An article on Fat Albert, the plane that opens for the Blue Angels.
Story published in the Bay Weekly April 2010.
Fat Albert Steals the Show
The Blue Angels’ support plane 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-130T, is the Blue Angel’s 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 that it shows off at the start of every Blue Angels show.
Fat Albert’s Tricks
“We give the aircraft as much power as possible,” Eddie says, “get up to about 130 miles per hour, then we’ll pull up at about a 45 degree angle at which point we’ll reach 200 miles per hour. It’s more than six times that 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 clicks up and away, passengers — sitting strapped tight on parallel benches in the back—hold tight to the railings lining the plane’s sides inside.
Gravity kicks in and movements appear in slow motion. People aren’t moving slowly on purpose; instead, their arms feel so heavy that lifting them is a challenge.
At 1200 feet, the aircraft dips steeply back down. The pressure inside the plane drops so suddenly that you go almost instantly from feeling like you weigh twice what you do to weighing nothing at all.
As the plane plummets nose-first towards the ground, everything that’s not strapped down floats.
Unbuckled crew members grab onto a ladder strapped to the floor as their feet float to the ceiling. Objects slowly levitate out of the crew’s pockets and off the seats and floor.
And then, just as quickly, anything that isn’t retrieved from the air crashes to the ground with an 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”—how precise the plane’s navigation is, as he whizzes by at nearly 400 mph, just 60 feet above them: half the length of the wing span.
In the “bubble”— the cockpit—double-decker windows give a 180-degree view of the outside. A hula girl doll wiggles on the dash. From the captain’s seat, Eddie sees 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, then another, its movement is so smooth that in the cockpit, only the horizon reveals the plane’s angle. Then the plane dips as Eddie continues a routine to show the crowd how tightly the big plane can turn.
To end his show, the 110,000-pound Fat Albert will land almost on a dime.
Coming down, once again passengers 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 his fun. Now it’s the Blue Angels turn.