By Marissa Alter
JANESVILLE (WREX) - A big crowd at this weekend's Southern Wisconsin Airfest in Janesville will likely cheer on a Rockford native: Major Drew Hess. He's in his third and final year with the Blue Angels.
Major Hess doesn't fly one of the jets, but the teams' support plane, a C-130 known as Fat Albert. This reporter and 13 News photographer Bill Miston were lucky enough to go up with Fat Albert Friday afternoon.
The flight began with a briefing from Major Hess. "Any questions about the flight? Have I scared anybody that they want out?" he asked. I responded, "not yet."
And with that, we board Fat Albert Airlines. My photographer Bill and I got the "preemo" seats, right up in front with Major Hess and some of the crew. That meant head-sets so we could listen in on their conversation. Major Hess says, "The number one response I get from people who fly Fat Albert is, 'I didn't realize an airplane that size could do that type of stuff.' So I don't know if you agree with that or not."
Oh yes. Fat Albert may look chunky, but he's not exactly slow. GySgt. Ben Chapman, Blue Angels Flight Engineer told the plane goes "up to 320 knots, which is about 370 mph."
Then there's the tight turns and the max effort break, showing the plane can stop in a short distance, 1500 feet. Needless to say, I was a little green by the end, unlike Bill and obviously unlike the Blues. Major Hess says, "We do have a lot of fun. We thrive on each other's motivation."
For Hess, the chance to perform so close to his hometown in his final year with the team is incredible. "it's great to be back. I always enjoy the Midwest hospitality and thanks. Good to be home."
Hess says it's bittersweet that this is his final year as a Blue Angel. It's a lot of fun, but also a lot of work. He doesn't know yet where he'll be next year..