Flightworks Capella ultralight aircraft, Flightworks Capella experimental aircraft, Flightworks Capella experimental light sport aircraft (ELSA), Lightsport Aircraft Pilot News newsmagazine.

Lightsport Aircraft Pilot is a directory of aircraft that generally fit into what are described as ultralight aircraft, advanced ultralight aircraft, light sport aircraft, experimental light sport aircraft, experimental aircraft, amateur built aircraft, ELSA or homebuilt aircraft in the United States and Canada. These include weight shift aircraft, more commonly known as trikes, powered parachutes, and powered para-gliders.

Flightworks Capella ultralight, experimental lightsport, amateur built aircraft.

Flightworks - Capella Aircraft
Company no longer in business.

By J.R. "Zoom" Campbell -January 1992

One of the most infuriating things about this job is seeing the incredible talent and promise that is still being kept under bureaucratic lock and key here in the US.

In the 1930s, '40s, '50s, and even '60s, this country turned out thousands of lovely little airplanes under simple (but safe) certification standards that are still proving themselves to this very day.

They were the Cubs, the Champs, the Luscombes and 150s that we love even now, as they struggle almost vainly to stay in the air under the yoke of increasing expense and bureaucratic restriction.

In the case of the sport aviation market segment that I nicknamed "affordable flyers" a few years ago, this situation is the most repugnant of all. Dozens-yes, dozens - of outstanding little airplanes are being conceived and produced in kit form by a number of reputable manufacturers that could otherwise be certified (under a less restrictive reg than the multi-million FAR Part 21 standards that have been shoved onto us) and completely built for amounts quite comparable to what they might have cost in the old days. I heard somewhere, thatin today's dollars, the Piper Cub that was sold brand new several decades ago, would actually cost more than $30,000 in 1992 dollars. Things weren't quite as cheap in the good old days as we'd like to believe.

Well, get this: I've heard from several of the top manufacturers selling "affordable flyers," and they believe they could easily beat those prices for fully built airplanes, if the FAA would give up the bureaucratic BS, get off their lazy butts and get a reasonable Primary Aircraft Rule enacted. And these aircraft could be affordably equipped with basic instruments and even the four-stroke Rotax 912. The 912 is a bit pricey, but if Rotax could increase volume, they assure me the price would come way down. They need to sell 4,000 engines at today's price to amortize development. That's not many engines by auto standards but a lot by aviation's current lackluster numbers. With the debut of the even more affordable Cam 100 (featured elsewhere in this exciting, jam-packed expertly prepared issue), this situation becomes all the more enticing.

All this serves as a lengthy but heart-felt introduction to one of the best little affordable flyers I've ever hoisted my corpulent butt into: the Flightworks Capella XS. The brainchild of wisecracking Texas good ol' boy Reid Howell, this is an aircraft that has identified and served its market as well any aircraft available. In several flights, I've stalled, spun, looped, slipped, landed, taken off like an impatient rocket ship and just plain abused this mild-mannered little bird with a soul that wants to play. And yes, I want one of these, too. I fully expect to someday have a large enough fleet of these little toys to qualify as a third rate air force. Cute as a newborn puppy, the Capella XS is an aircraft we expect to see a lot of in the future-in happy builders' hands.

The Flightworks Capella XS is a two-place, tractor-configured, high-wing airplane with strut-braced wings and a choice of taildragger or trike gear. Based pretty much on looks, the taildragger has a straight tail, and the trike offe rs a swept vertical tail. Either way, they are aesthetically pleasing. Flightworks also offers either the two-stroke, 65- hp Rotax 582 or the thrusty 80-hp Rotax 912, a real favorite among Reid's European clients.

The all-metal wing is strut braced (with airfoiled struts) and offers a set of multiple position flaps as well as generously proportioned ailerons that don't want for conventional roll control, let me tell you.

Seating is side-by-side and reasonably comfy, despite a 39-inch width that seems a little tight at first glance, though it doesn't feel that way. Dual controls and rudder pedals complement the cockpit layout, while their placement interferes little with necessary freedom of movement A single throttle takes up position on the panel. Well recessed, the panel area is quite abundant, leaving room for basic instruments, a radio or two, maybe even of those dadblasted transponder thingi es and perhaps a stereo tape deck (Don't laugh. Have you ever gone booney-bashing in one of these little birds with the "Top Gun" theme going at full blast through your headset? I have. You don't know what you're missing.)

