Marine Maj. Mark Montgomery gets the question a lot and, no, he’d rather fly the much slower C-130 cargo plane dubbed Fat Albert rather than the high-speed F-18 jets flown by the rest of the Blue Angels.
Painted in the same blue-and-yellow paint scheme as the jets, Fat Albert is an integral part of the Blue Angels Navy flight demonstration team. It carries all the unit’s gear and equipment, about 30,000 pounds worth, as well as 40 team members from show to show across the United States.
While the F-18 Hornets perform intricate maneuvers in tight formation, Fat Albert actually starts the Blue Angels show with an 8 1/2-minute routine that includes many of the same maneuvers performed by the twin-detailed jets. Fat Albert begins its routine with what’s called a sneak maneuver — coming from behind the crowd to roar overhead and then peel off at a 60-degree angle.
“This is a really fun job even though we only do it for a short time, ” said Montgomery, who is flying Fat Albert during a three-year tour of the Blue Angels. The F-18 pilots usually only fly for two years.
“It’s an honor to represent everyone in the military,” he said.
The Blue Angels are performing in the Milwaukee Air & Water Show at 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday downtown next to Lake Michigan.
All Blue Angels pilots, both Navy and Marines, started out in the military flying in normal combat situations before being selected for the few coveted spots on the team. When they finish their Blue Angels tours, all return to the fleet and resume their duties flying cargo planes or jets.
Friday afternoon Fat Albert practiced in the skies over downtown Milwaukee and Lake Michigan executing steep dives, turns and rolls that made passengers feel momentarily weightless or pressed them into their seats as they experienced zero to two Gs.
With Montgomery in the left seat as pilot and co-pilot Maj. Mark Hamilton in the right seat, Fat Albert was given the go-ahead by Mitchell International Airport controllers to take off shortly before 3 p.m. As the cargo plane lumbered down the jetway a small Hula Girl figurine affixed to the dash of Fat Albert began excitedly swaying.
During the flight Fat Albert reached the height of 1,400 feet — clouds were at 2,000 feet — and dipped as low as 60 feet out over Lake Michigan.
The maneuvers are the same performed by combat pilots in war zones, said Montgomery, who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Blue Angels Navy flight demonstration team has a support C-130 nicknamed Fat Albert. Media took a short flight on Fat Albert and got to ask questions of the pilots.
Fat Albert was added to the Blue Angels in 1970 and got its nickname because of the popular Bill Cosby cartoon of the same name long before body shaming was frowned upon. Montgomery, a native of Cartersville, Ga., joked that perhaps at some point the plane’s name should be changed to “Big-boned Albert.”
Fat Albert is always flown by Marine pilots, a tradition that harks back to the initial crews that flew the cargo plane in the 1970s. The jets are flown by both Navy and Marine pilots.
Mongtomery said he loves to fly Fat Albert because he has a special affinity for the C-130, the same plane he’s flown for a decade for the Marines in peacetime and war, albeit with a different color paint scheme and over cheering crowds rather than desert landscape.
And even though the F-18 pilots get the bulk of the air show time, Montgomery enjoys piloting Fat Albert.
“I’ve ridden in the back of those and it’s a bit too small,” said Montgomery, acknowledging that his plane is not quite as nimble as the F-18. “They go upside down. We go upside down but probably only once. “