Capewell Aerial Systems (Capewell) is a 142-year-old manufacturing company firmly based in the defense sector. Back when horses were critical to mobility, George J. Capewell began his business as an innovator in the mass production of horseshoe nails. As the need for horses diminished with the rise of automobiles, Capewell diversified its offerings in the late 1930s through an effort with the US government to develop specialized hardware for military paratroopers. The device that was featured, a personnel parachute release designed to separate the soldier from the parachute after landing, remains a staple for the US military and allies today.
In 2014, Aerial Machine and Tool Corp joined Capewell, with specialties in technical sewing, and survivability solutions for military and first responder applications. Today, Capewell engineers and manufactures reliable survivability and aerial delivery solutions that enable mission success for defense and commercial organizations around the globe.
In a conversation with the company’s President & CEO, Thomas Weidley, Manufacturing Today learns of the uniqueness of a Capewell aerial solution, and why the business continues to be a dependable name for the military after all these years. “Our goal has always been to provide the best possible solutions for the warfighters. I was privileged to serve in the US Military for three-and-a-half decades, so I am deeply aware of the need to have the best, most reliable equipment in the hands of our men and women in uniform. From my perspective, I’m focused on the ways in which I can help support our service members as they go into harm’s way, so that they return home safely.”
When reflecting on his career in the United States Marine Corps, the CEO expresses a deep connection to Capewell’s equipment, having used the company’s products himself throughout his service. After he retired from the military, he transitioned to a leadership role at Capewell, driven by his commitment to develop solutions that enhance emergency survivability and benefit warfighters globally. Finally, he went from COO to CEO, and feels honored and privileged to lead the organization, viewing it as an opportunity to make a meaningful impact on the lives of military personnel. “What we do best is deliver reliability in the aerial delivery and survivability space – our equipment must work every time and our dedicated team of patriotic employees takes this mandate to heart as they produce each product. This requires a different level of attention to detail and focus from our employees to create high-performance, high quality, durable equipment that does not fail,” Thomas emphasizes.
A recent project that demonstrates the quality of which Capewell is renowned involves work for several different Ministries of Defense, centered around a requirement to drop large boats from new and existing military cargo aircraft – a tremendous opportunity, as Thomas elaborates. “These are fairly large boats, some over 10 meters in length, from new cargo aircraft that require next-generation equipment. We’ve developed a platform and the attaching mechanisms that will allow for safe air drop of the boat or boats out of the aircraft. Our engineers created a universal solution and now we’re in the process of bringing those solutions to fruition. We’ll have platforms ready to support opportunities in the spring of 2024. It’s really cool stuff; the boat is extracted from the aircraft with the assistance of the parachutes, separates from its platform, and falls under parachute onto the water. If it’s a staffed vessel, the troops that operate the boat will then jump out right behind the boat, land in the water and climb aboard, and then they are off to complete their mission. It’s incredible work!”
Although fulfilling these types of government opportunities is fantastic for the company, they don’t come without challenges, considering many of the perturbations impacting the manufacturing industry today, and Thomas notes that Capewell is not immune to these issues. “Probably the biggest hurdle has been the impact on the supply chain, which came out of the pandemic. It just takes longer to make things than it did in the past. Although we are seeing some aspects stabilize now, the cost of goods and materials has gone up significantly, broadly speaking. There are all these tensions in the supply chain, and we’re doing our best to ease them and develop resiliency.
“We live and die by our supply chain for many of our products. We make sure that our relationships with our suppliers are open, communicative, and supportive. We try to understand their pressure points and get ahead of their lead times, as well as give them as much time to deliver we possibly can, which is really the best that anyone can do. Unfortunately, it isn’t always that easy, so we also must manage client expectations while being a responsive provider,” he highlights.
Nonetheless, Thomas is optimistic about the company’s continued success. The CEO envisions a transformative year ahead with a strategic shift towards next-generation products and anticipating and meeting customer needs. In response to evolving demands, he notes that Capewell is introducing innovative systems that will enhance mission success, from reconnaissance to the delivery of logistical supplies for dispersed military units over expansive terrain.
His focus even extends to unmanned drones as well, deployed in groups via aerial delivery means for a range of missions. “Our emphasis is on reducing risk to human life, which, at the moment, aligns with the global trend of leveraging robotic autonomous systems in modern warfare, as we’ve seen from recent events in Ukraine, Israel, and even in the South China Sea.” Moreover, the company is investing in survivability solutions for warfighters, exploring advanced fabrics and technologies to create lighter, stronger vests with reduced heat signatures. New breathing systems and buoyancy solutions are also under development and Thomas adds that the company is investing in new CNC machines to ensure that the products produced retain unfailing dependability.
Beyond 2024, Thomas explains that the company’s vision is to be the world leader in aerial delivery and survivability solutions. “We’re determined to lead those markets and offer the best solutions possible for our warfighters around the globe, and I think if we keep that as the focus and take care of our people, then everything else will fall into place,” he concludes.