Hyakuri Air Festival 2004
These photos were taken by Andy Lee on 25 Sept 2004
Hyakuri Air Base, located in Ibaraki Prefecture in the northeast of Japanís Kanto region, held its annual open house on 25 Sep. As part of their 2004 tour, the USAF Thunderbirds was scheduled to fly at 4 of the JASDF shows and Hyakuri was one of them. With the dearth of overseas shows these days due to budget cuts, it would be good news for their fans. This year, the public day was restricted to only 1 day on Sunday instead of the usual 2 days as Saturday was a closed door event for senior JASDF and foreign VIPs only. Even the public friendly JASDF has become more security conscious after 9-11 with some bases even frowning on Ďfence shootersí now.
This article is about the recent Hyakuri airshow I attended. After much head scratching, Iíve included these pictures to go along with this article. There are loads more but I donít want the editor to have a heart attack!
any further some whining on the weather is in order. Due to the record number of
typhoons that Japan has been this year (22 and counting), the weather for much
of Sep was cold and wet. The forecast for the day of the show was no exception
with lots of rain and clouds predicted. Despite crossing my fingers and praying
like a good little boy, I soon found out that Japanís weather service, unlike
those in some places, has a almost 100% accuracy record! It started raining just
before midnight on the 24th and continued till the evening of the 25th, varying
between a light drizzle to a heavy downpour the whole of the airshow! You can
imagine what it did to the flying program for the day!
An airshow in
Japan to the uninitiated is very different from one in the US or Europe. Here
are some for those who may be planning on visiting one in the future:
Bases are usually in the middle of nowhere and parking is always limited so
unless you donít mind starting your journey at 0 dark 30 in the morning or
previous night and later getting stuck in a 2-3 hr jam just to get out of the
base, my advice is to book a bus tour and get some rest if you can.
Military airshows/open houses start very early in the morning (usually
6.30-7.30) and end very early in the afternoon (usually 2.30-3). The visiting
birds start launching for their bases immediately after the show ends so you can
usually shoot the departures. First launch (usually weather check flts) is
always just before the gate opens resulting in all shooters racing to get into
position near the parallel taxiway.
JASDF bases basically have the same design: one ramp with all the hangars on one
side and the parallel taxiway and runway on the other (some like Chitose has 2).
This results in opportunities for close shots as the flying is directly over the
runway. Show center is the middle of the ramp. The alert shelter is usually off
by itself near EOR and off limits as well as other parts of the base e.g.
hospital, admin etc...
The static displays are usually (but not always) roped off as they share the
same ramp as the flying aircraft (FOD concern I guess) so no walkarounds for
modelers. The bright side is that you can get pics with nobody in the way though
not necessarily in the angle you want.
The barb wire barricades is only about 100m in front of the taxiway so the area
around it is good for getting all those taxi and takeoff/landing shots. Plus the
crowds are way thinner there. And yes the pilots do wave to the crowds when they
taxi back to the ramp. Down side: lousy spot to shoot the aerobatics as youíre
way off show center.
As all shows are promoted as community events as part of their PR program,
resulting in a huge turnout. From shooters around the country as well as gaijins
like me to entire families out for a day in the sun to senior citizen groups
with some folks pushing 70+! This in turn leads to point 7 below.
For aviation enthusiasts, short step ladders are a must! You can leave your
tripods at home! Most visitors will rush to the ramp the moment the gate opens
and grab spots in front of the static line for the best view of the startups and
flying. The lines of people can be 2-6 lines deep depending on when you are. The
Japanese come well prepared for a long stay with deck chairs, picnic mats
etc..., as well as ample food and drinks. To move from your hard won spot would
be madness especially the front line as it would be taken over immediately. So
for shooters itís a tough choice to choose to shoot the runway scenes or to
concentrate on just the startups and ramp.
Why the rush for choice spots to view the flying in the early morning? Well
being very pro public, the programs for SDF shows usually include loads of
flying demos all day except lunch time! From around 8-8.30 the flying continues
till the Blue Impulse display around 2pm. Expect demos like air to air, air to
ground, formation takeoffs and flybys etc from the resident sqns and visitors.
