In 2011, I was most fortunate (after months of negotiating) to interview and fly with one of the Blue Angels. While I had no illusion that, as part of the South African media, I would be the last person to get the nod to fly in an F18, I set out to do an interview with the Blue Angels C130T commander as I felt that would make for an interesting view of the team.
On the designated day of the interview (Thursday), I arrived at King County airport in Seattle and sure enough, I was designated to interview Captain Edward Jorge, who was the pilot in command at that time. Captain Jorge immediately picked up that I was either from Australia or South Africa and was most interested in my story! We soon got to his story and he told me he had done a tour of Iraq (Operation Iraqi Freedom) and had flown C130 transports around the world before joining the Blue Angels.
Fat Albert, the C130 aircraft has a special role to play in the team as they ferry the maintenance team around as well as parts needed to keep the F18's flying. As it turned out, Fat Albert was sent off on Friday to fetch a replacement engine for one of the teams F18's that went faulty.
After the interview, I was asked if I would like to join the media flight on Saturday - well, you don't have to ask me twice!!
I arrived back at King Country Field (aka Boeing Field) on Saturday at the correct time and was asked a series of medical questions and signed my life away and joined the other 10 media people who were flying. We assembled at the back of the C130 and Captain Jorge gave us a briefing and said we will be taking part in the display - did I hear him correctly - taking part in the display??? It turns out that we would be in the C130 when the Blue Angel start the Saturday afternoon display over Lake Washington. He warned us to strap in tightly as we were going to be doing some fairly heavy manoeuvring - pulling 2g when pulling up and -1g when we pushed over the top. In other words, we would be weightless for a few seconds. The display would also include several pretty tight turns to keep within the display area. We were issued with sick bags and told that whatever we brought onto the aircraft we were to take off afterwards!! I had just had a big breakfast…
For some reason, I ended up in the middle of the aircraft, with no window to look out except for a tiny window way above my head. Bad mistake! We took off and kept at about 20 feet off the runway till towards the end of the runway then pulled into a climb - 2g in a C130 is fun! Then pushed out at 300 feet to go to -1g. More fun…
We then circulated over downtown Seattle with the rear loading ramp down (so we could see Seattle from the air) for about 10 minutes waiting for our display slot. The Blue Angels routine is simple - Blue Albert is the first to fly and as soon as the C130 clears the area, the Blue Angels F18 team enters from left! Captain Jorge got the word to commence his run and we dived in over Lake Washington quite low (I checked the video I was taking, afterwards - hand held camera at that small port hole window) and pulled up again into a heavy climb - and the push out at the top. We flew a tight routine around the lake and the display was finished in about 7 minutes which seemed much longer. Returning to King Field we did a tactical approach - steep approach and short landing.
What an amazing experience indeed. And no, I did not loose my breakfast!
The old Fat Albert (the one I flew in) was retired in May 2019 after flying 30,000 hours. The new one which has just been taken into service is an ex-RAF C130J model and arrived in Pensacola on 17 August 2020.
A great team and the personnel are only too keen to answer all the questions and make the experience something one will never forget.