Japan October-November 2011

After arriving from Cairns last night, and heading straight to the airport hotel nearby, today was going to be a full day on the excellent viewing decks at Narita. Going through the terminal, there were plenty of reminders of the very recent entrance into service of the Boeing 787, with large displays of 'We Fly 1st. 787'. Infact, it was only four days earlier that ANA had commenced the first 787 services, with a Narita-Hong Kong flight on the 26th, and it wasn't long before seeing the first of these today, when JA801A departed to Sendai on NH7877.
Other highlights today, among the regular, modern airliners, included Polar B747-400F N451PA (freshly painted into hybrid DHL colours three weeks earlier), similar DHL/Air Hong Kong B747-400BCF B-HUS (delivered five months earlier, ex Cathay Pacific Cargo), and a couple of old classic B747-200SF's, N482EV of Evergreen and N522MC of Atlas Air (with the latter retired exactly one month later). Others included ANA Business Jet B737-700ER JA10AN (the first 700ER built, fitted with 24 business class and 24 premium economy seats), ANA B767-300ER JA606A 'Fly Panda' special, Business Air B767-300ER HS-BID, Air China B737-800 B-5178 'Silver Peony' special, Air Busan A321 HL8213, Delta B777-200LR N702DN 'The Spirit of Atlanta', Air Macau A319 B-MAO, Vladivostok Air A320 VP-BFX (ex Thomas Cook G-BXKA) and China Airlines B747-400 B-18208 (still with a 50th Anniversary logo, applied two years ago).

After the good day yesterday, with plenty of interesting civil stuff, it was now time for what i had really come to Japan for, their amazing military aircraft! After picking up the hire car (don't forget the International Driving Permit), which thankfully had a good, easy satnav, it was off on the 64km drive North to Ibaraki Airport, otherwise known as Hyakuri Airbase, the famous home of the Phantom! After bumping into a group of Dutch enthusiasts yesterday (on a two week tour of Japan), i knew they would also be at Hyakuri this morning, and sure enough, we arrived at the gate to the viewing platforms at the same time. Getting there before the days flying started, the famous photospot is accessed after calling the number on the gate (0299-54-0500), with the well known tiny old lady then turning up to let you in, after paying 2,000 Yen. Well worth it, this place is so well known for good reason, with the tall viewing platforms overlooking the perimeter fence onto the very close taxyway and runway, with the Ibaraki civil terminal opposite. Best for photography in the morning, being on the East side, the ramp and hangars of the based Phantom units are very close by, with the F-4EJ's of 302 Hikotai and RF-4EJ's of 501 Hikotai, usualy taxying out for departure right past the platforms. Awesome. As well as these, others based here include the F-15J's of 305 Hikotai, the T-4's of 501 Hikotai (proficiency trainers for the Recce Phantom pilots), as well as the U-125A's (Hawker 800SM's) and UH-60J's of the Hyukari Rescuse Squadron.

Thankfully the weather today was great, with all the units flying, including the F-15's, which had been grounded recently. Infact, the first Eagle movements today were a formation of five aircraft inbound, presumably returning home after some time away. And so, after a fantastic morning, we moved location to the opposite side of the runway (terminal side), which also has good photospots along the perimeter fence. On the way, we first photographed a few of the retired Phantoms around the back of the hangars, before shooting the F-4EJ and RF-4EJ very nicely displayed by the side of the terminal. From here we then settled on a good photospot opposite the last-chance and line-up point for runway 03 (which was used all day), with more Phantom flying to come, including RF-4EJ 77-6397 fitted with a drop-tank painted in special 50th anniversary markings. Also, flying low overhead, was based Ibaraki Police BK-117 JA6813.

Staying until the sun went, at the end of a great day, i had then decided to follow the Dutch group to their next hotel, close to the next base on the agenda, Atsugi. Infact, i didn't have a hotel booked tonight, and had planned on staying in the town nearby, but after getting so many great shots of the resident aircraft today, was happy to move on and visit somewhere else. The drive to Atsugi, on the opposite SW side of Tokyo, was just over two hours, or should have been! Following the Cloggies in their two people carriers, we then proceeded to get lost and take 'the scenic route' through Tokyo! Looks great at night, but theres a time and a place! So, being wrecked after a very early start, by the time we reached the hotel (thankfully they had a spare room), it was straight off to catch some sleep.


