The Mystery Airplane
Sonata TB Epsilon
October 1, 2019
Societe de Construction d’Avions de Tourisme et d’Affaires was established in 1966 as a subsidiary of Sud-Aviation, later Aerospatiale. It has produced general aviation aircraft like the Horizon, Tampico, Tobago, Trinidad, and the TBM 700. In 1978, it began work on a basic trainer for the Armee de l’Air.
Powered by a 300 hp Lycoming O-540 air-cooled flat 6, the Epsilon was designed to provide a stepping stone to the Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jet advanced trainer and light attack aircraft.
The TB 30 prototype flew on 22 December 1979, but poor handling characteristics required its redesign. With adjustments to the tail, wing tips, and an added ventral strake, the prototype was flown again on 31 October 1980.
The first production order was placed in March 1982, with 150 built for France by 1989. The aerobatic TB 30 is capable of 236 mph at sea level with an endurance of over three hours. Maximum take-off weight is 2755 pounds. Export examples were sold to Portugal (16 aircraft), Senegal (2), and Togo (3). The three sent to Togo can be armed with up to 660 pounds of ordnance, including 7.62 mm machine guns, rockets, and light bombs on four underwing pylons.
Phase-out from French service and replacement by the turbo-prop Pilatus PC-21 advanced trainer and the 260 hp Lycoming O-540 powered carbon composite Grob G-120 basic trainer has begun. The TB 30 has since been imported into the United States, selling prices ranging from $175,000 to $215,000. I’ve photographed examples at Oshkosh, like #120 in this month’s photo, and at the Reno air races.
I didn’t fool anyone with this bird, although this month’s winner, Tom Hill, noted that he’d “…never heard of this aircraft before reading about it in the August 2018 issue of AOPA Pilot.” I read that one, too!
Fall is here. Brief well before flying. Blue skies and fair winds.