Robust, reliable, built from scratch to endure some harsh punishment and act as a trainer helicopter, the Cabri G2 is not exactly the most beautiful of helicopters. Not until you get used to it.
When I first saw the G2, I thought it was a very old model from the 70s. I wasn’t too far off as it began being developed in the 1980s by an ex-Eurocopter (now Airbus Helicopters) engineer, Bruno Guimbal. Mr. Guimbal worked on the AS365 and the EC120 so the fact that the G2 has a Fenestron is no shocker.
What is a shocker, though, is the fact that this is a piston-powered helicopter equipped with a Fenestron. That’s not something you see every day. Nor you normally see Fenestrons being used in such small helicopters.
The Fenestron is only one piece of the puzzle Guimbal assembled to make what they believed to be a very safe helicopter. In fact, this little piece of engineering was developed, from the ground up, with safety in mind.
Its odd, almost egg-shaped (and not a pretty egg), fuselage is built as a damage-resistant all-composite monocoque piece. This not only reduces weight and maintenance requirements, but it also increases strength.
Add that to a list of other safety measures, a glass cockpit and a set of amazing optional items you can fit in the airframe and, if you are on the market for one of these, you’ll be all set to spend quite some time having fun picking cool stuff!
VSKYLABS model is not the first appearance of the Cabri in the simulation world. MP Design Studio has released the G2 for FSX and P3D some time ago and X-Plane uses were craving for it to eventually be brought to this sim. And here it is.
All right. First things first and, before diving in to giving you the ins and outs of this little fellow, I want to get a couple of things out of the way. These are important and something I really want you to have in consideration prior to deciding on getting this product or not.
There’s nothing wrong with it but I feel like I need to call your attention to something regarding the way VSKYLABS operates and develops their products.
First of all, VSKYLABS products are what they call “native X-Plane aircraft”.
What this means is that all their aircraft work with everything X-Plane brings by default. All the variable input and output, logic, flight model, etc. is done using X-Plane’s own systems.
“Isn’t it how other developers do their stuff as well?” you may ask. Well, yes and no.
You see, a lot of stuff can be done using X-Plane’s default systems but when you enter very specific avionics or highly complex physics, developers may – and usually do – make their own plugins, which are little pieces of software that interact with X-Plane, the user and the model.
They “code their own stuff” so they can make X-Plane do what they want it to do – usually to make the aircraft behave more realistically.
Not VSKYLABS, though. They use everything X-Plane gives them and don’t develop any code on top of it. This has, of course, its pros and cons.
One of the pros being that development becomes faster and more bug-free (not only because you’re not doing any code but also because you are using X-Plane’s systems which are maintained by Laminar Research and tested by all of us).
One of the cons, though, is that it limits VSKYLABS as in what they can do and how and it may become harder for them to get the aircraft to work as they need it to work.
Another peculiarity about VSKYLABS is that their products are released early and are in constant development.
This doesn’t mean that they release unfinished products. They release their stuff when they believe is good enough to be out there, but they are always thinking of ways to improve it in all areas: model, flight dynamics, systems, and actively doing so.
Therefore, it’s not unusual for you to get several updates of a product during its life cycle (which can be a pretty big cycle), months or even years after your purchase.
It’s not as if they take years to finish it. They take that time to perfect it, which is completely different.
This is a philosophy that a lot of folks out there might not like it, but, hey: instead of buying it now, wait a few months until you do. The thing is: if VSKYLABS would release it only after they got to a certain point, chances are you would have to wait anyway, right?
This being said, I’d like to finish this intro with a quote from their website. It’s worth what it’s worth it as Guimbal is not directly involved in the development but, at least they are aware of it (I feel it’s always nice to have helicopter manufacturers being aware of our hobby):
The development of the VSKYLABS Guimbal Cabri G2 Project for X-Plane 11 was approved by Hélicoptères Guimbal. Although acknowledged by Hélicoptères Guimbal, it is an independent VSKYLABS project which is not affiliated with and/or endorsed by Hélicoptères Guimbal.
VSKYLABS presented us with an overall gorgeous model. Some parts, such as the pedals, look a bit weird to me but other than that, the details are nothing short of amazing.
The rotor head, the fenestron, even the human models (which I am really picky about) are brilliant. I’m not a fan of the male model but the female one is really well done, almost lifelike.
There are a couple of things that I wish VSKYLABS could improve or add in the future, though.
One of them is the hands and the hands positions of the pilot. They look a bit big and kinda off. When we move the cyclic, the model also moves the legs and I understand why, but it shouldn’t.
Nonetheless, I will not be nitpicking here. After all, we fly from the cockpit, so we don’t even see the pilot most of the time. Still, I’d like to see it solved in the future.
The other thing, which is, again, a detail is the fact that we can’t open the doors from the outside, nor the baggage compartment but, again, that’s not too important. It would be cool, but these are “nice-to-haves” that don’t retract a lot from the work being done.
OK let me get this out there real quick: don’t expect a DreamFoil Creations flight model. At all.
But don’t expect to find a terrible model either. VSKYLABS created the Cabri to be what the helicopter is in real life: a trainer. Having that in mind, they made it so that the helicopter is controllable while still presenting a bit of a challenge.
