Where? Japan & China
When? November 2011
What, Japan... again??? Well, this trip to Asia was more or less arranged around the China Airshow 2010 at Zhuhai, but with the Tsuiki Open Day on the week-end before and going to this part of the world 'anyway' I thought it is a good decision to visit Japan again, even more so due to the fact that even after two visits to the Tsuiki show I did not have the chance to have really good weather there. A visit to the Hsinchu Open Doos in Taiwan, coinciding with the last Zhuhai week-end, should finally finish this 3-country trip.
By chance it came that Bernd of www.airshowpics.net accompanied me. I am sure that you will also find some photos on his website as well.
After a long flight via Vienna and a direct connection at Tokyo-Narita to Fukuoka I arrived at Kyushu, Japan's Southern Island, in nice sunny November weather at around 20°C.
While waiting for the connection flight to Fukuoka I have had the chance to do some spotting at Narita . During around one hour on that Sunday morning I got to see 4 Airbus A380 (two Lufthansa, 1 Air France, 1 Singapore Airlines) and as a highlight a special coloured China Airlines B738/w. Unfortunately the welcoming weather in Japan was not the best, but there would be other more important places during this trip where the sun would be more needed.
The final flight to FUK was very relaxing with only around 40 passengers on-board the ANA B737, but unfortunately we overflew Mt. Fuji directly, so there was no chance to spot the snow-covered top of Japan's most famous volcano mountain. A movie about Munich and its beer tradition made the flight pass by very quickly :)
After the arrival in Fukuoka I headed North with Iwakuni being the main target for the next day.
As the newly constructed runwaythere makes it better to photograph in the afternoon the plan to spend the first night at the Iwakuni Youth Hostel was slightly changed and instead a 'hotel' near the trainer places Hofu and Ozuki was chosen for the first night, when the real trip should start the next day.
Hofu, Ozuki & Iwakuni
After a short night due to the jet lag I headed of to Ozuki the next morning. 40km in one hour was a good average for Japanese roads, but the grey weather did not make me very optimistic. Arriving at Ozuki I saw 3 JMSDF T-5 trainers standing on the taxiway and preparing to take off. But before I got to the fence, however, all of them turned around and taxied back to the apron, so I could not do anything more than photographing two other T-5s that came in to land directly. Maybe they did cancel the flying due to the bad weather...?
I did not wait to find that out, but continued to Hofu for the T-7 trainers of the JASDF. There was a nice spot for line-up and taxi, but I did arrive for the lunch break, so there was nothing more left than photographing some landings against a gray background and continuing to Iwakuni.
Due to a new runway constructed in the sea, and thus East of the coastline, it only made sense to go there in the afternoon. Unfortunately this did not help against the grey and hazy sky - but the flying activity was very nice.
When I arrived a new Shin Meiwa US-2 flying boat departed as did also some US Marines F/A-18 Hornets. The Shin Meiwa returned for some touch&goes, but unfortunately the immaculate new colour scheme in matt dark blue over grey did not help to make up for nice photos under these conditions. During the afternoon another 'old' Shin Meiwa US-1 was also flying.
Furthermore I got the chance to photograph several of the JMSDF P-3 Orions and was especially happy about the EP-3 electronic versions in all their different configurations with several 'humps and bumps' around the fuselage as well as carrying different pods.
Finally the sun came slightly out in the late afternoon and combined with the variety of aircraft in the air made up for a good start of this trip.
Before continuing back to the Southern island we had a look at Iwakuni’s main touristic attraction, the Kintai-kyo (錦帯橋), or "Brocade Sash Bridge" bridge and enjoyed the sunset in the city centre along the river bank. Then it was time driving some hundred kilometres - meaning some long hours - back to the Southern Kyushu island.
A nice sunrise over the rise field promised to be a good start for the day. Though the clouds came in soon, I should see three waves of F-15 and F-2 flying at the end of the day.
Regarding the F-2s even eight jets were flying in two of three missions that day, and with an F-2 in full air-air armament (4x AAM-3 and 4x AAM-4) it was a really nice sight to see these blue jets lined up with the Pacific Ocean in the background.
