PHANTOM PHESTIVAL! – The Hyakuri airshow 2015 , or “Air Festa” if using the Japanese term, was celebrated on October, 25th. On the same day the JASDF also decided to hold airshows at the Gifu flight test centre and furthermore at Tsuiki on the Southern island of Kyushu. For the Japanese aviation photographers this meant traveling a lot, trying to catch if possible the display training at least once at each airfield and finally deciding on one airfield for the showday. The decision was not easy, but fortunately the weather on Sunday was great at every of these three airfields.
Where? Hyakuri Airbase, Japan
For sure three airshows on one week-end are a difficult choice, and whereas this is quite common in Europe around June or July, it was rather strange to see such a tightened schedule in Japan.
Your reporters choice fell on Hyakuri, where three Jet Squadrons flying two main jet types operate. Normally this is a safe bet for a nice flying program, and as no solo Display teams exist in Japan, the flying program during airshows in usually performed by the home units, demonstrating maneuvers and role demos of their operational flying.
For Hyakuri this meant a tactical demonstration by the F-15J Eagles of 304 Hikotai (Squadron), an air-ground attack by the F-4EJ Phantoms of 302 Hikotai and recce runs of the RF-4E (photo) Phantoms of 501 Hikotai.
The Blue Impulse display team, highly popular for the Japanese public, was set for Tsuiki, which influenced the number of public attendance at the two remaining shows. For Hyakuri this was for no disadvantage, as it meant a little less people, thus less traffic jams and also a less crowded ramp. Nevertheless, people gather on the parkings already before sunrise and queue to get on the ramp at the official opening at 7am. So just the normal Japanese airshow crazyness!
Luckily the flying activity only starts quite a while after the ramp is literally overrun by the spectators, thus giving some time to photograph the static display presented along the fence line. It is mixed with a a number of aircraft participating in the flying program. This year this was amongst others an impressive line-up of 3 RF-4Es, 4 F-15Js and 4 F-4EJs.
T-4s of 501 Hikotai opened the flying program in the early morning with several fly-bys, before each a pair of the local F-4EJ, RF-4E and F-15J took off for the “base flight” formation, representing all aircraft types of the Squadrons based at Hyakuri. It was supplemented by the rescue assets, the UH-60J rescue helicopter and the U-125, both featuring „50th anniversary“ special markings.
Later during the day every of the two Phantom versions as well as the Eagles performed tactical role demonstrations at least once.
After different styles of take-off this includes usually nice fly-bys and turns that allow some cool topside photos. With an absolutely clear sky after the opportunities were nearly endless and gorgeous all at the same time.
The only minor drawback might have been that the Reece Phantom demo only took place once and featured only two regularly camouflaged RF-4E, instead of the possible mix of an RF-4E and an RF-4EJ. Compared to the training days the demo also did not feature the recently appeared blue “Ocean Camouflage” RF-4E Phantom, which was only presented in the static display. This new scheme is optimized for maritime reconnaissance, and somehow succeeds the previously famous blue Phantoms of the 8 Hikotai at Misawa, which were in the meantime replaced by the Mitsubishi F-2.
Blue Phantoms ‘901’ was unfortunately only placed in the static display during the show. It looked splendid, with two blue tones slightly lighter than those applied on the Mitsubishi F-2. Luckily it was placed quite nicely on the ground, even allowing an angle on all three Phantom camouflages at Hyakuri: a grey 302 Hikotai F-4EJ with the Eagle on its tail, and three “Woody Woodpecker Reece Phantoms of 501 Hikotai: a RF-4EJ in dark green painting, and two RF-4Es, one of them being the blue one, which represents an. Rumors are that around 3 to 4 aircraft will be painted in this scheme.
After a first visit to the Hyakuri this event already rates amongst my best Japanese airshow experiences. Not influenced by the immaculate weather with a clear blue sky on Sunday, and even though the flying was at times difficult to photograph, the variety of displays was really good and the photo possibilities manifold. It was possible to photograph start-up procedures, take-offs and landings, and the flying displays in good light conditions from the show ground. This is not the case at many other shows such as Tsuiki, where sometimes the first take-offs even happen before the public is allowed on the ramp, or other shows where you have to go outside to photograph the flying display from good angels. Hyakuri is a nice exception there, and actually three different jet types provide a nice variety.
Unfortunately plans for the JASDF future foresee that the F-15J Eagles of 304 Hikotai will swap with the Nyutabaru-based 301 Hikotai Phantoms, which means that the “Phantom Mother Squadron” return to its original airfield and make Hyakuri phinally a complete Phantom lovers paradise.
These plans could maifest already next year and the reason to ease maintenance and support with only one jet type on base for the JASDF is obvious. But for the airshow this could mean at the same time that it will likely restrict the variety of flying displays. But with the peculiar shape of the F-4 Phantom II and the jet sound of the J79 engine keeping the airfield alive, there still remain additionally to great photo possibilities plenty of reasons to pay the base a visit for future events as well.