But don’t let this “controllable” thing fool you. Being controllable doesn’t mean it’s sluggish or slow or boring. The VSKYLABS Cabri G2 offers what I believed to be an excellent amount of stability in order not to be too aggressive (it’s not an AS350) nor too stable (it’s not a Bell 412 – which is a heavy helicopter – with the SAS on) either.
I found it weird at first and I was looking for some pretty aggressive torque and all the sorts of crazy stuff I am used to with the other models I fly, but the Cabri is not an aggressive helicopter at all.
It still needs pedal (although I believe it should be needing more pedal at lower torque settings as we can take off with almost no pedal) but it’s not something that you need to worry too much until you reach higher collective settings.
Translating tendency is present and we need to hover right-skid-low as is transitional lift.
Vortex Ring State is still plagued by X-Plane’s bug so we still have to wait until Laminar Research fixes it.
All in all, the VSKYLABS Cabri G2 is a pleasant helicopter to fly. The more hardcore pilots will find it a bit too stable. I know I did but, after a while, I got used to her and, folks, seriously: I. Am. Hooked. I love her. I don’t care what you say! I really like her.
Because the Cabri was built using only X-Plane’s “resources” (again, no plugins) and because VSKYLABS is still tuning her as they go, autorotations are not where the Cabri shines.
To be able to perform an auto you’ll have to fly her with a bit more of speed than usual (for the Cabri it’s 50 knots) and you’ll notice something – which I already reported to the team – she will try to yaw to the right like crazy. I had to step on the left pedal the whole time. Full left and she was still trying to yaw.
As soon as I touched down, I lost her and rolled over. That was my first attempt and it was NOT pretty.
You’ll also notice the rotor RPM will always be on the low end (the first yellow arc) and you won’t be able to get it up to the green arc.
VSKYLABS is aware of this and trying to fix it. Until then, autorotations will be very challenging.
A few days ago, I did a live stream showing the startup of the G2 (video above). Despite my ability to manage to mess up my sound settings in a way such that you can’t listen to me talking after the engine goes up, I could do the startup using a checklist made from a real world one I found online (you can get my checklist here).
I found 2 issues during the startup: one of them has to do with the systems self-check. When you turn the power on, the Cabri G2 EPM (Electronic Pilot Management) performs a series of tests which are not available on the VSL model.
Another issue I found was the carburetor switch. In the real thing, it has 3 positions: hot, auto and cold. With the pre-release version the switch only went up (hot) and middle (auto).
For the final release, for some reason, there are, again, only 2 positions but, this time, middle (auto) as before but also cold (down). In fact, behind-the-scenes, it's doing hot and cold
There's also something else I'd like to point out: the floats don't work yet.
The amazing little plugin that allows you to have a tablet in your cockpit and open images, pdf files and even has a moving map so you don’t get lost. It’s freeware, which is a plus and you can also use it in other aircraft and even in the DreamFoil 407, thanks to the amazing work of community member Ekre.
This tablet can also be used with VR which is not only handy but essential if you want to have access to checklists and other stuff that you might need (such as airport charts).
You don’t want to use it or want to stow it away? Just leave the tablet be. By default, it’s closed and turned off so it won’t get in your way.
But, really…? Why wouldn’t you use it?
You can grab AviTab (it doesn’t come with the Cabri G2) here.
What a feast. The team developed her to be VR-ready from the start. The amazing cockpit is very immersive, and you can even control her without a joystick. That’s right: you can use your VR kit controllers only. Even the pedals.
There’s an option where you can rotate your left hand (the one on the collective) to control the anti-torque pedals.
I found it pretty odd, not just because of the position but also because there’s no weight/resistance of the actual controls, but hey: it (kinda) works. Why “kinda”? Well there are a few issues with the VR hotspots. Again, VSKYLABS is working on these and they indicated there will be an update soon with better support.
I don’t usually talk about the liveries. Well, I often mention textures but not the actual paintjobs. I feel like I have to in this case.
The VSKYLABS Cabri G2 comes with 2 liveries: C-GELP and C-GUTE. If you are a Mischa Gelb (again, Pilot Yellow) fan and follower, you will probably recognize these registrations as these are the same helicopters Mischa has on his company, BC Helicopters.
Funny enough, a lot of folks in the community were asking for C-GELP already as soon as VSKYLABS started talking about the project. Looks like Pilot Yellow has a lot of fans out there!
VSKYLABS is a very particular developer and their approach to development and product release is very unique.
While this may turn some users away, once you realize where they are coming from and what you should expect from the product, you could be finding yourself to enjoy this first release.
By using the default X-Plane flight dynamics engine, VSKYLABS managed to get away with the development of a helicopter in less than a year. Fortunately, X-Plane has such a terrific base code and is so well built – although not perfect, of course, that this allows them to get away with it pretty well.
While talking to them about the release, they told me that it can take a lot of time to fine tune the flight dynamics as X-Plane is highly complex. The Cabri is “working by itself”, meaning X-Plane is doing all the calculations.
It’s a constant work in progress, as VSL let me know: “Engineering the propulsion system with a reduction gear-box means that you need to take special care to rotor blades performance, tip weights, transmission losses etc... to balance the system... this is a very delicate and dynamic process and it takes time to reach a self-sustained system which works perfectly within the required characteristics”.
Is it perfect? No, it’s not. But she’s a fun helicopter to fly, a good trainer and she’s on the right path to becoming a very good product. VSKYLABS is actively listening and working on the flight dynamics and everything else they fell like they need to.