Japan: the photographer’s dream

Japan. Land of sushi and Fuji, konichiwa and arigato, of geishas, gadgets, yakuza, sake and manga, the excitingly weird and eccentric metropolis that is Tokyo – and above all, land of endless opportunities for aviation photographers such as Robert van Zon. Last month, he boarded a plane bound for Japan and only returned home after stuffing his memory cards with fantastic aviation images from the land of the rising sun. At AIRheads↑FLY, we’ re already looking for the next available flights.

Tsuiki
Autumn is usually the time of year for Japanese airshows. On October 27, Tsuiki airbase set the stage for a Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) airshow, featuring based F-15J Eagles and Mitsubishi F-2 fighter aircraft from Kyushu, the southern main island of Japan. Things are about to change at Tsuiki however, as Japan wishes to reinforce its assets further south at Okinawa. The F-15J Eagles of Tsuiki-based 304 Hikotai will likely move to Okinawa. Their space at Tsuiki will be taken up by additional F-2s from Misawa in the north. This will make Tsuiki ‘Mitsubishi F-2’ heaven in the future.

Touchdown! An F-2B  lands at runway 25 at its home base Tsuiki. (Image © Robert van Zon)
Touchdown! A F-2B lands at runway 25 at its home base Tsuiki. (Image © Robert van Zon)
More F-2 at Tsuiki. Although clearly based on the F-16, the locally developed and produced Mitsubishi F-2 has some distinct differences from the F-16. One of them is the three piece canopy. This aircraft carries markings of the 2013 TAC Meet, the local Japanese fighter competition. The 2013 edition of the TAC Meet was the first one since the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster. (Image © Robert van Zon)
A F-2 bathing in nice light at Tsuiki. Although clearly based on the F-16, the locally developed and produced Mitsubishi F-2 has some distinct differences from the F-16. One of them is the three piece canopy. This aircraft carries markings of the 2013 TAC Meet, the local Japanese fighter competition. The 2013 edition of the TAC Meet was the first one since the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster. (Image © Robert van Zon)
F-2s are cool, but this F-4EJ Phantom is quite the opposite; sizzling hot! It has the special 40th anniversary markings of 301 Hikotai, the training (or 'mother') squadron for Japanese Phantom crews. (Image © Robert van Zon)
F-2s are cool, but this F-4EJ Phantom is quite the opposite; sizzling hot! It has the special 40th anniversary markings of 301 Hikotai, the training (or ‘mother’) squadron for Japanese Phantom crews. (Image © Robert van Zon)
Operations at airbases in Japan differ somewhat from operations elsewhere. Each airbase has its own rescue flight, operating a couple of UH-60Js. This one is based at Tsuiki. (Image © Robert van Zon)
Operations from airbases in Japan differ somewhat from operations in Europe or elsewhere. For example, most airbases have their own rescue flight, operating a couple of UH-60Js. This one is seen at Tsuiki, but is based at nearby Ashiya. (Image © Robert van Zon)

Kanoya
A few hours by car south of Tsuiki is Kanoya, the place to be for Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) aircraft. Kanoya is the most southern military airfield on the Japanese mainland. Most prominent inmates here are the many P-3C Orions that guard Japans coastal waters. The base also houses helicopters of several types, though.

A TH-135  hovers over the platform at Kanoya. The TH-135 is 'Japanized' ' variant of Eurocopter’s EC135. It will The TH-135 is the Japanese Navy's replacement for the OH-6 training and utility helicopter, as seen in the background. Of the 15 ordered TH-135's, 10 have so far been delivered. (Image © Robert van Zon)
A TH-135 hovers over the platform at Kanoya. The TH-135 is a ‘Japanized’ ‘ variant of Eurocopter’s EC135. It replaces the OH-6 training and utility helicopter – seen in the background. The new helo will thus train future SH-60 Seahawk pilots for the JMSDF. Of the 15 ordered TH-135’s, 10 have so far been delivered. (Image © Robert van Zon)

Akeno
Want more military choppers? Akeno is where to go in Japan. The airbase is small but houses a large number of army helicopters in varying shapes and sizes. You name it: AH-1 Cobras, UH-1 Hueys, CH-47 Chinooks, AH-64 Apaches, locally developed OH-1 light attack & recce helicopters, OH-6 Cayuses, UH-60 Black Hawks, it’s all there, as is the helicopter pictured below.

Akeno is all about helos, such as this TH-480B seen at Akeno on 28 October. Just like the Japanese Navy, the Japanese Army is also replacing its OH-6 helicopters. While the Navy ordered the bigger Eurocopter EC-135 T2i, the Army chose the much smaller Enstrom 480B. Its size and color scheme make it look quite odd among all the other Army helicopters at Akeno. Out of a total order of 30 some 20 have been delivered by now. (Image © Robert van Zon)
Akeno is all about helos, such as this TH-480B. Just like the navy, the Japanese army is replacing its OH-6 helicopters. The army however chose the much smaller Enstrom 480B. Its size and color scheme make it look quite odd among all the other army choppers at Akeno. Out of a total order of 30 some 20 have been delivered by now. (Image © Robert van Zon)

Hamamatsu
If there ever was a prize for great sounding airfield names, Hamamatsu would definitely be a contender. The airbase is home to Boeing E-767 tanker AWACS aircraft, plus large amounts of Kawasaki T-4s, a Japanese crossover between the British Aerospace Hawk and the Dassault Dornier Alpha Jet. On October 20, Hamamatsu hosted an open house.

