Tsuiki Air Festival 2023


Story and photography by Howard German

The Japan airshow schedule runs deep into the year allowing airshow fans to extend their viewing season well beyond the North American airshow calendar.

The subject of this first installment of a two-part report is the Tsuiki Airshow 2023. The second report will cover the Nyutabaru Air Festival. The Tsuiki show took place on Sunday November 26, 2023. The titled theme of the show was “Defense of the skies, connecting to the future”.

Tsuiki Air Base is on the north eastern coast of Kyushu, in the Fukuoka Prefecture of Japan. Kyushu is the third-largest island of Japan’s four main Islands. Distance from Tokyo to Tsuiki is approximately 650 miles.

Tsuiki Air Base was built during World War 2 by the Japanese Army Air Force and opened on October 1, 1942. The airfield was heavily damaged and incapacitated for Japanese operational use in August of 1945 by US Army Air Force, 5th Air Force, B-24 Liberators and A-26 Invaders. This was part of a plan drafted by the Joint Chiefs of Staff who on May 26th 1945 ordered the invasion of Kyushu, with a landing scheduled by November 1, 1945.

American use of the airfield was undertaken early in the Korean War by F-51 Mustangs, with combat ending in Korea by 1953. Tsuiki Air Base remained a US Reserve base until 1957, at which time it was returned to full Japanese control.


Prior to full ownership of the base, the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) began pilot training utilizing T-33’s and F-86’s in 1955. During the time between 1955 and the present many different front-line aircraft have been stationed at Tsuiki airfield, such as the F-4EJ Phantom, the Mitsubishi F-1 and the F-15DJ. The current JASDF fighter structure at Tsuiki consists of the 8th Air Wing, 6th and 8th Squadrons, both operating the Mitsubishi/Lockheed Martin F-2A/B.


The Tsuiki Air Festival 2023 flying activities started quite early in the morning, as compared to North American airshows. The local 8th Air Wings, 6th and 8th squadrons kicked off the event at 8:00am performing a six-ship flyby of the F-2 fighter jet.


This was my first time encountering the F-2 and I must say it is a distinctly attractive aircraft and very photogenic. The F-2 is a multi-role, single-engine fighter, originally based on the design from the General Dynamics F-16 Agile Falcon Program. Ultimately it was the Lockheed Martin Block 40 F-16 fighter that was the basis for the development platform of the F-2. The F-2 was jointly manufactured by Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Lockheed Martin. It was the successor to Japan’s Mitsubishi F-1 fighter. The single seat version is designated the F-2A and the two-seater being designated the F-2B.


One immediate observation upon viewing the F-2 is the types larger size versus the F-16. The F-2’s wing area is 25 percent larger than that of the F-16’s wing area. The larger wing allows more internal fuel storage and more weapons store stations than the F-16. In addition to a larger wing area, the F-2 fuselage is approximately 17 inches longer as well as having a larger horizontal tail than the F-16. The F-2 is powered by a single General Electric F110-GE-129 turbofan engine. In afterburner the engine is capable of 29,000 lb. of thrust and is the same engine found in the Block 50 F-16C/D.

Numerous upgrades continue to be implemented for the F-2 fighter, such as GPS/INS guided Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM), Sniper AN/AAQ-33 Extended Range (ER) Targeting Pod, and Link 16 Tactical Data Link Network, making the F-2 a very capable 4th generation fighter.


After the F-2 mass flyby, we were treated to a 4-ship flyby of the domestically produced Kawasaki T-4 Trainer aircraft from the 13th Flight Training Group, Ashiya Air Field. Additional trainer aircraft participating in fly overs were 2 Fuji T-7’s from the 12th Flight Training Wing, Hofu Air Field.


Following the trainer flybys more fast jet action was in order with a brilliant solo display of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) F-15J from the 5th Air Wing, 305th Squadron, Nyutabaru Air Base. Multiple burner passes were executed exposing topside views during the banking turns. All of which made for a very memorable demonstration of the F-15J’s raw power.


Next up on this well represented and diverse air show schedule was a flying display from the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) with the AH-64D. The late autumn sunlight truly accentuated the attack helicopters camouflage paint scheme. The ten-minute aerial demonstration featured many aggressive maneuvers from the Apache of the 1st Combat Helicopter Squadron.


Rotary action continued with a rescue display by a UH-60J from Ashiya Air Base along with the coordination of a JASDF U-125A. The U-125A operates in a search and rescue role and is one of many variants of the British Aerospace Hawker Series 800.



Interestingly, the JASDF’s aerobatic demonstration team, The Blue Impulse, performed in the middle of the show program, not as the final act. This actually worked out well for the eager crowd as the Blue Impulse are certainly a fan favorite. In addition, it allowed for the home-based F-2’s to close out the show. Needless to say, the Blue Impulse looked incredible and performed flawlessly with their six T-4 aircraft painted in white and blue contrasted against the bright sky.


After the graceful flight of the Blue Impulse, attendees were thrilled to view in the distance, an arriving, very low and slow, Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) ShinMaywa US-2 Amphibious Aircraft. The US-2 is capable of landing on water or land and functions as a Short Takeoff and Landing (STOL) maritime search and rescue aircraft. The US-2 is stationed at US Marine Corp Air Station Iwakuni. The JMSDF shares Iwakuni with the United States Marines and United States Air Force. Sadly, the US-2 only flew one pass at the air show.


Shortly after the US-2 the home-based 8th Air Wings, 6th and 8th Squadron F-2’s took center stage to perform in the final three acts of the air show. The first act was aptly named the “Manueuver Flight”, whereby multiple passes by two of the 8th Squadrons F-2’s performed a spectacular flying display that proved very popular with the home fans. The second act involved two additional F-2’s from the 6th Squadron displaying a demo scramble to takeoff run, in front of the crowd. The third act, a simulated air to ground bombing demo, consisted of the combined four F-2’s dividing into two formations and illustrating the approach/departure of ground attack patterns from various angles, with detonation of explosives simulating the bombardment on the ground. This was a fitting finale for the F-2’s resulting in all 68,000 air show attendees incredibly proud and exhilarated as to what was just witnessed from their local heroes.


I thoroughly enjoyed the air show at Tsuiki. The wide variety of military aircraft flying and on static display along with practical demonstrations presenting the many capabilities of the participants, made for a wonderful event. Thankfully the weather was truly spectacular, thus making photography for the thousands of air base guests a joyful experience.

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