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Saturday, February 1, 2014

Cabri Operators Give Guimbal High Grades  

Rotor & Wing spoke to a number of Cabri users to gather their feedback and compile an Operator’s Report about the French-built training helicopter.

By Thierry Dubois

Cabri in operation with a Swiss training provider.
Since the first Guimbal Cabri G2 was delivered in 2008, the new piston single has progressively gathered acceptance among pilot training organizations. It seems the two-seater has achieved its main goal – providing a modern platform for ab initio helicopter training. Moreover, despite some teething troubles, operators appear happy with customer support from the Aix-en-Provence, France-based manufacturer, Helicopteres Guimbal.

The three-blade main rotor garnered great praises from all interviewed instructors. “It is a big benefit when you fly in mountainous areas, as you no longer have to fear mast bumping,” said Christian Jacquot, head of training with Heli-Challenge.

Therefore, it improves maneuverability, he added, and there is no more risk of inadvertent mast bumping in turbulence. Michael Gille, head of training with Swiss Helicopter, concurred, reminding that two-blade rotors are “a bit infamous in Switzerland.”

Moreover, Jan Krcil, an instructor with Lion Helicopters, sees autorotation training as much safer due to the high inertia of the rotor. Jacquot agrees – “you can start an autorotation with a speed as low as 35 knots, which is much lower than the Robinson R22’s 60 knots minimum speed for autorotation,” he stressed.

Tim Broder, manager of international flight training with Heli Aviation, added that the autorotation can be performed in a wide range of rpm – wider than the allowed range of rpm on the R22.

“And you can safely do it to the ground,” added Northern Helicopters CEO Mikael Randhem. Gille was impressed to see a Guimbal test pilot coming to one of Swiss Helicopter’s bases and showing how to make the most of the Cabri’s capability in autorotation.

Compared to the R22, it is more robust and forgiving in case of hard landing, according to Sarah Bowen, Helicentre Aviation’s chief flying instructor. Jacquot also expressed satisfaction with the energy-absorbing seats. “If something happens, you’ll walk away,” Randhem said. According to the BEA’s database of five Cabri accidents and incidents around the world (the Bureau d’Enquetes et d’Analyses is the U.S. NTSB’s French counterpart), only one caused injuries, none being fatal.

Cabri operators are responding to the trainer’s low operating costs.
Jean-Baptiste Olry, Heli-Union’s deputy head of operations, explained that the type was chosen over the R22, among other criteria, because it is closer to the helicopter types the students will fly eventually. He specifically mentioned the shrouded tailrotor and the modern displays.

Some operators did not hide the aesthetic factor. “It looks modern,” Bowen said. “It looks as a little toy, some people have fallen in love with the Cabri,” Jacquot said. He believes the Cabri’s appeal has contributed to Heli-Challenge successfully relaunching its training business.

What about costs? A Cabri G2, in its baseline version, sells for €293,000 ($395,000). By contrast, a Robinson R22 sells for $276,000. But an R22 overhaul costs twice that of a Cabri, according to Guimbal.

Those operators having both a R22 and a Cabri in their fleet mentioned no significant difference in operating costs before the 2,200-hour overhaul. “After that, the Cabri gets cheaper,” Randhem said.

Guimbal
The first 2,200-hour overhauls of the two-seater took place last summer at the Guimbal factory, which holds an EASA Part 145 approval for its maintenance shop. Downtime was six weeks. “In 2,200 flight hours, each of these Cabris generated revenues in the amount of about three times its selling price,” Guimbal said at the time. Then, the overhaul cost 25 percent of this price, he went on. Overall, the Cabri spends little time in maintenance, Krcil said. As an example, he referred to the 50-hour check, which just takes three hours.

On customer support, Jacquot said obtaining parts was difficult until 2011. “Our expectations were higher than that but we don’t blame them,” he said, alluding to the novelty of the program. “The Cabri is not as mature as the R22,” Gille noted. Northern Helicopters is rather concerned by rising parts prices. All interviewed operators said parts availability is now good or very good.

One feature of Helicopteres Guimbal seems to be the personal relationship customers get. “We are in touch with a person in particular rather than with a department,” Gille said. Another operator said it is relatively easy to talk to Bruno Guimbal about a specific issue. However, Jacquot noted that the company is reluctant to hear comparisons with the R22.

Maybe the most serious criticism against the Cabri, as expressed by Jacquot, was on vibration at high speed. Fortunately, the situation has recently improved, he admitted, thanks to a counter-vibration system based on bobweights that are tuned to vibrate in antiphase.

The Cabri is gaining ground with training operators.
Guimbal acknowledged the problem and pointed out that users were complaining about the variability of the vibration they were feeling at a given speed. “It involves very low levels of energy so a small payload change can translate into a large change in vibration,” he explained.

As he emphasized, the passive counter-vibration system is very common in the helicopter industry – he mentioned the Eurocopter Super Puma and the Bell 407, among others.

On the Cabri, it adds 2.2 lbs of weight but divides the vibration level by 10 at 100 knots, he said. “It delivers impeccable performance up to 120 knots,” Guimbal added. Almost all in-service Cabris have been fitted with the system and it is now production standard.

 

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