The Blue Impulse team flies Kawasaki T-4s, a Japanese designed and built jet trainer used by its Air Self Defense Forces (JASDF).
Article 9 of Japan's Constitution prohibits the use of military force for any reason except self defense. This is why the armed services in Japan are not called "Navy, Army, and Air Force", but rather "Self Defense Forces". The law has been stretched over the years, largely to accommodate the wishes of the USA (and some reactionary Japanese politicians), but the idea of the rejection of military force as a means of addressing problems is still strongly supported by a majority of the people of Japan. In fact, there is a movement to get other countries to adopt a "peace amendment" to their constitutions.
The T-4s, being trainers, are designed for lower speeds than the fighter planes used by some other military aerobatic teams and as a result have more graceful lines. They also fly a bit slower which, in my opinion, is much better for putting on aerial demonstrations than the higher speeds of combat jets.
Our first experience was on September 9th at Hyakuri Airbase in our own Ibaraki Prefecture. Hyakuri is home to F-15J fighter planes (built by Mitsubishi), as well as some Kawasaki T-4s, (aging) F-4EJ Phantoms, utility and rescue helicopters, and a Japanese version of the Hawkwer 800 twin business jet, the U125, which is used for maritime patrol as well as sea search and rescue work. Most fly over our house from time to time on their way to and from a training area off the coast, but I was looking forward to seeing them up close.
At first, I could not believe how many people turned out for the air show at Hyakuri. It was amazing. Hyakuri is the middle of Ibaraki Prefecture and pretty much "out in the boonies". We had to park in a field about a kilometer from the viewing area. Of course, being used to this, the JASDF had everything very well organized to put it mildly. In fact, they had people stationed as far as several kilometers from the base to direct traffic in the most efficient manner to the parking areas. Ibaraki police manually operated traffic lights to assure a smooth flow to and from the base. We had been to Hyakuri once before, but the route they directed us on was unknown to K and turned out to be much shorter than we could have imagined.
I'll skip the details of our personal trek, and just get to the planes, which I am sure is what is of interest. I'll only caution anyone wanting to experience an Air Festival in Japan to be prepared for BIG crowds. Bring some water and perhaps a snack. Yes, they have lots of concession stands that sell food and drinks, but they can and do get sold out. At lunch time the lines can be daunting. Something to drink is the far more important of the two and late in the day at Hyakuri they ran out of everything - water, teas, sodas - as it was a hot day. We finally got relief by finding a base water faucet on the way out. One last suggestion - earplugs. The Blue Impulse planes are not so loud, but some of the fighter planes and especially the old F-4s sure are.
In addition to the planes which call Hyakuri home, other types were flown in and put on display and the private aerobatic team called "AIRock" put in a nice aerobatic performance with a Pitts Special 2S biplane.
Blue Impulse was great. I've seen the US teams Thunderbirds and Blue Angels perform and Blue Impulse was every bit as good. My personal favorite maneuver was the "Corkscrew" - in which one plane flew straight and level while inverted as a second one performed barrel rolls around it. Beautiful...
Here are some more pics I took that day:
Unfortunately for me, Hyakuri will not host an air festival this year as the field is being modified to accommodate commercial flights - a dumb idea which was decided by the prefectural government BEFORE they consulted the airlines who subsequently panned it and told them the number of passengers they can expect are a fraction of what the prefecture had in mind. With global oil production flat and set to decline, the resulting rising fuel costs are making it harder for airlines everywhere to stay out of the red. Since there was no real reason to have commercial flights to Hyakuri in the first place, the failure of the project is now "baked into the cake" and it promises to be a big financial loser for taxpayers. (You may quote me on that.)
In October, Martin, who writes the blog Kurashi-News from Japan (for which I now write a post on occasion), invited us to come out to Saitama Prefecture, the other side of Tokyo from us, to see the Iruma Airbase Air Festival, which was held on November 3.
There is a train station next to Iruma Air Base and there were so many people going there that they added extra gates on an adjacent field for passengers disembarking the train for the air show so as not to overwhelm the platforms and station proper. We managed to meet up with Martin and made our way out to the flight line, sometimes contorting our bodies to squeeze by as we tip-toed between spectators sitting on picnic mats, like a game of "Twister". A little further back, and at at either end of the huge aircraft parking area being used for visitors, it was not nearly so crowded.
The aircraft on static display as well as flying were a little different because the base has different functions than Hyakuri. For one, Iruma has transport aircraft rather than fighter planes and they put on an impressive performance of the large two engined Kawasaki C-1 transports flying in formation as well as dropping paratroopers. Later, we did a walk through of a C-1.
There was a rescue demonstration showing how the U125 "Peace Krypton" jet coordinates with the UH-60J Black Hawk rescue helicopter, and how they use the basket to lift a person to the helicopter. Also on display were a P-3 Orion anti submarine patrol airplane. I used to watch them practice landings on Maui (yes, they'd fly all the way to Hawaii). There was an E-2CJ Hawkeye with its wings folded (an aircraft carrier adaptation which Japan does not use since it cannot have any aircraft carriers). The Hawkeye is for electronic information gathering and has a large radar disc on its back. The Hawkeye's long-range radar and other electronic surveillance systems can simultaneously detect and track hundreds of ships and aircraft more than 200 miles away.
Blue Impulse put on a longer show than at Hyakuri. When we first arrived the weather was gray which made for less than perfect photography conditions, but by the time Blue Impulse took off it had improved to blue skies and pretty scattered cumulus clouds.
Here's a short clip I took of the "Corkscrew" and another of a close pass that looks like they are going to swap paint (don't try this at home):
My slide show of the Iruma Air Festival -
Here is an official Blue Impulse video put to the music of a Sony Playstation game called "Gran Turismo 3 A-spec": 3 minutes 5 seconds:
And for you hardcore aviation buffs who can't get enough, this video is a bit longer and has even more scenes from the cockpit. Set to the song "Blue Impulse" by "NAOKI featuring YUKI" :
The schedule of JASDF Air Festivals and performances of Blue Impulse can be found here: Event Information JASDF Official Site - English; and here:Event Information JASDF Official Site - Japanese (Unfortunately, they haven't updated the English site for 2008).
Well, I sure got my aviation "fix" last year. For 2008, I'm thinking of going up in a glider - something I haven't done since I was a teen. :D