JASDF Hyakuri Air Festival 2018
The culmination of my ten day photographic bender in Japan was the JASDF Hyakuri Air Festival, held on Sunday December 2nd, 2018. Hyakuri Air Base is approximately 90 minutes driving time north of Tokyo. After hearing some bad stories of traffic and late entry into the show, our group decided to invest in a private coach with a translator. After an early start from our hotel, we were redirected from gate to gate and finally allowed to park after a short wait. We walked through security with little trouble although they zip tied the foot stools we brought. We became scattered immediately and found our individual front row positions along the rope line in groups of two or three.
The weather was cloudy and breezy, not what we were counting on. The hot ramp was loaded with F-4EJ and RF-4 Phantoms, two F-15Js, a U-125 and two UH-60J helicopters of the based Rescue Wing detachment. To the left on static display was a Gulfstream U-4 and a Kawasaki P-1 Maritime Patrol aircraft. To extreme left was some ground equipment on display, an F-2 fighter, a Huey Helicopter and two based F-4EJs from the 301st and 302nd Tactical Fighter Squadrons. The Spook also made an appearance on the ramp.
If the sun were relevant this day, it would move from back to front on Runway 03L-21R. When the sun did break out, I took as many photos as I could. Later in the day as the sun moved, the cloud cover had an interesting effect. Hyakuri Air Base shares the grounds with Ibaraki Airport. Airliners would operate throughout the day on the parallel runway. Hyakuri is the only Phantom Super Base in Japan and in keeping with the home base theme, they were the feature of the airshow.
The Phantom is special to a lot of us but it is revered in Japan as a current front line defender. This airshow is attended enthusiastically every year but with the scheduled February retirement of the 302nd Squadron’s Phantoms, this is the last time there will be three squadrons of them based here. The 302nd will transfer to Misawa Air Base to be the first operational F-35A Squadron. The 302nd had not one, but two specially painted Phantoms to celebrate this farewell tour. The original white edition and the newer black one were up front on static display before being pushed back for a performance. In addition to multiple Phantom demonstrations, there was an F-15J demonstration and a search and rescue demonstration.
The first act of the day was a number of two-ship launches from the three based Phantom squadrons. They returned later in a six-ship formation before breaking up and returning in twos to land.
The Rescue Wing performed a demonstration with the UH-60J Helicopter but the U-125 did not fly as we saw in a practice the day prior. Two rescuers fast roped to the ground and were recovered later with a rescue litter.
The specially painted Phantoms of the 302nd Squadron were next to perform. After a section takeoff, they made multiple single passes with left and right breaks showing off the spectacular artwork on the wings.
The F-15J then performed a demonstration prior to the designated lunch break.
After lunch, two more Phantoms launched to perform a two-ship demonstration. Most of the passes were individual but they joined up at the end which featured a Phantom Break near the north end of the ramp.
The final act of the show was a pair of RF-4E Phantoms in green and blue from the 501st Reconnaissance Squadron, making tactical approaches featuring a lot of banking in front of the crowd.
A large format photograph of the airshow ramp was displayed on a big easel near airshow center which was taken from the blue RF-4 camera during the morning flight at 10am. That was really cool to see how the aircraft took your picture as it flew by at 500 knots and within a few hours, the photograph was displayed publicly.
After the show, I was able to photograph some departures such as the Huey, the P-1, the F-2 and the two F-15Js.
After spending a week in country, I can say that the Japanese people must be the politest society in the world. After attending a few airshows with them, I will also say that their idea of personal space differs from my Western idea. It was a packed airshow and after a few hours feeling crowded, I was happy to retreat back and roam the ramp minus taxi shots. Although the show was mostly cloudy, I have plenty of pictures from a mostly sunny week outside the base that I hope to feature in a future article. The future of this airshow is in doubt after hearing of another year where attendees had trouble getting into the show in a timely manner. This and the departure of the 302nd Squadron ensures that nothing will be the same here going forward. Nonetheless, I am so glad I blew the airshow budget and took the plunge on this trip at this time.
Sayounara, Japan and arigatou.