The U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels’ newest Fat Albert, an ex-Royal Air Force C-130J Hercules, has flown for the first time in its new paint scheme. The plane is undergoing a series of final checks in the United Kingdom before returning home to the United States to join the rest of the flight demonstration team.
Aviation photographer and friend of The War Zone Ashley Wallace was kind enough to share the picture seen at the top of this story of the C-130J taking off from Cambridge City Airport in Cambridgeshire in the United Kingdom with us. The Blue Angels have also released a number of official shots of the flight on social media.
“Your C-130 pilots and crew are currently performing their first functional check flight (FCF) in our new C-130J this morning over England,” according to a post on the team’s official Facebook Page on July 20, 2020. “This FCF is part of a series of scheduled maintenance tests that will be completed prior to our transatlantic flight back to the United States!”
On June 30, 2020, the Blue Angels released the first full look at the aircraft on the ground in its new paint job at Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group’s facility at Cambridge City Airport. At that time, the team also announced that “a series of maintenance tests, which include an aircraft systems operational check out and a functional check flight,” would be occurring in the next few weeks.
This aircraft is set to become the Blue Angels’ dedicated transport from show-to-show, as well as taking part in the performances itself. It will replace the team’s last Fat Albert, an aging C-130T, which they retired without an immediate replacement last year.
The Navy finalized a deal to buy former RAF C-130J, which that service had designed a Hercules C5, for around $29.7 million in 2019. The U.K. government’s 2010 Strategic Defense and Security Review had recommended divesting the RAF’s Hercules C5 fleet, while retaining 14 long-fuselage Hercules C4s, also known as C-130J-30s. The U.K. Ministry of Defense subsequently sold all but one of the Hercules C5s, the last of which is now slated to remain in inventory through at least 2021.
Though the Blue Angels flew over Mount Rushmore for the “Salute to America!” on July 4 and previously took part in flyovers around the country to show support for first responders, healthcare workers, and others on the front lines of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it remains to be seen when the team may return to a normal airshow schedule that will include their newest Fat Albert.