A very strong wind made the sun/cloud mix ever changing and proved to be quite challenging for the many photographers present that day as the lenses were moving heavily in these gusts. And - as usual - a marvellous blue sky was mostly present when no aircraft were in sight... Nevertheless the flying kept me busy and made many position changes possible.
Towards the end of the day 4 F-2s also practised an air-air gunnery demo for the airshow which was on the schedule for Sunday.
After an exciting day that kept me quite busy I left with the last rays of sun heading to Nyutabaru - approximately 250km further south. The navigation system proposed several options to take that route, one costing more than 7.500 Yen (~80€) and lasting 4,5hrs, or another one for some 1.000 Yen and at 5,5hrs (for 250km...). I decided to for the second proposal and a truck driver that was leading me at times with around 100km/h on the rural roads was quite good to arrive at our destination a bit earlier in time.
Nevertheless it was a late arrival at Nyuta anyway in the middle of the night.
Fighterbase Nyutabaru - once again blessed with sunshine during the whole day, and even more important, also already in the early morning for the famous 'morning spot' where the aircraft are taxiing directly towards you.
This went really well for the F-15 training Squadron and was a good preparation for the famous (and colourful) JASDF Aggressors that should follow shortly afterwards. After quite a long wait until around 9 o'clock, and with worsening light conditions, 4 of the Aggressors turned up, just in time with the triple-A regiment that appeared and decided to set up their training camp just in our viewing line. So the desired shots of the Aggressors were spoiled... One big chance was thus missed and I had nothing more than to leave and wait for the landings.
For the landings from the East it was interesting to discover that near the coffee vending machines a new shop has been opened that is now selling T-Shirts and souvenir stuff to the serious enthusiats as well as fod for the regulars that pass by just to watch the aircraft. I stayed at this place for the landings of the Aggressor and was happy to see that a whilelater also the special marked F-15 of the Training Squadron - celebrating its 10th anniversary - was taxiing and I got the chance to photograph it. The choice of the wrong lens and photo position however did not bring the desired result, and I was quite unhappy when I learned that the aircraft should not return that same day.
But at least the returning Aggressors made up for some nice colourful photos:
The remaining day until sunset at around 5pm was spent driving around the Southern fenceline looking for nice photo spots. The construction of the new runway seemed to be really good as you are now a lot closer to the fence than previously.
But unfortunately the new overall fence line, which has been set up in parallel to the old one, is partly constructed as a double fence, and thus spoils a lot of photo possibilities as it makes looking directly at the runway impossible. This is mainly valid towards the middle of the runway and cannot even be avoided with a very high stepladder. Standing more to the right or left of the middle were thus the choices, or further back to get the aircraft already in the air shortly after take-off.
During all of my 'activities' I was furthermore always protected by the Base Security, which closely followed all of my movements while I was looking to get some nice photos of JASDF aircraft.
Besides all the local Aggressors, Phantoms, Eagles and of course T-4s flying around, a Chinook and five T-400 visited the base that day as well as two T-4 of foreign Squadrons. And with the last two F-4 touching down while the sun was also setting down I headed back to the hotel and decided to go to Kanoya around midday the next day. The navigation said 2hrs for 120km...
Nyutabaru & Kanoya
The emotions at Nyuta in the morning were mixed as a slight rain was drizzling down. So the only thing to do was heading directly to the airbase for a warm coffee from the vending machine. It seemed as it would not become a very good day with a cloudy sky as even the well-known mountain chain in the background was not being visible at all.
Not being very optimistic I nevertheless moved to the morning spot, but due to the lack of sun decided to try a different angle. After a short while there the security car turned up, but they seemed to remember me from the day before and did not question me again.
Again the F-15 Training Squadron went out for their first tour of the day already at 7:40am. The sun nearly came outat that time, but the direction of the clouds was very vague and finally against me - but at least the cloud cover and the lacking wind brought temperatures of 16°C with it and I did not have to freeze like the morning before. After the take-off of the 'Igrus' I changed the position near to the touchdown point, where I should stay for the rest of this spotting day.
