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Taking flight: An afternoon with the Blue Angels

Baltimore from the cockpit.

Aboard the Marine Corps C-130–What’s it feel like to get to 1,500 feet in two seconds?

Like a bowling ball pressing against your entire body, but your eyeballs still somehow managing to pop out of your face.

Like all the blood rushing to your head and your ice-cold hand white-knuckling the table beside you.

Like talking yourself through pseudo-Lamaze breathing.

Ernie, a Marine Corps C-130 Hercules aircraft and our ride for the afternoon.

On Friday, I was one of about a dozen riders who experienced the Blue Angels first hand, taking to the sky in Ernie, a C-130 cargo aircraft built in the 1950s by Lockheed Martin.

“It’s very much like a roller coaster, and it’s a good time,” Capt. John Hecker told our group of media and military riders before we boarded Ernie.

Ernie is standing in for the Blue Angels’ usual C-130, Fat Albert, while ‘Bert gets repainted.

In the body of the plane were two benches across from one another. Most of us would be sitting there, Staff Sgt. Kevin Sanchez said during the pre-flight briefing. There was also, he said, one seat available in the cockpit.

Moments later, I volunteered for it.

Preparing for takeoff.

Strapped in across my lap and shoulders, with headset set on — “Push the button to talk,” they told me — I readied my camera, pen and notepad.

Co-pilots Hecker (L) and Blanton.

Through the front window I watched as our pilots – Hecker and Capt. Benjamin Blanton – lifted the plane three feet above the ground, sped up to 200 miles per hour, and then rocketed to 1,500 feet at a 45 degree angle, twice the force of gravity pushing on our bodies.

Once we hit the top, the Gs were gone,  my arms and legs floating in the weightlessness, my jaw dropping to my feet as Sanchez and Staff Sgt. Adam Miller back-flipped to the ceiling.

During the 25 minute ride, 10 minutes of which were spent putting on a show over downtown Baltimore, the 110-foot wingspan aircraft hit a maximum speed of 375 miles per hour. The 2Gs reared again and two mores times we experienced zero gravity.

The mind scrambling demonstration is meant to show what the  aircraft would have to do in Iraq or Afghanistan when going in or out of a hostile environment.

The flight's navigator, Staff Sgt. Adam Miller was also responsible for flying the American flag through the top of the plane at takeoff and landing.

Though I never did push the headset button, I listened. I could hear the crew communicating commands to one another as we climbed, dove and maneuvered. Most of it was lost on me, except for “rolling” –that meant it was time to hold on as we banked right or left at a 60 degree angle.

And as for the landing? We did a 25 degree nose-dive – eight times what you’d experience in a commercial airliner – and stopped in 1,000 feet.

Most airliners, Hecker said, stop in 7,000 feet.

Where there's a C-130, there's an F/A-18 Hornet close by.




  3. It sounds like a fantastic experience, unlike any I’ve had. That said, I don’t think it is quite honest journalism to say the flight was “experienc[ing] the Blue Angels first hand”. That ought to be said only for those who have been in the co-pilot’s seat of one of the Blue Angels.