Tom Saccio's Montaine Story

EAA Chapter 1453's Newsletter "The Buzz", Dec. 2008 – Jan. 2009

Tom Saccio

In the summer of 1996 I was working in Sarasota, Florida. At that time, I was training for my Instrument Rating. My instructor back home in Connecticut suggested, since I would be in Florida for an extended period of time, I go to Flagler Field because there was an aerobatic team there that gave flights.

One day I rented a plane and flew to Flagler with my wife Sandy. I found their office on the field and asked if they gave aerobatic flights to individuals. At the time I was not aware that they were the world renowned team called The French Connection. Their names were Daniel Heligoin and Montaine Mallet. They asked when I would like to go. I said “How about right now”. They said fine. I was to fly with Montaine Mallet.

As we walked out to the plane, she asked me if I ever got air sick. When I said I did not, she said “That’s what they all say and then they throw up all over my plane”. I knew then that I was in for quite a ride. I got in the plane and she strapped me in to a 5-point harness to the point where I was having trouble breathing. At this point she pointed out the barf bag, and asked if I was ready. I said yes and off we went.

Montaine told me that we would start out with an easy slow roll. After completing it, she asked how I felt. I said fine. So we tried something a little more difficult. I was still doing ok. The next one was ever more difficult. She said, “How do you feel.” I said, “Fine.” She said, “OK, let’s go.”

At that point she slammed the throttle forward and pointed the plane straight up until it would climb no more. My heart was in my mouth. The plane stalled, started to fall back to earth; the wing went over and the plane went into a spin. I thought I was going to die. She proceeded to do just about every stunt that she knew, explaining each one as we went.

She did rolls, loops, Cuban eights, Immelmanns, Spins, Tail slides, Snap rolls and anything else that she could think of. At one point she told me to look at the controls, but I couldn’t because we were upside down and my head was pinned to the canopy. I was unable to move. Then she made me take the controls and do a loop. I only did one. It was enough for me. She was quite a pilot and an incredible woman.

When we got back down on the ground, Montaine told me that I should take up the sport of stunt flying because there were very few people that could withstand the G’s and not get sick. The one thing that I have is a cast iron stomach. I politely declined and told her that once was enough for me.

That flight with Montaine Mallet will always be one of the most incredible flights I have ever taken. I will remember it forever.

On May 27, 2000 Montaine and Daniel were practicing for a show. They went into a Hammerhead stall where the plane climbs until it will almost climb no more. Then each plane rotates (yaws) until the nose is pointing straight down. Then each plane does a 90-degree roll away from the other and "pulls" to horizontal flight. Somewhere in-between, something went wrong. Apparently Daniel Heligoin missed his spot. The two planes collided in mid air. Both Montaine and Daniel were killed. It was a tragic accident and a real blow to the dangerous world of aerobatic flying.

Aerobatic pilots still speak of The French Connection as one of the most thrilling teams ever to take to the skies.~~