Turn ‘n’ Burn‘s Alan Kenny has visited Hyakuri Air Base in Japan three times in 2012, 2015 and 2016. All image are copyright of the author.
Plenty of fight left in the JASDF Phantoms
Despite dwindling numbers of Phantoms in active service with air forces around the world, the Japan Air Self Defence Force still has 91 F-4EJs and 26 RF-4EJs in its inventory. Impressive numbers considering this aircraft type first entered service with 44 years ago, back in 1968. Both types of the Phantom are based here. The F-4EJs are painted in air superiority grey with the squadron red, white and blue blocky stylised eagle painted on the tail. The RF-4EJs are painted in two different schemes. Either the South East Asia camouflage or the lizard green scheme and have a cartoon bird’s head similar to the famous Woody Woodpecker on the tail.
Keeping the claws sharp on Japanese Eagles
There is a strong force of F-15J Eagles at Hyakuri Air base, along with a few F-15DJ twin seater trainer aircraft. The aircraft are painted in a light grey camouflage scheme reminiscent of early USAF F-15A Eagles. Along with the T-4 trainer, the F-15J & F-15DJ make up the 305th Tactical Fighter Squadron.
Might of the Rising Sun
Japan Air Self-Defence Force Hyakuri Air Base is home to the 302nd and 305th Tactical Fighter Squadrons, 501st Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron and the Hyakuri Rescue Wing. The 302nd TFS comprises of F-4EJ Kai Phantom IIs and the T-4 trainer. The 501st TRS operates the RF-4EJ and T-4 and the Hyakuri Rescue Wing has UH-60Js and the U-125A. The T-4 trainers are quite similar to the Alpha Jet, but have a more bulbous nose. Duck egg blue C-130s from 401 Squadron at Nagoya occasionally call in for a brief stop overs. The U-125A, which is a Japanese version of the BAe-125, and is utilised in the search and rescue jet role.
The base is 53 miles north of central Tokyo and easily accessible by car and public transport. Hyakuri Air Base was the main name for the site since 1956, but in 2010 the Japanese government opened a passenger terminal and runway on the west side of the airfield and named it Ibaraki Airport. Only two low-cost airlines use the airport, Spring Airlines of China and Japan’s Skymark Airlines.
The runways are designated 03R/21L and 03L/21R. The civilian flights don’t disrupt military operations as runway 03L/21R was built for civil use. When there aren’t any passenger flights due, the JASDF also use 03L/21R. To the south of the passenger terminal are F-4 two gate guards. They are well displayed and are an F-4EJ from the 302nd TFS and an RF-4EJ from the 501st TRW. The latter painted with wonderful a shark mouth.
Hiring a car is very expensive in Japan, as are the numerous toll roads. The easiest, and cheapest way to get to the Hyakuri/Ibaraki is by public transport. There is a dedicated bus service which runs 6 services a day from Tokyo station to Ibaraki Airport and vice versa. The journey to the airport takes 1 hour and 40 minutes, while the return journey takes 2 hours 30 minutes as Tokyo is extremely busy and heavy traffic is frequent.
There are many locations to spot activities at the base and I managed to find most of them. The first two times I visited via public transport, only using a car on my third visit. On the east side of the base, there was a very famous elevated viewing platform. Many people had told me of this location and I was determined to go as I had a car. Unfortunately the phone number listed on the locked gate was out of service, so I was out of luck. Reports were that it had closed, but locals have said it’s since reopened.
It is advisable to carry a photocopy of your passport on your person. Unfortunately I did not on my first visit and spent fifteen minutes with the military police trying to work out my reason for being there. In the end the guard realised I wasn’t causing any harm, took my photo and left me to it. The Japanese photographer next to me explained they’d never seen a Westerner there, so wanted a photograph. Quite amusing.
The base and airport are very accessible and fantastic for viewing. As long as you respect local laws and general aviation laws, you will have a great day. I would advise going to the west side of the airport in the afternoon for photos as the sun is directly overhead and sets behind you. In the summertime at least. There aren’t many places left to see Phantoms in the wild and Japan, and Hyakuri, have excellent viewing locations to see these wonderful jets in the twilight of their career. A must visit for any fan.