Back to main Flying Stories page ......................................................Back
to main Flash website
September 15, 1998
Between the southern tip of South Caicos Island and the north coast
of the Domincan Republic there are 120 nautical miles of uninterrupted,
deep, blue ocean. Last spring, French Connection pilots, Montaine
Mallet and Daniel Heligon, sailed high above it, in their two CAP
10s, enroute to a week of island air shows. Looking at the water,
Montaine thought of the Aeropostale pilots who inspired her to fly.
They carried people and their dreams across the wide Atlantic with
the mail, and did it on compass headings and faith. In the 20s and
30s, they braved hardships and handicaps, the unknown and the unproven.
Montaine read about them when she was 12 years old. From then on she
wanted what they had--their passion, their purpose, their camaraderie
and their joy.
At 19, when she was old enough to pay for flying lessons, she looked
for adventure at the local aeroclub. But it wasn’t there, not
the way it was in the book she read about Henri Guillaumet. He spent
a week in the Andes, without food or sleep, when winter weather forced
his plane down. When he walked out on frost bitten feet he said, “A
dog would not have done what I did.” Montaine associated flying
with adventure and extraordinary challenges.
Perhaps this is why she was the perfect partner for Daniel Heligon,
when Avion Mudry sent him to the United States to promote and sell
the CAP 10 in 1973.
Daniel was inspired to fly at an early age, as well. But, it wasn’t
through books. His father took him to the aeroclub on weekends and
helped him to fly. He was such a natural that the club showed his
flying off, using him like a mascot to draw crowds for glider rides.
He flew his first aerobatic air show in 1947 in one of their gliders.
In 1951 he joined the French Air Force and soon headed for the United
States for joint military flight training. Within 18 months he had
both American and French fighter pilot wings.
Although the Air Force was not his intended career path—he
had planned to be an architect and builder—he loved the flying
opportunities. So, every five years, when his commitment was up, he
renewed it to get another rating, to fly another airplane or to do
what hadn’t been done.
In 1967, when the French Air Force wanted a light plane aerobatic
team for air shows, competition and instructing Daniel helped start
it. They trained in the Stampe, the CAP 10, the Zlin 526, and the
CAP 20. Within three years they were flying aerobatics at the world
competition level in Hullavington, England. In 1971 Charlie Hillard
invited Daniel to compete in Sherman, Texas at the Nationals. Although
he had to borrow a plane he had never flown before—N22Q, Curtis
Pitts’ prototype S-2A--he placed ninth overall. In both 1971
and 1972 Daniel was the National Aerobatic Champion of France.
At the end of 1971, because his 20-year stint was up, he had to retire
from the military. Unfortunately, this kept him off the 1972 French
National Aerobatic Team. The world contest, was held in France that
year at Salon de Provence, a military base. The technicality that
kept him off the world team was that he was a civilian. His teammates
were all military pilots. They made him the backup, the alternate
Montaine was there. The weather was low. For a while the contest
“How about doing a CAP 10 demo?” the organizers suggested
This was a bad idea, Montaine says. “The military had a 300
foot minimum, but Daniel had nothing to lose and gave his best demo,
right on the deck. It was a hell of a demo, a little revenge on his
part. The military was not happy and kicked him out of the base.”
The Americans were impressed. Charlie Hillard, Art Scholl, Tom Poberezney
and Gene Soucy all remembered his show.
In July 1973 Mr. Mudry sent Daniel and Montaine to New York to sell
the CAP 10 to American pilots, although it was not quite ready to
sell. It was a little too expensive for the American market, and it
was not yet certified.
They set up in Orange County, New York and flew from airport to airport
to demonstrate it. Daniel flew many solos. He flew like a champion
and people took notice, but they asked, “Is the plane certified?”
“Do you know when it will be certified?”
“Do you have any for sale?”
Montaine says. “We were like the old pioneers that came and
didn’t know the language and started the farm they didn’t
know how to farm. We had no help and no knowledge, but we learned
how to survive.”
In 1974, their second summer in New York, the locals said, “You
have to take it to Oshkosh to show it to the fanatics of aviation.”
Montaine, who was in charge of the money, scratched figures on a
little piece of paper: hours, fuel, tie downs, food--no motels, they
could sleep in a tent--$500 was all they had, but that should do.
Oshkosh was the place to be. They could see that. In fact, every
evening, after the show they rode the bus from the show line to the
camp ground. On the bus and through the window they could see people
talking about Daniel’s show. Everywhere they looked, people
were mimicking a knife edge turn with their hands.
“He was the first to do the 360 degree inverted turn. Instead
of being upside down, he would come from right side up, put the aircraft
in knife-edge, reverse. A lot of people copied him afterwards. It
is very steep in the inverted, so it looks like knife-edge, but he
is pushing forward, like a mad man, very low, getting the aircraft
past knife-edge, then reversing around. You can’t do more than
70 degrees, but because of the reverse dihedral of the aircraft, it
looks like knife-edge.
