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Aircraft Review : Rutan Model-158 Pond Racer - Test-Pilot Project by vSkyLabs The bizarre and the unorthodox is littered with examples in aviation, more than really any other medium. Then aviation pushes the boundary on what can and even the unexpected of what has been achieved in relation to leaving the boundaries of not only above the ground but to go even beyond the planet Earth itself. The experimental aspect of flight is strewn with examples that pushed the boundaries forward, but was also the death of many a good pilot... the Model-158 Pond Racer is one such example. First is the name "Pond Racer"... it is not an aircraft designed to fly over water, but the designation is taken by the person who wanted to compete in air-races, Robert J Pond, he also created the Palm Springs Air Museum in California. Bob Pond commissioned the Model-158 design with the idea of developing a modern aircraft that could compete with the vintage warbirds in the Unlimited Class at the Reno air races. Bob Pond was concerned that each year at the Reno Air Races, valuable and historic aircraft were being crashed and destroyed, not to mention many engines being damaged or wrecked beyond repair. The Pond Racer was hoped to be an alternative to vintage aircraft like the P-51 Mustang and the Hawker Sea Fury that would be as fast and spectacular in the air as the warbirds. To do this he turned to the most avant-garde of all the aviation designers in Burt Rutan, and Scaled Composites. The Model-158 airframe was constructed of composite materials, carbon fiber and Kevlar. This resulted in a very light, strong aircraft. And to power the plane, then two Electramotive 3 liter V-6 engines were chosen. These were based on the Nissan VG30 automobile engine. The engines were originally developed for auto racing and were turbocharged to produce 1,000 hp (750 kW). However, those fitted to the Pond Racer only ever achieved a peak of around 600 hp (450 kW). The engines drove 4-bladed propellers via propeller speed reduction units. The result was something out of Star Wars or the racing machines in "The Phantom Menace" episode one of the series. Huge massive twin engines are connected to what is basically a glider cockpit, it flew, and by the results it actually flew very well, but overall it was a flying death trap. VskyLabs has taken liberty with the design, basically it is a reproduction of the original "Pond Racer", but the aircraft is powered by twin PT6A-28 propulsion free-turbine turboprop engines with around the same output (640 kW) as the V-6 original installations. Instrumentation is quite different as well, as the original aircraft quite basic, and didn't have extras like GPS or iPads and all the required complementary systems, providing the needed instrumentation of; environmental control, fuel capacity, navigation-aids and all- weather flying capabilities. The aircraft was fitted with a new type of fuel-system layout, pressurization, oxygen, pneumatic, electrical and avionics. A lot however is original as well, mostly in the aircraft's detail. The design results though are pure Rutan, a very composite aircraft with slender fine forward-swept wing in which the quarter-chord line of the wing has a forward sweep, with slight uplifts at the wingtips. It is a twin boom-fuselage that supports a central rear fine cockpit, in other words a pure racing machine, note the nice upward and downward fins that make the tail really a tri-tail configuration. Brilliantly conceived in you have to admit is in its clever design. Modeling is a mixture of textured and untextured components, and in areas the two do slightly conflict as you can see the differences... But to note first the VSkylab philosophy is that you purchase an ongoing project, so any aircraft that you purchase is not fully completed and 100%, that is the deal you sign up for to get access to the aircraft, all updates to the aircraft are free but the changes however can come infrequently, if sometimes slowly. The landing gear (twin front) is basic modeling, and in parts not even textured, but overall it serves it's purpose in the right links and uprights and in design it is authentic, this is also a tail-dragger aircraft with only a (very) small caster wheel at the rear. A nice touch is the names of everyone involved in the Model-150 are listed on the left and right gear doors. Cockpit is tiny and gliderish in concept, the textured and untextured sections are highly noticeable of the canopy to the tub section. Glass is simply excellent, or would it have been perspex as with the lovely graining on the cover, the canopy shaping is perfect and highly realistic. The highlight on the aircraft is that you can remove the engine covers (press on the covers directly) and then see