are covered with tape before the model is painted.
These were cheap quality models. The parts did not line up very well when glued together.
The main body glued together.
I filled the seams with model putty.
More putty.
Yet more putty.
Here, I've masked off the LEDs so they won't get covered in paint.
Sanding the putty down till the seems look better.
The main body, sanded and painted.
The seems are still visible if you look closely, but they are much better now.
Some detail painting. Also, the cockpit LED is visible.
The finished lighted plane. The cockpit was also frosted by light sanding to blend the light better.
The finished unlighted plane.

Toys, toys, toys

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. One of the best things about being an adult is being able to walk into a toy store and know that if I really want something, I can buy it. I have only myself to be accountable to. It almost makes up for having to pay taxes...

The toy I bought that gave me the idea. It was $19.99 only.
Here it is outside the box. The planes that came with it are metal die-cast. They sucked, really cheap construction. The ship itself was much nicer.

The Hull

The main hull and deck are, of course, where the majority of the work was performed. In general, the work proceeded in three stages - plan the components with respect to location and function, perform all modifications to the case' itself, and assemble everything together. That completely ignores all the difficulty actually associated with each task, however.

The planning of the hull was actually a gradual thing. I knew which motherboard I would be using, and I knew which power supply. But items such as the sound circuit, DVD-ROM drive, and memory card reader/writer were relative late-comers in the process. One significant problem with the planning stage was that despite the size of the toy, there were few areas which were flat enough on the hull to add all the ports I needed.

There were quite a lot of modifications to the basic structure that may not be readily apparent. A lot of plastic was removed from the toy to make sure that everything would fit. I had to be careful not to remove any critical structures. Obviously, I needed to remove at least one main screw mounting hole in the center or the motherboard wouldn't fit. I had to make sure that losing that mount didn't affect the structural integrity of the mod overall.

Trying to cut holes for the memory card reader/writer and the DVD-ROM was especially difficult. While the pictures may not totally show the state of the hull, it's actually slightly curved. Trying to cut precise holes for non-curved pieces in a curved structure is not the easiest thing to do.

The deck of the aircraft carrier went through a lot. There was a lot of painting, of course. But also quite a few lights were added so that the runway would light up (actually, the white lights down the side simply light up while the lights in the center of the runway light up in sequence). Over twenty-two LEDs were each individually sanded and wired into the runway alone. Also, the command center went through serious modification. It was painted, had electronics for switches added, and had additional detail added with sheet plastic.

All in all, these modifications were the hardest part of the mod. Knowing that a single accidental cut with my Dremel could ruin weeks of work was certainly somewhat stressful.

The top of the main deck piece, stripped of all extraneous pieces.
The underside of the main deck.
The command center bottom. I've already started to sand it here.
There was detailing only on 2 sides. I used some spare plastic to add details to the other sides.
The command center after some painting.
The is the top of the command center without the main antennas. I added some more antennas with model railroad telephone poles.
The runway & catapults getting some paint.
The runway took a good deal of paint. It was painted with 5 colors, each requiring separate masking.
More work on the runway.
The underside of the runway with many of the runway lights glued in place.
Measuring & drilling on the main deck.
Base coats of primer.
Some of the warning lines are masked and painted.
The elevator was painted as a separate piece and glued into place.
The main hull, which I already began hacking up to fit the motherboard.
Some of the screw holes had to be removed. To prevent accidents, I covered those missing holes with epoxy glue.
The risers for the DVD-ROM and the motherboard are in place.
Figuring out where to cut a hole for the DVD-ROM.
Bending plexiglass for the rear of the toy. My toaster had about the same curvature...
The bottom hull painted and labeled.
The hole for the memory card reader. It may not look like it, but the hull is slightly curved here making this addition very difficult.
The hole for the DVD-ROM (and the riser inside the hull).
The front of the DVD-ROM, painted to match the case.
Where the light-up F14 is attached to the front deck.


The electronics in this mod were simple, but effective.

The majority of the electronics were the standard computer stuff. A motherboard, a DVD-ROM, a laptop hard drive (with desktop hard drive adapter), power supply, the usual. The only thing about them (besides fitting everything in the case in general) which wasn't standard was two things. First, most of the connectors from the motherboard required extension cables to be made to go the small distance between the port panel at the back of the mod and the motherboard. Also, I had to open the power supply to both move the power plug connector external to the power supply and to move the motherboard connector to exit the power supply at the top rather than the side (because the space was so tight inside the mod).

There was another cool circuit I used. I got this complete 20-second digital voice recorder/player circuit from an electronics chain store for $20 dollars. I replaced the switches and adapted it to work with a 12 volt power source rather than a 9 volt battery like it came. Next, I recorded 20 seconds of the USA national anthem and mounted it to the underside of the deck of the carrier. Through holes I drilled in the deck, the mod can now play some audio. The button to re-record the audio is also accessible on the outside of mod, should I want to change the music to something else (Top Gun soundtrack, perhaps?).