The plane was exciting and people loved it, but they couldn’t
buy it until Mudry got it certified.
They called the factory in France. “When will it be certified?
“Soon,” they said. But, no one was actually working on
it until Daniel and Montaine got fed up. When they did, Daniel returned
to France. Montaine stayed behind to take stock.
She said to herself, “Montaine, you don’t know a damn
thing about this business, but you are 24 years old and president
of the company. You have two aircraft to fly, demonstrate and sell,
that are not certified and you have no money. What are you going to
First she moved the planes to Sky Acres Airport, a better location,
then headed for France, as well. The only way to get the airplane
certified was to do it themselves.
With singleness of purpose they got it done. Daniel flew; Montaine
copied numbers, filed reports and traveled back and forth to Brussels
to meet officials. “I had no clue what I was doing, but it worked,”
she says. With the French certification in hand they returned to the
States to begin the same, tedious procedure with the FAA.
For three months they disassembled and reassembled the aircraft.
Daniel continued his solo shows. They both trained to fly the dual.
In between, they tested wires, measured gauges, opened ports. Though
exhausted, they progressed.
“Then we had the big accident,” Montaine says.
“In one of the inspections I left the tension meter in the
fuselage. It stayed there for many hours, going back and forth through
the fuselage, until one day it blocked the elevator in the down position.
“I didn’t know what it was. I only had 350 or 400 hours
by that time. When I couldn’t pull back on the stick, and the
airplane was going very fast, and I didn’t know what was going
on, I told my student to bail out. Then, I tried to get control of
the aircraft, which was stupid, because I lost a few seconds.
“At Sky Acres the airport is on top of a little hill. When
I bailed out, I opened so low that from the ground the people told
Daniel they only saw one parachute.
“I remember hearing this big noise; it was enormous. I thought
it was the airplane crashing, but it was the opening of the parachute.
I looked down to see where the aircraft crashed and I hit the ground
at the same time. If you look at somebody coming down in a parachute—in
two or three seconds they fall 50 feet. God was with me that day.
I was glad I was 95 pounds at the time. Now, I would have gone quicker!”
She fell through a tree and the ripcord slashed open her chin. “If
you pull the ripcord with one hand the rope goes around your chin
and it rips you up,” she says. But worse than the 20 stitches
was the pain of knowing someone could have been killed.
Meanwhile, the FAA certified the CAP 10. But Mr. Mudry was ready
to pull out of the US market. Daniel and Montaine decided to go it
alone, keeping the Mudry name, which he agreed to, but with no financial
support from abroad. While it was tough, it was never boring. They
borrowed money, bought a new engine, built up a second airplane, sold
both planes and leased them back to use.
Business took off. Daniel flourished. His solo was low, quick, precise,
right in front of the crowd. Anyone who saw his snap roll on take
off remembered it. People called him the Art Scholl from France.
Students lined up to fly. In one year they taught 800 hours of aerobatics.
Slowly they headed for the big time. At first, their dual act was
only a minor draw.
The Cleveland Show of 1977 changed all that. This is where they got
In the middle of the summer, Montaine told Daniel, Chuck Newcomb
hired the dual act for Labor Day.”
“What!” he said, “We are not ready.”
His solo was practiced, but the dual needed polish. This is when
the training began. They practiced hard, day after day, flight after
flight. Daniel was Montaine’s teacher. He taught her aerobatics—competition,
air show flying and instructing. He coached her on style, form, planning
and smoothness. But true leadership a person learns on her own. The
team leader was something she had to become on her own. It requires
decision-making and self-confidence. Cleveland gave her some of that.
“We had a lot of applause,” she says. “People liked
it.” And, for the first time they knew their name. It was in
the program: The CAP 10 Team presents The French Connection.
“French Connection?” they said. “This is cute.
Can we keep the name?”
Chuck said, “Sure.”
Another equally defining moment, was their second year at Oshkosh.
“We did our show, came back to the parking area and everybody
was in front of us—all the performers and all the organizers.
Daniel and I looked at each other. ‘What did we do wrong?’
Then we opened the canopy and they all applauded.
“That day we felt we were part of the aerobatic family. That
was our turning point. Now, I have lived longer in the United States
than I have in France. Although I feel very French, I feel American,
By 1990 they had been together for 19 years. They met when Montaine
was in her last year of a specialized engineering school. She and
Daniel attended meetings once a week at Avion Mudry. She was 24 and
thought, “He has a cute face and a cute smile,” she says.
“But, you know, when you are in your early 20s, you sort of
fall in love with everybody,” she says. “Everybody that
is fun, that likes to laugh, that loves aviation. You just love them.