those awesome PT6A-28 turbines in all of their glory, and they are both amazingly well done. Another nice touch is the fuel tank fillers (four) with two set in the inner connecting wing (21.3 GAL per tank), and two on each outer pod (50.7 GAL per tank), nice tank instructions are noted as well. The Pond Racer has a complex fuel system with the main tanks in the front, and the two pod feeder tanks aft. Cockpit The long thin canopy is opened by a pull rod on the left inner side, and revels a striking interior, highlighted by that padded bright red-orange cushion like seat, a seat is really not what it is, but more a padded material between yourself and the composite frame. The interior detail is both exceptional and realistic, even for an experimental aircraft such as this Pond Racer. Note the blue marks show when the canopy is open or locked. From the external view there is an exceptional pilot in a flight suit, he is also animated to move the stick, throttles and even the rudder pedals. Most of the detailing focus is certainly on the cockpit, as it is really well done. The instrument panel is really quite big for an aircraft of this size and it is also very well fitted out with instruments. I am going to be quite suspect and say the original instrument set up is nothing like this and be quite basic, because the original aircraft was only an experimental aircraft and not a production machine. Top of the panel are two GNS 430 GPS units, which do sort of stick up in your viewline with an attached Whiskey Compass. Below on the panel are the fire switches and starter switches for the left and right engines with the first of two annunciator panels that covers warnings. The Standard Six instruments including the; Airspeed Indicator, Altitude Indicator, Artificial Horizon top, Heading dial with built in VOR Pointers, Course Deviation Indicator (CDI) and V/S Vertical Speed instruments are all grouped together top left of the panel. Below the SS is the second (larger) of the two annunciator panels, this panel covers Systems. Most of the rest of the right instrument panel is taken up by the duel engine instruments and there are sixteen of them (or eight per engine)... top row is the (twin) Propeller RPM and ITT (Inter Turbine Temperature) dials. second row is a G-Meter, Ampreres/Volts and Torque dials. Note you can switch between bus volts and generator load indication via the knob on the Amp/Volt meter. Third row consists of two fuel gauges and RPM dials, and finally the fourth row has (twin) Fuel Flow and Twin Oil Temp and Oil Pressure gauges. The panel looks complicated, but overall it really isn't. There is a box panel beneath that is mostly hidden by the joystick, which can be half-hidden by pressing the base. Top panel is a Garmin GMA347 radio unit, with the external (left) lighting switches and internal Flood and Instrument lighting switches right. Note the exquisite rudder pedals. Top left panel is the parkbrake, Gear lever and twin engine Throttle (black) and Propeller (Blue). Rear panel is a sensational trim section, with nice large wheels to adjust your Yaw, Roll and Pitch trim, with the pitch and yaw noted on the dials. Canopy seal and Firewall shutoff is set mid-panel. Top right panel is the Cabin Pressure gauge, and below your Oxygen Supply (Liters). Mid-Panel top is the Oxygen Regulator, and are controlled by three big switches that cover your Emergency supply (Red), 100%/ Normal (White) and PBG -Pressure (Green). There is a PSI dial for the pressure and a flow indicator. Mid-Panel bottom switchgear that covers Pressurization, PWR (Power/Electrical) and Bleed/De-Ice Systems Rear right panel are the rest of the avionics. There is a S-Tec Forty-Five autopilot, which is odd in a pylon racing machine? but there you go... and a Garmin GTX 327 Transponder... final switches cover the fuel boost pumps. Overall the instrument and system layout is exceptional, and a full description of all the systems including the 28-VDC electric system configuration, that is powered by a 24-volt, 42-ampere hour battery and the two 250- ampere starter generators of the electrical system and the complex fuel system is also well documented in the manual. Also noted in the manual is the full settings for the X-Plane JOYSTICK/KEY ASSIGNMENTS. As the project is designed and optimized for VR (Virtual Reality) usage, therefore, all on- board equipment, switched, lever, handle, knobs and other relevant functions are all accessible through on-screen manipulators, for also use with the mouse in 2D mode, or with the touch controllers in VR mode. X-Plane 11 Experimental Flight Model environment must be ON to fly this aircraft, the checkbox is on the X-Plane/Settings/General menu The cockpit and instrument panel lighting (adjustable) is lovely, the "Flood" light is not a full