Local Airmen and Sailors stationed across the Gulf Coast had the opportunity to experience a thrilling ride Friday leading up to the Pensacola Beach airshow when they flew with the Blue Angels on their Fat Albert C-130 aircraft.
The C-130T Hercules aircraft, affectionately known as “Fat Albert”, or “Bert” for short, is part of the legendary flight demonstration team that is made up of a crew of all U.S. Navy and Marines with three officers and five enlisted aircrew.
Though it may not get the attention of the supersonic jets that fly beside her, Fat Albert is far more than a cargo plane. The 25-year-old C-130 is the Blue Angels’ workhorse, flying more than 100,000 miles each season at more than 30 airshows.
During the pre-flight and safety brief at Naval Air Station Pensacola passengers were advised to secure all loose items, keep their seatbelts tight and not to take them off for the duration of the flight.
Every passenger is issued a “barf bag” prior to the flight and it is made clear that there would be no shame for those who felt the need to make use of it. This serves as an early indication of what Fat Albert riders are in for on this “dynamic” ride, as the Navy calls it. Since most would not be familiar with the feelings of motion sickness that comes with the aggressive pitches and turns of the aircraft they are often caught off guard by how quickly they go from feeling fine to feeling very “green.”
Passengers were briefed that some of the aircraft maneuvers would be quite aggressive. They are the same maneuvers that are taught to every C-130 pilot when learning how to maneuver a large aircraft out of harm’s way with no time to spare, or flying low to the deck to evade enemy radar.
“For those of you who have ridden on a C-130 before, this is going to be unlike any C-130 you have ever been on. It’s a pretty dynamic ride” states Gunnery Sgt. Micah Bachtold, flight engineer for the U.S. Navy Blue Angels.
The limits of the aircraft are heavily tested as it’s first pushed to max speed and then, just as quickly, pulled back to a near stall speed going from 60 degree banks first from the left and then to the right, all of this designed to demonstrate the training that goes into practice for all combat pilots to evade enemy small arms fire or to get an aircraft quickly out of the danger zone when the need arises.
“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand….rollin’!” comes across the radio in a very fast-speaking animated voice as the plane banks hard right in preparation for a parade pass only 60 feet above ground at 320 knots before the roaring crowd on the beach below.
Passengers experience a wild ride of first positive and then negative G-forces. Going from 2 G’s then to weightlessness makes for a comical show of acrobatics by the Fat Albert crew as they scramble to grab hold of an aircraft ladder secured to the floor. Just as the plane makes a sudden steep descent, dropping down into a wild roller coaster ride the highly-trained crew members turn upside-down with zero gravity as they cling to the ladder. One crew member does a complete backwards flip over a secured box while passengers cheer loudly.
Just when most had seemingly reached their breaking point of whether or not to go for the barf bag, and some who had already made use of theirs, Gunnery Sgt. Michael Garcia, flight mechanic, yells over the noise of the aircraft, “All we have to do is land now, that’s it…you guys ready?” In preparation for a “dive for the deck” maneuver demonstrating a combat landing, the plane slowed to just over 100 mph, pushing over 25 degrees nose down and descended in what felt to be a downward dive from 1000 feet. With what seemed to be only feet to spare above the ground the plane leveled and touched down seemingly effortlessly and stopped abruptly using only an impressively short stretch of the runway.
From the flight deck came the announcement, “Thank you for flying Fat Albert Airlines.”
In a final brief after the flight, Capt. Katie Higgins, pilot of the 25-year-old C-130, made it a point to thank all the passengers for their military service. She humbly emphasized how it was by far not all about them, referring to the huge amount of publicity that they receive from their assignment as the Blue Angels Demonstration Team.
“We get a lot of thank you’s,” the team said. “I want to take those thank you’s and pass them back to you all.”
Photos of Fat Albert and her crew: