Indy 2011: Friday – Part 2 – A Ride on Fat Albert Airlines

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The Blue Angels are back again at the Indy Airshow. And that means that the ubiquitous blue and gold C-130, Fat Albert, is on the field supporting the Blues and thrilling spectators. And fanboys like me.
Fat Albert is operated by an all-Marine aircrew. I had the opportunity once again to ride on Fat Albert. The first time (2009) was great. But I learned a few things that allowed me to prepare much better for this ride.
For one thing, I showed up with five cameras. Four were small clampable models (two GoPro HD HEROes and two ContourHDs) and the fifth was the trusty Panasonic for handheld use. I checked in with GySgt Ben Chapman when we arrived at the aircraft staging area and he was kind enough to point out some good mount points. Two in the cockpit and two in the back.
The best footage is from the cockpit camera, a frame grab from which appears at the beginning of this post. There’s a fair amount of vibration, but what mount in a C-130 doesn’t vibrate when you’re yanking and banking as much as this one did during the demo? Have you ever wondered what it looks like in the cockpit during the demo? Yep, that’s GySgt Chapman floating at the top of the climb-out as Capt Edward Jorge pushes the yoke full forward after a 45-degree initial ascent.

I sat further aft than last time and I’m glad I did. The guys in the back do this all the time and are pretty good at knowing the flight profile and when they’re going to be at zero-G. And taking advantage of it. The shot above is not photoshopped. It’s the real deal. I got it from my seat with the hand-held. He has a good grip on the ladder and the ladder is firmly secured to the cargo deck. But it’s still pretty dramatic-looking.

The main camera for the rear compartment was up on the front bulkhead looking back. It’s rock-solid and doesn’t vibrate. I’ll pull some frame grabs from that one and post them soon.

And, because all of the cameras ran the entire time, I’m going to synch them up so that the video episode is able to cut among the camera angles to giver you a pretty good idea of what it’s like to be among the pax on Fat Albert Airlines.
Thanks much to the crew of Fat Albert and to the Blue Angels! Watch for the video episode coming soon!

Video Episode – JATO Ride in Fat Albert

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I was fortunate enough to get one of the last Jet-Assisted Take-Off (“JATO”) rides in the Blue Angels’ Marine-flown C-130, Fat Albert. The JATO bottles are getting more and more scarce and it’s unlikely that there will be many more rides like this.

Really interesting ride, mostly because of the lack of outside references. I’m used to unusual attitudes, but it’s a little off to experience them when your only outside reference is an 18” window on the far side of the aircraft.

I mounted the camera just above and behind my head. You can see my WTHR ballcap in the lower right-hand corner of the frame. Query the wisdom of clamping the camera to the airframe of a JATO-boosted C-130. The jitter and vibration is really pronounced in several places. But it stabilized whenever the aircraft got to less than about 0.5G. And those were the best sequences anyway.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The media hospitality at the Indianapolis Airshow was spectacular. I remain indebted to Roger Bishop for the up-close opportunities as the show.

Frame Grabs from the JATO Ride in the Blue Angels’ C-130, Fat Albert

This is a regular blog post. If you’re looking for show notes or links to show audio (and there’s lots of that here!), please check the other posts.

The highlight of the day was a jet-assisted takeoff (JATO) ride on the Blue Angels’ C-130, known as Fat Albert.

I shot video of the flight, as well as the briefing before and some of the interior of the aircraft.

The in-flight video is a little blurry. I clamped the camera to the rail just above my seat and pointed it at the guys on the other side of the aircraft. I wish I had thought to clamp it over on the other side to get footage of myself, but I didn’t think about it until everyone was buckled in. Notwithstanding that, the folks on the other side were just fine as subjects.
The rail vibrated pretty badly throughout (and thus did the camera vibrate), so much of the video isn’t usable. But the zero-gee parts came out fine. This frame grab is from the top of the initial JATO climb, at which the pilot pushes the aircraft nose over and floats the occupants.

At the conclusion of the flight, they bring Fat Albert to a pretty abrupt stop and open the rear cargo door simultaneously. Everybody gets tossed forward, but not as hard as you’d expect. And, when you look out the back door, you see just how little runway they used to get her down and stopped. We’re talking a couple of thousand feet here.

The entire experience lasts only 12 minutes. It seems much longer. Among the new sensations on this flight are aerobatics with only limited outside references. There’s an approx. 18” window on the opposite side of the aircraft and you can sometimes see outside references (and sometimes not). When you can see the ground, it’s very close and it’s moving at around 350 knots.

I have audio, video, and stills that I’ll be turning into a full episode soon. Just wanted to get some of this material up so that you could see it right away.

Many thanks to the Indianapolis Air Show and to Fat Albert Airlines for this spectacular ride!