on bright light, but a nice glow on the panel and underneath it... any side dial is nicely also lit up. STMA AutoUpdater The vSkyLabs aircraft also comes with the STMA AutoUpdater. This tab pops out on the top left of your screen and will update the aircraft version automatically, the same can be accessed via the X-Plane/Plugins Menu. Personally I am not a big fan of this STMA updater as it pops anytime you access this left side of the screen real estate, so (seriously) "annoying" is the word for it. Flying the Pond Racer The real aircraft did not actually taxi... it had a rear wheel puller that positioned the aircraft on the end of a runway, and so that is the best way to start. Starting the twin PT6A-28s is actually quite easy... Boost pumps on, Firewall (Fuel) Shutoff on, Prop levers to full forward, a little throttle. Then Switch up IGN#1 (or IGN#2) and then flick up the starter (START#1 or #2), then above 15% N1 you push in the Fuel cutoff handle. It takes time to wind up and power up the engines, so you have to wait until the Prop RPM is showing around 21x100 percent, before you have fully completed the start procedure. The Model-158 is not at all as noisy as you would expect it to be and even quite smooth, mainly I think it is set with you wearing a full face helmet and oxygen mask... either way it isn't what you expect, but in not being really loud, seriously noisy and rattling your brains out. The view forward is horrible, the view sideways is totally unrealistic... in reality you are flying the machine between the small gap between the font of the pods, al la a Star Wars racer. The sounds are more high buzzy than noisy, but it sounds... well interesting. With the park brake off you gingerly push up the twin throttles, and they require quite a fair amount of throttle to make the aircraft actually move... when moving the Model-158 will immediately pull heavily to the right, I found a way of keeping the racer more on the straight line was to give more power to the right (throttle) engine than the left, it gives you more straight line control... so you steer more with your throttles than with your rudder pedals... you can use the rudder toe brakes if you set them, but the throttle control is more agile in your straight line control... ... the Pond Racer takes a fair amount of time, and runway to gather enough speed for takeoff, part of the effect is caused by you, yourself as in the way you have to nudge the throttles higher and higher while remaining in control, you know with a certain feel, that with just one mistake, it will simply send you barreling off the runway to a certain death. At around 170 knts you will finally have enough grip in the air to fly. The Model-158 will climb out savagely if you let it... there are no official vertical speeds, but around 2,000fpm is pretty close to realistic, no doubt with this much power it could go right off the scale, but let us be realistic here. immediately you are aware that the view forwards is very hard to see with those GNS 430s blocking out the vision, worse is that you need to also see the instruments, and getting (some sort) of forward view and seeing the instruments together creates an odd, if weird viewpoint angle... ... I found very quickly is that the best way to fly the Pond Racer, is actually via the instruments and not so much in the visual, a more head down and level sort of approach. Surprisingly the Model-158 is very nice to fly, the controls are light and the machine is easily trimmed. And very, very fast... Maximum speed is 400.0 mph (643.8 km/h, 347.6 kn), and the real aircraft did achieve that astounding speed. The full history of the Pond Racer makes for unbelievable reading "The aircraft made its debut at the 1991 Reno air races having been flown from the Scaled Composites factory (at Mojave) under escort. Gasoline/Petrol was used as the fuel for the flight to Reno as this gave a greater range. The onboard engine control computers were replaced with equipment for metering methanol in the race configuration. Methanol was the preferred fuel because no intercoolers were needed, and so the associated drag was eliminated. After the day's running had concluded the engines were again configured to burn gasoline/petrol to preclude the corrosive effects of methanol. The aircraft was entered in the Silver class and qualified at 400 mph (640 km/h), flown by experienced test pilot Rick Brickert. The aircraft sadly developed mechanical problems before the race was officially started and dropped out as a DNS. The decision was made by Pond to attend Reno with the same engines used for flight testing. In fact, a vibrator was still attached to the left vertical stabilizer to initiate flutter as part of the planned flight test program. There was no expectation of victory the first