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Flying with Fat Albert, the Blue Angels’ support aircraft, as it gets its time in the spotlight

The huge blue and yellow aircraft is nicknamed “Fat Albert.”
In official military parlance, it’s a Lockheed Martin C-130T Hercules. The Marine Corps plane hauls the maintenance and support equipment for the Navy’s Blue Angels demonstration team.
But Fat Albert also gets to dance in the air and share the fun during air shows like this weekend’s Sea and Sky Spectacular. And sometimes locals get to share the fun inside its 52-foot-long cargo bay.
The C-130 is a tactical airlift aircraft with a huge

rear hatch, designed to handle up to 45,000 pounds of cargo and people. Powered by four Allison turboprops, the 97-foot-long aircraft has a cruising speed of 374 mph. Its usual crew of five includes a pilot, co-pilot, navigator, flight engineer and loadmaster.
This was Maj. Mark Hamilton’s first year piloting “Bert,” but he’s a 15-year veteran with 12 years of C-130s under his belt.
“It never gets old,” he said.
“Fat Albert Airlines” offered luxurious accommodations — blue cloth seats lining the port and starboard sides of the cargo hold and a folding ladder in the middle that everyone wondered about. The passengers also wondered about two other things — going weightless and losing their lunch.
Gunnery Sgt. Micah Bachtold, Fat Albert’s flight engineer, warned that full-throttle climbs mean everyone will pull 2 gees and weigh twice as much. A power dive means weightless. Do that a few times and the motion sickness bags everybody got could come in handy, he said.
“When we experience those negative gees, what’s in the bag will come out and I know my Mom taught me to share, and I guarantee your Mom’s did too,” Bechtal said. “But I speak for everybody here – you can keep that to yourself. If you find you are the only one who gets sick on today’s flight, show it to your neighbor. Make sure they get a good whiff. You won’t be the only one getting off embarrassed.”
Fat Albert launched at 3:35 p.m., rolling down the runway at Mayport Naval Station, then it was a 45-degree roar skyward and out over Jacksonville Beach for the show. Within minutes the cargo plane was climbing hard and fast before diving as crew members, including Petty Officer and Sandalwood High School graduate Kyetta Penn, hung onto that ladder and went weightless as everybody cheered.
Up front, Hamilton kept everything under control.
“I strap myself down pretty hard,” Hamilton joked. “If I were to go airborne I wouldn’t be able to keep positive control on the yoke and the airplane wouldn’t do what I wanted it to do.”
That wasn’t all he had in store. The 83,000-pound aircraft danced around in the sky as it banked almost vertical numerous times before making a screaming pass over the beach.
“The low fly-by is a flat pass. It was 370 mph,” Hamilton said. “That is the fastest Lockheed-Martin allows me to fly this plane.”
The huge aircraft tipped over on one wingtip or the other in a number of turns that put the Atlantic Ocean very visible out the portholes. Then another stomach-wrenching power dive as the plane headed back after 20 minutes, reversing the propellers after landing to come to a quick stop that generated more cheers.
Saturday and Sunday’s Sea and Sky Spectacular moves out over Jacksonville Beach from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days. Fat Albert’s flight demonstration starts at 3:30 p.m., followed by the precision flying of the Blue Angels.

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