The souvenir booths are buzzing with business, and a mix of white steam and smoke rises up as thick smoke from the food stalls of the “Yatai” market, whose crews get ready for the day. The sun has not even risen yet, but some hundreds of Japanese airshow enthusiasts already flock around the shopping street set up for the 2014 Airshow at the Tsuiki airbase.
Where? Tsuiki, Japan
At such an early morning hour the only choice is to do some shopping, or to queue for the „flightline rush“. It is a bit awkward and seems to be a part of the Japanese airshow tradition, but while the sun gets over the horizon and spreads a beautiful morning light on the apron and the parked aircraft, the crowd still has to wait to be allowed to really ‚get in‘ and gain access to the flightline. This circumstance even gets a bit frustrating when you can hear the engines of the special colored F-2B and F-15J spooling up and have to witness them taxiing out in more than perfect conditions … from a far distance and out of the reach of even the longest telelens.
Gladly the rope that restricted entrance to the flightline fell early this year. Just in time to be along the first row in order to shoot the take-offs of the special marked jets for the opening formation fly-by. But you really had to rush to get these shots, and everybody did its best in order to secure the desired spot in the first row. This ‘happening’ it is still an unbelievable experience. And a view hard to be described with words when all those people sprint with their heavy photo equipment dangling around them and even chairs as fast as they can to the desired spot. Some cope to cover the whole distance, but some have to stop in between. This kind of ‚airshow sport’ needs some special training I thing, as it really gets your pulse up! The ‚run‘ at Tsuiki is however still ok, as there is enough space for everyone on the apron at that time of the day. Nothing compared to the Iruma airshow with literally millions of people from the Tokyo area visiting the show.
The JASDF display team Blue Impulse flying the T-4 is always a factor that is drawing the crowds, and after some drawbacks in recent years the team is again in full strength and was also scheduled for the Tsuiki airshow.
In combination with the 60th anniversary of the JASDF in 2014 the airshow thus promised to be a safe bet. To celebrate this anniversary not only a sticker with the anniversary emblem was applied to each and every JASDF aircraft this year, but also for every airshow the respective wings at each airbase applied special markings to their aircraft!
With 304 Hikotai flying the F-15J and F-15DJ and the 6 Hikotai equipped with the Mitsubishi F-2A and F-2B the chance was high for two cool special schemes. The F-15 has a lot a space to apply a scheme and the dark blue camouflage of the F-2 surely provides for a nice contrast!
Not a lot was known about the special markings beforehand, but finally the special colored F-2B (43-8129) saw light on the airshow day itself, whereas the F-15J (62-8865) was already flown the day before during a small special (family) event combined with a final display rehearsal in the morning.
These two special markings performed also he opening fly-by on the airshow itself, which was quite high, but several touch-and-goes before the final landing made up for some excellent photo opportunities.
The 304 Hikotai special scheme did seem very colorful and diversified, with the scheme includig the main colors of the anniversary patch (silver and blue) to celebrate the JASDF 60th anniversary and the 304 Hikotai F-15J featured also the Squadrons emblem „Tengu“ painted on the inside of the vertical tails.
The F-2B of 6 Hikotai has the large yellow Squadron emblem painted on the tail in combination with the 60 and Japanese characters to celebrate the event.
Apart from that the flying at Tsuiki is usually mainly focused around the locally based F-2 and F-15 jet aircraft of 6 and 304 Hikotai. They fly a big mixed formation of four F-2 and four F-15 to show their co-existence at the base, which will however change in the near future: with the F-35 joining the JASDF at Misawa, one F-2 from this airbase will move to Tsuiki, and the F-15 Eagles of 304 Hikotai will move to Naha, making Tsuiki a F-2-only airbase.
Air-ground demonstration of four F-2 and the ‚maneuvering flight‘ of a pair of F-15s and a pair of F-2s is another highlight for the airshow. The maneuvering flight consists mainly of the two aircraft performing a lot of turn&burn around the crowd and showing off the jets climb and turn Performance.
Other than that the airshow at Tsuiki in 2014 once again got a visit from a Nyutabaru-based F-4EJ Kai Phantom for some fly-bys and the rescue demo is also a regular event at Japanese airshows with the U-125 rescue plane and UH-60 rescue helicopter presenting their capabilities. And as the training bases of Ashiya and Hofu are not far away from Tsuiki as well, four-ship formations of T-7 and T-4 training aircraft came for some fly-bys.
The static display was not very big, but visiting jets are usually hard to get on any Japanese airshow. Nevertheless the airbase Ashiya did send their “JASDF 60th” special painted T-4, which looked simple, but striking with the orange tail and the 60th anniversary markings. The usual range of transport aircraft included a C-1, T-400, Gulfstream and a YS-11. Especially seeing and hearing that latter one was great, as this type gets quite rare these days in Japan. JGSDF helicopters present were a UH-1 and OH-1, and from Kanoya the JMSDF provided a P-3C (or P-3CJ as it was applied on the sign) Orion.
But – unfortunately – it would not be a proper Tsuiki show if the weather does not get bad. At least that is somehow the impression that I got during my visits to the show. For the “F-1 Farewell” celebrations of the Mitsubishi F-1 strike fighter in 2005 the ramp got flooded by rain , and this year the flying display was cancelled due to an incoming thunderstorm from 11am on, thus there was no maneuvering flight of the F-2 and F-15, and no show of „Blue Impuls“! [the following photos were taken during the training day for the show]
What a shame, especially for those that travelled a long distance to come and see the airshow that day. On the other hand, the sun in the morning really made up for it as it was a lot better than what the weather forecast has constantly announced during the week before the event. And getting a good chance to photograph the special schemes already made my day!
Thus the Tsuiki airshow 2014 was unfortunately short-lived in the end after the announcement of the cancelling of the flying program for the afternoon, and people already started leaving around midday to mainly catch their train back home.
The rain started pouring down at 1pm, and the first visiting aircraft also left the airfield at this time. And the ramp got flooded once again. Around the shopping street the clouds from the barbecues did change into rain clouds, but the souvenirs stands were still buzzing with business.
Tsuiki Airshow 2014 – Photo Gallery
*note: this report contains some photos – especially of the flying display – that were taken during the training day(s) before the actual event