You can fish, swim and camp - all from the same plane
BEDFORD - Ever since he was a kid, Steve Pugh dreamed about being a pilot. He earned his wings in 1980 while working as an accountant in New Guinea, and started flying water-based planes in the U.S. Although he enjoyed flying his two-seater amphibian aircraft, he felt it had limitations.
"An amphibian is great fun. You can fly it, but the downside is you couldn't use it as a small boat," Pugh said. "It's too cramped. There is simply not enough room to do things like swim or fish."
Pugh and fellow pilots, Darrell Lynds and his son, Michael, brainstormed ideas on how to improve an amphibian aircraft's versatility - one that flies, lands on water, ground, ice and snow, and transforms into a camper and a small fishing boat.
The team had a breakthrough when plane designer and engineer Mike Van Staagen joined the venture. Pugh said Van Staagen was intrigued with the idea, and after expanding on the team's concept, the MVP - the Most Versatile Plane - was created.
"With Mike Van Staagen on board it changed us from 'Monday morning quarterbacks' to making the design. Mike already had two aircraft to his credit, having been lead designer on both the Cirrus SR20 and the Vision single-engine jet," said Pugh, who has lived in Bedford with his wife, Joyce, since 1996.
Now in his 60s, Pugh is CEO of the Minnesota-based company, MVP.AERO Inc., sharing the helm with Darrell Lynds, president; Michael Lynds, vice president of digital marketing; Van Staagen, executive vice president of design and engineering; and Gerry Boshwitz, vice president of business development.
In July, a non-flying mock-up of the MVP made its debut at the Experimental Aircraft Association's Airventure 2014 at Wittman Field in Oshkosh, Wis.
The air show attracted about 750,000 people and 12,000 aircraft, and the MVP was met with enthusiasm by spectators and exhibitors.
"The EAA called it a 'bundle of clever,' and someone in a blog called it, 'newly arrived from the future, the MVP,'" Pugh said. "It's also been described as the Swiss army knife of amphibians by the AOPA, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association."
Dan Johnson, of the Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association, said the MVP.aero "made a great big splash" at AirVenture 2014.
"Not literally in the sense of a splash into the water but from a marketing standpoint, the MVPers created a tsunami of interest in their LSA seaplane entry that buoyed activity among all light-sport aircraft at the show," Johnson said.
"In all, MVP represents a batch of fresh thinking that forms a potent statement about how the LSA sector breeds disruptive designs far faster than hidebound Part 23-type certified aircraft that seem to need an act of Congress to change a bolt.
Shoot, this thing even comes with a hammock you can stretch between engine and tail."
The MVP's wing span is 36 feet, but on land or water the wings fold back to 8 feet.
The canopy folds upward to resemble the front of a fishing boat, and allows the operator to run the engine and steer the craft to shore, a dock or to their favorite fishing spot.
The instrument panel pivots up to keep it away from water and to provide a sitting and working area, as well as a large sleeping platform with an optional tent. The area from the rear of the engine to the tail provides a place for a hammock.
"With the wings folded back, it will fit into a boat slip or a boat house, and easy access to a marina," Pugh said. "It will operate off land as well so we envision people will be able to land on a remote strip and fish and camp."
The team met some challenges during the design, including building the aircraft according to light sport aircraft specifications so it could be flown by an entry-level pilot and achieving a maximum gross weight of 1,430 pounds for passengers, cargo and fuel; making it stable within a 5-degree level; building a moveable canopy that could withstand winds; and incorporating all the team's desired features.
"Mike wanted to make sure he could put all that into it and not make it look like a flying brick," Pugh said. "We think he's made a fantastic looking aircraft."
The production target for a flying prototype is about 18 months, with a factory-built MVP to be produced in about five years.
The MVP is estimated to cost $189,000, and kits will be available for $169,000.
Pugh said the production schedule is not a long time in the aviation world.
"We're not just a bunch of dreamers. It's a complicated business, and you have to test everything. At the end of the day, if you do something wrong it could kill someone," he said.
Pugh also sees many other uses for the MVP such as medical runs along the Amazon River, water rescue efforts, water testing and small marine surveys.
"We're trying to let people use it for whatever's out there. You pull it on a beach or moor it to a dock and you can get on with whatever you're doing. We wanted to make the aircraft work harder for you," he said.