A 21st century P-38 Lightning of sorts, this unique and inspiring twin-engine racer came to a tragic end...

Customer:  Bob Pond

Type:  unlimited-class racer

Program:  Pond PR-1 racer for 1991 Reno Air Races (proprietary)

Powerplant: 2 x 1000 hp Electromotive-Nissan VG-30 3-liter GTP

Significant date: 1991

Commissioned by Bob Pond to be built of composites by Burt Rutan, the Model 158 Pond Racer was an exceptional design. It resembled a P-38 with twin booms and a center pilot cockpit. Pond's new aircraft was an attempt to break the unlimited speed record at the Reno races with a light-weight airframe powered by two highly modified Electromotive automobile engines. Powered by high horsepower Electromotive automobile engines, it required some sophisticated ground support equipment. The first year at Reno, in 1991, the Pond Racer did not fare too badly, despite the usual engine problems. Most of all, it was an impressive aircraft. The sound was unlike the Merlins or P&W round engines, a high whine of supercharged auto engines.

The second year, the plane was handed over to Steve Hinton's crew and they decided to use avgas instead of methanol. At the last minute, someone ran the engine on methanol and found it produced a lot more power. When they tried to fly it at Reno with methanol, the alcohol destroyed all the fuel system plumbing, that had been redone for avgas. They spent the entire week in the pits replumbing it. Finally, in 1993, they showed up ready to go. During qualifying rounds, the airplane developed problems which even Rick Brickert, veteran race pilot, could not handle. Tragically, the aircraft and veteran race pilot Rick Brickert were lost when the plane caught fire in forced landing crash on September 14th 1993, during the qualifying heats for the 1993 Reno races. The night before he was killed, Rick said he was going to finally be allowed to go to 60% power. The next day, the engine blew and seized. The props needed RPM to feather and Rick couldn't feather the prop. The drag of the unfeathered prop dragged him down into Lemon Valley. He tried to belly it in, but it blew up and he was killed. The airplane went in and took Rick with it.

The Pond Racer debacle is best summed up in the words of an engineer that was involved in the program: "Despite having been personally involved with it, I think the Pond Racer was a disaster. $2m was spent on developing an airframe and engine. Too many amateurs thinking they knew it all. I shake my head when I think of how naive we were. The engine development was late and poorly done (it never made rated power). My analysis of the airframe showed that it really had too much drag to be competitive. Worse, Rick was killed and Mr. Pond was so upset that he quit Unlimited Racing completely. He had been sponsoring several teams, just to see the racing."

The crash of the Pond Racer sealed the end of any further development. The planned Model 163 (a push-pull configuration), Model 164 (with a central pod) and Model 165 (a version with a single Rolls Royce Merlin engine) designs were soon relegated to Scaled Composites' vaults.

Population: 1 [N221BP]

Specs: unknown

Crew/passengers: 1