MCAS Miramar Air Show – Oct 1, 2 & 3 2010

The Miramar Airshow for 2010 was an experience unlike any other airshow I have attended for Photorecon for two reasons.  First, I was invited to attend the Media Flight Day on Thursday (the day before the airshow officially began) and second I was able to secure a seat on the Blue Angels C-130 “Fat Albert” during Sunday’s airshow.

Arriving at MCAS Miramar Thursday for the media flight day, I had no idea what type of aircraft I would be flying on; although, I was told it would a civilian performer’s aircraft.  These aircraft ranged from Bret Willat’s Sailplane Magic to John Collver’s SN-J “Wardog” to the Red Bull helicopter to the Commemorative Air Force’s AN-2.  The latter, as it worked out, was my plane for the day!  My fifteen-minute flight consisted of eight passengers from the media.

Once our plane assignments were announced, I headed off to the “big yellow single engine bi-plane” also know as an Antonov AN-2 (a 1940s Russian designed bi-plane).  The CAF’s AN-2 (named “Big Panda”) was built in the 1980s by the Chinese.  It is operated by the CAF 3rd Pursuit Squadron located at Cable Airport in Upland, California.

First, we were briefed by our pilot for the flight, Bob Cable, a nine-year veteran of the CAF and lead pilot for the AN-2.  Twenty-two year veteran of the CAF, Cliff Heathcoat, was Bob’s crew chief for the flight and fellow CAF pilot.  When not “crewing” the AN-2, Cliff flies the Fokker S-11 and the T-6 Texan.

After Bob’s briefing, we boarded the aircraft and waited for engine start.  Bob had told us during his pre-flight briefing that he would start the engine and then wait about five to seven minutes for the engine to warm up, especially since this was the first flight of the morning.  The AN-2 has twenty-three gallons of oil (the size of a gas tank on most cars) and smokes like a chimney until it finally warms up.  Once Big Panda was ready for takeoff, we taxied out to the runway and took off.

Once airborne, we were free to walk around the cabin.  One at a time, Cliff escorted us to the cockpit where we got to enjoy a “pilot’s eye view” for a few minutes.  I had asked Cliff if I could be in the co-pilot’s seat during landing and he made it happen.


After my fellow passengers had their turns at sitting in the co-pilot’s seat, Cliff motioned me forward to the co-pilot’s seat.  I sat down and strapped in.  It had started to rain lightly during the flight and the rain on the windows didn’t make for the best pictures.  Four minutes later we were touching down on runway R24.

On first glance the AN-2 may not look like the world’s greatest and/or sexiest plane.  It was slow, noisy (although its level of noise is nothing when compared to “Fat Albert”), and definitely not fancy (no HUD or NP2000 props).  As the saying goes “never judge a book by its cover,” and I have to tell you that I found Big Panda a joy to fly in for several reasons.  For instance, photos were effortless to shoot (either out the cabin windows or the cockpit- despite the rain), you could easily get up and move around during the flight, and it had an overall “old school” feeling to it.

I would like to thank Bob Cable, Cliff Heathcoat, and the Commemorative Air Force for a very memorable flight in their AN-2.  For additional information on the CAF, please go to their website (

One flight down, one to go!

Like many of our Photorecon readers, I have seen the Blue Angels demonstration many times, including their C-130T Hercules’ (nicknamed “Fat Albert”).  During the Fat Albert performance, the aircraft flies at low level, does high speed banking turns, and high angle of attack climbs and descents.  Maneuvers that are impressive mainly due to the size of the C-130T.  Fat Albert is roughly the size of a Boeing 737 and has a maximum speed of 320 knots.

The C-130T Hercules has been part of the Blue Angels team since 1975.  It is flown by an all United States Marine Corp Aircrew and, in addition to its airshow routine, is also tasked with flying supplies and personnel to and from performance venues.

I have often wondered what it would be like to be on board Fat Albert during its routine.  Ever curious, I contacted the Blue Angels Public Affairs Supervisor, Jen Blake, and hoped that she could work some magic. Due to my media access at the Miramar Airshow, Blake was able to quickly schedule me a ride in Fat Albert during Sunday’s Blue Angel performance.

On Sunday, I made my way over to the Blue Angels’ hanger only two hours before our departure.  Scheduled for today’s flight were about fifteen members of the USMC (riding for various reasons, ranging from incentive rides to a new marine assigned to public affairs).  Other than myself, there was only one other non-military ride along.  We were screened medically by the team doctor, signed the “don’t blame me waivers”, and then walked out to “Bert.”