Big doors make access to the cockpit a fairly unrestricted experience, though it's a slightly tall step up. The Capella may be flown with the doors fully closed or removed for those warmer days that affordable flyers love so much. Lack of doors does rob the bird of some top end speed, but since the Capella seems a good 10 mph faster than most of its brethren, you may not miss it much. Besides that, the view is incredible. The expansive Lexan windshield wraps all the way around, offering an excellent and generous amount of viewing area. While sitting in this beast, no one is going to have the slightest excuse for missing conflicting traffic, like those big nasty ol' airliners that eat little airplanes for mid-day snacks.

A choice of trike or taildragger gear is available. While I haven't flown the trike, the prototype I've seen suggests that the geometry should be fairly forgiving, and the construction appears more than rugged. The taildragger is every bit of that The single-piece, spring-steel gear legs have demonstrated quite an ability to take a pounding, which, of course, I was only too happy to provide it with. You never need therapy when you can take out your frustrations on some poor manufacturer's unsuspecting landing gear. Right, Reid? Hydraulic disc brakes, well proportioned gear geometry, and an extremely agile tailwheel make for a combination of good handling, decent stability even on very rough terrain and excellent control.

Reid offers two choices of powerplant for the Capella, and both seem well suited to the bird. The first, the Rotax 582, is a liquid-cooled, two-stroke, dual ignition engine with excellent power-to-weight characteristics and a fairly low operating cost For those pilots who take the time to learn the rudiments of two-stroke operation, this engine can prove to be an extremely dependable and affordable option. I will caution, though, that a little preventive maintenance seems to go a long way with this mill.

On the other hand, the more expensive Rotax 912 is a four-cylinder, four-stroke, dual ignition aero engine that has proven to be fairly reliable among the relatively small sample of engines currently in the country. Excellent fuel specifics, extremely low vibration (a feature that should not be underestimated; vibration is the biggest killer of engines that I know of), an outstanding power-to weight ratio, and diminutive dimensions make the 912 a worthy choice for this machine. And the extra 15 horses offer a solid 10 mph extra in the cruise department.

The fuselage comes primed and jigged with all appropriate tabs and standoffs properly attached in place. All steel components are "TIG" welded. Lauded for the fact that this method of welding reportedly eliminates trouble

some porosity and contamination potential, Reid asserts that this is a superior way to fabricate welded structures. He uses this method exclusively. The aft sheet metal turtledeck comes pre-cut and riveted inplace right from the factory. Factory jigging seems to be well designed, and capable of producing a accurate, consistent structures. As nice as the welding might be on these birds, it is worthless unless the factory produces accurate structures.

The Capella features a very strong, all-metal wing that comes from the factory with pre-drilled and jigged wing skins that should take much of the fear out of all-metal wing construction. With the amount of metalwork necessary on this thing, I can't emphasize what a time and hassle saver pre-drilling will be on a wing of this type.

It pretty much idiot proofs the jigging, set-up and assembly of the wing. Fiberglass wing tips are well drooped, and take up position at the end of the 28.5-foot wing. According to Howell, the wing and associated structure has been heavily researched with the cooperation of a local university, while static load testing has confirmed that the wing is capable of taking well in excess of utility category load requirements. A single, streamlined strut offers additional bracing.

One new feature recently introduced is that the Capella can now be configured with a fully foldable wing for trailering or tight storage. Reportedly requiring less than 15 minutes for complete stowage, this $495 option can be operated by only one person and enable the owner to stick this puppy quite comfortably into a single car garage.

Reid has boasted long and hard about an estimated 350-hour construction. After looking over the manual, examining the components and checking out the company with a few builders, I actually believe him. This may be the fastest kit you can build in this category. The documentation has a pretty methodical approach, the instructions are simple but adequate to the task and all associated drawings appear to be a notch above much of the hand-drawn illustrations and diagrams that unfortunately accompany many light aircraft kit manuals. He does his diagrams on his computer and outputs to a plotter.

All up, the 582 powered Capella tips the scales at approximately 425 pounds. Max payload is 410 pounds after loading 15 gallons.

