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Fat Albert gets stripped at Tinker

Fat Albert, the Blue Angels’ C-130 cargo plane used for transporting crew and equipment to air shows around the country, recently underwent a chemical de-paint process here after severe corrosion was found on it. Crews stripped the aircraft of all paint, using a stripping agent to remove one layer at a time. Next, Fat Albert will fly to Hill Air Force Base, Utah, for full programmed depot maintenance and paint. (Air Force photo by Kelly White)

Fat Albert, the Blue Angels’ C-130 cargo plane used for transporting crew and equipment to air shows around the country, recently underwent a chemical de-paint process here after severe corrosion was found on it. Crews stripped the aircraft of all paint, using a stripping agent to remove one layer at a time. Next, Fat Albert will fly to Hill Air Force Base, Utah, for full programmed depot maintenance and paint. (Air Force photo by Kelly White)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --

The Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex works on a fair share of C-130 aircraft, but seldom gets to work on one belonging to the Navy Blue Angels.

“Fat Albert,” a tactical transport aircraft flown by an all-Marine crew, was at Tinker being stripped of its signature paint job.

Following an air show in Alaska, severe corrosion was detected on the aircraft, which required non-routine maintenance repairs. 1st Lt. Willie Larkins, Maintenance Operations Officer in the 556th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, said the major corrosion was the reason the C-130 aircraft was pulled and brought to Tinker.

David Painter, 566th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, said there has not been a Blue Angels plane at Tinker in about four years.

“Fat Albert is a very identifiable aircraft and does a lot of special things, so having it come to Tinker is really kind of a treat. This is a good time to let the world know that when they need an aircraft painted or de-painted, [Tinker] is the premier spot to go to. They want the best of the best working on these birds, so having [Fat Albert] brought to Tinker makes us feel privileged.” Mr. Painter said.

Fat Albert will not undergo full programmed depot maintenance at Tinker, but the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex was chosen as the pre-PDM site because of its exceptional response time.

A five-day process began late Aug. 12, once the aircraft was officially in the Air Force’s possession. The Navy is responsible for unloading equipment from the plane and palletizing it, as it arrived fully loaded with tool boxes and gear. The aircraft remained in the Navy’s possession until the procedural steps had been completed, Cathy Grizzle, master scheduler for E-3s in the 566th AMXS, explained. Once the Air Force took over, the C-130 was de-fueled.  Fat Albert spent five days in the hangar, and maintainers conducted a full stripping of the paint. Then, the plane was re-fueled and prepared for pre-flight departure.

Once Tinker completed their portion of the work, the Blue Angels were contacted to retrieve the aircraft. At the same time Tinker contacted Hill Air Force Base, Utah, to coordinate movement to the next maintenance phase, said Ms. Grizzle. The Blue Angels operate on a strict and very structured schedule, so it is easier for schedulers to work with the Navy to ensure aircraft availability fits their needs.  The Blue Angels gave Tinker about 30 days in total, but Mr. Painter said all-in-all, it will only take about 15 days.

Fat Albert will undergo a full programmed depot maintenance at Hill AFB. This special aircraft was brought to Tinker because the OC-ALC can provide a service detail very unique to other Air Force bases.

“Our engineers developed a peroxide stripper,” Mr. Painter explained, “which has proven to be a much more efficient form of de-painting.”

This makes Tinker stand out among the rest. Hill Air Force Base is moving forward with laser stripper, Mr. Painter said, but they do not have the full capabilities at this point.

Tinker’s ability to expedite the process through an environmental stripping agent gives them an edge over other bases across the country. Using an environmental agent versus a non-environmental agent has shaved about three days off the process, Lieutenant Larkins clarified, making five days the standard timeline for de-painting at the OC-ALC.

The highlighted response time is not solely due to the unique environmental stripping capabilities at Tinker. Master schedulers have a key role in conducting and ensuring efficiency. Ms. Grizzle explained that there were approximately 24 hours from the initial point of contact and getting everyone and everything properly coordinated. The Blue Angels contacted Ms. Grizzle, who then coordinates with the OC-ALC Paint Facility and Hill Air Force Base. Slots within the paint facility must be available in order to prepare an itinerary or timeline to the estimated completion date. Its next location must also be contacted to confirm a retrieval and arrival date. Executing the schedules on time is critical, Ms. Grizzle said, and that gave Tinker the capacity to take action swiftly.

Lieutenant Larkins said maintainers are very enthusiastic about working on this aircraft.

“It’s not every day we get to do this,” he said. “This has all the bells and whistles.”

Typical C-130s that are brought in are workload aircraft with a standard gray paint job. Having a specialty bird, especially a Navy aircraft, brought to Tinker is rather noteworthy.

In the meantime, the Blue Angels will fly a backup C-130 aircraft, “Ernie,” until the PDM is finished.

Fat Albert usually flies 100,000 miles each season (mid-March until mid-November) and carries 45 maintenance and support personnel, in addition to any specialized equipment required for the upcoming air shows. Fat Albert will be forced to miss the rest of the season.

“We really appreciate the hard work and dedication of the personnel at Tinker AFB,” said Fat Albert pilot Capt. Katie Higgins.

“Many people forget that the Fat Albert team is more than just the pilots and the aircrew. It takes multiple maintenance facilities and maintainers from across the services to keep her running. We have the honor of representing these hard working servicemen and women.”