parked on the static show of the Open House of its home base Hamamatsu on October 20. In honor of the Open House, the aircraft is painted in special colors consisting of a green underside and a blue mount Fuji at the back. (Image © Robert van Zon)
This Kawasaki T-4 is seen parked at its home base Hamamatsu. In honor of the open house, the aircraft is painted in special colors consisting of a green underside and a blue mount Fuji at the back. (Image © Robert van Zon)
This E-2C Hawkeye is seen here at Hamamatsu, but its homebase is Misawa in the north.  Hiko Keikai Kanshitai on the static of the 20 October Hamamatsu Open House. As part of the reinforcement of Okinawa, this unit will be split into two separate squadrons, one of which will move to Naha Air Base. The unit already has a detachment at Naha.(Image © Robert van Zon)
This E-2C Hawkeye is seen here at Hamamatsu, but its homebase is Misawa in the north. As part of the reinforcement of Okinawa, the JASDF will relocate a number of E-2Cs to Naha. (Image © Robert van Zon)

Gifu
If you find yourself in Japan and you fancy the ‘special’ stuff, then maybe Gifu is where you should go. The airfield is located north of Nagoya and is home to the Hiko Kaihatsu Jikkendan, which more or less stands for test squadron. In recent years, Gifu was the birth place for aircraft like the Kawasaki P-1 and the Kawasaki C-2, seen below.

The second prototype C-2 is seen on approach to Gifu on October 21 after yet another test flight. The C-2 will eventually replace the C-1 and C-130 aircraft of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force. A total of at least 40 aircraft are to be produced for the Japanese Air Force. Manufacturer Kawasaki has also plans to market this aircraft outside Japan. (Image © Robert van Zon)
The second prototype C-2 is seen on approach to Gifu on October 21 after yet another test flight. A total of 40 C-2s will eventually replace the C-1 and C-130 aircraft now in the service with the JASDF. Manufacturer Kawasaki has plans to market this aircraft outside Japan also. (Image © Robert van Zon)

Hyakuri
Want the good stuff, the noise, the smell, the looks, the raw power of military jets?  Then look no further than Hyakuri. This airbase north of Tokyo is a mandatory stop for aviation geeks because of its based F-15J Eagles and F-4EJ and RF-4EJ Phantoms. It doesn’t get much better than that, and bear in mind; the Phantom’s days in JASDF are counting. Their numbers are dwindling and their successor – the F-35A Lightning II – will enter the stage in a few years time.

-8404 of Hyakuri based 302 Hikotai taxiing out for an early morning mission on October 31. F-4 flying hours are down compared to a few years ago with 302 Hikotai flying about half the number of missions the F-15's of 305 Hikotai do. One more sign the end is getting nearer. (Image © Robert van Zon)
Three F-4EJ Phantoms of 302 Hikotai taxi out for an early morning mission on October 31. Phantom flying hours are down compared to a few years ago. One more sign the end is getting near. (Image © Robert van Zon)
This Eagles carries the Meggitt AGTS-36 Aerial Gunnery Training System on its centerline position. It landed safely back at Hyakuri one and a half hours later after being under fire from the   (Image © Robert van Zon)
This Eagles carries the Meggitt AGTS-36 Aerial Gunnery Training System on its centerline position. It landed back at Hyakuri after a one and a half hour flight. (Image © Robert van Zon)

Nagoya Komaki
After Hyakuri, everything else is a bonus. Here’s some dessert from Nagoya Komaki, the airfield that is home to the JASDF C-130 Hercules fleet and Boeing 767 tanker aircraft. Mitsubishi Aircraft performs maintenance here on a variety of military aircraft. Last but not least, all of the 94 Mitsubishi F-2s ordered by the JASDF were built here.

A C-130H is seen while landing at its home base Nagoya-Komaki on October 21. The Japanese C-130 aircraft will next year be joined by 6 former US Marine Corps KC-130R's for the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force. These aircraft will replace the aging YS-11's of 61 Kokutai at Atsug
A C-130H is seen while landing at its home base Nagoya-Komaki on October 21. The Japanese C-130 aircraft are joined next year by 6 former US Marine Corps KC-130R’s for the Japanese navy. These aircraft will replace the aging and quite rare YS-11s. (Image © Robert van Zon)
Well, we can't help ourselves; one more Japanese Phantom. This one is landing at Nagoya-Komaki on October 21, arriving for what is most likely its last overhaul (IRAN) at Mitsubishi. It will take about a year before this Phantom will be flying again. (Image © Robert van Zon)
Well, we can’t help ourselves; one more Japanese Phantom. This one is landing at Nagoya-Komaki on October 21, arriving for what is most likely its last overhaul (IRAN) at Mitsubishi. It will take about a year before this Phantom will be flying again. (Image © Robert van Zon)

Many, many (and we do mean ‘many’) thanks of course to Robert van Zon for sharing his pictures here at AIRheads↑FLY . We do appreciate contributions by readers!

© 2013 Robert van Zon & Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest

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501 Hikotai RF-4EJ Kai 77-6392 taking off from Hyakuri Air Base on October 31. With only 5 examples of this type left, they are more and more becoming a rare sight in Japanese skies. (Image © Robert van Zon)
The famous Woody Woodpecker badge of 501 Hikotai is seen on the vertical tail of this RF-4EJ taking off from Hyakuri Air Base on October 31. With only 5 examples of this type left, they are more and more becoming a rare sight in Japanese skies. (Image © Robert van Zon)