We were first given an overall briefing by “Bert’s” flight engineer, Gunnery Sergeant Ben Chapman.  We were then allowed to walk in, out, and around the aircraft, including the cockpit.  About 30 minutes before takeoff our pilots for the flight, Major Brandon Burks and Captain Ben Blanton, walked out to the plane, greeted us, and then started the flight briefing. Captain Blanton (the actual PIC –pilot in command for the flight) gave the flight brief to his crew of five, including emergency procedures, time lines, and flight profiles.

Next we boarded the plane, I was fortunate enough to get a seat closest to the front entrance and a window.  My seat was the first of its row (on the left/port side of the craft), leaving ample space to pivot and take pictures out the window.

Lastly, right before the flight, a crew member passed out air sick bags.  We were told during our briefing that the Fat Albert demonstration involves positive and negative G’s and airsickness was a distinct possibility.  Knowing this ahead of time, I made it a point not to eat all day.  I wasn’t going to be “the Photorecon guy” that lost his lunch on Fat Albert Airlines!

As briefed, engine start was on time (to the minute) as was our taxi out time.  The taxiing seemed to last only a minute or two and then it was time for takeoff.  On a side note, I didn’t realize how insanely loud a C-130 can seem from the cabin!  It made the CAF’s AN-2 engine noise seem like a whisper.

We started our take off roll and soon we were airborne.  When Bert left the ground, it was hardly noticeable because we only rotated enough to fly down the runway at what appeared to be 50 feet off the deck.  It was at the end of the runway that my “E- Ticket” ride began.  A ride, as it turned out, that would make most amusement park roller coasters rides look like a trip to Sunday school.

At the end of the runway, Fat Albert pitched what felt like straight up, but was probably more like 45-60 degrees of incline.  After we climbed out, we experienced one of several “negative G” pushovers!  At the top of the climb out we start a brief but sharp descent.  It is in these few seconds that you feel the negative G’s or in other words weightlessness.  In these few seconds, everything not strapped in or bolted down – floats!  This is the time where various crew members demonstrate their acrobatic prowess by doing back flips and somersaults in the cargo compartment.

Although the weightlessness only lasted a few moments, we were experiencing something very few people, other than astronauts and pilots, get to experience.  As quick as the weightlessness started it was over, ending rather abruptly and harsh as you fell back into your seat.  We would get two more experiences of weightlessness before our “Bert” ride was over.

If we weren’t pulling negative G’s, we were yanking and banking at some incredibly low attitudes.  Frankly, I think we only flew straight and level during our take off and landing cycle.  Everything else was high banking turns (60 degrees of bank) and high speeds.  I was later told that one of our high banking turns was done at 305 knots – Yippy ki-ah!

As quick as it started, it was over.  Twelve minutes never passed so quickly.  We landed, were brought to a very quick stop (actually if felt more like a locked wheel skid), and then taxied back to the Blue Angels’ ramp.  As we taxied back to the ramp, one crew member gathered up the unused airsick bags.  And yes, I was proud to turn mine back in unused (and its contents as a Bert flight souvenir).  We exited the plane and had the opportunity to speak with the crew members.  From the flight engineer to the pilots, each one was there to answer any and all questions we had.  They also posed for as many pictures as you needed to take.

Your truly with the crew of “Bert.”

To say that these men and women are great representatives of the USMC would be an understatement.  They were so upbeat, motivating, and beaming with Marine Corp pride, if I were 20 years younger, I would have enlisted on the spot!

I would like to first and foremost thank the Public Affairs Office at MCAS Miramar for their complete media support and access.  Major Manual Delarosa, Lieutenant Maureen Dooley, and Sergeant Zack Dyer were instrumental in making this media visit possible.  Next, I would like to thank Blue Angels Public Affairs supervisor, Jen Blake, for making this trip for Photorecon possible.  Lastly, I would like to thank the dedicated crew that keeps the world’s fastest C-130T flying and Major Brandon Burks and Captain Ben Blanton for their world class flying.

Phil Myers

Phil Myers, a military aviation photojournalist with a passion for telling stories and documenting the history of military aviation. In addition to his website publications, Phil’s articles and photographs have been published in several magazines. Phil resides in Southern California.

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