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Airborne acrobats - wing to wing


Daniel Heligoin and Montaine Mallet are a couple who dance closer than most others would dare. They go wingtip to wingtip in the air, in his and her stunt aircraft, while loudspeakers blare a waltz from the ground.

As crowds at the Upper Chesapeake Air Show watched yesterday from the Martin State Airport, the couple flew in tandem, climbing and diving with their wings almost touching. When they parted, each did mirror image loop-the-loops, then came out of their respective circles flying low and straight at each other.

They missed each other by their standard distance -- a few feet.

"It's like a ballet," Mallet said afterward, as autograph seekers picked her out in the crowd by her white flying suit. "We're still working on it," she said. "Like a dancer, you don't ask how long it took to get there. He's always getting there."

Mallet, 43, and Heligoin, 59, have been working at it for 20 years. Both are French. Their act, "The French Connection," was one of several at the air show sponsored yesterday and Saturday by the Essex-Middle River Chamber of Commerce.

Mallet and Heligoin met while working at a French aviation company, he as a chief pilot, she as an engineer. They now live in Dutchess County, N.Y., where they run an aerobatics training school.

In their cars, Mallet admitted, "we have close calls on the highway all the time." But what goes on in the air is a private matter. Mallet bridled when asked whether she and her husband ever had any harrowing, unchoreographed experiences in their CAP 10B airplanes.

"Nobody likes to talk about their mistakes," she snapped, but added reassuringly that the stunts weren't dangerous, not for them. "We're not crazy. We're here to entertain you," she said. "We don't take risks."

But accidents do happen. One of yesterday's demonstrations was a "missing man" flight formation in tribute to Jack Poage, a pilot from Westminster who was killed in last year's air show. His single engine biplane slammed into a grassy field near the main runway when he was unable to pull out of a spinning dive stunt.

Ed Ziegenfuss, the executive director of the Essex-Middle River Chamber of Commerce, said the intent was to remember Poage, but without putting a damper on this year's show.

"We knew Jack well," he said, "and it was appropriate not to say too much about it."

While the air was split by decorative smoke trails and buzzing engines, at ground level an aircraft showcase was featured. Outside a hangar, an aircraft preservationist group demonstrated a World War II-vintage bomber turret, mounted on a truck. A gunfire simulator set the pair of .50-caliber machine guns rattling from their plastic bubble, which is normally mounted as defensive armament from the deck of bombers. Each could fire 400 rounds a minute.

Across the tarmac was a Persian Gulf War-vintage A-10 attack bomber with a nose cannon that can fire 4,200 rounds per minute.

The exhibits and the roar overhead were part of the Chamber of Commerce promotion of its waterfront communities in eastern Baltimore County. The chamber said it contributes profits from the show back to the Essex and Middle River communities, to agencies such as the local Salvation Army, the Civil Air Patrol and Essex Community College.

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