year. It was viewed as a "dress rehearsal" more than anything else. After takeoff for the final event on Sunday, the left engine threw a rod out the side of the block and created a tunnel of fire 4 feet (1.2 m) in diameter and about 15 feet (4.6 m) long. An onboard halon extinguishing system put the oil fire out and an uneventful single-engine landing was made. The engine installations were very compact and "close cowled", meaning the bodywork covering the engines had little clearance. The carbon fiber engine cowling was a structural component of the aircraft and as such had to be protected from heat-soak after shutdown. This was accomplished via two 2-stroke weed blowers immediately after the blades stopped turning, quickly followed by two air conditioner blowers attached to the air inlet "scuppers". The engine cowlings were lined with corrugated inconel of .007 thickness. Airflow was vital to structural integrity. Conversely, the powerplant units had to be preheated to nearly operating temperature before the engines were fired up. This was due to the tight tolerances of the engine main bearings. Because methanol burns much cooler than gasoline/petrol, cooling was never an issue. Actually the cold nature of the methanol gave the team a problem with oil viscosity. The thick, graphite laden oil would "puke" overboard for the majority of the time while airborne. Eventually it was determined that the oil drain holes were undersized in the rocker area of the heads as they were not intended to run at a constant high RPM in an automobile application. Fully half of the radiator inlet ducting was blocked off after the first test flight on March 22, 1991. Dick Rutan himself was the initial test pilot. Mike Melvill also flew the plane as did Steve Hinton as part of the test program. On September 14, 1993, the Pond Racer was entered again in the Reno races and once more it was piloted by Rick Brickert. During qualifying, the aircraft began leaking oil and suffered an engine failure leaving the right propeller unfeathered. Brickett pulled up, lowered the landing gear, and chose to perform a belly landing by retracting the gear again. The aircraft then overshot a smooth landing area and crashed in rough terrain, killing Rick Brickert the pilot." (wikipedea) If being cowered down behind the instrument panel is not enough, you can select down by your right seat (arrowed) an "AviTab" VR-compatible tablet, that can be positioned over the twin GNS 430s Now your forward view is completely blocked, so you certainly can't use the AviTab in visual flying. The S-Tec Autopilot is actually very good, but a note to the developer as it is needed in a pop-up panel with it's very hard far right (almost out of sight) position for a more ease of use... The AP will however give you a chance of a rest, and to finally pop your head up for a look around. If you drop the nose too quickly. You do get this weird and very loud helicopter sounding blade slap, authentic? it "scared the bejesus" out of me, so I am not so sure of that one. This machine is created in reality to do only one thing... go extremely fast around a circuit, so ultra manoeuvrability is not the Pond Racer's forte, yes it will turn, climb and go very fast, but you feel you better not push it beyond it's boundaries in case it bites you back in being nasty... just keeping it on the straight and fast is the game on here. Landing takes a lot of skill, and bravery... holding your breath for long periods helps as well. Again trusting you instruments is everything, as the horizon or your view of here the water, can be misguiding to your actual height.... and you can very easily get it all very wrong. You have no airbrake, or flaps to lower your speed? using the huge propellers set at idle can create a drag effect to lose speed, but you have to be careful in not stalling the aircraft... gear down also creates a slowing drag as well. But ultimately you are still going to come in fast... this is what killed Rick Brickert remember. I approach KHAF at 150 knts and 300 ft. The coastal wind is pushing me left as the Pond Racer is extremely lite, but I am holding it, and getting closer to the centreline of RWY 30, I like KHAF as you have a wide runway (meaning lots of space) for these sort of aerial antics. You are extremely aware of those two HUGE spinners on the front of the engine pods, plus the fact you line of view is not quite level either, this creates a sort of abstract view of the ground, in that you dare not put the nose too far down, so you approach in a sort of tail down aspect fear of being too nose down when getting close to the runway. You approach high and super fast, and it take nerves of steel and skill to get this landing right... ... you can easily panic as you feel you are too high, and want to drop the