Double Blue Impusle

On two occasions last year, we indulged my need for a "flying fix" by going to "Air Festivals" put on by Japan's Air Self-Defense Force featuring their aerobatic team "Blue Impulse".

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.

Drawing a music staff in the sky - bass clef, definitely bass clef.

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.

Great place to meet people?

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.

A U125 "Peace Krypton" used for search and rescue. Note the bulge on the bottom which houses a Toshiba 360 radar for spotting objects on the sea and in the air, the tall window next to the door for visual observation, and bump under the nose which houses infrared detection equipment for seeing people or ships in the ocean at night or poor visibility conditions. The plane can also launch flares, marker bouys and a life raft. In 1996, one of these planes is credited with saving the 22 member crew of a Russian fishing vessel that was in distress.

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.

Pitts Special 2S aerobatic 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.

A couple of wild and crazy guys.

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



Don Snabulus said...

That looks like a great show. Those Blue Impulse clips are incredible. I'd like to see them come to a few USA shows but the US Armed Forces might get their knickers in a twist having competition like that.

In any case, thanks for the great pics!

Pandabonium said...

Snabby - Blue Impulse did go to the USA once. In 1997, they flew, along with teams from Chile and Canada and of course the Thunderbirds, in Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the USAF at Nellis AFB in Nevada.

Since the primary function of military aerobatic teams is recruitment, they all tend to stay in their home countries.

Glad you liked the post. I look forward to seeing them again.

jam said...

Magnificent! Especially surrounded by so many high tech planes. I myself has never been to an air show before. Must go in the future!

Pandabonium said...

Jam - you will be happy to learn that Malaysia hosts one of the biggest airshows in the world every other year. The Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace (LIMA) Exhibition will be held again in December of 2009. More than a aerobatic show, it is a place where civilian and military planes are presented for sale, so there are dozens of the latest designs to see - on the ground and in the air with 4 hours of flying each day! Wish I could go.

It is held at the Mahsuri International Exhibition Centre (MIEC), near Langkawi International Airport. Last year, the UK's team, Red Arrows, performed.

The Moody Minstrel said...

I have yet to see the Blue Impulse perform, but I saw the Blue Angels in F-18s at the Hillsboro Air Show one year. For an aviation buff like me, it was a dream come true.

Even so, I think I might have appreciated the Confederate Air Force (vintage WWII and Korean War planes) show at the little airport in my college town even more. THAT was fun, especially when I got to go and talk to the Corsair pilot (an 84-year-old "teenager"!). My only regret was that the Zeros they flew were all replicas.

Arkonbey said...

Ah! Airshows! Too bad the shows in the states have all of the baggage. As an avowed liberal (and former SAR aviator) even I get mad at the local uproar about the military-industrial complex's propaganda.

I just feel sort of sorry for the display pilots. They are honing skills that have about as much place in the modern world as does, say, kendo or dressage. There will be no more dogfights ala' WW1/2/Korea.

Display groups that use trainers (like the Snowbirds) always put on better performances.

Pandabonium said...

Moody - those old planes are the best. I'm glad the Confederate Air Force is working to restore, maintain, and most of all fly them. That's great that you got to speak with that pilot. Living history.

By the way, I read that the CAF now calls itself "Commemorative Air Force". I guess someone finally told them the outcome of the Civil War. :^)

Arkonbey - for me it's all about the flying and I appreciate seeing the aircraft flown even if I do not approve of the uses they are put to elsewhere.

The purpose of aerobatic teams is not to train pilots for combat. It is to advertise the service for recruiting purposes. I think it's a choice assignment - you get to do a lot of exciting flying without being in war zone.

I agree on the trainers. Snowbirds are great. I've never seen them in person. They fly the Canadair CT-114 Tutor in 9 plane formations that are really impressive.

Olivia said...

Shame on me! I love planes and yet have never been to an airshow, though I've wanted to for years.

I love the corkscrew and near pass clips. Wow!

Pandabonium said...

Olivia - I hope you do get to go to one someday, whether a gathering of historic planes, private and experimental ones, or professional aerobatic teams, they are always fun and exciting IMO.

Glad you like the clips.
Suggestion: go to Fly-In Calendar and click on a state in the left column to see what's happening near you. ;^)

Happy landings.

jam said...

Panda, you are amazing. You know more than me! I do know there is one in Langkawi but I never thought you get to know that too!

Pandabonium said...

Jam - ha ha. "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain"....(Wizard of Oz 1939)

I'm not so all-knowing. I used "the Google". That's all. ;^)

Swinebread said...

Amazing show panda, quite overwhelming how many planes they had there.

I never been to an airshow myself.

If it make you feel any better your tax money isn't being wasted on stupid war... (unless u r paying US taxes)

Pandabonium said...

Swinebread - I don't pay US taxes and yes it does make me feel better. Japan has its own spending foibles but a $trillion for a military/intelligence complex isn't one of them.