NAVAL AVIATION NEWS
FAT ALBERT AIRLINES
FLYING THE BLUES
Published in the May-June 1987 issue of Naval Aviation News
As the new F/A-18s trimmed in gold, taxi in tight formation on the runway for a flight demonstration, the only sounds are the roar of the jet engines and the occasional boom of the narrator's voice shouting over the loudspeaker, trying to be heard above the high-pitched whine.
All heads turn toward the jets and their crew chiefs, and admiration can be seen in the eyes of the spectators. Undoubtedly the jet pilots and crew are the center of attention and receive most of the recognition from the faithful fans of the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, Blue Angels.
But a look to the right brings into view another essential member of the Blues' team. The large blue and white transport, with gold accents, boasts a big, yellow Jimmy Durante-type nose. The aircraft is affectionately known as "Fat Albert."
The primary mission of the C-130 Hercules and its all-Marine crew is logistic support, according to USMC Captain Mike V. Mullally, one of the pilots assigned to "Fat Albert Airlines."
"We're a very important aspect to the air show," he said. "We transport all of the personnel and equipment to and from the show sites. If we didn't perform this vital mission, there wouldn't be any air shows.
During the winter training season, we make logistic runs from NAS Pensacola, Fla. To El Centro, Calif., about twice a week," Mullally went on. El Centro, located about 120 miles east of San Diego and 11 miles north of Mexico, is the winter training site for the Blue Angels.
Fat Albert's pilots do more than fly the aircraft. "During the season," Mullally said, "we monitor the air show with the Federal Aviation Administration representative as well as being ground safety observers. We actually listen to the pilots talk during the air show."
Although the C-130 pilots and crew are an integral part of the Blues, they are equally important to the Marine Corps. "We are a recruiting tool," said Mullally. In huge letter on the side of the airplane it says 'United States Marine Corps."
The recruiting support isn't limited to standing next to the aircraft, shaking hands and answering questions. "We do a lot of public speaking," Mullally explained. "The first time I did it, I went to a high school and talked to a 100 students. I thought I was the world's worst speaker. I was very nervous but, after I got into what I was doing, it went smother and easier."
Sgt. Gary A. Sharkey, Fat Albert's navigator, added, "We have other commitments, such as visiting local hospitals. It usually involves a pilot and one of the enlisted personnel. If we're at a high school, we may show a short film about the squadron to the students and answer questions. At every commitment, we explain a little about the Blue Angels, including some history and our role in the Marine Corps."
One of Fat Albert's demonstrations during an air show is a jet-assisted takeoff (JATO). Four small rockets are strapped to both sides of the C-130's fuselage, and spectators are shown just what this modification can accomplish.
According to Sharkey, a JATO isn't just for show. "Its tactical purpose is to help the aircraft clear high obstacles at the end of a runway or to do takeoffs on short runways," he explained. "We do it to show how fast a big airplane can get off the ground." At 85,000 pounds, with JATO, Fat Albert leaps into the sky using 1,500 feet of runway.
Fat Albert's crew is composed of three pilots and five enlisted personnel. The pilots are Major Franklin Welborn, the senior officer; Capt. Mullally; and Captain Mark Mykityshyn. The enlisted crew includes Gunnery Sergeant Chuck Mullins, a flight engineer and the senior enlisted Marine; Staff Sergeant Alex Hawkes, Flight engineer; Staff Sergeant Lee Adams, flight mechanic; Staff Sergeant Eddie Kemp, loadmaster; and Sgt. Sharkey.
Duty with Fat Albert Airlines means different things to each of the team members and each has his own feelings about the ups and downs of an assignment with the Blues. But there is no doubt about the pride they all feel when selected to serve as role models for Marine Corps Aviation.
"I consider it an honor to have been picked from all of the people who applied to fly for the Blues," Capt. Mullally said, "when I found out, I was ecstatic!"
SSgt. Adams described his duty as "interesting and very demanding." He said, "I've met a lot of interesting people and I've made a lot of good friends in all parts of the country."
Adams' pride was obvious when he recalled, "In four years that I've been in the squadron, we have never missed a mission. There's not another outfit I can think of that can compare to that record."
Duty with Fat Albert Airlines is not all glamour. GySgt. Mullins said some problems are encountered. "There are a lot of impromptu changes to the schedule during the winter training months," he explained. "On those occasions, things get a little hectic and out of sync. But other than that, there's not a great deal to dislike."
Mullins explained that their job parallels that of any other Marine Corps C-130 assignment. "We're performing basically the same functions you would in the fleet, just on a smaller scale. Here, we're basically logistic support."
"During the season," he added, "if a jet goes down, we'll launch on a moment's notice, go wherever necessary to get that part and return before the next show starts."
One thing that is obvious is the amount of travel involved in duty with the Blues. When "talking shop" with the Marines, you can be assured that travel is going to be discussed.
Capt. Mullally feels that the travel involved isn't as hard on him as other squadron members. "I'm not married, but I think travel is hard on a family," he said. "We're on the road from Thursday morning until Sunday night . . . on a one-week trip. On a two-week trip we leave on Wednesday and come back a week from the following Monday, so it's a lot of time on the road."
Mullally explained that any Marine Corp Aviator who meets the requirements can apply to be a Blue Angel C-130 pilot. He must have completed 1,500 flight hours, an overseas tour, and a tour as an aircraft commander with a Marine transport squadron. The application is submitted to Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps and to the Blue Angels. Applicants are screened and interviewed by the Blues.
According to Sgt. Sharkey, enlisted Marine Corps personnel in paygrades E-5 to E-7 with 1,500 hours of flight time may qualify for duty with Fat Albert Airlines. The application procedures are the same as those for pilots.
You can be sure that on April 25, when the Blue Angels opened their 1987 season at MCAS Yuma, Ariz., all eyes were on the jets as they taxied in formation on the runway. If you find yourself at an air show featuring the Blues, look a little further to the right. The big, yellow Jimmy Durante nose and Fat Albert's crew are sure to stand out in the crowd.
Smoke pours from the eight rockets strapped to Fat Albert during jet-assisted takeoff.
SSgt. Eddie Kemp installs a stand-by filter assembly on one of Fat Albertís engines.
Photo Credit: Jeff Wood, PH2
The Blue Angel C-130, with its all Marine crew, during JATO.