View Full Version : Fat Albert Ride - the extended version

2010-10-12, 11:10 PM
When I first learned that NYCAviation was going to be able to get on board Fat Albert in San Francisco, I started searching YouTube videos to get a feel for what we were in for. Having a fairly weak stomach I concluded after watching a handful of the videos that I was, well, screwed. Several months later I found myself, along with our other west coast NYC correspondent David Lilienthal, getting badged at SFO and feeling the anxiety rise in the pit of my stomach. I don’t know about Dave, but I came prepared: I had a plastic shopping bag in my front left pocket and a small paper bag in each back pocket for overflow. After getting our clearance from security we were driven out to the flight line, where the golden and blue aircraft were parked in the lovely California sun. We had expected to have some time to chat the flight crew up, grab some sound bites and take our time grabbing some static shots. Unfortunately that’s not how it happened. Despite being on time the crew was already briefing when we arrived, and the public affairs officer shoved a handful of forms into our hands to sign – most of which meant that we wouldn’t sue the government if our cameras broke or we died in a fiery crash. We were then rushed out planeside where we were met by one of the crew members who gave us a quick safety and familiarization briefing, told us to have fun, and then gave us nice little air force issue sick bags. “Score.”, I thought as I shoved them into my front right pocket...

A few minutes later with the final preparations completed on big “Bert” (as the crew likes to call him), we began to board the plane. I was very lucky to have been seated on the flight deck, and Dave arguably even luckier got to climb that nifty ladder, straddle a metal bar, and stare with glee out the famous bubble. Our crew began to go through their checklist, audible on my head set, with a level of excitement and drama that only the Blues can provide (if you’ve ever listened to the Blues on the radio at a show you know what I’m talking about). As the four Allison engines roared to life I checked my gear, did some light tests, and settled in for the ride.

Sitting on the runway we waited a few moments for clearance from the tower, then the crew let the brakes go and we started rolling – fast. By the time I realized the gear were up our Capt, Maj. Hess, pulled back on the stick and sent us rocketing skyward. Dave, back in the bubble, got a good visual reference of just how steep our climb was, and after seeing the pics later I was thoroughly impressed. That first zero-G moment as we nosed over (and all the rest to follow) had everyone on the flight deck smiling, laughing, and about four inches out of their seats. Before starting our routine we were put in a holding pattern thanks to Sean Tucker working his magic in the box ahead of us. While waiting they opened the cargo doors in back to keep air flowing and get in some photo ops for the folks in back. Then, with a violent pitch to the left we steamed into the airspace and the got the show started!

The rest of the flight was honestly a bit of a blur. I know we hit speeds in excess of 350mph, a lot of banks as crazy as 60 degrees, and got down as little as 50 feet above the water. Photos confirm that looking up at Alcatraz while blowing by it, buzzing Fort Mason at a few hundred feet, and gazing upon the San Francisco bay bridges did in fact happen, and was not me imagining it. Listening to the chatter of the crew, the airboss, and the tower was an absolute treat, something I wish NYC was able to get an audio recording of. I’ll let Dave chime in on his experience more specifically, but needless to say I thought it was one hell of a ride.

Post-flight we had a quick opportunity to grab some statics and get a group shot with the ever professional and gracious flight crew. We thanked them for the amazing ride and headed back to the hangar, all smiles and slightly wobbly legs. An hour later at In & Out I was trying to coax my stomach, which while never returning my breakfast to me was not exactly pleased with the ride, to take down a cheeseburger. It took me thirty minutes to get it all down the hatch, after which I reached into my pocket and rediscovered two authentic Blue Angels sick bags, and placed them into my camera bag – unused.

There were a lot of photos that didn’t make the cut for the front page, and Dave & I wanted to make sure you all saw them – so here they are, the rest of the show:

Here's my pics:

The inside of the plane before getting seated:

Pre flight checks under way!

And we're rolling!

