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  • Flying the Cabri by Rickard Gillberg
    Flying the Cabri by Rickard Gillberg
    Flying the Cabri by Rickard Gillberg
    Flying the Cabri by Rickard Gillberg
    Flying the Cabri by Rickard Gillberg
The Cabri G2 is an all-new addition to the helicopter world. It's a carefully
designed craft, with safety in focus and a sense for details, which stands with the world at its feet. Nordic Rotors went to the factory in France to fly
the first new two-seater since the 70's!
© Claes Axstål© Claes Axstål

A helicopter is a complex invention, there is no doubt about it, but after more than a hundred years of development many of us are still flying around in structures that were developed more than 30 years ago. But things are about to change - a fresh breeze is blowing from the foot of the French Alps. A promising aviation designer has developed an innovative two-seat piston helicopter that aims for a leading role in the next-generation's light rotary aviation.

The beautiful city of Marseille brings the thoughts to the huge helicopter manufacturer Eurocopter and its heart in the nearby Marignane. This prominent plant has seen the birth of some of the most popular and groundbreaking helicopters in the world. But for now, this is not where we are going. We are visiting the picturesque village of Aix-en-Provence, some 30km away, and the company Hélicoptères Guimbal new helicopter factory.
© Hélicoptères Guimbal, via Savback Helicopters© Hélicoptères Guimbal, via Savback Helicopters
At the time we are visiting (mid 2009), the engineer Bruno Guimbal and his staff has just started the serial production of its Cabri G2. The G2 is a well-designed piece of machinery crafted with a remarkable attention to details. It has a beautiful shape, a well-designed interior and a load of new technical solutions.

The Cabri obtained its formal EASA certification on December 14, 2007. It became the first piston helicopter in the world to be certified for commercial operations in accordance with EASA's extremely rigorous certification requirements, "CS-27". It took years and nearly 300 flight hours to get there.

Safety first
© Hélicoptères Guimbal© Hélicoptères Guimbal The basic concept of the helicopter is the safety alone. For example, the entire cabin is designed with the two energy-absorbing seats in focus. An occupant is estimated to survive a free fall from 50 feet, or a rate-of-descent of 2000 ft/min without any deceleration or flare at the end. The 170-liter fuel tank is inspired by the Formula 1 racing cars and can handle a drop from 50 feet, fully fuelled, without spilling as much as a drop. These aspects are expected to reduce the number of fatalities caused by post-impact fires dramatically. The helicopter is also designed to withstand lightning strikes.

The rotor hub of the Cabri is made of aluminum alloy and surrounded by a rugged fiberglass winding to increase its damage tolerance. This winding has been bench-tested for several days in a row, with a fully developed deliberate crack through the rotor head, without breaking. The hub has been given an infinite lifetime, in theory.

The main blades have a high inertia to deliver good autorotation characteristics. They are made of carbon/fiberglass laminated composite with a solid leading-edge weight in steel and an additional tip weight to increase the inertia.

The birth of the Cabri
© Rickard Gillberg© Rickard Gillberg The Cabri project has been a dream coming through for the 50-year-old Bruno Guimbal. It began when he first sketched a set of drawings in his 20s. He had already built his own airplane, the first VariEze in France, some years earlier. Shortly thereafter, he was employed as a helicopter engineer at the development department of Aérospatiale (now Eurocopter) in Marignane. With a primary focus in rotor systems, he came to work with shrouded tail rotors (fenestron), tilt rotor helicopter prototypes and various helicopter projects, mainly Ecureuil (AS350) and Colibri (EC120).
© Rickard Gillberg© Rickard Gillberg
Bruno began the construction of his dream project in a corner of the factory on his spare time. The prototype first flew in April 1992, but the project was eventually stranded.
In 2000, Bruno Guimbal left Eurocopter to establish the company Hélicoptères Guimbal and to make a wholehearted investment in his helicopter project - this time with revised plans and new ideas. The first flight of the new Cabri G2 was made on March 31, 2005.

Bruno says that his self-designed shrouded tail rotor was working so fine on the first flight that it needed no further changes, except the replacement of a small plug in the gearbox. The seven-bladed fenestron is the world's first on a helicopter of this size.

Light and strong
© R. Gillb.© R. Gillb.The Cabri's body and tail boom is made entirely out of composites, which gives a very light and strong structure. The aircraft weighs about 430 kg empty and its maximum takeoff weight is 700 kg, which gives a useful weight of 270 kg. It is capable of an endurance of nearly five hours with its tank full.

After careful consideration, Guimbal decided to choose the well-proven four-cylinder Lycoming O-360-J2A engine for the Cabri. The helicopter uses 145 hp at 2700 rpm (out of 180 hp). A dual-plug, mixed ignition system with variable timing has been incorporated to improve the engine performance. An automatic carburetor heater maintains the carburetor temperature, reducing the pilot workload.

In difference to its two-seat competitors the Cabri has a large trunk space - 200 liters to be precise. The space is enough for two regular-sized cabin bags or a golf bag (you will have to prioritize in your lifestyle). The baggage room is reachable from a cargo hatch in the airframe or through a hole in the back of the cabin.

