Pamplin Media Group – Composite Creations in-house engineering in Prineville creates unique seaplane

The Gweduck is a modernized flying boat, and is designed by a dynamic team of aviation professionals

The incredible and innovative businesses that are tucked away in a Crook County store or industrial shed never cease to amaze or disappoint.

One such company, located at 2137 NW Industrial Park Road, actively manufactures kits for customers to build seaplanes. The Ellison-Mahon Gweduck, a six-seat, twin-engine seaplane that lands on its belly rather than on pontoons, has a composite airframe that won’t corrode and can roll on a beach. Customers can purchase a kit to build them from Composite Creations of Prineville, with builder assistance available.

Composite Creations, Inc., is a company that was founded in 2005 by Vern and Linda Pifer, a husband and wife team. The company has created a full line of manufacturing and manufacturing services for composite parts commonly used by the general aviation industry. Walter Fellows joined the company as an investor in 2009 to provide marketing, technical and financial support from his residence in Seattle. The company has since started manufacturing parts exclusively for Gweduck.

Fellows left a 25-year career in commercial and investment banking in 2007 to start a new career in general aviation manufacturing. Finance career has included Bankers Trust Company, Barclays Bank and Wasserstein Perella in New York and Hong Kong.

“As soon as I retired, I went back to doing what I wanted to do as an aerospace engineer. We live in a country with lots of opportunities, and I was able to go back to school at the University of Washington,” the fellows added.

He completed his studies at the University of Washington, majoring in structural and composite engineering. He has extensive international experience, including living and working in Hong Kong, Korea and China for approximately fourteen years. He is fluent in Mandarin Chinese.

During his journey he met Vern and Linda Pifer, although their business, Composite Creations, had slowly dried up and gone into storage. During this period he had the opportunity to meet the designers and owners of the Gweduck prototype, and he saw the potential of using the skills and technology of Composite Creations and purchased the company from the company. .

“It came out of storage,” he said of the Gweduck prototype. His team creates the kits for the aircraft, using his company, and pays a royalty to the owners of the Gweduck prototype for use of the design. The only products made by Composite Creations are Gweduck focused. However, they still use many of the same processes and technologies.

“We needed to have the rights to the design, the advanced engineering capabilities and the manufacturing know-how of the company to really be able to do this,” Fellows said of the Gweduck’s production process.

The Gweduck is a flying boat and is designed to land on its belly, which is a superior design as a flying boat to one using pontoons. The design also allows the plane to land on a firm surface (retractable landing gear), but it won’t perform as well on land as a regular landplane.

CENTRAL OREGONIAN PHOTO BY RAMONA MCALLISTER - The Composite Creations production team: left to right: Bridgette Hall, Kiefer Dresser, Walter Fellows, Coby Johnston and Robert Norris.  Behind them is the shell of the first Gweduck kits in production at their factory.“We are now putting it into production and selling it as kit planes for owners to build their own,” Fellows said.

The Gweduck was developed after the original aircraft in the early 1900s. An early aircraft that had a similar design was the Pan Am Clipper. Fellows noted that at first it was desirable to land an airplane in a small port or fishing village rather than building an airport with a runway.

“You just buy a piece of land and put a ramp, a hangar, a fuel tank and an office on it, and you have a little airport… which remains to this day, there are a lot of places where the sea planes have access to areas with no place to land on earth for different reasons.”

Applications for Gweduck include two main markets. One includes private buyers and the other includes government organizations.

The plane can go to very remote places. It can accommodate 2-3 people but also carry up to six passengers. It can carry up to 2,000 lbs. Many customers will use it for transportation to and from remote locations. The aircraft’s range is up to 2,000 miles, with limited additional charging. It is created with carbon fiber and other lightweight composite materials, which makes it corrosion resistant.

“Typically this would be used for something like a 300 mile trip with six people and some luggage and some supplies, and 300 miles back. You would take the fuel for the return trip with you as the fuel may not be available” he added.

Fellows noted that they had strong interest from government and government organizations in using the Gweduck for economic development and patrolling. Application examples would include tracking illegal fishing and could be used by an island nation with long coastlines and few airports. The Gweduck is economical and a base for the plane can be built in a fishing village. Other applications may include healthcare, transporting water filters for water projects, and transporting fisherman’s catch to airports for transport to other markets.

Fellows has a dynamic team, including an apprentice engineer, Mason Coffer. A recent graduate of Crook County High School, he was the captain of the robotics team.

“I heard about the company and this internship program,” Coffer said of the opportunity. “I was really excited about it, so I just showed up at the door with my resume in hand.”

It was six months before he started his internship, and he decided to stay local for his first two years of college. He is pursuing a degree in manufacturing engineering. Coffer loves this opportunity and learns a lot during his apprenticeship. He showed off a recent rendering project of a wing design that he collaborated with his team.

Coby Johnston, Store Manager for the production plant, has worked for Fellows for three years. He has a background in aeronautical engineering and manufacturing, with previous experience working for Lancair and Epic Air. He also worked for SeaSwirl, building boats. Johnston walked through the processes going on to assemble a kit plane.

CENTRAL OREGONIAN PHOTO BY RAMONA MCALLISTER - Mason Coffer, apprentice engineer at Composite Creations, displays a draft rendering of a wing design he collaborated with his team“The prototype is flying, and it’s our first,” Johnston explained of the current manufacturing process and the parts that are close to final modifications.

Robert Norris, an engineering technician, is the newest recruit at the workshop. He has a degree in mechanical engineering and has experience in aeronautics. He works both in the store and in the office.

Fellows also has Kiefer Dresser and Bridgette Hall, two COCC students studying to become commercial helicopter pilots, who work part-time in the shop with the manufacturing process. Work culture is something Fellows value, and respect is an integral part of the company’s values.

“Once you’ve built that culture, you want to preserve it, and that’s really a huge asset to a company,” Fellows concluded.

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Marjorie N. McClure