From experimental aircraft to semi tractor trailers, there is nothing rockets don’t make more awesome. So how could the US Navy’s Blue Angel stunt flying squadron not strap one onto the back of their C-130 Hercules, one of the military’s bulkiest cargo planes?
There is much more that goes into a Blue Angels show than what you see in the air — every event requires a massive behind-the-scenes effort to coordinate. In order to ferry all of the spare parts equipment and support personnel that make this happen from show to show, the Blue Angels employ a United States Marine Corps C-130T Hercules, dubbed Fat Albert. Measuring nearly 30m long with a 40m wingspan, the C-130T is equipped with four Allison T56 engines, providing a top speed of 320 knots, a range of 4000km, and a 20,000kg payload capacity. The T variant denotes that it carries extra under-wing fuel tanks and has an upgraded avionics system over older models, though it isn’t quite as capable as, say, the C-130H Spooky.
Fat Albert’s most impressive feat, however, is its JATO manoeuvre. First performed at the NAS Pensacola, FL in November, 1975, the C-130’s Jet-Assisted Take-Off (JATO) performance still drops jaws. JATO rockets have been around since the tail end of WWI as a means of getting overloaded planes airborne from runways that would otherwise be to short to use.
Well, the Blue Angels strapped eight such rockets — each producing 450kg of thrust — onto the back of Fat Albert and set them alight, blasting the 34,000kg aircraft down a runway and into the air at a 45-degree climb, subjecting its eight-person crew to 2 G’s of force. Commercial airliners, by comparison, top out at a 10-degree climb. Unfortunately, the supply of Vietnam-era JATO rockets that the Blue Angels had been using ran out in 2009 and the performance has since been discontinued.
While the rocket demonstration is no longer part of the Blue Angels’ repertoire, the team has successfully survived the latest rounds of sequestration and will hopefully continue to entertain audiences for years to come. [Wiki 1, 2 – Blue Angels – Strategy Page]