Flying the Cabri
© Rickard Gillberg© Rickard Gillberg It is about 36 centigrade outside, and the blazing sun is practically cutting through the still air in Aix-en-Provence. A beautiful streamlined creature is rolled out of the factory across the hot asphalt. We will be flying the prototype today – the ancestor of all Cabri G2s. The craft brings the thoughts to a small EC120 at the first glance, but that parallel will only persist as a first-glance-impression. The early-90s version of the Cabri was produced prior to the EC120, but the EC, however, has got some features that traces back to the early Cabri.

The doors of the helicopter are unlocked by a simple push of a remote control button, just like in any modern car. The central locking and an anti-theft immobiliser are part of the standard equipment.

© Hélicoptères Guimbal© Hélicoptères Guimbal The starting process is simple and straightforward. There is a single row of switches, you start from the left and slide your finger methodically to the right; battery, pump, strobe, alternator, clutch and so on. The engine is started by pushing a button at the tip of the collective. The electronic ignition system gets the engine started and stabilized in a smooth idling speed in seconds, just like in a car. The rotor is connected through an automatic belt tension system, and once the rotor has been engaged you pretty much just have to wait for green values before you can activate the rpm-governor, open the throttle and pick the aircraft up into a hover.

The Cabri takes the French clockwise-rotating main rotor tradition seriously, why you have to push the right pedal in the hover. Once airborne the aircraft feels stiff and direct in its controls. It is sporty and alert to operate, but it's still stable in the hover. The absence of servos makes stick movements a little heavy, but an electric trim is mounted to minimize the resistance.
In fact, Guimbal let his team reduce the stick forces after some feedback from potential customers. But as soon as the own test pilots got back in the aircraft they disliked it so much that Guimbal went back to the original feeling. It doesn't take long before you start making friends with the machine, and the stick forces become a natural part of the helicopter's agility.

© Claes Axstål© Claes Axstål After stabilizing the hover the large digital engine display tells us that we're hovering at 80% power - carrying two people on board, fuel for 1½ hour, with 36 centigrade and zero wind.

Unlike any other piston helicopter the Cabri lacks a gauge for the manifold pressure. Instead, the helicopter has been fitted with a genius electronic Multiple Limit Indicator, which is showing the available power based on the current temperature and altitude. The effect you are using is displayed as a percentage of the maximum power.

We take off over the magnificent landscape after a long and incomprehensible clearance in French. The helicopter is simple in its speed diagram - 50 knots for take off, landing and autorotation, and 80 knots for the best range. If you are using 80% power you will be cruising near 80 knots, and 100% power will provide roughly 100 knots, depending, on the weight, altitude and temperature. The VNE is 130 knots, but the limit was not easy to reach on our flight.

© Claes Axstål© Claes AxstålAfter a variety of maneuvers, an outback landing and a set of sharp turns, we head back for the airport to try some autorotations. This is said to be the helicopter's best feature, why I'm really anxious to check it out. Once near the airport the test pilot rolls off the throttle and we enter our first auto. The rotor RPM is stabilized in the tolerant 450-610 rpm span and the speed is locked at 50 knots, a quick glance at the variometer tells me that we are descending at the humble 1400 ft / min. The RPM is easy to maintain and the helicopter handles well in the auto. The touchdown is uneventful and the Cabri gives us extra margins in the flare. The whole maneuver is calm and it gives us time for reflection and correction. There is no doubt about it; flight schools worldwide will truly appreciate the Cabri's characteristics.

Another really neat detail for the flight schools is the optional "Safety Pilot" system - a device that will record the helicopter's position and gauge parameters continuously. After each landing, the information is transferred to a computer via the mobile network. The training sessions can be reviewed in graphs, forms and even through 3D projections in Google Earth.

There are roughly 20 Cabri G2s in service throughout Europe right now (May 2011). The production rate has been tuned to one aircraft a month, which gives a delivery time of 2-3 months. The most recent organization to certify the Cabri was the Australian CASA.

Swedish Cabris
© Joel Backlund© Joel BacklundThe first Cabri arrived in Sweden in June 2010, imported by the helicopter dealer Savback Helicopters. The aircraft, which was given the registration SE-HJR, became the first G2 in the Nordic countries. It was quickly followed by a second Cabri (SE-JNE) in August the same year. Both helicopters are currently operated by the flight school Northern Helicopters, which is offering pilot training in Jönköping and Västerås.

The helicopter type is represented by Savback Helicopters, which is the exclusive agent for Cabri G2 in Sweden, Norway and Finland.

A young mountain goat
The name of the Cabri comes from a characteristic animal, like so many French helicopter models in the past. A cabri is the child of an alpine ibex, which is a wild goat living in the steep terrain of the Alps. However, after flying the helicopter, visiting the factory and looking closer at the craftsmanship in the springy little debutante, the Cabri is so much more than a young wild mountain goat to me. The Cabri rings quality, creativity, and furthermost; safety!

© Claes Axstål© Claes Axstål© Claes Axstål© Claes Axstål© Claes Axstål© Claes Axstål
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