Air Show Report : JASDF Hyakuri Air Show 2018
Hyakuri Air Show 2018 - Phantoms Pharewell - Japan
Last Show JASDF 302 Hikotai "Ojirowashi" F-4EJ Phantoms
In December 2018, Hyakuri hosted an airshow as the 302 Hikotai F-4EJ Phantoms entered their final months of service and the end is near for co-located 301 Hikotai F-4EJs and 501 Hikotai RF-4E/RF-4EJ Phantoms. Report and photos by George Karavantos.
Hyakuri Air Show
On the 2nd of December 2018, an airshow was held in Hyakuri Air Base, Ibaraki prefecture, north of Japan’s capital city, Tokyo in order to mark the final operating days of one of the last three Phantom squadrons of the JASDF.
The 302nd Hikotai (Tactical Fighter Squadron) "Ojirowashi" (White-tailed Eagles), in transition to the Lockheed Martin F-35A, will withdraw all of its remaining Phantoms in March 2019. The other two squadrons, the 301st Hikotai "Frogs", the first ever Phantom squadron and the 501st Hikotai "Woodpeckers", which operates the photo-reconnaissance Phantoms will follow the year after, ending what will then be Japan’s half a century operation of the type.
Hyakuri Airfield (百里飛行場 Hyakuri Hikōjō) is the closest fighter base to Tokyo and is located about 85 km north-east of it. Since March 2010 it is also known as Ibaraki Airport when civil aviation operations began at the same location intended to serve as a low-cost alternative to Tokyo's larger Narita and Haneda airports. The airport is equipped with two parallel runways (03-21 L&R) and most of the times civil and military aircraft use different runways. The civil Apron is located on the west side of the airfield while the military on the east.
The military airfield was first developed by the Imperial Japanese Navy in 1937. Unlike many other Japanese military bases, it did not become a US base during the occupation after the War. The base was reopened in 1956 by the Japan Air Self-Defence Force, which took control of the land once again.
The Hyakuri Air Base – Ibaraki airport is considered to be one of the last Phantom “paradises”, because from 2017 all of the remaining Phantom squadrons of the JASDF were gathered there. That’s why it has become one of the most popular places to visit among the aviation photographers and enthusiasts.
There were not many participants present on that event, but there were definitely plenty of Phantoms! In front of the thousands locals who had been gathered there (Japanese have a strong affection with aviation and of course photography), there was a big line up of 12 Phantoms. Almost half of the operating ones! Most of them participated in the flying display as well. This big line up was comprised of 4 Phantoms from each squadron along with two other F-15Js from the 303rd squadron based in Komatsu AB. One of these two F-15s participated also in the flying display, while the second was there as a back up one.
In front of this line up, closer to the crowd, there were two of the celebrating unit’s jets painted in commemorative markings. There were also some other visitors from other bases. An F-2, a P-1, a Gulfstream IV and a Huey were present. Hyakuri AB is also the home base of three other aircraft: the T-4, the UH-60J Blackhawk and the U-125A. One example from each type was also present there. In fact, the Blackhawk took also part in the flight display with a simulated CSAR mission.
Unfortunately, the weather was not so helpful and despite the fact that one day before the airshow the weather was great, on the day of the airshow the sky was covered with clouds. The flight program started with a formation of 6 Phantoms, two from each squadron, which were departing in pairs. They performed one pass in formation over the runway. All three squadrons used a pair of their aircraft which performed displays twice during the show.
Although the F-4 Phantom is a big aircraft with a large turning radius, not so ideal for airshows, the Japanese pilots performed very dynamic displays. The interesting with these display acts was the fact that the Japanese “Phantom drivers” were overflying the crowd (maintaining always safe altitudes), flying many times perpendicular to the display line, something that you don't see in European airshows. Especially the two special painted jets of the 302nd “Hikotai”, were coming parallel to the crowd line, breaking hard right and overflying the crowd showing in the best way their top sides of their special paintings! The show of these two aircraft had started with a scramble demo from the ground. The same scenario was repeated also with the two photo-reconnaissance Phantoms of the 501st “Hikotai”. The aircraft were breaking hard over the crowd, gaining altitude at the same time and creating some unique photo opportunities for the air enthusiasts below them.
Despite the fact that the duration of the show was only a few hours, with a big break in between for lunch and that there were mainly only Phantoms' displays, it was one of our best airshow experiences. We have witnessed many Phantom displays in the past and we have to admit that this was a unique one.
Japanese F-4 History
Japan was one of the first countries which announced its intention to buy the highly capable new fighter of United States, the F-4 Phantom II, in order to replace its fleet of Lockheed F-104J Starfighters.
On the 1st of November 1968, Japan signed a letter of agreement with Mc Donnell Douglas and it was also announced that it would become one of the few countries worldwide that was going to license-produce this aircraft. Over the following years, the Nihon Koku Jietai (Japan Air Self-Defence Force) received a total of 154 F-4EJ and RF-4Es. The F-4EJs (the export version for Japan) were mostly similar to the F-4Es, although the Japanese aircraft had their in-flight refuelling and ground-attack capabilities removed to align with Japan’s defensive posture, the F-4EJs were delivered without the AN/AJB-7 bombing computer system.
