The Blue Angels' iconic C-130 transport, better known as Fat Albert, has been in the news a lot lately following the loss of Blue Angel #6, Captain Jeff Kuss. The blue, gold, and white Hercules even flew Kuss’s body over the team’s home town of Pensacola, Florida, with Blue Angel #5 off its wing following the tragic crash in Tennessee.
Fat Albert has never been shy when it comes to performing for the public; it flies its own demo at every Blue Angels show site, and it's very impressive. Part of that display includes a takeoff and a low, high-speed transition followed by a triumphant climb. The video below provides an awesome perspective on what this looks like head-on:
Before the low transition and steep climb was introduced as the primary opening maneuver for Fat Albert’s demonstration, a Jet Assisted Take-Off (JATO, also known as RATO for Rocket) departure was performed. This was a favorite for spectators, especially during evening shows, as it was a fireworks display unto itself.
Each of the eight JATO bottles put out about 1,000 pounds of thrust on ignition, allowing Fat Albert to takeoff in a laughably small amount of distance, and reaching a 45-degree angle of ascent as it clawed its way skyward.
Stockpiles of JATO bottles were running low in the 2000s, and by 2010 the Blue Angels had to retire this exciting portion of their act as the bottles were no longer in production. Israel still retains JATO capabilities for its C-130s, and bottles could have potentially been bought from them for Fat Albert’s act, but the cost was deemed prohibitive. JATO is also still used today for C-130 operations in the snowy and icy polar regions.
The more nimble KC-130J that the Marines fly today is supposedly capable of nearly the same climbing display as the legacy Hercules with JATO bottles attached. If the Blue Angels get equipped with one of these newer and much improved “Herky Birds,” Fat Albert would be able to show off this increased performance in a particularly awesome fashion.
Even without JATO, Fat Albert puts on a hell of a show, and part of that show is for the guests riding inside while the demonstration is underway, who get to experience some pretty sweet zero-g floating time when the pilot pushes the nose over:
Fat Albert's flying display is so dynamic that even getting the big Hercules back on the ground following the nose-dive Khe Sanh approach can be a challenge, as seen in this video:
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