ultralight aircraft, Flightworks Capella experimental aircraft, Flightworks Capella experimental light sport aircraft (ELSA), Lightsport Aircraft Pilot News
Aircraft Pilot is a directory of aircraft that generally fit
into what are described as ultralight aircraft, advanced ultralight
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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 -
experimental lightsport aircraft
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