NAS Atsugi was a bonus on this trip, and is certainly another base to spend a good amount of time at, when possible. Along with Iwakuni, it is one of the main Japanese Navy bases, hosting several P-3 Orion and YS-11 units etc, in addition to being the largest US Navy air base in the Pacific Ocean, housing the squadrons of Carrier Air Wing 5, which deploys with the aircraft carrier on station in the area. During this visit the carrier was away on station, so the base was quiet with US Navy aircraft, with none seen flying today. Upon arriving, a based JMSDF P-3C landed, before we walked under the final approach to runway 01, where there are very good photospots (with local photographers present). Spending an hour or so here, further movements included the very nice JMSDF UP-3C 9151 (the only UP-3C in service) which departed, as did new XP-1 5502, which was a nice surprise. This is one of two flying test aircraft, designed to replace the P-3C, which had been grounded since August (and still thought to be!) after structural cracks were discovered.

Heading off after a nice little visit here, around 1.5 hours drive North is Iruma Airbase, where the rest of the day would be spent. This is another fantastic airbase in Japan, with great photospots and very nice based aircraft. Highlight has to be the classic YS-11's, including the heavily modified ELINT versions, in addition to the Flight Checker aircraft. The base also hosts one of two C-1 units in the JASDF (the other at Miho), which is another old classic, with 31 aircraft produced in the Seventies. One aircraft, also based here, is the very rare EC-1 version, another heavily modified ELINT aircraft with large nose radome, which rarely flies (and unfortunately wasn't to be seen this time). Also based are Gulfstream U-4's, Flight Checker U-125's, as well as some T-4's and CH-47J's, all making this place pretty special.


After catching several movements yesterday in great weather, today was going to be similar, with some nice airshow arrivals and practice display by the Blue Impulse T-4's. Because of the large crowds, the usual good photospot (the carpark overlooking the taxyway and touchdown point onto runway 35) was closed by police. Parking further down the road (and getting a ticket!), shots were still good by the fence there, joining the few hundred locals. Highlights included the first sight of an F-2A (based on the F-16), with a Misawa-based aircraft arriving for the show, followed by the undoubted highlight of the whole show, the specially painted 50th Anniversary RF-4EJ from Hyakuri (not seen there). The Japs certainly know how to do special schemes!


By the end of yesterday, the weather had started to change, and unfortunately was mostly overcast and a bit grimey today for the airshow. After staying at a very convenient hotel to the base, i had left the car there, and walked to the entrance gate, getting there early after hearing of the huge crowds expected. Iruma Open House 2011 was to be no different, with around 220,000 people showing up! However, being some of the most polite people in the world, combined with the authorities method of managing the huge crowds, entrance into the base was fairly smooth, and like a miltary exercise itself, was controlled by slowly walking each large group (coming in via different gates) forward, until reaching the static ramp area, when the running began! The Japs adore the Blue Impulse team, and most people were trying to grab the best spots along the crowdline in front of the team. Go ahead... while i try and get as many clear shots of the static aircraft as possible!

With a flight out of Narita tonight, todays plan was get the static shots and maybe catch some of the flying, before leaving around mid-day (obviously not wanting to get caught up in the mass exit later). A few breaks in the cloud enabled mostly good static shots, including the RF-4EJ, with some of the C-1 formation and YS-11 Flight Checker displays caught, before heading out (against masses still coming in!). Photographing the nice EC-46D displayed on the grass near the gate on the way out, that was it, leaving for Narita via one more place to visit en route.

The Tokorozawa Aviation Museum is only 9km to the SW of Iruma, and has a couple of very nice aircraft on display. Located on the site of Japan's first airfield, which started operations in 1911, the original single runway is still visible. Here, another JASDF EC-46D is on display, while just outside the museum is Air Nippon YS-11 JA8732. After bagging these two classics, it was straight on to Narita, around 1.5 hours drive East, passing North of central Tokyo.

Although the weather was still a bit grimey, i had decided on visiting the museum at the airport, which has a few nice aircraft. The Museum of Aeronautical Sciences is located on the Southern perimeter at Narita, close to the final approach to runway 34L (and infact very good for landing shots onto 34L in the morning). Highlight here has to be the prototype YS-11 JA8611, which first flew in 1962 (and preserved here since 1982). Also present is the nose section of B747-200 ex N642NW, painted in prototype colours with launch customer logos.

Then, after returning the hire car, the remaining daylight was spent back on the viewing deck for a few final shots, before checking in with Emirates. First flight was EK319 to Dubai, operated by B777-300ER A6-EGA, off at 2210. The 5,332 miles was covered in 11.05 hours, landing at 0415L, before connecting on to Bahrain on EK837, at the end of a great trip.