The first two F-4EJs (JASDF serials 17-8301 and 17-8302) were built by McDonnell Douglas in St Louis and first flew on January 14, 1971. The next 11 F-4EJs (JASDF serials 27-8303/8307, 37-8307/8310, and 47-8311/8313) were built by McDonnell Douglas in kit form and were assembled in Japan by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. The first Japanese-assembled aircraft (27-8303) flew on May 12, 1972. Subsequently, Mitsubishi built all the rest 127 F-4EJ during the following nine years. The last example was delivered to the JASDF on May 20, 1981. This was the last F-4 ever built in the world.
Japan also acquired 14 RF-4Es built by McDonnell Douglas to serve in the reconnaissance role. These RF-4Es were delivered between November 1974 and June 1975. They were virtually identical to the USAF RF-4C, with the only differences being the deletion of certain equipment such as the radar homing and the warning suite which had not been released for export to Japan.
The F-4EJs entered service with the JASDF in August 1972 with a total of six squadrons operating the aircraft: the 301st, 302nd, 303rd, 304th, 305th and 306th squadrons. The RF-4Es equipped the 501st that had previously operated one of the less-well-known Sabre models, the RF-86F.
Japanese F-4 Upgrades
In the early 80s, JASDF decided to upgrade its Phantom fleet with a package that would offer the ability to remain a capable opponent for years to come. The upgraded version was called F-4EJ Kai and saw the reintroduction of ground-attack capabilities in the form of anti-ship missiles, bombs and rockets. The F-4EJ Kai (the suffix Kai means "extra" or "augmented") was fitted with the Westinghouse AN/APG-66J pulse-Doppler radar, which was much smaller and lighter than the original APQ-120 and had more operating modes with better lookdown - shootdown capability. Externally, the installation of the new radar could be distinguished by the presence of a new radome which had fore and aft strengthening ribs.
The F-4EJ Kai introduced a new central computer, a Kaiser heads-up display, a Hazeltine AN/APZ-79 IFF system, and a license-built Litton LN-39 inertial navigation unit. A new J/APR-6 Radar Homing And Warning System was also fitted. Twin aft-facing radomes for this system were mounted on the fin tip and forward-facing antennas were mounted on the wingtips. A new, much taller UHF blade antenna was mounted on the dorsal spine, and the lower UHF antenna on the undercarriage door is larger in size. These are about the only externally-visible distinguishing points between the F-4EJ and the F-4EJ Kai. Plans to fit leading edge slats to the F-4EJ Kai were ruled out on the basis of cost, so all the Kais maintained their original leading edge flaps.
The Japanese Kai Phantoms are able to carry a 610-US gallon F-15 fuel tank on the centreline. This tank is capable to withstand higher g-loads than the original F-4 centreline tank. The F-4EJ Kai can also carry the Westinghouse AN/ALQ-131 advanced multimode electronic countermeasures pod. This pod has a wide range of modules and has reprogrammable software which makes it capable of quickly countering new threats.
The F-4EJ Kai can launch the AIM-7E/F Sparrow and the AIM-9L/P Sidewinder air-to-air missiles. In addition, it can carry and launch the Mitsubishi ASM-1 anti-ship missile. This missile has a launch weight of about 1345 pounds and is powered by a Nissan Motors solid rocket engine. It has midcourse guidance provided by inertial system acting in conjunction with a radar altimeter which maintains an altitude just above the tops of the waves during the final run-in to the target. Terminal guidance is provided by an active radar seeker mounted in the nose. A 440-pound high-explosive warhead is carried.
The original plan was to convert 110 aircraft of the remaining 125 (after the losses), but later on it was decided to be 96. The prototype F-4EJ Kai first flew on 17 July 1984, and it was delivered to the 306th squadron on the 24th of November 1989.
In order to strengthen the original RF-4E fleet which had been reduced in size due to aircraft being lost in accidents, JASDF decided to convert 17 F-4EJs to RF-4EJ configuration. These aircraft retained the nose for the M61A1 Vulcan cannon. While mounting no internal cameras or reconnaissance equipment in their nose, they were able to carry a centreline reconnaissance equipment pod. This feature makes them easily recognizable compare to the normal RF-4E.
These aircraft can carry three different types of sensor pods, depending on the mission requirements. These comprise of the TACER (an electronic reconnaissance pod with datalink), the TAC (pod with carrying KS-135A and KS-95B cameras, plus a D-500UR IR system) and the LOROP (with KS-146B camera). The first example which was converted to these standards was the 37-6406.
Nowadays Japan is introducing a first order of 42 F-35As to replace the remaining Phantoms. Pilots' training on this fifth-generation fighter is already taking place in Misawa Air Base in the north of Japan’s main island of Honshu as deliveries of Japan’s F-35s continue apace. Japan recently increased its F-35A procurement plans with another 100 aircraft.
The 302nd squadron withdrew its remaining Phantoms in March 2019, the 501st reconnaissance squadron will follow in 2020 and the last remaining 301st squadron will draw the final curtain most probably the same year. Although 301 and 302 squadrons are due to permanently move to Misawa following the transition to the F-35, the plan is unclear for the 501st squadron when and if it will then transition to a new aircraft type. The F-2 equipped 3 Hikotai, which is currently based at Misawa Air Base, is planned to move to Hyakuri Air Base.
Report and photos by George Karavantos ( view portfolio )
Last Modified: 7 April 2019