The US Navy Blue Angels flight demonstration squadron's new 'Fat Albert' support aircraft, C-130J - BuNo 170000 (c/n 382-5483) - carried out its first functional check flight (FCF) from Cambridge Airport on July 20.
The aircraft - which is a former Royal Air Force (RAF) C-130J - was refurbished at Cambridge Airport by Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group (MADG).
Taking off at around 1050hrs and using callsign ‘Blue Angels 10,’ it flew a racetrack pattern in the East Anglian Military Training Area, mostly at around 20,000ft, for over four-and-a-half hours before landing back at Cambridge at 1535hrs.
A Blue Angels crew had arrived at Cambridge last month to carry out a series of maintenance tests, including an aircraft systems operational check out and an FCF, before it makes its transatlantic delivery flight to join the team. It is already painted in a modified version of the Blue Angels colours scheme. It was first seen on June 30 when images were released of the flight crew in front of the aircraft after being rolled out of the hangar at Cambridge.
The aircraft is former RAF Hercules C5 ZH885, which had been retired by the RAF on January 5, 2018, when it was flown to Cambridge for storage with MADG, pending disposal. US Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) had announced on March 23, 2018, that it intended to negotiate and award a sole source contract to the UK Ministry of Defence to procure a single C-130J for the Blue Angels to replace the C-130T previously used as a support aircraft.
The latter was retired on May 23, 2019, since when there has been no dedicated support aircraft, logistics having been provided by various other aircraft in the interim. The airframe selected to meet the requirement for a replacement was ZH885 and a contract for acquisition of the aircraft was signed in June 2019. MADG was awarded the contract to refurbish the airframe, respray it and prepare it for delivery.
In preparation for operations with the new aircraft, aircrew have been undergoing conversion training from the C-130T to C-130J, including simulator training, along with a low-level proficiency training flight with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 234 (VMGR 234) at Naval Air Station (NAS)/Joint Reserve Base (JRB) Fort Worth, Texas. The new C-130J will provide improved logistics support for the team and eventually join the Blue Angels demonstration, as did the C-130T previously.