The Blue Angels flight team made a tight formation during the Fleet Week Air Show near Marina Green in October 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

The Blue Angels flight team made a tight formation during the Fleet Week Air Show near Marina Green in October 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Fleet Week is back. So are the Blue Angels

Pilots who were sidelined during the pandemic are ‘getting the itch’ to return to The City’s skies

Fleet Week returns this year after the coronavirus pandemic shuttered last October’s event. The waterfront airshow, which kicks off next Friday, will feature demonstrations from the Coast Guard, the Navy Parachute Team, and the Red Bull Helicopter, but its crowning act has long been a high-throttle performance from the world-famous Blue Angels flight team.

In many ways, the return of Fleet Week signals a path to recovery after what has been a turbulent year for the aviation industry. Air shows, business travel, manufacturing and myriad aviation jobs were all brought to a sudden halt as the pandemic swept across the country.

“We are now in the midst of the gravest crisis the aerospace industry has ever known,” said Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury in a statement last year.

But for Major Rick Rose, pilot of the Blue Angels’ C-130J, affectionately called “Fat Albert” for its multi-engine heft, the return of the air show is personal. A Napa native, Rose considers San Francisco’s Fleet Week his home show. It’s also the place where he was first inspired to pursue a career as a pilot in the United States Marine Corps.

Maj. Rick Rose is pilot of the Blue Angels’ C-130J, which is affectionately called “Fat Albert.” (Courtesy U.S. Navy Blue Angels)

Maj. Rick Rose is pilot of the Blue Angels’ C-130J, which is affectionately called “Fat Albert.” (Courtesy U.S. Navy Blue Angels)

“Our family would try to find the tallest parking structure in downtown San Francisco and, you know, park in the top somewhere and watch the whole demo,” he said. “I was hooked at that point.”

Rose joined the Marine Corps after graduating from Sacramento State in 2007 and became a Blue Angel in 2019. He’s completed numerous missions around the world, including two tours in the Middle East, and deployment with the VMGR-152 “Sumos” in Iwakuni, Japan.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the U.S. Navy Marines Blue Angels, and Rose will be flying the first C-130 demonstration since 2018 with a brand new aircraft. “Having a year off from air shows, we’re all getting the itch to get back there and do it,” he said.

The Examiner talked to Rose about his career, how the pandemic changed the mission of the Blues, and what this year’s return to San Francisco’s Fleet Week means to him.

You grew up watching the Blue Angels with your dad, a former Navy pilot. What does it mean now that you are participating in this year’s air show? It’s pretty crazy to think about, you know, how many times I looked forward to and watched the Blue Angels perform over the Bay, and then actually being able to do it… It’s kind of surreal.

You chose to get your wings long before joining the Blue Angels. Why did you want to fly a C-130 specifically? I wanted to go multi-engine, which included C-130s for the Marine Corps, based on the mission that you do with that aircraft. It’s such a critical asset to the Marine Corps. We use it for everything — it does so many different missions around the world. You get to travel, you get to fly a lot and you get to see corners of the world you never thought you’d ever see.

The Blue Angels’ Lockheed Martin C-130 J is known as “Fat Albert.” (Courtesy U.S. Navy Blue Angels)

The Blue Angels’ Lockheed Martin C-130 J is known as “Fat Albert.” (Courtesy U.S. Navy Blue Angels)

What makes the Marine Corps Lockheed Martin C-130 J special? Every day is different when you jump in this plane. I could be doing aerial refueling, giving gas to either helicopters or jets, and also, what we call air delivery which is, like, kicking out paratroopers or any sort of supplies to Marines on the ground that are isolated.

We also demonstrate our assault landing characteristic, so we can take off in a very short distance and land in a very short distance. I’ve landed in very austere environments and in very short landing zones, dirt strips. The thing’s a tank. It can really do everything.

Side note: my wife is a helicopter pilot in the Marine Corps, and I’m hoping at some point I’ll get the opportunity to give her some gas. That would be pretty funny.

The pandemic hit the aviation industry particularly hard. How has the pandemic impacted you and the Blue Angels team? We were a little bit like, “How are we going to complete our mission now if we’re not doing airshows?”

We had to get creative in some ways, but we made it work. And that’s kind of what we’re all about with the Navy and the Marine Corps, is hey, adapt and overcome. You’re presented with adversity, that’s how you become stronger and that’s what it’s all about.

The Blue Angels flight team flies neared the Golden Gate Bridge during the Fleet Week in October 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

The Blue Angels flight team flies neared the Golden Gate Bridge during the Fleet Week in October 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

During the pandemic the Blue Angels took to the skies in Operation America Strong, paying tribute to frontline health care workers by flying over a number of major U.S. cities. Tell me more about that. The Operation America Strong flyovers — that was kind of a cool thing to be a part of because that’s really the first time we’ve ever done something like that. A lot of work was involved to get six jets to fly across the country without landing anywhere and coordinating all the support involved to do that for flyovers over major cities to salute the health care workers. So that’s kind of how we stayed engaged.

You became a Blue Angel in 2019. Is it everything you expected? What I thought it took to be a Blue Angel — multiply that by 10. It’s a very rewarding but difficult job. You’re always striving for perfection. You’ll never really attain perfection. But you’ll get pretty dang close.

This interview has been edited for space and clarity.

Fleet Week Schedule

Oct. 6

10 a.m. – 4 p.m.: Ship tours, Port of San Francisco, Pier 30/32 + Pier 35

6 p.m.: Honor Our Fallen Concert, Herbst Theatre, SF War Memorial & Performing Arts Center

Oct. 7

10 a.m. – 4 p.m.: Ship tours, Port of San Francisco, Pier 30/32 + Pier 35

Oct. 8 – Oct. 10

10 a.m. – 4 p.m.: Air Show

10 a.m. – 4 p.m.: Ship tours, Port of San Francisco, Pier 30/32 + Pier 35

10 a.m. – 5 p.m.: PML Humanitarian Assistance Village and the STEM Education Center, Marina Green

11 a.m. – 1 p.m.: Parade of Ships, San Francisco waterfront (Friday only)

10 a.m. – 2 p.m.: K9 Heroes, Duboce Park (Saturday only)

Oct. 11

9 a.m. – Noon: Ship tours, Port of San Francisco, Pier 30/32 + Pier 35

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