Friday, September 07, 2012

TOP STORY >> Fat Albert: Uplifting flight

Leader staff writer

A C-130 of a different color will be flying in the skies over Jacksonville this weekend during the Little Rock Air Force Base air show.

The Blue Angels will be showing off the maximum performance of Fat Albert, a slightly modified C-130 T-model flown by Marines.

On Friday, I was able to hitch a ride. The cargo hull of Fat Albert looks like most C-130s, except the red mesh cargo net seats are replaced with cushy blue ones.

The Fat Albert crew worked at getting the passengers pumped up for the ride.

The excitement built as the plane’s rear-cargo ramp doors closed as we taxied down the flight line.

We were told the flight would simulate a hostile flying environment. It was 20 tough minutes. We were told in a pre-flight meeting the C-130 would fly low, gaining speed, then pull up hard to a 45-degree climb, until the plane lost speed and wanted to drop from the sky.

Then the pilot would level it out and accelerate. Fat Albert would make several steeply banked turns.

Then the plane would be forced nose down at a 25-degree angle for a landing.

The ride didn’t seem that easy. It felt like the start of a regular C-130 flight with the slow taxiing bounces of the runaway.

The engines roared as we lifted a few feet in the air, then an increasingly crushing force pressed me down as the plane angled upward.

My camera felt like I was lifting a bowling ball as I tried to take a photo against the 2-Gs the planes was pulling.

As the plane leveled out, the passengers tightly buckled in, we watched as the flight crew grabbed hold of a ladder strapped to the floor.

Then it felt like jumping a car over a hill, only better. We went zero gravity for a few seconds.

It’s an unusual sensation to go from feeling like you’re going to be smashed down through the bottom of the plane, then bubble up seeing people floating and feeling weightless, then go into negative G’s with the feeling of being pulled away.

Looking out the window was a blur of brown, green and blue. I didn’t look out too often. I didn’t want to get sick.

Then I started looking at some of the other riders, and they were feeling the same way. We soon began the fast, steep descent until I felt a bump and smelled burning rubber from the tires touching down.

But we all pulled through and no one got sick. It was a ride I soon won’t forget.

The Blue Angels began flying Fat Albert in the 1970s. The plane was affectionately named after the popular Bill Cosby cartoon of the time.

Once a year, Fat Albert makes a stop at the LRAFB rail shop to service the dual-rail system in the cargo area.

Staff Sgt. Casey Brey, a loadmaster on Fat Albert, said this C-130 was built in 1991 and has been used by the Blue Angels since 2001.

The C-130 carries thousands of pounds of cargo and 45 crew members for the Blue Angels each week from mid-March to November, performing at 35 shows and 65 demonstrations.

The crew consists three pilots, two flight engineers, one flight mechanic, one navigator and a loadmaster.

Brey came to LRAFB 10 years ago and trained at the loadmaster school.

Flight mechanic Jim Fullarton said, “I have an awesome time at this job. It is an extraordinary opportunity,”flight mechanic Jim Fullarton said.