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Fat Albert’s Crew
Maj Russ Campbell
Maj Drew Hess
Capt Brendan Burks
GySgt Jamie Holdaway
GySgt Donny Pharr
GySgt Mike Wason
SSgt Adam Church
SSgt Tommy Zurek

Crew Briefing — Maj Campbell (right) with
SSgt Zurek (left) and Capt Burks (center)


Fat Albert on tarmac at LRAFB


In the cockpit; Maj Campbell is left;
GySgt Pharr is right


Making a 60 degree bank for the left turn


Steep descent to landing

Flying on Fat Albert Airlines

If you think the only Blue Angels that can fly a plane to the extreme are the ones who fly the supersonic F/A-18 Hornets, think again! There is another Blue Angels crew which is just as precise and just as talented. Even though they fly a plane which is larger and slower, they put it through a demonstration that is eye-popping and crowd-pleasing. That plane is a blue and gold Lockheed-Martin C-130T Hercules, affectionately known as Fat Albert Airlines. And it was a thrill to fly with them October 17 when they were at Little Rock Air Force Base.

Flown by an all-Marine Corps crew, Fat Albert carries the Blue Angels' support team to each location where the jet jocks perform. But when they arrive at the air show, Fat Albert performs, too. And what a performance it is! Designed to show the short field and low altitude capabilities of the C-130, the crew puts the plane through its paces.

Bringing the four turboprop engines to full power, the brakes are released and the plane rolls down the runway. When 130 knots is reached, the C-130 lifts off, JATO rockets are fired, and Fat Albert climbs at a 45-degree angle to 1,000 feet. Nosing over, you get a brief sense of weightlessness. Yes, you're buckled in, but they said not to make it too tight so you can get a little bit of the feeling of floating.

Fat Albert is then put through a series of tight turns, 60-degree banks, quick accents and descents — all at low altitude and all over the air base so the crowd can see every move. At one point I started to lift my camera for another photo, and right at that moment Maj Russ Campbell, Fat Albert's pilot, pulled the nose up. There was a 2g force and the camera (and my arm) felt a little bit heavier.

Sitting in the jump seat with headphones on, I could hear all the communications and watch the crew as they choreographed every move and turn. There was constant chatter among the crew. Every member knew what to do, and they knew what the other members were doing. As Maj Campbell made a sharp turn to the right, Capt Brendan Burks, flying right seat, kept an eye out for low-level obstructions and called them out. When making dramatic changes in manuvers, Burks called out altitude and airspeed.

A low-level pass was made over the runway, and then we were up for a couple more turns in the 12-minute performance. As we came in at an altitude of 1,200 feet to land, Maj Campbell dropped the nose down to a 25-degree angle and pulled it back as we hit 200 feet altitude. He set the plane down, applied the brakes, and did a full reverse on the props to demonstrate its short-field landing capabilities. He then backed the plane up prior to our returning to the ramp and deplaning.

GySgt Donny Pharr was our engineer for the flight and SSgt Tommy Zurek was our navigator. In the cargo area of the plane a number of personnel from LRAFB flew in jump seats. With a loadmaster and other support crew with them, these people had a different perspective on the flight from mine. All the Blue Angels’ crew worked together to give us a unique and memorable experience.

The men and women of the Blue Angels are a credit to our military and our nation. When we look at them, we see a few planes and a few personnel out front. But there is a tremendous support crew which remains unseen. And to all of them, with a grateful heart, we say “Thank you!”

Information about Fat Albert Airlines

• Flown by an all-Marine Corps crew of three officers and five enlisted personnel
• Cruises at a speed of 320 knots (about 360 mph)
• Altitude 27,000 feet
• Four Allison 16,000 hp turboprop engines
• Can land and depart on runways as short as 2,500 feet
• With jet-assisted takeoff (JATO) rockets, can takeoff within 1,500 feet, climb at a 45-degree angle, and achieve an altitude of 1,000 feet within 15 seconds.

For more information about Fat Albert Airlines and her crew,
and all the Blue Angels,
go to the Blue Angels website.


After landing, the crew took time for photos

Copyright / SBM Advertising • Kenneth Mills / 2008
Jeremiah 17.7