Unfortunately, I've been trying for far too long to get out to Reid's headquarters in Austin, TX, and was glad to finally get enough of a breather to head out and give his bird the treatment Earlier, brief, flights had been rewarding, but the real test was yet to come. I had a feeling that Reid's creation was going to be up to it

Getting in and out of this baby requires a small hike up and a swing of the leg to get a purchase on the seat With one appendage suitably ensconced, grab a hold of the overhead framework and hoist the rest of yourself on board. It's not as awkward as it sounds, and the large doors certainly ease the process a great deal. Once started, the Capella responds obediently to rudder pedal input, and braking is not really necessary, unless the wind is howling, for normal taxi operations.

Braking action, thanks to the hydraulic brakes, is considerable, and the toe brakes are positioned well for effortless manipulation. Ground visibility is very good, the broad cowling slopes slightly but sufficiently to the front The effect offers great visibility for nearly any conceivable ground operation.

The take-off is not lengthy. Firewall the 582, feed in a little bit of rudder to counter torque and "P" factor, and start reefing in a slight amount of forward stick to hasten acceleration before pulling back for orbital insertion. In well less than 400 feet, we were airborne and heading skyward at 55-60 mph, doing a solid 1,000 fpm at 58 degrees F, near sea level and near gross weight Even in a serious climb, visibility suffered only slightly, rudder requirements were not too tough, and the aircraft exhibited light, linear, responsive control characteristics.

Control forces present themselves, initially, as lightly pressured but aerodynamic damping at cruise and higher speeds offers sufficient feedback and information to prevent the tendency to overcompensate in any axis. Pitch is fairly linear, very nicely dampened, though overall pressures are light-barely moderate at the high end, and the generous control range is pleasing. Response is excellent There is no lack of pitch control throughout the operating envelope, even at the very low end. Roll is a bit short as far as mechanical control range goes.

A little movement produces a bit more response than it looks, and the rudder pedals are perfect-don't change a thing. Roll is not as well damped as pitch, nor does it have to be, but the rudder is very much so. The roll axis offers a fair amount of authority, though personally I'd have preferred just a touch more, due to the rowdier side of this bird's personality. But this is just my preference and does not indicate a lack on this bird's part. For 99 percent of the flyers out there, there is way more than enough to go around and the effect is pleasing right down to the stall where it remains very alive and exceedingly well behaved.

There is never a lack of rudder. As far as adverse yaw is concerned, it is not all that evident, especially in the cruise configuration. Down at the low end, it's evident but still a far sight less than the norm for small kit aircraft. Best turns are made with a slight lead on the rudder as you roll into the turn. Delightful! If you need a quick input, though, boot hard rudder in sympathy with the roll, and you'll find that this thing will heel over smartly on the appropriate wing.

Surprisingly, the generously proportioned flaps, which take up half the trailing edge, are very easily actuated- so easy that you will wonder if they're deploying as you pull the handle. Too many flap systems require a near-Herculean effort to deploy the little suckers. Pitch excursions (changes in its trim condition) are mild, temporary, and do little to inhibit overall control response.

The Capella offers a surprisingly decent stability profile. It's hard to get a good combination of response and stability these days, and the Capella balances out very nicely. Despite the lack of cockpit controllable pitch trim, the Capella adheres to its trim attitude quite obediently and offers a moderately tight dynamic envelope as it asserts itself back to that attitude, once disturbed. Roll is nearly as assertive.

Light disturbances result in a fairly quick return to a level attitude though hard banks are encouraged in their progressive recovery with a quick boot of rudder. The rudder picks up the wing nicely. Yaw has an outstanding personality: very tight static profile and a dynamic profile that offers a fairly high frequency, low amplitude return to the straight and narrow but only marginal control separation.

Firewall the Capella, and the speed return is noteworthy. I saw a solid 95-100 mph IAS with both doors off the bird with Reid and I flying and a solid 100 when flying solo.

Is this what is meant by "blowing one's doors off?" Having the doors installed is an easy 10 to 15 mph more when the drag penalty is removed. And all this is on 65 hp, no less! Kick back to cruise power with the doors off, and Capella does a solid 85-90 mph (100 seems possible with the doors on). Not too shabby, especially when you look atwhat other 582 powered birds are producing.

Slow it down, and things are equally as gratifying. With flaps cranked in all the way, there is a mild but progressive buffet as you work your way toward 35-40 mph. The actual break occurs straight ahead and offers only a slight nod with gradual aft pitch pressure and persuasion. Get a little more dramatic, and the break gets a little more abrupt but still remains subtle by normal standards. Haul over into a hard bank, yank solidly on the stick to get a serious accelerated stall, and you'll get a real surprise as the bird starts buffeting solidly and then finally breaks with a mild pitch excursion and rolls back to level flight where the birds's good graces and natural stability take over.

