The Pond Racer PR-1 a.k.a. Scaled Composites model 158-8

By Gene Nollmann

The Pond Racer PR-1 a.k.a. Scaled Composites model 158-8
NKR Models kit 32108 in 1:32 scale

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Back in 1995, FineScale Modeler published a review of a very odd looking airplane, one that I had never seen before. Then I noticed it was in 1:32 scale. The review was not flattering, but that made no difference to me; I immediately fired off an inquiry, which was promptly answered and then I quickly ordered one at $31.00 delivered to the US (1995). The kit was called the Pond Racer PR-1, a resin kit made in the Czech Republic by NKR (I believe it has no relation to the Australian company by the same name). Ten years later I learned that NKR once had a line of 9 or so kits; some of the other kits manufactured can be seen on 32nd SIG-Rarebirds’, number 32105 a Zlin Z-XIII Racer and 32107 a Piper J-3C Cub with floats.

Now some research was in order - I really had no idea what this aircraft was all about. Obviously I had not been following the aircraft world very closely!

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Background

The ‘Pond’ in Pond Racer comes from the benefactor of the project, Robert J Pond or more familiarly, Bob Pond. Bob is a WW II US Navy trained pilot and since has accumulated more than 20,000 hours in his logbook in many different aircraft. He has owned and flown singles, twins, seaplanes, turboprops, helicopters and jets. His good fortune in business has been shared with the public in building an incredible collection of Warbirds to include at least one of every Navy fighter from WW II, a B-17, a B-25, and several British and German airplanes of the era and almost all are in flying condition. They are on display at the Palm Springs Air Museum in California, which opened on Veterans Day, November 11, 1996.

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It is not surprising that Bob Pond would also have a keen interest in the racing of Warbirds. Circulating around the hangers at a Reno race meet, it soon becomes apparent that many Warbirds have probably been modified beyond the point of returning to their historical place as Warbirds. It was with a concern to preserve the few remaining Warbirds (and their rapidly dwindling inventory of replacement parts, especially engine parts) that Bob Pond determined to commit his resources to have a new breed of Unlimited Race plane developed, one that did not rely on precious Warbird hardware.

Unlimited aircraft racers that were not WW II Warbirds? That is the beginning of an ‘out-of-the-box’ concept, and to complete the plan, who better to commission the design than the most prolific and successful ‘out-of-the-box’ aircraft designer of the time - Burt Rutan.

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Aircraft journalist, Robert C Kennedy in his article ‘The Future of Air Racing’ that appeared in Airpower July 1992, tells of listening to Bob Pond and Burt Rutan at the Spring 1991 press unveiling of the Pond Racer:

“It was refreshing to work with Bob Pond,” Burt Rutan told us. “He gave us direction on what his goals were and what he wished to realize, but he did not tell us how to achieve them. The how was left to our team. The mission of The Pond Racer was simple. We applied recent technology to this project, with one main object, and that is to fly faster than any other craft in air racing today."

And that was Bob Pond’s number one objective, to exceed the then present world speed record for propeller and reciprocal engine aircraft set by the RB-51 Red Baron in 1979 at 499.018 mph and the engine could not be of the WW II Warbird variety. Mentioned as ‘desirable’, having recently finished a P-38 restoration, Bob wondered if a similar configuration could be used.

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To establish a new speed record, the old record had to be beat by 1% or, in this case, exceed 504 mph (average). Rutan designed to a slightly higher goal set at 527 mph. Working back, using the best educated guess criteria of frontal area, anticipated drag, etc., it was calculated that a single engine of 1300 hp would be required. Since a powerful enough compact single engine could not be found, a twin engine design was explored. With the increased frontal area, 1000 hp each would be required to reach the goal, and each engine would have to fit within a 26-inch diameter nacelle.

