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Class Tango In Paris - Posted on on Wednesday, August 09, 03:21 GMT
Aviation Events
The combination of a pair of Robinson R22’s, a splash of original music and choreographed manoeuvres, results in the airborne delight which is ‘Tango Bleu’. Every weekend between June and September, the team will be performing at one event or another around France. Stuart McAlister joined them on their outward trip and rehearsal for this season's first display at La Ferté Alais (LFFQ).

Tango Bleu first spun onto the public stage in 2002, an idea of full-time architect and part-time pilot, Thierry Basset. Along with team-mate Sakuna Koy Kok, a pharmacist by day, they have since built up quite a following in their home country, France. Over the coming season, the pair have been booked to perform at 18 events, countrywide. Basset has been, and still is, the French National Helicopter Team coach and leader - a post he has held since 2001. Last year France were awarded second place at the World Helicopter Championships at Rouen. Fanatically dedicated to both his National team and that of Tango Bleu, Basset bears his responsibilities with Gaullist pride. His long-term dance partner, Sakuna Koy Kok, has twice held the position of French helicopter Champion.

Suited and booted, fuelled and cleared, the R22 patrouille lifts from it's base at St Cyr l’Ecole (LFPZ) for the short 30 minute flight to La Ferté. A fine mid-morning for flying under a clear blue sky. Waiting for us at the other end is choreographer Claire Van Vlamertyngue and music composer Denis Verdier.

Within minutes of touching down at La Ferté, Thierry and Koy begin their ritual of walking through the 10 minute display. With a critical eye, Claire watches the two pilots as the run-through is conducted in virtual silence. The boys in blue begin side-by-side then Thierry steps to the left and Koy to the right. A gentle left-hand three-quarter spin and six paces forward. Thierry, his arms stretched outwards, swoops down and Koy follows up from behind. Drawing level, they stop in unison and turn to a 90-degree opposing position. Claire calls a halt to the ‘display’ to give a few words of critique: machine attitude, an extra beat here, an slight pause there. The two pilots nod in agreement and continue on to the next sequence.

With time restrains on every participant, an aerial rehearsal is like gold dust. Immediately after the walk-through, it’s time to mount up, start up and get up. “There are a number of things to take into consideration when flying to music” begins Thierry Basset, “timing, precision and spacing. It's tricky and there's no room for error”. The R22s cross their starting position as the music begins and, as one, they lift gracefully into the air. A lilting guitar with echoes of plucked violin strings accompany the two machines as they criss-cross and pirouette around the sky. "The size of the R22 prevents us from working on a major scale, they'd be lost in the sky" says dance guru Claire, "but it is because they're so small with superb manoeuvrability, we can deliver a finely tuned, close-quarter routine". And close it certainly is, sometimes a mere rotor length apart. Tango Bleu are the only airborne helicopter display at La Ferté this year and their balletic programme makes for a refreshing break from the constant left-right-left of thundering warbirds. Denis Verdier's soundtrack is sufficiently amplified to drown out the buzz of the Lycoming engines and after some delicate spins, dips and tilts, the R22s take their final bow. The music fades, a flash of landing lights and the pair exit the display area, crabbing to the right. A blade revolution later and the relative calm is broken by the growl of a Mustang P-51 at full throttle.

Naturally, the proof of the pudding rests with the general public. But this, being France with its in-bred appreciation of performance art, should guarantee Tango Bleu the chance to trip the light fantastic for some time to come.

Story by Stuart McAlister
- http://www.stuart-mcalister.com/

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