Japan II 2018
At the end of October and the beginning of November 2018 another 4Aviation group visited Japan. The main reason for the visit was to hopefully still catch many glimpses of the F-4 Phantoms at Hyakuri and to visit the Iruma Air Show.
In the early morning of Saturday 27 October 2018, a group of 11 travellers (out of 16) met up at the temporary meeting point at Schiphol airport. Bag drop was a breeze as was security where 2 other travelers met up with us as their inbound flight/train arrival times meant they couldn’t make it to the meeting point in time. Flights with Finnair would take us to Narita. The Helsinki-Narita leg was flown on an A350, a first for many of us.
Arrival to Narita was on-time on 28 October 2018 and after the formalities we met up in the arrivals hall with 3 more participants that made the trip on their own or were already in Japan. Pick up of the 3 rental vans took a while but all was good. The vans were loaded with our luggage and the stack of stepladders (many with 4Aviation stickers) that were stocked at the agency. As it was Sunday with no planned activities the group decided for a short cultural visit to one of Tokyo’s neighborhoods to get a feel for this rather different country and culture. Asakusa (浅草) is the center of Tokyo’s shitamachi (literally “low city”), one of Tokyo’s districts, where an atmosphere of the Tokyo of past decades ‘survives’. A quick look was had at Sensoji and Nakamise street. After the cultural side of things, we drove to our hotel in Tsuchiura where we arrived early evening after a stop at a local Homac store for the necessary stock-up on stepladders. Despite the exhaustion, some of us went out for dinner, others couldn’t be bothered and went straight to bed.
On Monday (29 October) we left the hotel early to be on time at the famous towers at Hyakuri. Upon arrival, the sun was shining and F-4s and T-4s were pulled out of the hangars for today’s missions. The first engine starts were around 8am with a first take-off some 25 minutes later. All action could be photographed in fantastic weather from the towers or from a stepladder along the fence. During lunchbreak we moved from the towers to the westside of the base somewhere half way the runway. All 3 resident squadrons took their turn throughout the day. Each flew 3 waves with last take-offs by 501 Hikotai just before sunset. We waited for the last aircraft to have landed after which we boarded our vans and headed direction Tokyo for a night’s stay close to Atsugi.
In the morning of Tuesday 30 October 2018, we drove the few remaining kilometers from our hotel to Atsugi. The Japanese Navy platforms were full of P-1s, P-3s, C-130s, but flight operations were rather limited this morning despite the great weather. Around 10:30, after very few movements, we decided we had enough and headed to Iruma. Upon arrival at the well-known spotter’s corner near the hospital, plenty Japanese enthusiasts were present. The afternoon we were entertained by all based aircraft types and a few visitors all of which could be photographed in beautiful light. The absolute highlight being two local flights performed by the brand-new RC-2. After sunset, we had a few hours of motorway to cover most of the distance to our destination for Wednesday morning: Gifu.
This Wednesday, 31 October, started at Gifu. This is the base that hosts the test wing of the Japanese Air Force and if the weather plays ball, a nice mix of aircraft types can usually be seen. Close to Gifu we saw the C-1 testbed take off. Soon after we set up in the approach the first wave of aircraft returned from the mission beginning with what we all hoped for: one of the resident ADTW Phantoms! A handful of other test aircraft and visitors followed quickly after which we waited for the 2nd wave to launch. Around 11:00 this wave launched including the red-white-blue F-2B. During the wave 2 recoveries, the C-1 testbed also came back. During the lunch break we made our way to the Kakamigahara museum adjacent to the air base. This has recently been re-opened after renovation and is much improved. The 3rd wave launched including another Phantom. Quickly querying the group, it was to no surprise that all of us wanted to stay at Gifu to wait for ‘our’ second ADTW Phantom of the day to return. This implied we scrapped the planned visit to Hamamatsu and instead would take a very quick look at nearby Komaki providing there was still (some) daylight. The 3rd wave including the F-4 returned in beautiful Fall sunlight after which we swiftly moved to Komaki mainly for the number crunchers amongst us. As we found ourselves in Komaki (Nagoya) during the blue hour, a long drive to our hotel in Tsuchiura was ensured. Luckily this meant we would have to deal with downtown Tokyo traffic well after the regular rush hour. After a long day, long drive and a quick dinner at a Tomei Expressway service area we made it to our hotel by 23.00 for a few hours of rest until an early rise to make it to Hyakuri the next morning.
Hyakuri Day two: Thursday 1 November 2018. Another bright sunshiny day. Pretty much the same scenario as we witnessed on Monday. Well in time we made it to the ‘Peace’ gate where we witnessed the ground crews preparing Phantoms and T-4s on Hyakuri’s large platform for today’s missions. First engine starts were around 08:30 but a first take off was unusually late for Hyakuri, well after 9 o’clock. 302 Hikotai launched first after which 301 and 501 took their turns as did the rescue squadron. Again, at lunchtime we moved sides, this time opting for the south western corner (northeasterly winds) where runway line-ups and landings can be photographed very well. At sunset we visited the two F-4s next to the Ibaraki airport terminal. Via a UH-1 at a (closed) swimming pool we made our way back to our hotel. The day ended in typical Japanese style at a local Izakaya restaurant.
Friday (2 November) was Phantoms day 3. Early in the morning of another sunny day, once more we made our way to the Peace Gate with the famous towers overlooking Hyakuri airbase. Today proved to be no different than Monday and Thursday with the resident units each taking their turn in execution their missions. One more time we enjoyed the fabulous photographic possibilities the area of the towers offers. In the evening we drove once more to Tokyo for an overnight stay that would enable us to visit the Iruma airshow on Saturday. Friday evening Tokyo traffic was rather congested, so the 100 or so kilometres took us about 3h30mins. A bit later than envisioned we arrived at our hotel after which we all went out for dinner.
Today (Saturday 3 November) was Iruma airshow day. From our hotel we took a local train to Inariyama-Koën. This station is immediately adjacent to Iruma airbase. Upon arrival around 6:30 there was already a large but very well-organised queue right outside the station waiting for the access gate to open to enter the base. Despite the huge crowds, there is no pushing, shoving, running or anything. All runs very well-behaved and organised despite this show being the most crowded airshow we have ever visited. It was immensely crowded, probably more so due the fabulous autumn weather. Highlight was the flying C-1 in special ‘Kabuki’ colors for the 60th anniversary 2TAG, but also an E-2C in the static line-up was rather welcome. One of the nice features of Japanese airshows is that most visiting aircraft depart right after the official program ends. Iruma proved no exception and this gave us an extra hour of entertainment and superb photo opportunities. After the platform got swept clean of people, we hopped on a train once more to go back pick up our vans. The drive to Narita for our last night in Japan was relatively smooth. We dropped off the cars and the check in to our last hotel went quick. Time to celebrate a successful week with a beer or two.
This Sunday (4 November) was our return travel day back to Europe. After saying goodbye to 3 guys travelling elsewhere, the hotel shuttle drove us to the terminal. Check-in, the flights, the stop-over in HEL, all was uneventful. At the luggage carousel @ Schiphol we shook hands and said goodbye. End to a good week in Japan blessed with beautiful weather.