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The engines settled upon were the water-cooled turbo-charged highly modified 3-litre V-6 Nissan Electramotive VG-30Ts; running on methanol, they developed 1000 hp @ 8,000 rpm each. Electramotive had some good experience with the engines on the Nissan GTP racecar and were entrusted the development of the air racer engines. Although the engine was only 15-inches long, the whole package with turbo-charger and ancillaries fit within the 26-inch circle and was 5-feet long.

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In air race competition the engines were expected to run at or near peak power for up to 20 minutes. The Rare Bear’s Turbo-Compound Wright R-3350 Cyclone (a former Lockheed 1649 Constellation engine), tweaked to developed 4000 hp, was delivering 1.2 hp/ci, but the Electramotive units, at 1000 hp, were delivering 5.5 hp/ci, a significantly higher stress level.

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Scaled Composites finished the airframe by June 1989, but engine development consumed another 18 months. Before the Pond Racer could be flown, the Rare Bear set a new World’s Speed Record of 528.329 mph on 21 Aug 1989 and exceeded the Pond’s original design goal. It would take a lot of drag-reducing tweaks on the Pond Racer to attain a higher speed, but that was now the task.

Joining the Bob Pond Racing Team, Rick Brickert qualified the Pond Racer in the 1991 Reno National Championship Air Races with an average speed of 400.010 mph. Gaining a starting position in Sunday’s Silver race, the Pond broke two connecting rods while forming up to race and returned to the airport safely a DNS.

Over the next couple of years, the Pond Racer would continue to be plagued with oil loss problems, overheating, and fires. Brickert had his share of experiences with in-air emergencies flying the Pond Racer. Len Frank in his Popular Science article ‘Ace Of Air Racers?’ about the Pond Racer describes one incident when the left engine blew starting a fire. Rick hit the Helon fire extinguishers putting the fire out and proceeded to make a one-engine landing. Methanol contamination of the oil had led to connecting rod failure.

By Reno ‘92 fuel was switched from methanol to a special blend of gasoline. Still plagued with various engine problems, the Pond Racer managed to qualify at a disappointing 358.625 mph and finished in second place averaging 364.978 in Sunday’s Bronze race. Despite all the tiring long hours and hard work, Bob Pond and the team left Reno ’92 encouraged.

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By Reno ’93 the aircraft had accrued about 75 hours of flight time and had been flown by four different pilots during flight-testing and certification. Pilot Rick Brickert logged approximately 50 of those hours. Rick was a career pilot for Western Airlines and was type rated in B-737, DC-3, DC-9, DC-B26, T-33 and N-B25 aircraft. He had a reported 12,500 hours in his logbook. He was also a seasoned race pilot having flown Dreadnought and Dago Red and in 1986 he won the Reno National Championship Air Races in the #8 Dreadnought. He had flown the Pond Racer in all of its Reno racing appearances.

Rick Brickert was beginning a timing-run in preparation for the 1993 Reno National Air Races. During the run he stated he was leaving the racecourse and told his ground crew he was having a problem with the right engine. The tower advised he was trailing smoke. From the ground a puff of smoke and then an oil-smoke trail could be seen coming from the airplane. The right propeller was observed to have come to an abrupt stop in the unfeathered position. It was observed to pitch down while turning right rapidly descending on an angle estimated between 20 to 30 degrees and an estimated speed of 200 mph. The landing gear was seen to extend then retract [possibly to scrub some speed?].

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The plane crashed on open terrain in a wings level, landing attitude with the landing gear retracted and traveled 900’ before stopping. The post-crash fire destroyed the cockpit, right wing and wing center section, including fuel system boost pumps and shutoff valves near the pilot’s feet. Oil residue was found on a remaining piece of the right boom (aft of the right engine). The Plexiglas canopy was ringed with explosive cord designed to shatter the canopy for emergency egress; the explosive cord was found unused and the pull rings were in position. The pilot wore a backpack parachute.

The National Transportation Safety Board concluded the probable cause(s) of this accident as oil starvation and connecting rod failure in the right engine, and a resultant fuel fed fire. Most tragic of all, Rick Brickert was not able to escape and lost his life Tuesday, September 14, 1993 at the age of 38.

