The Blue Angels are the highlight of pretty much every airshow they fly at. They put on an exhilarating show that is almost impossible not to enjoy.
The part of the show that many people unfortunately overlook is one of my favorite parts. Fat Albert is the workhorse of the show as the transport for the maintainers, as well as the only propeller driven aircraft in the show. I had the opportunity to see Fat Albert back when they still utilized JATO bottles for some incredible takeoffs, and I have been hooked ever since. In case you are wondering what a JATO takeoff is, check this out:
While living in Pensacola, FL, the home of the Blue Angels, I got to see Fat Albert quite often, but there is just something special about seeing him on the road. I had that opportunity again last August while in Seattle during the SeaFair Air Show.
While most of the action took place out over the water, I actually think Fat Albert’s part of the show is better at the airport itself. In this case that would be King County International Airport, better know as Boeing Field. The outdoor static displays of the Museum of Flight is a unique and wonderful place to watch an airshow. Though you will notice a few of those planes peeking into some of my pictures.
A zoom climb takeoff like this is incredibly uncomfortable since you are flying at maybe 10-20 feet with the gear up as fast as you can. Keep in mind, that this is not a little Cessna 172, but a 100,000+ pound cargo plane. That makes for an incredibly exhilarating experience, and some pretty insane takeoff angles for such a large, propeller-driven plane.
If you have ever watched a “normal” C-130 takeoff, it is not very exciting, and it takes a long time to get up and away. While this is nothing compared to the old JATO takeoffs, it is fun to take off at this steep of an angle.
In terms of the air show itself, this picture really sums up most of what a C-130 can do in an air show. It can be fun to see some big banking 60 degree turns and high-speed passes, but the real power and utility of the C-130 can’t really be shown at an airshow, with the exception of the takeoff we already talked about, and maybe even more nerve-wracking, intense landings.
The C-130 was designed to go into austere locations and provide support to forces that otherwise would not receive it. I often explain to friends that all we need is an area free of trees and other tall objects and we could get in there. While that may not be 100% accurate, it really isn’t too far off.
One important aspect of this unique ability is approaching airfields at an incredibly steep angle. We often refer to it as riding the elevator because you watch the altitude just spin off the altimeter. I read an article from a reporter who got to take a ride on Fat Albert and she said that the most scary part was this steep descent into the runway.
While it may make the untrained civilian uncomfortable, it is things like this that get all of us Herc crew members excited about what we do. It feels amazing when the pilot rounds it out and you touch softly down after screaming towards good old terra firma.
Everyone is attracted to the fast and agile planes at an airshow, and for good reason, because they are exciting. However, the older I get the more I appreciate the wonder of some of these unsung heroes at airshows. There may be no greater unsung hero than Fat Albert, but I may be a little biased.