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Aircraft Review/Tutorial: VSKYLABS- Rutan Model-158 Project

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VSL Rutan-158 XP12 Header.jpg


Aircraft Review/Tutorial: VSKYLABS- Rutan Model-158 Project


By Alan Ashforth



The VSKYLABS- Rutan Model-158 being reviewed here in X-Plane 12 is closely based on the Pond Racer, designed by Burt Rutan for Bob Pond, and flown at the Reno Air Races back in the early 90s. Only one was ever built and was sadly lost in an accident in 1993, killing the pilot Rick Brickert. 

What we have here in X-Plane, is a clever, plausible variant, that extends the racing aircraft, into an all-weather, cross-country sports plane, which allows it to be far more adaptable and useful in X-Plane. Its racing heritage is clear to see (there is no mistaking those sleek lines), which makes it very fast but also incredibly challenging to fly properly and safely, especially when landing. 

The model presented here features twin turboprop engines, with each one delivering about 600shp, which enables the Rutan Model-158 to achieve a top speed (TAS) of about 450mph/380kts, and a cruising range of 500 miles/ or 1.5 flight hours, coupled with a service ceiling of over 30,000ft.


Rutan 72 Head.jpg

The VSKYLABS Rutan Model-158 is available for both X-Plane 11 and 12, with Stephen from X-PlaneReviews offering a highly comprehensive review of the X-Plane 11 model back in March 2021. This review, whilst not as in-depth as Stephen’s, will hopefully give you an idea of how the model performs in X-Plane 12, albeit, in beta form (at the time of writing beta 5).  

With my purchase completed and downloaded from the X-Plane.Org store (extracted size was 407MB), it was just a straightforward task of placing the model into my X-Plane Aircraft folder. Included with the download is a 50-page, comprehensive, illustrated Pilot Operations Manual, including checklists.

The Rutan Model-158 is quite a distinctive-looking aircraft, especially with its twin booms housing the two PT6A-28 propulsion free-turbine turboprop engines. Being a relatively small aircraft, these design characteristics portray an aircraft that is both highly dramatic and powerful in appearance. Although a taildragger, its stance is shallower than say a WW2 fighter, which has the added benefit of offering a forward view, even if it is somewhat limited. 



The engine covers of the two PT6A-28 engines can be removed to show the nicely modelled details within.



The main gear is also modelled to a high level and even includes the names of all the people who made the original Pond Racer on the covers, a very nice touch, and one which could have easily been left out!



The original aircraft was designed in 1991, and as such incorporates a variety of useful features, such as satellite navigation, full safety lights, and interior lighting, which makes night flying entirely possible, not to mention great fun! 



One feature of the VSKYLABS model which I was highly impressed with, and which is new to the X-Plane 12 model, was the excellent rain effect on the canopy.  

In terms of liveries, there are three included: No. 2 in white, Marines in grey and finally Storm Chaser in red, all of which have been created to a high standard and really make the Rutan Model-158 stand out. There’s also an included paintkit for those artists among you. 




The interior of the Rutan, much like the exterior, is finished to the same high standard, with some great texturing on offer, including some excellent weathering effects (scuffs, marks etc), which gives the appearance of the cockpit being suitably authentic. This also has the benefit of making the cockpit a highly enjoyable place to be, particularly when navigating and manoeuvring the aircraft during flight. Both the seat and rudder pedals have excellent detailing, as do all the dials and switches, in fact, everything on offer is a class act. 
Of course, for an aircraft of this type, complete engine information is included for the pilot in the form of numerous gauges and dials, along with oxygen levels, cockpit pressure, etc. There are also the usual trim levers and autopilot/transponder settings, along with a rather handy cancel button on the stick.  



However, it’s perhaps the two Garmin 430 satnav units located in the centre panel housing which probably stand out the most, with the option of having the AviTab unit displayed for occasional use (a freeware download that you must acquire separately).  



Cold & Dark Start
Before starting the engines, we need to set the desired fuel and oxygen levels required for the flight (in weights and balances). 
With that done, set the battery to on (right panel), then engine one igniter, and engine one starter, which will, in turn, slowly start the left engine spinning. Soon after this, you will hear an audible beep, which is the signal to push in the engine one fuel tap. When the engine is idling, turn off the igniter and switch on the generator. Lastly, switch on the engine one inverter, located on the right panel, and turn on the avionics. You then partially repeat the procedure for engine two.  

We are now ready to close the canopy and enter our flight plan into the first Garmin. This unit has a VOR and CDI to help you navigate and land, unlike the second Garmin which is not configured with a VOR or CDI. However, it is still extremely useful as it can be used to show the distance and range page, whilst the first unit displays the map. When it comes to landing, you can use the autopilot’s APR mode to get lined up properly, but that’s about it, there is no glideslope ability. From here on in, it’s all manual flying, and as the Rutan Model-158 is quite a hot ship, you’re going to have to keep your wits about you. With no flaps or speed brakes fitted in which to manage airspeed, you must rely on adjusting and setting the props correctly, which is an important skill to master. 


Flying Experience 
When taxiing from cold and dark, it’s crucial to remember that the props will be in beta (reverse) which can be fun to use if you’re starting on a stand! With that knowledge firmly cemented in your mind, gently slide the levers forward to about halfway, release the brakes, and then control your speed with both brakes and throttle.

