Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz. --
The residents of Yuma are accustomed to planes from Marine Corps Air Station Yuma squadrons flying above. However, heads turned when the bright blue and yellow “Fat Albert” made its appearance here; flying a little lower than they were used to seeing. Curiosity arose and the residents made their way to watch the plane practice demonstrations from the fence line of the air station.
The Blue Angels are the Navy’s premier aerial demonstration team. Their main mission is to display the pride and professionalism of the United States Navy and Marine Corps by demonstrating armed forces aviation tactics and community outreach in the United States and foreign countries.
Although some of the same tactics the Blue Angels demonstrate during airshows are used in combat zones around the world, their demonstrations are more acrobatic.
“These maneuvers that we do simulate being in a contested area [in combat], trying to get low to the deck and sneak in somewhere,” said Marine Maj. Mike Van Wyk, a C-130 pilot with the Blue Angels. “We’re pretty much max performing the aircraft for [the airshows] so you can see the things we do in contested areas when we’re deployed around the world.”
The Blue Angels are made up of 10 F/A-18s, although only six of them are used during demonstration flights. Also a part of the Blue Angels team is the C-130T Hercules, affectionately known as “Fat Albert.” This aircraft is used for many logistical purposes; including, but not limited to, carrying cargo, support personnel and extra parts to all the airshows. The “Fat Albert” crew is made up entirely of Marines; three officers and five enlisted.
“We work as a really close team. Everyone has their own specific job to conduct to maintain safety,” said Marine Capt. Dusty Cook, a C-130 pilot with the Blue Angels. “These are our brothers. We spend a lot of time with each other and the interaction between the officers and the enlisted is something very unique on this platform.”
“Fat Albert” is an integral part of the Blue Angels team. To maintain their readiness, training is conducted yearly. Usually, “Fat Albert” conducts winter training in Pensacola, Fla., and Texas. During those two to three weeks it is a solid block of training, but recently the team has dealt with challenging weather in those areas, and it became an issue for training.
“[During] winter in Texas and Pensacola, you’re just going to see cold fronts rolling through, low ceilings and dense fog; not very conducive to an airplane trying to do some awesome maneuvers,” said Cook, a native of East Bernard, Texas. “Out of those couple weeks, about 50 percent of our training time would be lost due to inclement weather.”
With the intemperate weather becoming an obstacle, the crew set out to find an alternative training site. After some research, they determined Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., was a perfect environment for the “Fat Albert” team to conduct their winter training this year.
“The base has been amazing; they have helped out so much. They actually really wanted us to come here and utilize the [opportunity] to see if we can maintain a future together and make it a multi-year plan where Yuma is our home for winter training,” said Cook. “The weather has been great, the bird’s been up. It’s been a perfect, mutually supportive relationship between the Marines on base and the Marines on ‘Fat Albert.’”
By and large, the community seemed excited the see a part of the Blue Angels team in town and were honored that the crew came to Yuma for training.
“Seeing the crowd out there by the fence watching us practice just pumps me up, pumps the crew up and we’re ready to rock it,” said Staff Sgt. Christian Villalobos, a flight mechanic for the Blue Angels. “It’s just amazing to be able to represent those Marines out there in the fleet. We’re here to show the world what the Navy and Marine Corps does and is all about.”