Joe Godfrey, in his February 2000 feature ‘Profile’ on Elbert L. "Burt" Rutan, poses the question, “The Pond Racer and Beech Starship projects didn't turn out as planned. Can you share some lessons learned?”

Burt Rutan responds in part, “The Pond Racer was something that a person who had a mission wanted a solution to. His mission was to stop all these guys from destroying a Mustang every year and 12 engines every year at Reno and he wanted new technology in the racers so that it would take over and replace this environment that was destroying war birds. By that standard the project was a failure. . . . But the problem is it failed because it didn't win.”

Rick Brickert 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 has yet to materialize. Rick Brickert lost his life supporting the dream of developing a new breed of Unlimited Air Racers; the survivors lost heart in its possibility.

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The kit is all resin (44 pieces) with a clear vacuformed canopy (1+1 spare). Being shipped in a small box, the kit is broken down into several smaller pieces. The largest is the one-piece wing. The center fuselage is made up of 3 pieces plus some cockpit detail pieces of a seat, instrument console and a control stick. Each basic boom is also made up of 3 pieces plus several smaller pieces to add for scoops, exhaust pipes, prop spinner with separate blades (handed for counter-rotating blades) and main landing gear doors (2 per boom). Also provided are resin landing gear struts and main wheel/hubs split on the centerline. The horizontal tail is one piece. All control surfaces are molded integral in the neutral position.

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A multi-view drawing is provided in 1:32 scale with the basic marking location of tail number and pin stripe, the civil registration number, but no other graphics. No decals are provided.

The kit’s scale is difficult to state unequivocally. In scale, the wingspan measures 25’-5” but the length measures (from forward tip of spinner to rearmost tip of vertical tail) 23’-8”. The only published dimensions I could find indicated the 1990 version had a wingspan of 25'-5" (two sources) and a length of 20'-0" (one source). Using the graphic bar on Taichiro Yamashita’s drawings, the wingspan again measures 25’-5”, but the length tip to tip measures 25’-7’. The literature indicates that for 1992, the booms were lengthened. As far as the 20-foot length dimension is concerned, the model just wouldn’t look right if it were 3’-8” shorter. As for wingspan the model is 1:32; as for length, 3 sources and 3 dimensions not even close! Throw darts?

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This kit was another one of my interrupted journeys and I’ve lost a lot of the earlier progress documentation. (The lapse was about 10 years – the Tamiya white stayed white, the Squadron canopy yellowed slightly).

Since there would be a very good view of the cockpit with the canopy in place, I decided to go that way. The center fuselage was epoxy glued with metal pin reinforcements and the cockpit pieces prepped and painted. Seat belts were added and Waldron instruments, punched together with a clear lens, were inserted into pre-drilled instrument holes.

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At the time the only photo reference I had was the Popular Science article by Len Frank, which I tried to mimic as best I could. One interesting detail was what appears to be a metal brace/transfer hoop just inside the canopy over the instrument panel. That was added.

The kit’s canopy had a raised frame around its perimeter molded in and could not be trimmed in such a way to mount flush. A mold was made of the canopy in Bondo, surface bumps sanded off and a fresh canopy was pulled over the Bondo positive using Squadron’s 9003 Clear Thermoform. The canopy was trimmed to overlap the opening and glued in place. Filler was puttied around the edges to blend the surfaces and then carefully sanded. The results were a clean blended flush canopy.

I discovered much more recently in the Skyfire ’93 video, a point was made about the seating position in the Pond being more akin to the semi-reclined position found in Sailplanes or Formula race cars. Rick Brickert also comments that the helmet to canopy and shoulder to canopy clearance is as little as an inch (you wouldn’t want to bounce around in there). The kit seat part is much more upright – but I’ll not be taking things apart now!

The rest of the fuselage pieces were epoxied together in sub-assemblies, sanded, panel lines scored and then all assembled and glued. A lot of filling is required at wing to fuselage and horizontal tail to fuselage joints, but fortunately it is not difficult since there are no compound-curve fillets to deal with. All of the control surfaces were cut away to be repositioned later.

