JASDF Tsuiki Air Base Festival 2018

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On Thanksgiving Day here in the United States, I hopped on a flight to Tokyo, arriving there on Friday afternoon. The following day, I met up with the rest of my traveling group from the Centre of Aviation Photography based in the United Kingdom and boarded another flight to Fukuoka, Japan, continuing by vehicle to Tsuiki. The following early morning, we drove to a shuttle lot, boarded a bus, transferred to a train, which was a surprise, and were dropped off a short distance from the Tsuiki Air Base gate. I am thankful for my experienced group leader. In Japan, public Airshows are one day events on a Sunday and they are enthusiastically attended. Due to the rainy season, many airshows occur in November. The Japanese Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) held an air festival at Tsuiki on November 25th, 2018. With no offense to Canada, this was about to be my first truly international airshow.

Although the signage and language are foreign, it is a western society and the international language of airshows makes me feel not so far away from home. I was excited for what I was about to experience. It was chilly but bright and sunny. The sun remains behind the show line all day, moving right to left. Once through the security checkpoint, we were held by a rope until the ramp opened. We could see an F-2 in a hangar and more on the flight line through the hangar. Their engines were already running. Speaking of running, when the rope lines were dropped, it looked like a 5K race as the locals were jockeying for position. We were content to stroll more leisurely. The first things I noticed were that the static aircraft were to the extreme left and right of the ramp behind ropes. In the middle of the ramp there was nothing but concrete. No vendors, no statics and no garbage cans. Any trash you produce, you are expected to take with you when you leave.

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As mentioned, the F-2s were already running. They are a beautiful two-tone blue and look very much like an F-16. The F-2 is manufactured by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries with 40 percent produced by Lockheed Martin. They are a bit longer with more wing area, but the most obvious difference is the 3-piece canopy. Two of the F-2s were squadron commander aircraft with bold colored tails. Tsuiki has two F-2 squadrons based. The 6th Tactical Fighter Squadron and the 8th, “the Black Panthers”. I cannot find the squadron name for the 6th. Six of them took off and would return later. We would see a lot of them this day.

While they were out, I took pictures of the static displays. At airshow right, there was a KC767J Tanker, a P-3 Orion, a green C-130 and a Gulfstream U-4. At airshow left, a CH-47J Chinook, an F-4EJ Phantom II, F-15J Eagle, a Fuji T-7 turboprop Trainer, UH-1 Huey Helicopter, AH-1 Cobra helicopter, two-toned blue H-60 Blackhawk helicopter, T-4 jet trainer, and the Extra 300 aerobatic plane which would perform later. There was also a United States Marine Corps F-35B in front on the performer line but it did not fly until departing later in the day.

The F-2s returned in two 3-ship formations. Three from the 6th squadron and three from the 8th. The next pass was all six of the aircraft together, then a 2-ship with the commander’s aircraft. They all made aggressive left breaks to land. After taxi in and shutdown, another two F-2s were launched. They performed a tactical routine. It was unique in that after performing a minimum radius turn in front of you, they reversed it and did another one around the crowd. Yes, please!

The pace of performances was not as busy as a familiar American show. There were some breaks and at one point, an hour-long lunch break. I missed a flight of four T-7s while I was behind the hangars merchandising and buying food. Octopus on a stick was one of the offerings.

I returned to the ramp just in time for the United States Air Force Viper Demo Team. After takeoff, I realized that the passes were closer than in the United States. I purposely backed up for a flatter angle. I was surprised to see them here and they flew borrowed aircraft from Misawa Air Base with the WW tailcode.

The next performance was a fly-by of four T-4 aircraft. Two or three passes occurred before they moved off. They did not launch or recover from Tsuiki.

The F-15J was next to perform. I anxiously awaited this performance as I did the F-15C Demos from years ago. Although I was glad to see her, the demo was underwhelming. Passes were at about 1,000 feet. There were a few nice breaks and a touch-and-go that looked good.

After this performance, it was the lunch break. Since I had already been out front, I took time to see what was going on in the hangar. There was a traditional drum band on one side and a radio interview with base personnel on the other. I also saw a variety of wacky trolleys that carried passengers on a tour behind the static displays but I only got a photo of one. Also during this time, the Fire Department performed a live fire demonstration.

After lunch, another 2-ship F-2 demonstration occurred then a solo act in the Extra 300. The final act was a 3-ship F-2 flight where one was more of a solo performer and the other two were more tactical and formation. The solo F-2 was the 8th Commander’s aircraft minus the wing tanks. After takeoff, they snapped into a low altitude left break. They entered the aerobatic box at different times with multiple passes. Toward the end, they joined up in a 3-ship and performed a break. I did not get tired of seeing these F-2s in the air. There was some good and exciting flying in good light despite a few cloudy moments. I like that the base put a lot of their own aircraft up for performances.

The flying portion of the show ended prior to 3pm. After a period of time, the music changed to “Old Lang Syne”. This is the universal signal that it is time to leave. Base personnel begin closing in the rope line from the static areas. Because there was no trash on the ramp, it could be reopened easily and static aircraft could depart. The F-35B departed and the P-3 and C-130 started engines to depart before we were closed out from the ramp. Although there were many vendors inside the show, there were so many more outside the base. There was plenty of opportunity to shop on the walk back to the train. This was a different but rewarding start to my trip.

Arigatou, Japan.

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