The Blue Angels’ C-130T Hercules, affectionately known as Fat Albert, performed its fiery jet-assisted takeoff at countless air shows starting in 1975, but the tradition ended in Pensacola, Fla., when the team closed its 2009 season.
To execute a JATO, Fat Albert used eight solid-fuel rocket bottles, which supplied enough momentum for the aircraft to leave the runway after traveling just 1,500 feet. Climbing at a 45-degree angle, it can reach 1,000 feet in just 15 seconds.
The fuel bottles, which weigh about 150 pounds when full, were designed to thrust C-130s skyward in austere conditions where traditional runways are unavailable, But the Corps hasn’t used JATO in combat since the Vietnam War and it’s unlikely to do so again, as newer KC-130Js have engines built to exert the same thrust as C-130Ts outfitted with rocket bottles.
The igniters are threaded into the top of the bottles and are linked via a simple electrical connection to a button on the flight engineer’s panel in the cockpit.
“On takeoff, we release brakes and pick up speed. Near show center, the flight engineer pushes the magic button,” the pilot notes. “The rockets go off with a big pop and a lot of smoke and flames,”. The aircraft takes off at a forty-five degree angle and reaches 1,200 feet in about eleven seconds.
As the bottles are expended, the aircraft noses over, and the crew and the twenty to thirty passengers on each flight—local civic leaders, recruiters, and other VIPs generally—briefly experience negative g. The loadmasters, who are not strapped in, grab something solid like a door frame and take great pleasure in simply floating up.
After a series of turns, the C-130 crew repositions and makes a parade pass at a sixty-degree bank angle in front of the crowd. Another series of turns and Bert comes back for a flat pass at 370 mph at sixty feet off the ground. “We always use miles per hour instead of knots because it sounds faster,” quips Hess.
The flat pass is followed by a minimum-radius turn in front of the crowd. The crew then gains altitude and sets up on the downwind leg for an assault landing. Approaching the runway, the crew pushes the nose over at a twenty-eight degree nose-down attitude, makes a maximum effort landing, and stops in 1,200 feet. The crew concludes the show by putting the engines in full reverse and backing up—to cheers from the show crowd.
Canadian Aviation Blog
Photo Source: US Navy