The first time I saw this demonstrated, Reid had me put my feet flat on the floor as we climbed through 300 feet and then pulled this stunt without any warning. (What a pal. I may kill him.) I figured we were going to snap off into a spin when the bird started rolling back to level but was amazed with the way that it stopped, reasserted the trim attitude and mellowed out the minute the break started. Very pleasing.

Apparently, the Capella will spin, but it takes a fair amount of aggression while the bird resists the entry. Even falling leaves go easier, because the Capella fights the auto rotation so hard that it finishes the end of each iteration all by itself. Fight the recovery with some uncoordinated behavior and a little acceleration, and it will start to boot off into the spin. But it's literally going to require your cooperation to keep it going. Impressive and reassuring.

The rugged construction and excellent manners of the Capella XS offers some surprising bonuses in the "fun and games" department Pop the power up to the max, get a solid 100 mph indicating on the "go-fast" gauge, and start a solid 3 to 31/2 G pull on the stick, and you'll find yourself executing one of the sweetest and cleanest loops I've seen under the steam of a Rotax 582. Let it get a little slow, or over-amp the pitch pressure, and you'll find that he nice manners of the Cappella remain benign with only slight torquing and no tendency to snap or spin off.

I found that with 95 to 100 mph, the Capella did very solid, surprisingly round loops that done properly could be finished at the same altitude you start with. The G requirements are minimal and the behavior from that very rigid all metal wing, which I watched like a hawk the first few times, is very reassuring - no visible displacement This is one strong baby. Rolling action apparently gets a bit slow as the Capella gets over on its back, but proper barrel and aileron rolls can be accomplished with only a little practice and attention to an efficient entry.

The Capella has some of the best landing behavior I've seen in a while, especially for those of you who are still taildragger novices. Keep a solid 5560 mph over the fence, slip as necessary and the Cappella will do the rest, even if you get sloppy with the touchdown attitude. I did a few crabbed touchdowns and was pleased with the way that the bird straightens itself out when things get a little off kilter.

Its STOL attributes are considerable, to boot Set up a solid slipping approach to a point just short of the touchdown point, using a little power to keep 50-55 in the bank just before the aiming point, and then chop the power as you straighten things out for the touchdown. Suck the stick back for the last few feet of flare, jam the brakes down hard and let the bird screech to a stop and you will

honestly, come skidding to a stop in less than 300 feet -REALLY. I've done it, and done in much the way that I have narrated here. Chop the power, drop it in and let the bird shutter to a strop. Simple - and great, great fun.

Test Pilot's Summary

Wow! ... this is the most impressive new airplane we've flown in the "affordable flyer" category this year-no kidding! This bird has every right to be as popular as the Avid Flyer, Kitfox, Rebel and the other popular designs that have captured the budget flyer's fancy. Fun, versatile, affordable, extraordinarily strong, very attractive and reportedly very well supported, you're simply not gong to find many aircraft that boast such a comprehensive suite of features and benefits.

I was particularly impressed with the research and documentation that Reid has prepared to validate this aircraft's aerodynamic and structural integrity. The quality of workmanship, simple construction requirements and well designed structure may make this one of the fastest built kits you can buy in this market segment

With the very positive pitch stability characteristics I noted, this bird really does need a cockpit controllable pitch trim system. We recommend the installation. A slightly easier step up to the door would be nice as well. The bird is just plain delightful to fly, whether flying a near to 100 mph cruise speed on a long cross country, doing screechy 300-foot landings, climbing out at nearly 1000 fpm (all grossed out) or doing loops just for the hell of it, it's a great ride and some of the most fun I've had this year. Yep, we're impressed. So impressed that we've started thinking that a Capella XS just might make a good building project for the US Aviator.

After all; we want to build something with an all-metal wing and also fly something with a Rotax 912 four-stroke for a while- strictly for research purposes (and the goodness of our hearts), of course. The only reason we do all this neat stuff, is for you, the reader . . . right? Hey, Reid, we've got to talk!

Flightworks Capella ultralight aircraft, Flightworks Capella experimental aircraft, Flightworks Capella experimental light sport aircraft (ELSA), Lightsport Aircraft Pilot News newsmagazine.
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