Flying With the Blue Angels
Check out the accompanying episode of our webseries on the Blue Angels ➡️ https://youtu.be/2-UQANn9Kwk
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Hello and welcome to The Flight Deck, the podcast of The Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington. I’m your host, Sean Mobley. Now, who doesn’t love the Blue Angels? Today’s podcast episode is a set of interviews with some of the folks from the Blue Angels. Now, this season of The Flight Deck we’re going behind the scenes of Curator on the Loose, which is The Museum of Flight’s web series that features our senior curator Matthew Burchette taking people into spaces in the aviation industry that they normally wouldn’t get to go. And how many people get to have conversations with the Blue Angels? This was a really fun day to shoot. We got to get up close and personal with Fat Albert, which is a plane that accompanies the Blue Angels. And because this is Curator on the Loose, we wanted to try to do something extra. You know, a lot of folks have interviewed the pilots, and the pilots are obviously very important to the Blue Angels. They wouldn’t be the Blue Angels without the pilots. But you know, they also wouldn’t be the Blue Angels without all of the support crew that go along with the pilots and take care of the planes, make sure everything’s maintained, make sure everything’s organized. And so that’s who we’re going to hear from today.
I have a few interviews for you. One is from the pilot, Fat Albert, which like I said, is a marine crewed airplane that accompanies the Blue Angels. And then we also have an interview with one of the maintenance folks from the Blue Angels. One of the people who actually makes the planes themselves go. Now, these interviews were recorded live outdoors on the airfield, on Boeing Field King County International Airport, which is the airport that’s right in front of The Museum of Flight. The Blue Angels had just arrived, so there is sound. This is an active airfield. There are other planes flying in, because this is a big event. There’s other people around us. I’ve done my best to reduce the sound of background noise, but if you’re driving in your car and it sounds like you’re getting strafed, it’s probably not actually happening. It’s just the recording, because a plane was flying over the microphone, and there’s not much we can do about that.
With that out of the way though, I hope you enjoy this episode. I’m going to turn it over to Matthew for the interviews.
JOSH SOLTAN: At least enough. Ryan, how many marines we got now? 22?
JOSH SOLTAN: I think we’re sitting at about 21 marines right now, maintainers on the Fat Albert crew. It’s all marine crew. There’s three C-130 pilots. Myself being the most junior one. I just came on in September. I came from an east coast squadron, the C-130 to KC-130 J’s. VMJR252. Been around the world in a couple different squadrons, and then was selected for the team, showed up in September, been with them ever since. I’ll serve about three years on the team, and then after that I’ll go right back to the fleet again, so right back to the Marine Corps. The same with the other two pilots. We have four flight engineers right now, and they kind of rotate through. Fat Albert is an all-marine crew. It needs two pilots and at least two flight engineers to be able to operate it. We just arrived from Pensacola, Florida. We have 38,000 pounds of cargo. We bring everything that we need to be able to keep these jets on the up form, so Bert is the – Fat Albert is what we call it. 1970 cartoon. We kind of affectionately call her Fat Albert. It moves all of our people and our equipment from show side to show side. Once we arrive, they start unloading all of the people and equipment, and they’ll start working on these jets and they can start their practice here shortly.
MATTHEW BURCHETTE: Nice. So, we’re here with Major Soltan who surprisingly is a Marine. Who would have thunk it? Major, thank you so much. Now, you have a really cool job. You get to pilot something not a lot of people do, and that is Bert.
JOSH SOLTAN: That’s right. So Fat Albert, 1970 established to be able to support the team. It’s an all-marine air crew. We’ve got three other pilots on board. We’ve got another four flight engineers, and we’ve got a whole maintenance contingent to be able to keep that aircraft up so we can sort these fast-moving jets behind us.
MATTHEW BURCHETTE: So, the Blues had Bert many, many years ago, it went away, now it’s been brought back. What model are we flying now?
JOSH SOLTAN: So, we’re flying the C-130 J, so we’ve got a full contingent of glass cockpit. We’ve got four 4700 horsepower engine to come along with it. Six by props (unintelligible 00:05:15). It’s still Lockheed made. Trusted and true.
MATTHEW BURCHETTE: Nice. Now, I know everybody out there is going to want to know this question. What happened to the JATOs?
JOSH SOLTAN: No JATOs. So, 2009 was the last JATO show. We stopped producing those anymore. And fortunately, the new J model actually produces more thrust than any of those JATOs were able to give us, so you’re going to see the same profile from the J model, just without the JATO rockets.
MATTHEW BURCHETTE: You know what? I think that’s even cooler.
JOSH SOLTAN: It’s pretty cool.
MATTHEW BURCHETTE: Just pure prop power.
JOSH SOLTAN: That’s it. All aerodynamics.
MATTHEW BURCHETTE: Very nice. All right. So, tell us a little bit about yourself. I mean, how did you get into the Marine Corps? And then how do you get onto the Blues? It can’t be easy.
JOSH SOLTAN: It’s definitely a challenge through and through, but I started out just over the mountains here. Central Washington University. I was a graduate there through the flight program. Applied for the Marine Corps, was able to qualify for an aviation slot that all the normal training, all the way, like a lot of these Navy fliers do. And then served quite a few years out in the Pacific and then also on the east coast, and then applied last spring, and then they selected me, and I was able to join the team in September. And this is the second year the C-130 J has been conducting its demonstration with the team. We’re pretty fortunate to have Bert along for the ride.
