Above: Blue Angels C-130T Hercules ‘Fat Albert’ 164763 practices for the air show at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, on May 8, 2019. Only two weeks later, the team announced retirement of the aircraft. USAF/Senior Airman Alyssa D Van Hook
LOCKHEED C-130T Hercules 164763, the US Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron Blue Angels support aircraft, flown by a US Marine Corps crew, has been retired after 17 years with the team. The Blue Angels bid a final farewell to the aircraft on May 23 after it had flown more than 30,000 hours with the team, including regular airshow performances which featured a dramatic jet-assisted take-off (JATO). This current airframe, which had been with the team since 2002, was the last Hercules to perform a JATO take-off before this part of its display routine was discontinued in 2009, when the supply of surplus JATO bottles ran out.
Although the aircraft is being retired from flying duties, it will continue to be used as a ground-based training aid at Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base, Texas. The Blue Angels stated that “the team will be transported via Fleet-provided logistics, until a permanent replacement aircraft is identified.”
As previously reported on Warnsey’s World, on March 23, 2018, US Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) revealed plans for purchase of a surplus Royal Air Force C-130J from the UK through a posting on the US Government’s Federal Business Opportunities (FBO) website. NAVAIR said in the statement on the FBO posting that “The Government requires a suitable replacement aircraft, which must be delivered in an expeditious manner, to avoid a gap in logistical support of the Blue Angels flight demonstration squadron. The aircraft being procured from the UK MOD has the requisite amount of life and technical capability to support the Blue Angels mission. Procurement of a comparable replacement C-130J from any source other than the UK MOD would create an unacceptable increase in programme cost and delay in fielding this critical capability.” Since then, no contract has been signed and a Blue Angels spokesman now says: “The decision whether or not to pursue the acquisition will be made at higher DOD levels.” This suggests that the ex-RAF C-130J is no longer the sole option being considered, but no further comment has been made on what alternatives are under evaluation.
A grounding order on the US Navy’s C-130T/KC-130T fleet following the crash as a result of a propeller problem of US Marine Corps KC-130T 165000 on July 10, 2017, in Mississippi, which killed all 16 on board, had kept the Blue Angels C-130T grounded for almost a year. After an eleven-month inspection and repair programme, including replacement of all of of its propellers, which was completed in June 2018, the aircraft returned to service. It performed its first display on July 13, 2018, at the Blue Angels home base, Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida. However, this was limited to a flat pass due to the need to retrain aircrew before performing a full demonstration. During the intervening grounding period, US Navy and Marine Corps aircraft had provided the necessary support for the team.