‘Bert’s Last JATO Launch, NAS Pensacola 2009 Home Coming Air Show

When Hurricane Katrina slammed into the New Orleans area in 2005, it set in motion a grand finale event in 2009. When the storm hit NAS New Orleans, as the story goes, a large part of a cache of JATO bottles (standing for Jet Assisted Take Off – sometimes known for what they actually are – RATO or Rocket Assisted Take Off) was damaged by water. These were used on C-130 Hercules transports for added thrust for difficult takeoffs. Sometimes, they were used in “hot and high” situations, other times, they were needed to “unstick” LC-130s operating in polar/ice conditions. Additionally, the Blue Angels Marine C-130, affectionately known as Fat Albert, used these bottles, which were manufactured around the time of the Vietnam War, for their Blue Angels air shows.

Early on into the new Millennium, the cache of still-usable bottles had dwindled down to the point where 2009 was designated as the final year of the C-130 JATO demonstrations. To be sure, new JATO bottles were being produced, but in one dispatch, it was noted that the old stocks cost around $1000.00 per bottle to use, where new ones cost around $10,000.00. A fiscally sound decision, even though the WOW! factor of the JATO rockets would be missed.

So it was in early November, 2009 that the final Fat Albert C-130 JATO launches were made at the Blue Angels Homecoming Air Show at NAS Pensacola, Florida. The air show presented top notch civilian and warbird flying, parachuting, and of course the Blue Angels. The shows back then were held on a Friday and Saturday, with practice on the Thursday before the shows. Saturday afternoon would be the finale for JATO.

The weather for the weekend was great… a beautiful orange sunset for the Friday evening show, and blue skies during the rest of the weekend. Saturday afternoon, as the Blue Angels part of the show began, the final JATO sequence was announced. The C-130 began its takeoff roll, climbed a few feet off of the runway, and stayed there for a while until the eight JATO bottles were fired. Then, just like hundreds of shows since 1975’s inaugural JATO season, the aircraft pulled into a startling 45 degree climb with blue flames issuing from the rear fuselage.

About a thousand feet in altitude later, the nose pushed over, the crew and passengers inside the Lockheed turboprop felt weightlessness for a few seconds, and the black smoke that signaled the burnout of the JATO bottles appeared. In about a minute’s time, the rocket-assisted departure show was all done, and the remainder of the Marines’ program was flown.

Here are a few photos of that weekend show, including these final JATO takeoff by the Blue Angels.

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