The airbase was a lot 'quieter' this time, not with regards to aircraft movements, but to the number of spotters: the day before numerous locals and foreigners were present, and I saw and spoke to numerous Japanese, Brits and Finish enthusiasts. But today only a handful of the locals were present at their set-up spot, which provides even a fireplace to prepare some warm tea, and also a dedicated photo platform. They were very amazed that I came from 'toitsu' all the long way to photograph JASDF jets and I got some photographs taken of me as well as I had very nice talks, though communication was not always easy due to the language barrier.
And the JASDF flew again that day... As the day before the Aggressors went out for a 1 hour mission followed by the phabulous Phantoms. Again four of the Aggressors left, and this time the missing green-painted F-15DJ, which remained on the flightline the previous day, did also take part. Obviously being very lucky that day a big cloud only came after these four very special (at least for me and the many Japanese photographers that turn up every time when the fly) F-15s took-off, and disappeared just in time again for their return to base.
5 of the Phantoms flew as well, and as usual all of the flying was accompanied by at least one T-4 trainer of the same Squadron doing several touch and goes towards the end of each mission.
Originally I have planned to leave to Kanoya after the morning round (one mission of Aggressors, F-4EJ and F-15(D)J trainers) right before lunch, but this time - much to my surprise - the engines of the Aggressors spooled up once again shortly before lunch. I thus stayed for one hour longer to see them take-off and land once again as well as to photograph the afternoon launch of 6 Phantoms just after the F-15s returned.
Then it was finally time to drive to...
still further South. Heading down the road and passing Miyakonojo the countryside began to get more and more rural, Bamboo forests grew, amazing big spiders could be seen hanging around the electrical cables along the street all around and the chain of the Kagoshima mountains lay in the distant haze. And the navigation 'promised' an arrival at the Navy base around 4 pm.
At this time of the day usually all of the aircraft are returning from their mission or stop their training, and I just arrived as two OH-6 came in to land. Unfortunately one of them started again while I had a very nice talk with the Base Security ("yes, feel free to take photos here" ... "the East side of the runway is not so good for photos, you can see the base better from here!"), but soon they left with the desired info on the questionnaire and I continued to photograph the activity on the tarmac: two Seahawks left for night flying, three Orions returned with the last rays of the setting sun.
And much to my joy - one of currently only two existing EC135 (or TH-135, which is the Japanese designation) training helicopters in the JMSDF fleet returned from a flight and could also be photographed.
Flying continued well into the night that evening, but once the light was really gone there was no more sense in trying to take some photos. I thus left in hope for an evenly good day the next morning.
A dull and hazy morning welcomed me on Friday morning at Kanoya, but nevertheless I went into position on the fence waiting for some movements. The first Orion take-off of the day shortly after sunrise was nearly missed before it got quiet for a long while, as only some hours later at around 9am the helicopters started up.
Shortly afterwards the base security inside the fence passed by with only a short stop to talk, just in time when a formation of two TH-135 came in to land, this currently bwing the whole fleet of the JMSDF EC135. Fortunately the security people did let us continue taking photos and when they left everything was in order - at least this was what I thought at that moment.
Things then really started moving with Orions going out and Seahawks flying their training circuit as well as some more movements on the ramp. During the morning the sky also got clearer and it promissed to become a very nice day.
Things got even better when 3 Sea Stallions were discovered being pulled out onto the ramp!
At some point during the morning another local 'spotter' suddenly appeared with camera and lens hanging around his neck, business shoes, trousers and a white shirt. After doing some shooting through the fence he finally started talking to me and somehow insisted on knowing in which hotel I have been staying that night - that being the question that could not yet being answered on the securities questionnaire the day before.
Thus I could somehow not abandon the thoughts that spotting is not the main hobby/profession of him... Nevertheless the conversation was very nice and I got to learn a lot about Kanoya, the region and its specialities!
The spotting highlights of the day were two of the SH-60 Seahawks that were landing on the runway exactly in front of the chosen photo spot and shortly after midday one of the MH-53 Sea Stallions that was leaving - providing a very nice opportunity for some head-on shots of this mighty (monster) helicopter.
Orions also started to return while the sun was still out and the hazy background was just fine as it reduced the sometimes distracting background a bit (but nevertheless nice photos can be made there when you can see the Kirishima mountains as witnessed in 2009).
