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Flying Fat Albert: Weightless over Point Mugu on the Blue Angels’ C-130

POINT MUGU, Calif. – They call it Fat Albert Airlines, and this big plane does zero gravity.
At the Point Mugu Air Show over the weekend, an estimated 165,000 spectators watched the seemingly ungainly C-130 Hercules transport craft, part of the Blue Angels team, show off its moves.

On Friday, I got to experience that ride in the cockpit. That’s when the air show was performed for military personnel at Naval Base Ventura County, along with local law enforcement and first responders.
Also on board Friday were about 30 local sailors.

They endured the eight-and-a-half minute flight in the cargo area.

Before the flight, we got to tour Fat Albert. The Marine Corps plane, with an all-Marine crew, provides maintenance and support for the Navy’s Blue Angels demonstration team. It also does its own demos at air shows.
An escape hatch on top provided a great photo op.

 The hatch provided a view of the Rolls-Royce turbo-prop engines and the airfield beyond.

At least twice, I heard sailors singing “Danger Zone,” the hit song heard in the 1986 movie “Top Gun.”
But when a “Danger Zone” joke was made during one of several pre-flight briefings, a crew member said the song now reminds him of the cartoon “Archer,” which spoofed the film with an animated montage that ends on a coin-operated jet like the low-tech rides outside grocery stores.

Fat Albert’s eight crew members include three pilots who rotate flying duties. On Friday, Maj. Mark Hamilton was pilot.

 Inside the cockpit, I sat in back next to another media representative, Matt Hartman of Shorealone Films. Hartman wore a 360fly camera that captured footage of our weightless moments (video for Chrome users).
He also continued shooting a still camera even after our 45-degree climb and ensuing drop that had us enduring about 2 G’s followed by zero gravity, then negative gravity, right after takeoff.

Five crew members were in the cockpit. Capt. Katie Higgins, the Blue Angels’ first female pilot, stood up the whole time — and made it look easy.

Higgins flew Fat Albert during Sunday’s air show, said base spokesman Vance Vasquez.
Part of our pre-flight briefing included use of barf bags provided in brown envelopes. “Don’t throw up in the envelopes,” we were told. On the way in, my media liaison told us he hadn’t yet had reporters go on Fat Albert without throwing up.
While Matt and I both made it off the plane before using the bags, neither of us broke that streak.

Contributed photo/Naval Base Ventura County

During the flight, I heard the sailors in back screaming and oohing. I don’t know how they fared, but a recent Washington Post piece on Higgins referred to “watching veteran troops who swaggered onto her C-130 cargo plane lose it in their barf bags, one after another.”
After the flight, I asked Hamilton, our pilot, about the noise from the cargo area. He laughed.

“Hearing them in the back getting all excited makes me excited up front,” he said. “It gets the entire crew pumped up and we fly better.”
At the tail end of our ride, Sgt. Chris Villalobos climbed above my seat to fly the flag through the escape hatch.

 After the flight, we got pictures taken with the crew.

A ride with the Blue Angels is a once-in-a-lifetime event – literally, because you only get the honor one time. My memories of Fat Albert’s thrills were branded with a soundtrack.
Before we took off, Higgins used her phone to play Rick Astley’s 1987 hit “Never Gonna Give You Up” over the communication system.

The Blue Angels – and Fat Albert — will perform twice more in California, at the Miramar Air Show on Oct. 3-4 and San Francisco Fleet Week Oct. 10-11.

See highlights of a recent Fat Albert flight.
Photos by Gretchen Wenner/The Star.

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