Doing laps around the city before getting under way:


Barreling into the flight box, with Alcatraz dead ahead of us:

Pitching left by the Golden Gate to line up our dirty pass along the flight line:

Flight commander "Eddie" checks for the visual reference point during a heavy bank:

Breaking over the field, with the United Maintenance hanger below us:

Easily the highlight shot for me as we dive bomb 28R during the tactical approach. Something else!

After the show

2010-10-12, 11:32 PM
Fat Albert Airlines

For those of you who didn't get enough of our coverage from the already posted galleries, here's how I recall the ride from 'The Bubble Seat'.

The pre-flight briefing is short: "Take off what you bring on board." That's why barf bags are distributed before leaving.

The pre-flight checks are a performance as intricate and exacting as the any formation performed by the pilots in the jets. The only two words that remotely come close to describing the checks are rapid and intense. Jeremy is working to bring us the audio. I'm looking forward to this as much as I was the flight itself!

First order of business, getting seated.

To get to the Bubble Seat, you climb the ladder that is strapped to the floor. From the very top step, you can reach the handle on the near side of the bubble. From there you spin around and rest your butt on the beam that has the two straps hanging off the near side. You shimmy until you're on the seat and the seat belt is tight enough to hold you into place. This is all done while Fat Albert is taxiing, because it's so hot up there. Once up there, you can reach the top of the ladder for balance with only one foot, and if you're holding a camera, that leaves one arm for a handle and you head to hold on during the violent maneuvers. You're not allowed to touch anything else, because one handle releases the bubble for emergency egress, and the wires and cables are somewhat necessary to continue controlled flight.


Take off is every bit as thrilling as it looks from the ground. Pulling into the initial climb strains every muscle you have, and pushing over into level flight is the exact opposite.


From there, we flew out to the coast for the Blue Angels' team to take some shots of the city with the cargo door open.




The show box was still in use by one of the acrobatic acts when we were done with the photography work. We were given an excellent tour of the city by doing at least a half dozen loops between downtown and SFO. This was not exactly a pleasure cruise - as you can see from the photos, the pilots were giving us a good ride.





Once given the show box, we picked up significant speed. I could no longer communicate with the crew below over the roar of the engines. Here we are entering the box for the practice show.


Tactical take off maneuver in the show box.



From this point, my shots trail off quite a bit. I was warned the bubble was very hot. They were not kidding! I was drenched in sweat well before the show started, and my arm could hardly hold my camera, let alone level it, hold it steady and fire. Cry me a river, I know.

Post flight photo op with the crew.


There really aren't words to describe this experience. Suffice to say, I still get fits of uncontrollable grinning on occasion.

2010-10-12, 11:38 PM

Take off is every bit as thrilling as it looks from the ground. Pulling into the initial climb strains every muscle you have, and pushing over into level flight is the exact opposite.


NOW THATS NO S$!T RIGHT HERE.... Seriously Phil, It had to be said! OMG AOA PUCKER FACTOR!!!!

2010-10-13, 12:00 AM
Pulling into the initial climb strains every muscle you have, and pushing over into level flight is the exact opposite.
Dead on - it went from feeling like I was going to poo myself to feeling like it was going to poo through my mouth.

2010-10-13, 12:50 AM
See I told you it is an amazing ride! lol. Glad you held breakfest down Jeremy. Eddie is a really nice guy to.

2010-10-13, 01:53 AM
See I told you it is an amazing ride!
Never doubted you!

Eddie is a really nice guy to.
He really is - this is actually the second time I met him. The first was in Seattle in '09 when he was running the show in the tower at BFI.

2010-10-13, 08:49 AM
lucky dog you! my buddy got to ride in her at Salinas '09.

2010-10-13, 08:52 AM
Awesome coverage guys!!! What a ride that had to be!!

2010-10-13, 05:40 PM
Jeremy, that last photo of you is just screaming "AMERICA! F%#* YEAH!" haha

2010-10-17, 09:05 AM
Woah Jeremy, totally awesome pictures!!!