I've been fleshing out the unseen or unacknowledged ranks and rank insignia of Starfleet.

Most supplemental material refers to O'Brien's single black pip as being the designated rank for a Chief Petty Officer. However, I have the sneaking suspicion that it was actually supposed to be a Warrant Officer's insignia. Proof is that concept art for VOY shows a single black stripe as the Chief Warrant Officer's insignia, not the CPO's.

VOY concept art for Starfleet provisional rank pips

The writers played very fast and loose with O'Brien's rank, and even in the TNG episode where he's established as CPO he still wears lieutenant's pips. In TNG he eventually starts wearing a single black pip like a few other one-off characters, but because his rank was so all over the place back then I'm willing to accept this was still a costuming error. It's not until DS9 that they really settled on his rank and gave him a unique dedicated insignia.

The clincher for my theory is that, allegedly, early script notes for DS9 (while O'Brien was still wore the black pip) call O'Brien a Warrant Officer. This piece of trivia is upheld across several wikis and fan-forums. However I can't find any basis whatsoever for this claim.

Does anyone have proof these notes exist?


2 Answers 2


In a word, no. O'Brien's rank may be inconsistently presented, but it's consistently not 'Warrant Officer'.

There's a script database here and a search through it reveals zero script mentions of 'warrant officers', mainly because that's not a rank that exists in the Star Trek universe, other than occasional canon muckup.

  • It's true that Warrant Officers weren't a thing during TWoK era, but Roddenberry's vision never included enlisted crew and they still wound up in the series. I ended up finding that same database and searched for "Warrant Officer" mentions but saw none either. I'm really curious where this claim actually comes from? I'd also like to point out that the character Mr. Kasinski is a strong contender for a potential Warrant Officer.
    – rr_cola
    Commented Oct 25, 2021 at 5:40
  • I didn't find the script notes, but I actually just came across an interview with William Ware Theiss where he states the black pip is for the CWO after all! I'm going to write up an answer about it now.
    – rr_cola
    Commented Oct 25, 2021 at 17:46

Since I posted this question I contacted John Chase, writer of the fantastic Starfleet.ca blog and expert in TOS costuming.

He directed me to a reproduction of a 1998 interview with principal costume designer for TOS and TNG, the late William Ware Theiss. The reproduced article can be read here, on the Star Trek Prop, Costume, and Auction Authority website.

In it, Theiss described the creation process for TNG's early season Starfleet uniforms, clarifying details about the ranking system used in the show.

"The rank on the old show was a braid we had custom-made and was based on our current naval ranking. But the new rank are these little gold circles, and black circles with a gold rim."

The TNG ranking system as established by Theiss is as follows...

  • One Black Pip: Chief Warrant Officer
  • One Gold Pip: Ensign
  • One Gold & One Black Pip: Lieutenant, Junior Grade
  • Two Gold Pips: Lieutenant
  • Two Gold Pips & One Black Pip: Lieutenant Commander
  • Three Gold Pips: Commander
  • Four Gold Pips: Captain

TNG's solitary black pip insignia is consistent with VOY scenic artist Jim Magladeno's designs for the provisional rank pips worn by the Maquis. Magladeno's single black stripe is equivalent to Theiss' single black pip.

Magladeno's Provisional Rank Insignia

So why did O'Brien wear the pip of a Chief Warrant Officer? My answer for that is, just like his many other costuming and character contradictions over the years, the people making the show just hadn't thought that hard about it. It wasn't until midway through DS9 that O'Brien finally received his own unique insignia for Chief Petty Officer or Senior Chief Petty Officer, and even then they made mistakes there too.

  • Note that it was established well before O'Brien left for DS9 that he was a Chief Petty Officer.
    – Valorum
    Commented Oct 25, 2021 at 18:17
  • @Valorum I'm aware! Just as it was established that he was a lieutenant before he was a CPO. Or when Nog wore a single black pip after given field commission as an ensign. Giving O'Brien a black pip, if TNG's makers still thought of him like a CPO, was probably just their way of separating him from the standard officer.
    – rr_cola
    Commented Oct 25, 2021 at 18:22

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