MATTHEW BURCHETTE: That’s really cool. So, you’ll serve how long?
JOSH SOLTAN: So, it will be a three-year tour, so my last year will be 2024.
MATTHEW BURCHETTE: And then you’ll go back right into your old slot?
JOSH SOLTAN: That’s right. So, I’m an instructor pilot, came from the fleet. And just like everybody else here, we go back to the fleet. So, we serve a short two to three years, and then right back, we go back to wearing those green and flying those gray aircraft.
MATTHEW BURCHETTE: So, adding a little bit of color to your life. All right. Tell me what is the best thing about Bert?
JOSH SOLTAN: Best thing about Bert, I’ve got to say the paint job’s pretty cool, but honestly, it takes us to some pretty awesome places. We get to meet some interesting people. And I think without that happening, the uniqueness of the Blue Angel team is the fact that Bert is able to support any of those logistical missions at a moment’s notice. So, if an aircraft were to go down and need a part, Bert would man-up, and we would go get a part wherever it’s located in the US, the east coast or west coast, go get that, bring it back. And these maintainers you see out here from the fleet would get that aircraft up and ready for the show the next day.
MATTHEW BURCHETTE: That’s awesome. Man, you guys are great. We’re really excited to have you back. It has been a long couple of years. Well, thank you, Major. Thank you so much.
Now, you brought somebody along with you, because we want to get a different kind of take on the Blues. You brought what you guys call a maintainer.
JOSH SOLTAN: Sure did.
MATTHEW BURCHETTE: Can we kind of talk to him?
JOSH SOLTAN: Yeah. Why don’t we bring him on over here? This is Ryan. Local boy as well. Sir.
MATTHEW BURCHETTE: Staff Sergeant. How are you?
RYAN MEILI: Doing well, sir. How are you?
MATTHEW BURCHETTE: I am great. So, tell me a little bit about yourself. How did you get into this job? Is this something that you’re like, “I might go out for the Blues,” or were you just like, “Got to do it.”
RYAN MEILI: Now, that’s a great question, sir. So, for the Marines, we actually do a different little process than what the sailors would do to get on team. The sailors come out, see if they enjoy the process of being a Blue Angel, and then they actually apply. When I was hired on the team about three years ago, it was actually who I knew. So, a Marine was leaving the team. He remembered me from Japan actually. We were stationed together. And he asked if I wanted the opportunity, and I said, “Absolutely, I do want the opportunity.”
MATTHEW BURCHETTE: Oh, man. That’s a good friend.
RYAN MEILI: Yeah. No kidding. Yes, sir. So, I just changed now. The Marines do apply, just like the Navy does as well. So, they’ll come out, do the exact same process as the Navy, and then they’ll be hired that way. So, my lucky days are over, unfortunately, but I was definitely very lucky to get this opportunity.
MATTHEW BURCHETTE: That’s great. How long have you been with the team now?
RYAN MEILI: I actually got four years, so this will be my last year. Bittersweet, for sure. I love my opportunity, but it’s just like Major was saying, is it’s time to go back.
MATTHEW BURCHETTE: Yeah. Now, where will you head back to?
RYAN MEILI: So, in the Marine Corps, we actually fly – we call them Legacy Hornets. So, Alpha through Delta. We don’t have the Echoes and Foxtrots on the Super Hornets, so I can either go to (unintelligible 00:09:19), I can go to Miramar down in San Diego. And those are basically my choices for those aircraft.
MATTHEW BURCHETTE: I would suggest Miramar.
RYAN MEILI: I would also agree with you.
MATTHEW BURCHETTE: Yeah, San Diego is awesome. You will have a lot of fun in San Diego, and be a great Marine at the same time, I’m sure. Now, tell me a little bit about the Super Hornet. What sets it apart from what you call the Legacy Hornets?
RYAN MEILI: So, a lot of things from the Legacy Hornets to the Super Hornet, it’s just a newer aircraft. So, your avionics are going to be upgraded. It’s hard to tell now, but if you were sitting next to an Alpha to a Delta, to the Echo and Foxtrots, these are just a much larger aircraft.
MATTHEW BURCHETTE: It really is.
RYAN MEILI: They are substantial. They’re about 33 percent larger, so they’re a much larger aircraft, so they can just go further, they can carry more, there’s more versatile in those aspects.
SEAN MOBLEY: Thank you for tuning into The Flight Deck, the podcast of The Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington. This was one of the most special episodes to shoot, and it really comes through in the actual TV episode, so if you want to watch the visuals that accompany this, include a look around Fat Albert, you can head to our YouTube channel. You can just go to YouTube, search for The Museum of Flight, you can find us there and watch the episode there, or I’m also going to include a link to the episode in our show notes, so you can check those out there.
And we’re constantly releasing new episodes of Curator on the Loose. We’ve got something like 50 back episodes at this point too. So, while you’re on our YouTube channel, make sure that you subscribe to us so that you get the new videos as soon as they come out.
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Until next time, this is your host Sean Mobley saying to everyone out there on that good earth, we’ll see you out there, folks.