Not that I want to be a ‘toy’ maker, but I do like the props to be able to turn freely in a breeze, especially since it has twin props that counter-rotate. So I’ll go a bit out of the way to make sure they turn close to true using some of the smaller sleeve fit brass rods. Then the spinners were sanded and polished while chucked in a Dremel at low speed.

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The kit props did not seem to match the reference having a pivot point right at the leading edge of the prop and in the photos they do appear off the blade’s centerline, but not quite at the edge. Plus, the short resin mounting stub had a very short life expectancy around me, so I cyanoed an aluminum stub at the adjusted pivot point.

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The resin main landing gear was replaced with an assembly of various aluminum tubes with some details added. The resin half-yoke/disc-brake/caliper was grafted onto the end of the tube assembly. The scissor-links were made of Evergreen sprue. Stainless steel tubes were slipped over copper wire to simulate hydraulic fittings. Tubes were glued into the wheel well for a strong mounting for the new landing gear.

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Painting and Markings

Unfortunately procrastination sometimes pays off! Ten years after the NKR kit release, Taichiro Yamashita made available a very nice four-sheet layout of the ’91 Reno Pond Racer in 1:48 showing the placement and general color notes for the graphics and markings.

With a digital camera, gray scale pics were taken and transferred into MS Paint as bmp files. The pics were colored over using Gerald Liang’s WarbirdAeroPress pics as reference. For some of the smaller type I resorted to using a ‘close-enough’ font style already in the MS Office program. (Reference photos were pasted in to use as sample colors to ‘siphon’ and paint with).

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With graphics in hand, a ‘custom’ decal service was solicited from Mike Grant Designs and SpareTime Hobbies, but neither could offer any help using my bmp files – fortunately because it led me down a path of exciting new freedom!. I stumbled upon a real lifesaver. Testors offer a decal system that can be run on the typical home inkjet printer. The ‘Custom Decal System’ No. 9198 consists of 5.5” x 8.5” sheets of ‘Decal Paper’ with either No. 9101 being clear film or No. 9202 being white and No. 9200 ‘Decal Bonder Spray’ (in a rattle can). I printed my set on white because my plane was white and the hobby shop didn’t have the clear paper. Printing was a breeze and the bonder spray lay down nicely and sealed the decals.

Decals laid onto the model nicely with minimal carrier thickness evident and then all was sealed with an overcoat of Future.

Conclusion

Since this kit is a bit over ten years old and its production has also lapsed, this is more of a retrospective of a plane and a kit. There is some controversy over the wisdom of the plane’s general layout and its inherent drag being a high-performance limitation, but it does have that appeal of being exotic and ‘racy’ looking. And for that alone, it is an interesting subject for modeling in 1:32 scale (and the only other Rutan plane is a card model of Space Ship One).

As Revell of old, the box size seemed to be a driving force in breaking the kit down into unnecessarily smaller parts. Each boom and the fuselage center could all have been easily single piece units, but despite that oddity, the kit went together pretty well without any exotic alignment devices.

One serious difficulty with the kit is no decals. The plane looks cool without markings, but is incomplete. Modelers have come to expect decals with their resin kits as well as some detailing PE.

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All nit picking aside, I am certainly pleased to have had an opportunity to add this plane to my racing line-up! It would have been fun to have several and explore different graphic solutions to this intriguing aircraft. If you have one waiting in the stash or find one begging for a new master, I hope some of the information herein will help inspire you and overcome my marginal efforts!

