‘Bert’s Retirement Surprises Many, What’ll Replace the Iconic Lockheed Transport?
The U.S. Navy’s ‘Blue Angels’ caught nearly everyone by surprise when they announced on May 22nd of this year that their U.S. Marine Corps Lockheed Martin KC-130T Hercules (BuNo 164763 / CN 5258) affectionately known as ‘Fat Albert’ was suddenly being retired from the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron duty.
‘Fat Albert’ or ‘Bert’ as he is known will live out the rest of its days as a ground based training aid in Texas at Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base.
The C-130 Hercules began serving with the ‘Blue Angels’ in 1970. It is the longest serving aircraft type in squadron history with 49 years and counting. The mot recent ‘Fat Albert’, BuNo 164763 holds among its many distinctions of being the longest serving C-130 aircraft with the “Blue Angels’, having served seventeen years with the squadron. The first squadron aircraft to be piloted by a female officer, U.S. Marine Corps Captain Katie Higgins and the last aircraft and C-130 to perform a Jet-Assisted Take-Off (JATO).
‘Fat Albert Airlines’ performed the final JATO demo at the Blue Angels Homecoming Airshow at NAS Pensacola on November 14, 2009. The JATO demonstration use to open the ‘Blue Angels’ shows and was extremely popular. The JATO demonstration lasted until the military exhausted its supply of the Vietnam era rocket cylinders. JATO was initially used for under powered aircraft engines and or fully laden aircraft to achieve take-off from unimproved airfields. However as improved engines and aircraft were produced, JATO wasn’t needed and the rocket cylinders were relegated to show duty with ‘Fat Albert’.
‘Fat Albert’ is a beloved part of every ‘Blue Angels’ show and is staffed by an all Marine crew. Many VIP’s, media and military personnel have been granted incentive flights aboard ‘Fat Albert’. Besides being a part of the ‘Blue Angels’ show, ‘Fat Albert’ served a practical purpose as well. The Hercules flew the entire support crew and equipment to and from each show. It was common to see ‘Bert’ making flights before and after shows each weekend to get needed parts for the seven F/A-18 Hornet show aircraft.
BuNo 164763 had over 30,000 flying hours on its airframe. ‘Bert’ missed part of the 2016 show season when it was scheduled for depot work. ‘Bert’ went to Tinker Air Force Base for an acid bath to remove all of its ‘Blue Angel’ show paint so it could be checked for corrosion. It then went to Hill Air Force Base for a complete programmed depot maintenance and a shiny new coat of paint. In June of 2017 it returned to the team but since the crew had not performed any show demonstration maneuvers in over a year, they were not allowed to perform at any airshows. The aircraft’s return to the team was short lived however as a result of an extended fleet wide grounding of the C-130 “T” model. ‘Fat Albert’ returned once again to the team on July 18, 2018 after being fitted with new propellers. But just as abruptly ‘Bert’ is gone again, however this time he has flown west for good.
This past September I spoke with the current ’Blue Angels’ C-130 pilot US Marine Corps Major Mark Montgomery after the NAS Oceana Airshow. Major Montgomery cleared up and confirmed several items of interest about ‘Fat Alberts’ future.
First of interest was an unusual event that occurred the previous weekend at the New York Airshow at the Stewart ANG base. ‘Fat Albert’ was spotted at Stewart ANG Base on the same weekend as the New York Airshow where the U.S.A.F. Thunderbirds were headlining. However the ‘Blue Angels’ were headlining in Owensboro Kentucky. Major Montgomery said, “It was just time for his yearly check ride and the nearest place to get checked out was Stewart because VMGR-452 had an instructor pilot and the C-130T.”
Will we see the ‘Fat Albert’ demo ever again? “Yes, but probably not until next year” he said.
We then moved onto discussing ’Fat Alberts’ replacement. Is it true that a replacement in the works? Major Montgomery confirmed a ‘J’ model is in the works. The C-130J model is considered a Super Hercules with improved engines, propellers and a glass cockpit among its many upgrades.
Will that be the Royal Air Force (RAF) C-130J Hercules CMk.5 (short fuselage) model we have been hearing rumors about? Major Montgomery smiled and said, “Well it is the one we want, but the Navy still has to approve it.” The Royal Air Force (RAF) currently has several C-130J CMk.5 models in storage as they prefer the C-130J J30 Hercules CMk.4 (extended fuselage) model.
Will the Marine Corps / Navy leave the RAF style refueling probe in place? “No, and that is a big part of the discussions taking place right now.” Major Montgomery said, “The Navy has an estimate for $3 million dollars to have it removed.” He added, “I told them I would do it for two and a half million” with a laugh.
Major Montgomery is still serving with the team and has recently been promoted to the rank of Lt. Colonel.
On March 23, 2018 the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) confirmed they were seeking a RAF C-130J CMk.5 Hercules in a press release. The Navy said; “The aircraft being procured from the UK MOD has the requisite amount of life and technical capability to support the Blue Angels mission. Procurement of a comparable replacement C-130J from any source other than the UK MOD would create an unacceptable increase in program cost and delay in fielding this critical capability”.
On May 10, 2018 RAF C-130J CMk.5 tail ZH889 made a flight across the pond to NAS Pensacola which further fueled the speculation that an RAF Super Hercules is in the works.
In the meantime the Marine Corps fleet C-130’s will take over ‘Berts’ duties as ‘Ernie’.
The 2020 season is shaping up to be an exciting season for the ‘Blue Angels’. With a new ‘J’ model ’Bert’ and new F/A-18 ‘E’ and ‘F’ models coming to the squadron, they will also bring a new aspects to the demonstration and maneuvers by both the Super Hercules and Super Hornets.