Japan II 2014
In October 2014 three 4Aviation Japan tours were organised. This is the report of the tour that focussed on the fighter bases in the country. A number of fighter bases was visited, mostly staying two days at each base for bettter photo opportunities.
A different version of the known 4Aviation tours to Japan started at Schiphol on Saturday 18 October. This tour was prepared because some of our customers asked for it. The tour focused primarily on the fighter bases and we tried to spend two days at each base. It was one of three tours that 4Aviation organised to Japan in October/November 2014.
The tour started with a delay. The KLM flight from Amsterdam to Narita showed a delay on the screens. The 7 Dutch and 3 English participants could do nothing more than wait. When the delay was getting worse there was the need to do something though. The tour also included 5 domestic flights with Japan Airlines (JAL) and the first of these was scheduled for Sunday afternoon. The delay had now become this much that connecting to this first flight was becoming very difficult. So, time to call JAL. “Rebook ten passengers to a later flight tomorrow? Sure, we can do that, no problem”. Alright… that’s very good! And thus the flight to Narita by KLM Boeing 747 started.
After our arrival at Narita (on Sunday 19 October in the meantime) we cashed some money and got acquainted to the country a little bit. Since our flight to Naha/Okinawa would depart from Haneda we had to take the bus from Narita to Haneda. This is therefore what we did and this went relatively fast. The KLM delay was partially made up for by ‘speeding up’ in the air a little and all in all we were at Haneda at a decent time. So, off to the JAL counter to find out if we could fetch our original (earlier) flight again. “Rebook ten passengers to an earlier flight that will leave soon? Sure, we can do that, no problem”. Alright… that’s very good! So, in the end we flew to Naha on time. After our arrival there on Sunday afternoon we were greeted by a couple of Eagles that landed! We picked up the two rental cars and drove straight to the hotel for the next two nights. We got some dinner and after that everybody was rather exhausted.
On Monday morning 20 October we were up early (something that would repeat itself in the next 2 weeks). The hotel was rather close to the base so we arrived there in time. On arrival at the airport it was clear that they were flying from North to South. We therefore chose a place at the viewing terrace of the civil terminal in order to see and capture the activity from there. And there was plenty of activity! The Eagles were very active and so where the Hawkeyes and the Orions. Around noon Naha was replaced by Kadena AB (about 45 minutes away). At Kadena we saw a number of take-offs by various types, but no Eagles. A number of visiting aircraft took to the air. After a while we had to conclude that there was no Eagle activity on this Monday and also that hardly anything was willing to come in (apart from a Orion that suddenly appeared and was missed by almost everybody). At the end of the afternoon we were satisfied and drove back to the hotel, after buying the (already reserved) stepladders at a local stepladder store.
On Tuesday (21 October) back to Naha again in the morning. The group wanted to split up. Some went to the terminal, the rest to the other side of the runway. The weather was brilliant again, with temperature around 30 degrees Celcius, and again a lot of activity. We also caught the P-1 that was probably on temporary duty here. Around noon we assessed who was interested at giving Kadena a second chance. About half of the group went there for a second time, the rest stayed at Naha to enjoy the activity there. The group that went to Naha was rewarded with a dozen Eagles (primarily from ‘blue’, 44th FS). Later in the day the groups gathered again at Naha as it was almost time to check in for the next flight. A Boeing 737 would take us to Fukuoka that evening. On arrival there we had to wait for the 10 stepladders to appear on the luggage belt (JAL will check these in without asking a thing), after which we collected our two new cars and drove towards the hotel.
On Wednesday 22 October we still had some driving to do towards Tsuiki. This drive took place in numerous clouds and some rain. The sun had made room for grey stuff in the air. Although we did try to convince each other underway that is was clearing up, on arrival at Tsuiki it had not improved much. A short peek at the flight line taught us that they were going to fly and that a number of aggressor Eagles of the Hiko Kyodotai was present. These were also the Eagles to take off first after we had arrived at the known spot near the quay wall. Despite the weather the flying activities were normal, with the number of local Eagles surpassing the number of F-2s as usual. The weather hardly improved and at the end of the day we drove towards Miyazaki ahead of two days at Nyutabaru.
After yet another good night’s sleep we drove towards Nyutabaru early on this Thursday morning (23 October) and the sun was shining brightly again. We wanted to be there by 8 o’clock, when the first launches normally take place. And so it was today! We were next to the taxi-track to capture the first Eagles. The security showed up fast to collect our details (in no hurry and without any stress). In the meantime the other runway was in use and after security left we went to the other side of the runway. There we noted that there were twelve ZZ-coded Eagles on the platform, all from ‘red’ (67th FS), for an exercise. So, besides the many Nyutabaru based Eagles, Phantoms, T-4s and rescue unit aircraft, we were now presented with Kadena Eagles. As usual there was a lot going on during the day. From several locations around the base we captured it all. By the time the sun went down we drove to our hotel in Miyazaki for a relaxed evening with good food and a beer.
