Published in the December 1975 issue of Naval Aviation News
Photographer: Harry Gann (Photo 1), Naval Aviation News Photo 2)
Author Unknown

The Blues wouldn't be the same without him. Fat Albert is as important to the U.S. Navy's Flight Demonstration Squadron as the Skyhawks, which perform aerial dramatics at air shows across the country. Although Fat Albert is a big bird, he shows a low profile. While eyes gaze skyward at the A-4Fs in a left echelon roll or the line abreast loop, he usually sits in the background.

And were he human, he'd probably smile. That's because Fat Albert is one of the reasons the Blue Angels have never lost an air show sortie due to maintenance problems. There's a lot of satisfaction in being a part of this achievement.

Fat Albert, of course, is the handsome blue, gold and white KC-130F Hercules which carries the men and equipment needed to get the Blue Angels into the air. The enlisted troops in the squadron came up with the name from the cartoon character. The all-Marine crew, which flies the Hercules is a volunteer group and, to a man, like the duty. 

Captains Ron Fleming and Steve Petit are the pilots. Crew members are GySgt. Henry Morton, MSgt. Pete Christakos, Sgt. Jimmy Williams, Sgt. Ray Oaks and SSgt. Mike Rhoades. They log about 600 hours a year, fly through all kinds of good and bad weather and quite often face the challenge of landing on and launching from a small airstrip with heavy loads on board. 

Fat Albert and company, plus the Navy maintenance personnel who work on the Skyhawks, werve as a sort of mobile aircraft intermediate maintenance department. As Capt. Fleming puts it, "We're available for immediate support wherever the Blue Angels go." 

An integral part of the flight demonstration squadron, the Hercules crewmen attend all meeting and briefings as appropriate. On the road, they communicate with the public and host the thousands who want to get a close look at Fat Albert. 

Timing and coordination are bywords in any discussion of the Blue Angels. And Fat Albert is capable of keeping up with the A-4s. The Hercules usually cruises between 25 and 30,000 feet at 325 knots, parameters which make it compatible with the Shyhawks. 

Explains Fleming, "We usually launch before the Blues and try to stay ahead of them by about 45 minutes. We're in constant contact with the flight. Should one of them have to divert or experience any kind of problem, we respond accordingly. Generally, we try to arrive half an hour ahead of the A-4s at the prospective show site. Punctuality is always a must. We've got to be ready whenever and wherever needed." 

"Last year," recalls Capt. Petit, "we were heading back from Cleveland to our home base at Pensacola. One of the A-4s swallowed a sea gull through the intake on takeoff. We had to get the engine changed. So we flew on to Pensacola, picked up a new power plant and flew back to Cleveland. By 0800 next day the plane was ready for a test hop. Not much later, that Skyhawk was on the way to Pensacola." 

"The joy of this job," says Fleming, "is in working with a group of professionals who give 100 percent at all times while enhancing the Navy/Marine recruiting effort." 

Petit says, "I like meeting people and talking aviation and the Marine Corps. It's the close contact with the public which appeals to me." 

The squadron is on the road a majority of the time. That suits six-year veteran Petit. "I could go 14 more in the same job," he says. 

Does the pressure of meeting precise timetables day in and day out detract from job satisfaction? Capt. Fleming thinks not. He feels his crew is fortified with excellent training and a can-do attitude, which prevails on a continuing basis. He asserts, "We have great confidence in our ability." 

Although the workload is substantial and the crew members put in extra hours keeping Fat Albert properly groomed and polished, Hank Morton feels he has the best job he could get in the Marine Corps. "It will be a big letdown leaving the squadron." 

Morton, who has accumulated nearly 5,000 hours in the air, most of them in C-130s, adds that "I will particularly miss seeing the United States. I've been stationed overseas and seen my fair share of the world. But with the Blue Angels we get a view of the smaller communities across the country that even well-traveled servicemen miss." 

SSgt. Rhoades admits, "It get a little old packing a bag, traveling all the time. But every time the air starts and the Blues begin moving, I get excited." 

In their travels, Fat Albert and company see numerous flight demonstrations. Morton voices the collective opinion of the Marine contingent on the Navy team, "The Blues are, by far, the best in the world." 

Fat Albert and company help make that happen.

© Photo by Harry S. Gann

Naval Aviation News Photo