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Products Used

References

Pond Racer – Reno 1991
Drawings by Taichiro Yamashita © 2002
A 4-sheet set (in 1:48 scale) with multiple views and detailed marking information.
http://www.warbirdaeropress.com/articles/Taichi/01NewT/
‘Ace Of Air Racers?’
Popular Science, May 1992
by Len Frank
‘The Future of Air Racing’
Airpower July 1992
by Robert C Kennedy
Skyfire ’93 (catalog no. SF053)
Skyfire Video, 100 minutes (DVD or VHS)
©1993 Mitchell Productions, Inc., ©1995 Skyfire Video
Contains a 12 min. tribute to the racing career of Rick Brickert and has several shots of the Pond Racer inflight, on the ground, and interview with Rick Brickert regarding the Pond Racer. The rest of the media (88-min.) is about the 1993 Reno National Championship Races. Available at:
http://www.skyfirevideo.com/
http://www.WarbirdAeroPress.com
The Pond Racer photos by Gerald Liang 28 pictures, last one added on Oct 21, 2004
http://www.warbirdaeropress.com/PhGal/nfpicturepro/index.php?cat=2
http://www.warbirdaeropress.com/PhGal/nfpicturepro/albums/userpics/PondRacer/thumb_Pond%20-%2093-%2029%20-%20GL.jpg
Kit review:
By David L Veres for FineScale Modeler, March, 1995, p.25
Last known address:
NKR Models [Pavel Nahodil]
Sukova Trida 2052
Pardubice 530 02
Czech Republic

On aafo.com/hangartalk 09-02-2004, Anders of IPMS Racing & Record Aircraft Special Interest Group indicates, “The NKR Pond Racer has been out of production since several years, and the owner of the company died a couple of years ago. It is very difficult to find.” Anders [Bruun?]

Some of the other NKR kits can be seen on 32nd SIG; way down near the bottom of the list of ‘Rarebirds’ are numbers 32105 a Zlin Z-XIII Racer and 32107 a Piper J-3C Cub with floats.

Other kits were 32101 Mace R-2 Shark (in vac), 32102 Mace R-2 Shark (in resin), 32103 Art Chester’s Jeep (one built up in LSP Gallery), 32104 Art Chester’s Swee’ Pea, 32106 Piper J-3 Cub with wheels.

AVweb's Profiles interview - Robert J. Pond
by Joe Godfrey
September 29, 1999
http://www.avweb.com/news/profiles/182971-1.php
Palm Springs Air Museum
745 North Gene Autry Trail
Palm Springs, California 92262
760-778-6262 ext:222
http://www.palmspringsairmuseum.org
One of the world's largest collections of flying World War Two warplanes
National Transportation Safety Board, Probable Cause report 9/30/1994
Accident date -Tuesday, September 14, 1993
Location - Lemmon Valley, Nevada
Aircraft - Scaled Composites 158-8 license N221BP
Category - Fatal (1) Part 91: General Aviation
http://www.ntsb.gov/ntsb/brief.asp?ev_id=20001211X13415key=1
LAX93FA352 Full narrative available:
http://www.ntsb.gov/ntsb/brief2.asp?ev_id=20001211X13415&ntsbno=LAX93FA352&akey=1
‘The Pond Racer – An Exercise in the Control of Heat Transfer in a Tight Composite Compartment’
by Robert B. Trelease – Consultant
International Congress & Exposition, March 1-5, 1993
SAE Technical Papers - Document Number: 930154
ISSN 0148-7191, ©1993 SAE, Inc.
Available for purchase at: http://www.sae.org/technical/papers/930154
A brief paper on the problems and solutions used to manage high heat within the tight confines of the Pond Racer’s composite structure.
Profiles – a series of conversations about lives enriched by flying
conducted by Joe Godfrey
February 2000 feature profile - Elbert L. "Burt" Rutan
http://www.allstar.fiu.edu/aero/rutan2.htm

Other references (that I could not access)

Bob Banka’s Aircraft Documentation
Scale Aircraft Research Photo-pack 2994/27
Pond Racer N221BP
‘The Pond Racer’
AOPA Pilot, V.34 n. 7, July 1991
by M E Cook (pp.66-72)
‘The Pond Racer’
Flying, v.118 n. 11, Nov 1991
by P Garrison (pp.106-115)

© 2000 Gene Nollmann

This article created on Wednesday, July 20 2011; Last modified on Thursday, May 23 2013