Tuesday, November 1, 2005
Crossing The Atlantic In A Single
Socata’s TBM 700C2 tops the glaciers on its way to sunny Florida
|High and wide, we cruise above the forbidding white ice cap of Greenland at 28,000 feet and 300 knots groundspeed. I half expect a flight attendant to bring me a glass of pinot grigio and a plate of Camembert cheese. Except there’s no flight attendant. Drat! Next to me, über ferry pilot Margrit Waltz checks the instruments, nods to herself in satisfaction, pops one of her favorite German salty licorices into her mouth and regales me with another tale from her storied career delivering aircraft all over the world.|
The TBM flies the way it looks: fast, easy and tight, with excellent performance. Was it only yesterday we took off from the Socata factory at Tarbes Airport in France?
Tarbes is near Lourdes, the quintessentially charming French city that welcomes five million visitors every year. Most are on a Christian pilgrimage to the little grotto where Bernadette saw the Virgin Mary.
Just before getting our clearance, Socata CEO Stéphane Mayer had shared his own brand of faith with me. Brought on board from the Concorde program, Mayer helped turn Socata into a leaner, more profitable company. “I love to fly, and I trust this aircraft very much,” says Mayer.
Those words aren’t hollow public relations: He recently made his own TBM ocean crossing with the company’s chief pilot. Destination: EAA AirVenture at Oshkosh, Wis.
Mayer says, “Going there was my own pilgrimage, like Lourdes. It rekindles your faith in what you love.”
Part and parcel of the TBM’s phenomenal success (more than 170 delivered to America) is the company’s relentless attention not only to performance, structural integrity and aesthetics, but also to “flyability.”
“We embrace the spirit of our roots, from the Morane-Saulnier days, as exemplified by Roland Garros,” says director of communications and marketing Philippe de Segovia. Garros was the legendary WWI fighter pilot who “helped develop more pilot-friendly airplanes in that era,” according to de Segovia, who wrote his own excellent history of the company.
“We have carried that tradition forward to the TBM, which we have refined for 10 years,” comments de Segovia. “One example: The TBM does not require stall strips to mollify less savory handling characteristics.
“Pilots shouldn’t have to fly by the book so much either. We put our designs through a rigorous test program to make sure that they’re easily flyable by the average pilot. We insist on a more enjoyable, hands-on type of aircraft.”
And if there is anyone who knows plenty about that, it’s Waltz. In the beginning of her career, she lived for the sheer joy of flight. “I took absolutely every ferry job I could get my hands on in my 20s. I didn’t have fear. I felt it would always work out somehow.”
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