Daniel loved flying and he was very enthusiastic.”
Daniel was married when they met, but work threw Daniel and Montaine
together. They shared a passion for airplanes, for aerobatics, for
“We started out by liking each other,” Montaine says.
“Maybe we were a little bit in love, but we really respected
each other. It is so easy to be attracted by people, to be a butterfly.
Then you never build anything and you are never happy. A good relationship
is very important.
“Little by little we found our niche. I am more the office
person. As a joke I say, I make the money and he spends it. I am in
the office paying bills and trying to generate air shows, sales or
students. And, he is in the hangar working on the aircraft, making
sure the shop is okay and buying stuff that we need.
“We are a good match. We are so different. I don’t like
to go to bars, he doesn’t like to go to the movies. I like art.
He doesn’t like to go to museums.”
When Daniel’s marriage ended in the 70s, he and Montaine talked
of marrying each other, but that wasn’t the right moment. The
right moment came in the fall of 1990. At the end of the air show
season they parked their airplanes and headed for marriage and France.
However, as usual by this time, air shows followed them everywhere,
even to their wedding reception. “There is someone on the phone
from Brazil,” the restaurant manager said. “Is this a
joke, or what?” No, it was a congratulations from an air show
in Porto Allegre, Brazil.
They flew there in April 1990, and again in 1996, in two, carefully
inspected, borrowed CAP 10s. “We said, ‘Yes,’ but
that we would have to have the right to inspect the aircraft and refusal
to fly if we thought they were not airworthy,” Montaine says.
On their first visit they added hang gliding over Rio to their vast
flying experience. “We met a couple who are aviation fanatics,”
Montaine says. “It just happened that while we were there it
was my birthday, so they bought me a hang gliding dual ride. You jump
off the top of Rio and you land very close to Ipanema on a little
“For about 2 seconds you think you are going to die and it
is totally stupid and really crazy. Then you start to fly and it is
beautiful,” Montaine says.
Daniel might disagree. Montaine insisted he go. He said, “I
am gong to be afraid.”
She said, “Yes, for 30 seconds you are going to be close to
s---ing your underwear, because it is really scary. Once you start
flying, I promise you will thank me.
For his flight she was on the ground with the camera. The instructor
told him, “You have to put your head inside and once you jump
you put your head outside.” When he did that he knocked his
glasses off. They tumbled 2,000 feet through the air into the jungle.
“There is a little monkey that has his glasses somewhere,”
Montaine says. Then to top it off, the instructor, seeing Montaine
filming, got airshowitis, tightened his turn, and hit the side of
the beach with the wing. “I am there with the camera,”
she says, “and all the sudden we see ‘Bang!’ just
like a cartoon.”
That same year, back in the States they began a serious search for
a new location. “Daniel and I always sort of dreamed of having
our own FBO. We really wanted our own place. In New York we had the
school, but we didn’t have a shop. We wanted a place that looked
professional, and all that. New York was too expensive.”
Enroute to a Miami show, in October of ’91, they visited Suzanne
and Steve Oliver, borrowed a car and started to search the state.
“We wanted to be close to a big metropolitan area, on an airport
where we can have an aerobatic box, hotels nearby, a restaurant on
the field and good weather.” Rick Grissom suggested they look
at Flagler County Airport in Bunnell, Florida. It was love at first
sight--good runways, good people, a decent restaurant on the field
and motels nearby.
They have everything grouped together—school, shop, office,
lounge. Out front there is a picnic table with a big ashtray for Daniel.
The aerobatic box is within easy sight of it. He can sit there and
do what he loves the most—watching, critiquing, teaching.
They both love teaching. Many of their friends stop in early in the
spring for help. “Daniel gives a lot,” Montaine says.
“Sometimes he sees an air show performer—he doesn’t
do it as much now, because people send you away easily—but at
the beginning, he would go and debrief them on everything. ‘You
could do this and you could improve that.’ Some people really
took it right and improved. Some people sent him to hell.
“I’d say, ‘You’re giving away all our secrets.’
“He’d say, ‘So? We’ve learned how to do this.
Why don’t we tell the other people?’ He is very giving.
He still enjoys training people from the ground, watching and helping
When he was instructing in the military he had a special niche. He
was The Last Resort. “In the military they had to succeed. If
they didn’t they were out. All the cadet students were officers,
so they had to graduate from flying. When students were not doing
well the other instructors sent them to Daniel. If there was anything
that could be done with those students, he was the one that could
do it.” Daniel says he saved quite a few.
All of us who have flown in their box and have been critiqued by
Daniel would agree with that! We would also say they share the passion,
purpose, camaraderie and joy Montaine looked for when she began to
Back to main Flying Stories page ......................................................Back
to main Flash website