Lastly, there are the runway lights. I carefully dilled holes down the sides of the runway to place ultra-brite white LEDs along the runway. I also carefully sanded each LED so that the light was more evenly spread. These lights are turned on and off via a switch on the control tower. Also, I drilled holes down the center stripe of the runway for amber LEDs (also sanded for better light distribution). With these, I built a circuit that would light one LED at a time in a sequential landing pattern. Note that 2/3 of the LEDs are on the removable panel that makes the computer accessible. I used a bit of network cable as the wiring harness to carry the signals to that panel. Thus, the panel can be removed (even while the lights are running) without affecting the rest of the mod.

The power supply in it's un-modded form.
I opened the power supply so I could move the power plug external to the hull.
I also made the wiring harness come out the top instead of the side. I needed that extra space to the sides. Note the electrical tape to prevent the wires from rubbing & getting cut.
The completed exhaust fan structure.
6-in-1 memory card reader that donated it's life to the cause.
Most of the custom extension cables I had to make.
Most of the cables were simple to make.
Some of the cables were a friggin' pain. Throw me a bone here!
A neat little 20-second digital recorder from Radio Shack.
The top of the command center with a flashing LED and on/off power switch.
It's beyond me why they don't make diffused ultra-brite LEDs. Every LED had to be sanded until it was no longer clear.
The runway electronics and the sound circuit circuits are mounted to the underside of the deck.
The mini-itx motherboard is attached to an acrylic square with screws/nuts.


Here are some miscellaneous pictures of pieces I thought were interesting. All the extra antennas on top of the control tower are actually telephone pole from a model railroad set (twisted, bent, cut, & painted). The air intake and exhaust for the mod were actually plastic panels on the toy that were already separate plastic pieces for some reason. I simply cut appropriate holes in them, attached a mesh screen to the intake and attached two laptop fans to the other. Lastly, the vehicles on the deck are also model railroad accessories. Simply cut off a few tractor blades, add some missiles and some paint.

These telephone poles became the extra antennas on the command center.
Some plastic from the original toy became the air intake and air exhaust (a mesh grill was added to the first, fans were put into the second).
Some model railroad tractors...
... became some weapons loading vehicles.


The final assembly was actually one of the easier tasks. By this point, I had already measured every cable and every element of the case. I simply placed everything in it's proper position and either glued / taped / screwed the items together as they should be.

The completed DVD-ROM.
The memory card reader and USB/firewire ports in place. The DVD-ROM is ready to be positioned.
The DVD-ROM in position. It's held in place by foam tape on the bottom and a bit of hot-glue on the top edge.
The power supply is in place and it's ready to have the motherboard mounted.
A quick test of all the components in place. Luckily it all worked.
Cleaning up the cables.
The underside of the hard drive light F14. These are just motherboard jumper connectors with only 1 wire connected.
Getting ready to attach the deck to the hull.

Final Result

  • Aircraft Carrier USS Enterprise computer mod
    • Custom case based on the world's most impressive naval vessel
    • Intricate detailing, including multiple aircraft and support vehicles
    • Working runway lights with a sequencing yellow landing stripe
    • Independent sound system that plays the USA national anthem
      • NOTE: The audio can be re-recorded as anything via a hidden switch
    • Hard drive activity light built into 13cm long aircraft
      • Cockpit lights blue, engines light red
      • Aircraft is easily removable for play
    • Easily removable cover to view computer components
    • 1GHZ CPU with MPEG acceleration
    • DVD-ROM drive
    • 4GB hard drive
    • 6-in-1 memory card reader/writer
    • VGA and RCA video out
    • 2 USB, 2 firewire connections
    • 100Mb ethernet
    • Designed for playing music, movies, pictures
  • Custom Keyboard
    • Specially colored to match the Military theme
    • Keyboard lights replaced with patriotic colors
    • USB connection with custom pattern on cable
  • Custom Mouse
    • Optical precision mouse
    • Specially shaped to resemble a small navy vessel
    • Custom painted to support the theme
    • Patriotic lights on top designed not to be blindly bright
    • USB connection with custom pattern on cable

    The motherboard for this mod was provided by the great folks at VIA. VIA has provided support for some of the best mods around the world and that speaks volumes about their dedication to the community. I'd like the personally thank both Fiona Gatt and Ken Davies at VIA for their support in getting this equipment. dedication to the community.


    All images Copyright © Russ Caslis
    Do not use or reproduce without permission
    Last updated: 9-22-2007