Flying Fat Albert

Blue Angels pilots show off maneuverability of C-130T.

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Jon Whittle

My flight in Fat Albert at the recent Sun ‘n Fun Fly-In ranks up there as one of the most bizarre flying experiences I’ve had in my more than decade long aviation career. Strapped to a couch in the cockpit of a highly modified C-130 next to another aviation journalist, I watched crewmembers become airborne in the cockpit as the pilots maneuvered the heavy airplane in steep banks and mind-blowing pitch attitudes.

Since 1970, Fat Albert has been a part of the Blue Angels air show team, flying more than 140,000 miles each season. Powered by four Allison turboprop engines, producing more than 16,000 shaft-horsepower, Fat Albert cruises at more than 320 knots at 27,000 feet.

But it’s not cruise speed that makes Fat Albert famous. It’s the maneuvers its crewmembers perform. Ok, they’re not quite in line with what their fellow F-18 drivers do. But considering they’re flying an airplane weighing more than 100,000 pounds (max takeoff weight of Fat Albert is 155,000 pounds), the performance of the flight team is very impressive.

Before we jumped into the airplane, Captain Edward Jorge first briefed the entire 10 to 15-minute flight with his crewmembers in detail in no more than 30 seconds. It was both impressive and quite humorous, and I think if Captain Jorge were a rapper he would give Eminem a run for his money.

Captain Jorge then briefed us passengers. The only thing I recall from the briefing was that there would be two zero G maneuvers during the flight. The rest of the brief was drowned out by an F-22 Raptor doing its thing above the Lakeland Linder Airport.

So I was a little apprehensive when I was issued an airsickness bag while being strapped into the couch seat in the rear of the cockpit. But having survived lomcevaks without throwing up, I figured I would be just fine.

Startup instructions were shouted out in military fashion by the middle seat crewmember, Gunnery Sgt. Ben Chapman. To me, the instructions sounded like a drum roll - some very quick commands and responses, others drawn out for seconds – and I was glad there was a volume control for my headsets because the communications were loud.

Lined up for takeoff, the engines were spooled up, and despite the airplane’s heavy weight, I was pushed back in my seat as the great big Allisons pulled us forward down the runway. Then came the pull. The airplane pitched up 45 degrees and soon after, the call came: “push over, push over, push over.” Almost immediately, the two non-flying crewmembers floated around the cockpit as we all experienced negative Gs for several seconds.

Everyone hung on as the airplane banked at 60 degrees to line up with the air show grounds. From the right seat, Captain Ben Blanton shouted out headings and reference points as the crew set up the maneuvers. We did a series of low passes over the show grounds and several 60-degree banks in between to return to the field.

Finally, it was time for the landing. Staying at 1,200 feet AGL, the captain slowed the airplane to near stall speed, then pitched the nose down 25 degrees toward the approach end of the runway. Unfortunately the landing was most likely out of sight for most of the airshow spectators, but I witnessed how the heavy airplane was stopped very short - about 1,000 feet according to Captain Jorge.

The brakes were still smoking as I exited the large forward door of the airplane, but I was all smiles. And during our post flight chat with the crew, their Blue Angels brothers flying F/A-18 Hornets put on their show, right above our heads.

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