We wanted to be at Nyutabaru on time on Friday 24 October as well. This went according to plan and the sun was shining at least as bright as the day before. The aircraft flew a number of waves from the other end than the day before, resulting in a nice variation of the pictures. Furthermore the aggressors of Hiko Kyodotai returned from Tsuiki, resulting in a very nice day with Eagles of three different units (including the ZZ-coded ones) and Phantoms. You can only encounter this in Japan, nowhere else. In the later afternoon the cameras were given some time to cool down as we drove towards Fukuoka again for the next night in a hotel.
The Saturday (25 October) started with handing in the cars again and checking in for the next flight. From Fukuoka we flew to Haneda by Boeing 777. At Haneda two cars were waiting for us and we used them to drive to Hyakuri. Only 5 minutes after our arrival there the other two 4Aviation groups arrived there too. Eventually we ended up at the fence of Hyakuri with 31 4Aviation travellers on that Saturday afternoon. We were able to capture some arrivals for the static display that was in place for the military review. At the end of the day the 6 cars of the 3 groups headed for the same hotel to spend the night.
A visit to Hyakuri was scheduled for Sunday 26 October. Today the military review was to take place. This military review is held every year, rotating between the air force, the army and the navy. Once every three years it is the air force’s turn and this happens at Hyakuri. Apart from a static display there is also a fly-past of almost all types of the various armed services. This year the 60th anniversary of the Japanese Air Self Defence Force would be commemorated as well. Around the base a lot of Police was present and not all areas were accessible (due to a number of dignitaries visiting the review). We all ended up at a spot in the approach and saw a number of T-4s, transport aircraft and choppers come in in the morning. In the afternoon the fly-past took place. Part of the dozens of choppers, fighters and transport aircraft that took part could be photographed relatively well. After that a display followed by some Eagles, RF-4s and Blue Impulse. The ‘show’ ended with a formation of T-4 representing the number 60. After that some more aircraft landed. We relocated to the other side of the runway for even more activity (Phantoms returned and the larger part of the static display participants departed that afternoon). All in all an interesting day with lots of activity. All three groups would spend the night in the same hotel again, on the other side of Tokyo. The drive towards to the hotel took a long time. It was very busy around Tokyo on Sunday evening. Eventually we all ended up eating dinner at a highway restaurant and all ended up at the hotel late in the evening for a well-deserved night’s sleep.
On Monday morning (27 October) two groups headed for Shizuhama while the ‘fighter group’ drove from the hotel to Atsugi a little later. There the morning was a bit ‘slow’ with take-offs by a number of aircraft. It became better during the afternoon when P-3s, P-1 and some other aircraft landed. Unfortunately the Carrier Air Wing was not at home at the time of our visit. Despite that it was yet another day with very nice aircraft that you will (hardly ever) see anywhere else in the world. In the late afternoon the ritual for the next flight followed; refuelling the cars, handing them in, checking in the stepladders and the luggage and waiting for the moment that we can board the aircraft. In this case another Boeing 777 on our way to Chitose. After arriving there we took 4 taxis to the hotel (since the car rental offices were already closed according to planning).
Tuesday 28 October started with a bus ride back to the airport. After our arrival there it took some time to collect our rentals car (communication problems). As soon as we were handed the keys we drove to the approach area. On our way there we already noted landing Eagles. This would continue for the rest of the day. Between that we would see a lot of take-offs from Eagles, see T-4s taking off, see T-4s landing en other aircraft (an Air Force B747 was part of that). There was a huge amount of activity. Furthermore there was a detachment of 6 Eagles of 305 Hikotai from Hyakuri and they had brought their Eagle that had received a special (blue) colour scheme for the 60th anniversary of the Air Force. The sun, dark clouds and autumn colours all added to the awesome scenery. We stayed until the first wave of Eagles took off in the twilight/dark. After that we found shelter and warmth in the hotel (Hokkaido was rather cold at this time of the year already).
Another day at Chitose was on the itinerary for Wednesday (29 October). We started at a different spot than those visited the day before. Despite warnings by Japanese that the local units would not be active, they sent up Eagles one after the other. Pretty active again! Somewhere in the morning we drove to Okadama from Chitose hoping to catch some army-helicopters. By the time we arrived there clouds had covered the sky but we could still get pretty decent shots of some Hueys and an OH-1. After a couple of hours we drove back to Chitose for more great photos. The dark clouds of the previous day were beaten today by even darker clouds in the background, while the sun kept shining. At the end of the day we drove to Tomakomai for dinner. The night would be spent on a boat, the ferry that was to take us from Tomakomai to Hachinohe (on the main island). The boat left at 23.59 sharp and all found their beds soon after.