So how do you shoot the static if thereís a wall of people in front of you I
hear you ask? Well being Japanese, there will usually be breaks in the lines for
people to squeeze thru and take pictures one at a time. So be patient and wait
10. There will
usually be a hangar display of a bird for you to climb all over for detail
shots. Some bases will have armament displays as well as load drills too! Other
hangars will be used for history displays etc... But the most important is the
souvenir one! Bring loads of cash for all you wanna buy! From patches to
t-shirts to calendars, what you want as a JASDF collectible you will probably
find it! Be warned itís all cash (Yen) only!
11. Lots of
food and drink stands too so if youíre the wandering kind you probably donít
have to worry about going hungry.
jackets, towels; umbrellas etc in case the weather changes. I didnít!
come with an open mind and enjoy yourself! Believe me youíll have a great time
even if the skies are trying to drown you!
Back to the report: At around 6.40 as the buses got into the temporary base car park and we got off, the weather didnít look good. Low clouds and a drizzle confirmed our worst fears that the flying would be cancelled due to the weather. Still we were hoping that the clouds would be high enough for the aerobatics teams to do a low show. The radio reports from the 2 weather check F-15Js that launched at 7.15? 500ft cloud deck and visibility of only 2-3 miles at the most! Airband scanners are legal in Japan and radio freqs and codes of all the SDF bases and units can be found openly!
must be given to the JASDF personnel of Hyakuri for going ahead with the program
despite the appalling conditions. It made all the standing and shivering in the
rain worthwhile! Even though all demos were cancelled, the assigned aircraft
still launched as scheduled (all single ship) and flew low passes (single and 2
ship) as well as touch and goes before landing. The rain got progressively
heavier and the clouds lower as the morning wore on (you can see how bad the
weather was from the amount of water and condensation from the RF-4 doing a
touch and go in the pics). As a result of that, the scheduled 4 ship formations
(F-15s, RF-4Es and EJ Kais) were told by tower to launch single ship and only 2
per formation instead of 4, so 2 of each formation taxied back after each
crews from 501 TRS were exceptional as they did tight breaks over the field
instead of the normal shallow climbs into the clouds like the F-15s! They even
did a couple of 2 ship breaks! Alas I couldnít get any pics of the breaks as
there was a guy on a tall ladder beside me so every time I followed the RF-4s as
they broke, I ended up with a view of his jeans in my lens just when the birds
were at the tightest turn and vortices were coming off their wings! Real
disappointing! Next we saw the 305SQ special F-15 taxi out and everyone hoped
for a launch but it was not to be. The pilot did a taxi pass only as the weather
was way below minimums by then.
Around 12 the
skies finally dumped on us and everyone ran for cover in the hangars. That
really killed any chance of the Blue Impulse or T-birds flying! At 2 it was
announced that the Blue Impulse and T-birds were cancelled and they would be
flying back to their home base. So it was another scramble back to the ramp
(rain had stopped by then) for a good spot. I ended up at the rope in front of
the center of the Blue formation! The Blues took off and came back for some
formation passes and solo weaves with smoke on!! Nothing fancy but it was great
that they cared enough about the crowd to do it!
In between the
Blue and T-bird launch, the by now familiar AIRock team with pilot, ĎRockí
Iwasaki (himself an ex-F-15 jock), put on a fantastic display with his Pitts S-2
Thunderbirds were another thing altogether. Not only did they elect to use the
taxiway furthest from the crowd, they took off single ship and disappeared, no
passes or formation flyby! They were real enthusiastic when taking money from
the visitors at their souvenir stand earlier in the afternoon. Maybe it was
because it wasnít their home crowd or itís a union thing??? Whatever it was
it just wasnít the right thing to do.
Despite the weather, I thoroughly enjoyed myself and so did the mainly Japanese crowd. Iíll definitely be back next year (better equipped of course!) to catch more shows. Hopefully the weather will be more cooperative then! Cheers!
Photos and text © by Andy Lee