aircraft quicker, but just let it down in it's own time, but also be aware of the X-Plane downward pull, it is severe here, so you have lower your height as you control that sinking rate. Finally the wheels touch, but you are still going fast and furious... ... thankfully the tail drops quickly as does then the speed. VSkyLabs recommend a long runway, and so do I, as you can't touch those brakes heavily unless you want to cartwheel nose over end, but was able to do slight touches of the brakes to rub off a lot of the final speeds. Finally I stopped, took in a lot of oxygen and realised I had survived the landing in one piece... good "plain olde" luck, believe me was part of that landing more than anything else. Personally how could you actually race this thing... it is a deathtrap! External Lighting The Pond Racer is not really an aircraft you would fly at night. You have the three Red, Green and rear White navigation lights, two beacons in a top tail large white and underside red... a large blobby landing light is set in front of the cockpit. Liveries There are only three liveries in the original "Pond Racer" white and red, grey. A Marine Grey and a Red StormChaser livery. A paintkit is provided. ________________________ Summary The famous Model-158 "Pond Racer" was created by the more famous aircraft designer Burt Rutan of Scaled Composites fame. The "Pond" in the name is the as famous Bob Pond, who commissioned the Model-158 design with the idea of developing a modern aircraft that could compete with the vintage warbirds in the Unlimited Class at the Reno air races. It did actually fly in a few tests and in a race, but then crashed and in killing it's pilot, Rick Brickert. vSkyLabs have recreated the racer, and it looks like something out of a Star Wars film. The shape and aerodynamics are perfect, but some liberty was taken in changing the engines from the original (Gasoline/Petrol) Electramotive 3 liter V-6 engines, to a more aviation based T6A-28 propulsion turbine turboprop engines with around the same output (640 kW). The cockpit is also not really an experimental layout, but a more standard instrumentation fitout, with full avionics packs like two GNS 340s, GMA347 radio, S-Tec Autopilot, GTX 327 Transponder and even a popup AviTab tablet. The twin T6A-28 turbine engines are also viewable by removing the covers. Modeling is pure vSkyLabs, very good and not fussy. Internally the cockpit is exceptional. With great materials and instrumentation and even an animated single pilot... so the aircraft delivers a lot, in so little a package. Flying the Model-158 is an experience, even frighting to the uninitiated. View is highly restricted and you have no flaps or speed brakes to get you out of trouble. But there is a real challenge to master the machine and build your skill set on it, overall in that aspect and with it's pure high speeds (400 mph), the Pond Racer is an overall exceptional experience, and good value as well... a final note is that all vSkyLab aircraft are always development in progress (even if this aircraft is far more complete than most), and the purchaser are aware of this handshake deal when purchasing the aircraft. Fast deadly... experimental, the Rutan Model-158 "Pond Racer" has it all... Highly recommended. _______________________________ Yes! the Rutan Model-158 Pond Racer - Test-Pilot Project by vSkyLabs is NOW available from the X-Plane.Org Store here : Rutan Model-158 Pond Racer - Test-Pilot Project Price is 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. Requirements X-Plane 11 Windows, Mac or Linux 4 GB VRAM Minimum - 8 GB+ VRAM Recommended Current and Review version: 1.0 (March 14th 2021) ___________________________________ Installation and documents: download for the Rutan Model-158 is 285Mb and the aircraft is deposited in the Aircraft" X-Plane folder. Full Installation is 460.60Mb "AviTab" VR-compatible tablet is required, download is free, and installation is in your X-Plane/Plugins Folder. Document supplied is: VSKYLABS Rutan Model-158 POH.pdf Manual is excellent with full system references, aircraft features, and a full "Pond Racer" description and history. Support forum for the Rutan 158 by VSKYLABS ___________________________________ Aircraft Review by Stephen Dutton 18th March 2021 Copyright©2021 : X-Plane Reviews (Disclaimer. All images and text in this preview 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 Review System Specifications: Computer System: Windows - Intel Core i7 6700K CPU 4.00GHz / 64bit -32 Gb single 1067 Mhz DDR4 2133 - ASUS GeForce GTX 1080 8Gb - Samsung Evo 1TB SSD Software: - Windows 10 - X-Plane 11.52 Plugins: Global SFD plugin US$30.00 : Environment Engine by xEnviro US$69.90 Scenery or Aircraft - KHAF - Half Moon Bay by Rising Dawn Studios (X-Plane.OrgStore) - US$19.00