After first delivery, firm plans ramp-up of Cabri production

 - November 3, 2008, 5:48 AM

Start-up manufacturer Hélicoptères Guimbal delivered its first Cabri G2 two-seater to French-based operator Ixair on September 19. The company claims this aircraft brings new technology to the Robinson R22 and Schweizer 300 market, notably in terms of safety. After EASA certification in December last year, Hélicoptères Guimbal now has to cope with the harsh realities of ramping up production, another big step for a newcomer to the aircraft industry.

Why will Guimbal succeed where other would-be aircraft manufacturers have failed or continue to struggle? “Compared with others, we have modest habits,” founder and CEO Bruno Guimbal told AIN. For example, he said, “We have spent for certification what Eclipse Aviation has spent in communications.” Guimbal claims that the project–from clean sheet to certification–has cost E6 to E7 million ($8 to $10 million) so far. “In terms of simplicity and modest investment, my master is Frank Robinson,” he told AIN.

According to Guimbal, the company is “financially sound” and debt equals “a few months of production.” Guimbal is now looking for funds to build a full production inventory. Another challenge will be managing the supply chain. “It is difficult to get all the components to arrive right on time,” Guimbal acknowledged. He will also have to build the company’s workforce beyond its current 15 people.

A prototype first flew in 1993, seven years before the founding of Hélicoptères Guimbal. Three helicopters are scheduled for delivery this year. This number should increase to 12 next year. “We are currently sized for such a production rate,” said Roland Mampe, head of production. Further investment will be necessary to reach 20 a year, a rate at which Hélicoptères Guimbal expects to be able to turn a profit. The target is 50 helicopters in 2011.

Guimbal had initially expected a swifter ramp-up, but the original first delivery date slipped from the previously announced March. Guimbal holds firm orders for 15 Cabris.

Hervé Arditty, CEO of launch customer Ixair, said the main reason why he chose the Cabri (although he will continue to operate R22s for some time) is its potential level of safety (but this has yet to be proved in customer service). “The three-blade main rotor avoids mast bumping, the tail rotor is shrouded and the seats are crashworthy,” he said. The fuel tank is crashworthy, too. It passed a test that dropped the fuselage from 50 feet without the spillage of a single drop of liquid.

Ixair has ordered 10 of the first 11 Cabris and will be the first maintenance center for the helicopter. It will base the first two near Paris and the next two in Auch and Le Castellet, respectively.

The company will initially offer its Cabris for training. About 10 would-be pilots are on a waiting list to fly the Cabri already, Ixair sales director Mathias Senes told AIN.

The all-composite fuselage, manufactured by EADS Composites Aquitaine, weighs 62 pounds. The tailboom weighs another 14 pounds. Total empty weight is 936 pounds. During the preliminary design phase the company had a target of 927 pounds.
Main rotor blades are the only structural composite part Guimbal makes in its factory. “It takes us a bit more than one week to manufacture one blade,” design engineer François Dumas said.

The Cabri is powered by the same 145-hp Lycoming O-360 engine that propels the R22. Ixair therefore expects the helicopter’s fuel burn to be similar to the 10 or 11 U.S. gallons per hour of its U.S. competitor, according to Senes. One improvement, though, is Guimbal-STC’d digital spark control for more reliable cold-weather starts.