TB 30 Epsilon, Sports Class Warbird

United Fuel Cells


By Stephen Chapis

Once you have raced, once you are hooked, your life will change forever. The clock is now ticking all the time. Twelve months until the next race? Wow, I better get started. How can I go faster? Two months before the race. Am I fast enough to be invited? Did I finish all the testing? Am reliable enough to make it through an intense wide-open week?

In 1978, the French Air Force (Armée de I’Air) was looking to partially replace its Fouga Magister jet trainers in certain segments of its pilot training syllabus and issued a requirement for a new training aircraft. The winning proposal from SOCATA (a subsidiary of Aérospatiale), which has more similarities with the TBM-700 than the company’s family of light aircraft (TB-9 Tampico, TB-10 Tobago, and TB-20 Trinidad), was chosen in February 1979. Powered by a 300-hp Lycoming AEIO-540 flat-six, the SOCATA prototype first took to the sky on December 22, 1979. The flight was successful, but the aircraft exhibited peculiar spin characteristics that were rectified by completely redesigning the tail and re-shaped wingtips. The modified aircraft, designated TB-30 Epsilon flew in October 1980.

Epsilon TB-30 of the French Air Force

The Armée de I’Air placed an initial order for thirty TB-30s in 1981, but further contracts brought the total to 150 aircraft. Deliveries of these aircraft began in 1983, and students began flying the type in September 1984 and went on to train thousands of pilots until it was ultimately retired from service in 2019. Even before the type was retired, Frenchman Jean-Luc Langeard saw its potential as a sport aircraft and warbird, and thanks to his son, Olivier, Olivier’s friends Tony and Dave Cannavo over two dozen Epsilons have been imported to the United States.

 

In October 2023, Vintage Aviation News sat down with Olivier, who works for Dassault in Wilmington, Delaware, to discuss the work that went into bringing Epsilons to the U.S. and how he decided to take the French warbird air racing…in the Sport Class. Stay tuned to VAN for the full interview, but in the meantime, enjoy these photos from the photo flight we flew on October 9, 2023.

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