Thursday May 5, 2016; 10:20 pm EDT
Hey, Hey, Hey, Get Out of My Way
The Blue Angels’ support plane, Fat Albert, has a few tricks up its wings
-“The current temperature is about 65 degrees with clear skies. The wind is calm,” Captain Edward Jorge, aircraft commander, tells his crew as he starts the pre-flight brief just minutes before his plane, Fat Albert, starts the Blue Angels’ show.
The six-man crew hangs on to Eddie’s every word, digesting the information, with stone-cold focused faces and the occasional nod.
Wind speeds, coordinates and the course are detailed too rapidly for a civilian to catch, but speed puts Eddie and his crew in their element.
Fat Albert, a C-130 Transport, is the Blue Angels’ support plane. It carries crew, maintenance personnel and equipment for the shows. Not completely behind the scenes, Fat Albert has a few tricks up its wings, tricks shown off at the start of every Blue Angels’ show.
Fat Albert’s Tricks
“We give the aircraft as much power as possible, get up to about 130 miles per hour, then we’ll pull up at about a 45-degree angle at which point we reach 200 miles per hour,” Eddie says. “It’s more than six times the impact of a commercial flight, and it’s going to happen just like that.”
Eddie snaps his fingers.
The engines blare. As the plane lifts and the landing gear click up and away, passengers — sitting strapped tight on parallel benches in the back — hold tight to railings lining the plane’s sides.
Gravity kicks in and movements appear in slow motion. But people aren’t moving slowly on purpose; instead, their arms feel so heavy that lifting them is a challenge.
At 200 feet, the aircraft dips steeply back down, almost like a nose dive, and almost instantly the pressure inside the plane drops so that you go from feeling like you weigh twice what you do to weighing nothing at all.
At that moment, as the plane plummets toward the ground at a 45-degree angle, everything not strapped down floats.
Unbuckled crew grab onto a ladder strapped to the floor as their feet float to the ceiling. Objects slowly gravitate out of unclosed pockets and off the seats and floor.
An instant later, anything in midair crashes to the ground with the unstoppable force that makes everything feel twice its weight again. Fat Albert is going back up.
In a series of twists and turns, Captain Eddie shows spectators — referred to as “crowd right” and “crowd left” — just how precise the plane’s navigation is, as he whizzes by at nearly 400mph, just 30 feet above them: half the length of the wing span.
In the “bubble” — the cockpit and the space around it — double-decker windows give a 180-degree outside view. A hula girl wiggles on the dash. From the captain’s seat, Eddie see waves of color made up by people and tents, then blue sky, then people and tents, then blue sky. Peripheral vision is limited.
As Fat Albert turns on one side and then another, its movement is so smooth that in the cockpit, only the horizon reveals the plane’s angle. Then it dips, as Eddie continues a routine to exhibit what tight turns the big plane can make.
To end its show, the 55-ton Fat Albert will land almost on a dime.
Coming down, passengers again hold tight as their legs and feet float skyward. Landing gear clicks out with a thud, and Fat Albert rolls to a stop within 1,000 feet of touching down, a feat no comparably sized commercial airliner can match.
Fat Albert has had its fun. Now it’s the Blue Angels’ turn.
The Blue Angels fly over Annapolis for practice Tuesday, May 25, and for U.S. Naval Academy Commissioning Wednesday, May 26. See 8 Days a Week for times.