Exactly according to the schedule we arrived in the harbour of Hachinohe at 07.30 in the morning on Thursday 30 October. Getting off the ship was easy and we arrived at Misawa soon after. The weather was fantastic again; blue skies and sunshine! After arriving at Misawa we soon positioned ourselves in the approach area. When we got there, there was already a lot of activity. A number of F-2s was waiting to take off while others were returning to the base soon after. There was a lot of activity this day. Apart from the F-2s, the USAF F-16s, a Hawkeye and Chinooks there were also three visiting Growlers and at the end of the day four F/A-18s of VMFA-115 also arrived. Some of the aircraft we had to picture from the other side of the base since they decided to change runways during the day. Until our departure the F-2s kept on coming and going! At the end of the day we drove back to Hachinohe to spend the night.
Misawa was also our destination for Friday (31 October). Before we drove there we made a short stop at Hachinohe (hoping to catch an Orion during its take-off). The weather was as perfect as the day before. When we got to Misawa it was a bit quieter though. It appeared that the Japanese Air Self Defence Force wasn’t going to fly this day (apart from transport aircraft and helicopters). The only F-2 we saw was the one carrying an anniversary tail that departed for the static display at Iruma. We were lucky that Misawa is also home to American aircraft, so we did get some activity (WW F-16s, the F/A-18s and E/A-18Gs). We also paid a visit to the nice museum that is situated next to the base and gives perfect options for capturing the Chinooks.
In the meantime it was 1 November, a Saturday. The return journey to Chitose was today’s thing to do. A fairly long drive, but we had all day to cover the distance and would only make a short stop at Ominato (we were able to photograph a couple of nice gate-guards). The only other things marking this day was the departure time of the ferry to Hokkaido and the bad weather. Precisely on the day that we weren’t supposed to see any flying aircraft the rain kept falling for almost the entire day. All in all the drive to Chitose took quite some time and we were able to hand in the rental cars just before closing time, after a first search for the hotel failed (because of the wrong telephone number we had to feed into our navigation system). Eventually we did end up in the hotel and did our thing again (eat, drink, sleep).
Our final domestic flight, from Chitose to Narita, was scheduled for Sunday (2 November). This flight was, as with all other domestic flights, very smooth and easy. The final couple of rental cars was collected (we were given the cars that were handed in the day before by another 4Aviation group, taking the short tour, and some stepladders were still in one of them!). We then drove to Yokota. At least, that was the intention. The navigation system did by now not pose any problems anymore, but you have to keep paying attention. We started paying some attention again while we were almost at Atsugi and ended up at Yokota after a long detour. There, a lot of photographers were present and we waited here on this Sunday afternoon until a couple of aircraft took off (a C-17 and a KC-135) before driving to our hotel. In the hotel we would meet another 4Aviation group again (those taking the two week tour). A beer in the lobby of the hotel late at night was the outcome.
The immensely crowded open day at Iruma was the goal for the two groups on Monday 3 November. Therefore, 4 cars with pretty cool 4Aviation magnetic plates, started to drive very early on Monday morning. We parked at a train station near Iruma. By parking there and taking the train towards the gate a lot of parking stress was prevented. We had to wait a while before the gates opened. The weather was great again and after some time we were able to walk onto the base. It some became busy, very busy. Still, with some effort, it was possible to get decent shots on the ground, especially from the based aircraft. The air show itself was small but of high quality. A formation of five C-1s is unique! The display of Blue Impulse was interesting as well, also because they show some manoeuvres that we do not see in the West. The show itself ended rather early, after which a large number of people left already. We stayed on base until the major part of the static display participants took off and this resulted in some very nice pictures! At the agreed time everybody was back at the entrance and the two groups said goodbye to each other. We drove to our hotel in the neighbourhood of Hyakuri via a rather busy Tokyo.
Tuesday (4 November) was to be another highlight of the tour; Hyakuri on an operational day. Blue skies and sunshine accompanied us on our way to the base early in the morning. There we went through the procedure needed to gain access to the towers. While climbing the towers we quickly saw that this would be a great day. The platform was filled with aircraft and the first Phantoms started taxying already. We also saw two visiting Hercules’, after which the Eagles and the Recce-Phantoms started moving. This is a fantastic base. The waves of aircraft kept coming (although part of the Phantoms had left for Komatsu) and we also saw the Blue Eagle in front of our lenses again. Around noon we moved to the other side of the base and there we continued shooting pictures as much as we could. These were the last pictures of a great tour. After the sun had almost set we decided to call it a day as well. We drove to Narita, handed in the rental cars and checked in for the final night.
After a final Japanese breakfast, on Wednesday 5 November, the bus took us to the airport. The check-in followed, the wait for the flight and the wait during the flight. Without issues we arrived at Schiphol on time and we said goodbye to each other. The 3 British guys were booked on another flight to the UK later that day. It was a long tour, but one that would be on everybody’s mind for a log while! It was good!