The minimum prop speed in alpha (forward thrust) is 1,200, while the maximum is 2,200. VSKYLABS recommends full forward props and 80% throttle for takeoff unless you’re at or above max takeoff weight, in which case it’s full throttle, which provides exceptionally swift acceleration.



Once you have left terra firma, reduce acceleration (prop and throttle) so as to allow the gear time to retract. This is done below 180kts, as any higher, and the likelihood of damaging your undercarriage increases significantly. With this done, you are now ready to accelerate and continue with the climb out. As you proceed, you’ll notice that the Rutan is highly stable in the roll; not as fast to roll as a single-engine fighter, but at low speeds (below about 250kts) the elevators are highly effective until they tighten up with speed. For this reason (at low speed), I’d make sure you adjust your trim accordingly. The climb performance of the Rutan is exceptional, and as such, reaching our target altitude of 25,000ft is achieved in almost no time at all. According to the documentation, this cruising altitude achieves the best economy (500 miles), which for a cross-country sports aircraft of this type, is not too bad at all.

One thing to note when climbing, is that if you’re going past 12,000ft, you’ll have to seal the canopy and adjust pressurisation accordingly, as failing to do this will cause you to blackout. Also, if you only have pressurisation on, and not oxygen (there is a separate oxygen control for your mask), then you will begin to blackout above 25,000 to 28,000ft, so if you’re going above that altitude (maximum ceiling is 33,500ft), you will need to adjust pressure and use oxygen. If there happens to be a fault with the pressure, you’ll need to use oxygen above 12,000ft. The procedure for accomplishing all the above is mentioned in the AviTab tablet, so it’s well worth setting up prior to takeoff.

Achieving the desired course/route in the Rutan Model-158 is a relatively simple task, as the supplied Gamin 430 units should be a familiar site to quite a few X-Plane users. However, if they’re not, and you’re new to X-Plane, then I highly recommend downloading and then reading the Garmin 430 PDF manual kindly provided by X-Plane.com 

As you head towards your target airport, reduce your speed by first pushing props fully forwards (2200rpm) and then throttling back, which provides a steady and controlled reduction of airspeed. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can simply whack the props into full reverse (beta) position and lose altitude at an even greater rate. However, don’t forget to put the props back to alpha to land though!  

When your airspeed has been reduced to below 180kts, it’s safe to lower the main landing gear, and with your trim adjusted, you can reduce your speed to 150/130kts for landing. Gentle braking is advised, as from my experience, the Rutan has a tendency to flip if applied above 90kts. Landing is perhaps the most challenging aspect of piloting the Rutan, and will no doubt take a few goes to get right, but that’s what makes flying this unique aircraft so special…it’s the replay feature, and the desire to get it right the next time around. 




During my testing, I found the VSKYLABS Rutan Model-158 to be both challenging and fun to fly. It’s well-modelled, especially the cockpit, includes some wonderful engine sounds, and is topped off by having a highly rewarding flight model. Considering X-Plane 12 is still in beta form, I was also impressed with how stable the model was in the sim. Quite often during the initial stages of an X-Plane beta, it’s not unusual for third-party add-ons to either freeze or crash the sim, so that was an additional bonus. 

For someone like myself who enjoys experiencing the thrills of flying powerful and challenging aircraft, I found the experience to be nothing short of exceptional, and as such would have no hesitation in recommending it to other like-minded X-Plane 12 users.  

Note: if you’re looking to add a few additional liveries to the Rutan, then there are some excellent and fun repaints available over at the Org by SimSmith and Criminy








The VSKYLABS- Rutan Model-158 Project for X-Plane 12 is available from the X-Plane.Org Store here:


VSKYLABS- Rutan Model-158 Project

Priced at US$28.50


Project's Main Features:

  • VSKYLABS 'Test-Pilot' project.
  • Highly defined flight dynamics model of the Model-158.
  • Highly defined PT6 turboprop engine simulation (PT6A-28) including its associated peripheral systems.
  • Built around the powerful, native X-Plane's 'Experimental Flight Model' environment.
  • In-depth systems simulation: Fully equipped aircraft with deep systems simulation (electrical, lighting and warning systems, comprehensive fuel system, fire protection, bleed air and pneumatic systems, ice protection systems, pressurization system, landing gears system, flight control, oxygen system, canopy system, auto-feathering and auto-ignition systems and more).
  • VR (Virtual Reality) Ready.
  • Multi-Layer FMOD sound pack.
  • 50-pages, comprehensive, illustrated Pilot Operations Manual, including checklists.
  • STMA Autoupdater is included: Project updates are fast and efficient!
  • Included Paint-Kit.
  • Highly responsive VSKYLABS support forums.


X-Plane 12 or X-Plane 11
Windows, Mac or Linux
4 GB VRAM Minimum - 8 GB+ VRAM Recommended
Current version:  

XP12 - September 5th 2022, 1.0 (March 14th 2021, XP11)


Review by Alan Ashforth

13th Oct 2022

Copyright©2022: X-Plane Reviews


Review System Specifications: 

Windows 11, Intel i7 10,700 Processor, 32GB RAM, 2TB SSD, GeForce RTX™ 2070


(Disclaimer. All images and text in this review are the work and property of X-PlaneReviews, no sharing or copy of the content is allowed without consent from the author as per copyright conditions) All Rights Reserved





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