Scaled Composites Pond Racer
The Scaled Composites Pond Racer was an aircraft developed for Bob Pond by Burt Rutan and his company Scaled Composites. Designated Model 158 it was a twin-engine twin-boom design similar in some ways to the Lockheed P-38 attack fighter of World War II.
Reason for creation
Bob Pond commissioned the 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.
The airframe was constructed of composite materials, carbon fiber and Kevlar. This resulted in a very light, strong aircraft. To power the plane 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 1000 hp. However, those fitted to the Pond Racer only ever achieved a peak of around 600 hp. The engines drove 4 bladed propellers via propeller speed reduction units (PSRU).
The aircraft made its debut at the 1991 Reno air races having been flown from the Scaled Composites factory under escort. The aircraft was entered in the Silver class and qualified at 400 mph flown by experienced test pilot Rick Brickert. The aircraft developed mechanical problems before the race was officially started and dropped out as a DNS. Problems with the highly stressed engines dogged the Pond Racer from the outset. The engine installations were very compact and “close cowled” meaning the bodywork covering the engines had little clearance. The Electramotive engines were liquid cooled and it would appear that most of the difficulties with them stemmed from problems with the cooling system. Even so, they sounded like nothing before at the Reno event.
Problems and tragedy
The Pond Racer was entered the following year and seemed to finally be showing some promise achieving second place in the bronze class in the hands of Rick Brickert. To help alleviate the cooling problems, large blowers were used on the ground when the plane was started up, to force air through the cooling system until the aircraft could be taxied out and flown.
In 1993 the Pond racer was entered again and once more, piloted by Rick Brickert. During qualifying, the aircraft began leaking oil and suffered an engine failure. The margin for error in pylon racing is very small as the competitors fly close to the ground at high speed. The Pond Racer crashed and killed Rick Brickert.
Rick was a very popular figure and a personal friend of Bob Pond. The Pond racer project was never revived and a modern unlimited class challenger was never truly realized.