Then I finally left in the early afternoon and when I drove away with the car suddenly a white van started to follow - and it was exactly the (base security) van that I remembered very well from my last stays at Kanoya. Of course I did not get irritated by this very polite protection, had a nice and relaxing visit to the base museum and waved farewell to our escort when leaving to Mt. Sakurajima.
Sakurajima, located in the bay near the city of Kagoshima, is one of the most active volcanoes worldwide and was also impressing this day with a thundering roar and puffing out dark gray ash clouds. To get a closer impression of it a tour by car around the 'volcano island' was made when the dawn was setting in before continuing the drive to Kirishima, where the Saturday would be spent without any aircraft - for a change...
Vulcano hiking! The clouds were not hanging as low as during my last visit at this national park so a climb up to the highest peak of this area, Mt. Karakuni with 1700m, was well worth the effort.
The Kirishima mountains are not as much know amongst tourist as Mt. Aso, which is also situated on Kyushu island but further North, and also cannot be found in many guide books. But the scenery became most famous by the James Bond movie "You only live twice".
In this movie classic "007" is flying above the very scenic landscape and one of the crater lakes is even used as the secret underground basis of the bad guy, Ernst Blofeld. I also wanted to go and see that place, but it was closed due to volcanic activity. Nevertheless Mt. Karakuni offered a nice view on the steam cloud rising out of Mt. Shinkoe.
On top of the mountain I met two Japanese hikers who proudly presented their German backpacks and invited me for a freshly brewed coffee. Before going downhill I still had a nice chat with them and they presented impressions on their cameras how the mountain range looks at different times of the year. When stepping down again I just realized how steep the steps were for climbing up that mountain!
And of course the fantastic Autumn colours were not to be missed:
The rest of the day was less spectacular with a loooong drive up to Tsuiki for the airshow the following day.
Tsuiki Air Show
Wow, amazing... already in the darkness at 6am people were streaming into the airshow ground, only to be stopped by the numerous souvenir and food stands - and the famous rope blocking off the static display area.
Here is a small selection of the photos taken during the show, the full review can be found in the dedicatated full airshow report.
The departures were finished a lot earlier than expected so I was in the car already very early at around 4pm and started the drive to Fukuoka. Before going to bed for an early flight the next day the 'typical' atmosphere of a big Japanese city provided a good finish for another nice trip to the land of the rising sun.
Travel day to China... A wake-up call at 5am was the start for a long day 'on the road' from Fukuoka via Osaka and Hong Kong to Zhuhai, the location of the "8th China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition".
A short stop at Osaki-Kansai (KIX) made it possible to visit the very nice observation deck facility there and take some photographs. Unfortunately the light is only really good in the afternoon to photograph the aircraft using the closest runway, but a special coloured JAL B767 ("Japan. Endless Discovery.", which is just so true!) and a Japanese Coast Guard Falcon 50 made the extra trip to the deck well worth the time. Unfortunately the military highlight, a Chile Air Force B767, was out of reach and scheduled to leave after my flight to Hong Kong.
A ANA B767 then brought me to Hong Kong, followed by the fast ferry to Zhuhai, where the special adventure of the Zhuhai Airshow should start.
Zhuhai - China Airshow
Immigration to mainland China was a lot easier than expected after getting the direct ferry from Hong Kong airport to Zhuhai, which might have been caused by the approaching international event.
The highlights of the show are summarized in the following photos, for a full report of the event please follow this LINK.
Apart from the airshow there was some spare time to have look around Zhuhai and see the impressive build-up of this city, which has the status of a special economics zone.
Then, Taiwan was planned to be next...
Taiwan and the Hsinchu Open Doors of the ROCAF (Republic of China Air Force) event was next on this two week-long tour around Asia. Before leaving Hong Kong to Taipei I however got the notice that this show has been postponed to December, so I would somehow go there without an airshow and seeing any aircraft at all...
I thus decided without further ado to cancel the short round-trip to Taiwan from Hong Kong and to fly directly back to Munich. With a transfer from the Zhuhai ferry to Hong Kong and further on to Munich it was however not possible to get of the airport to do some 'proper' civil airliner spotting, so only some photos of colourful Asian airliners could be made through the windows in the departure area.
Landing back at Munich in the fog and temperatures of -2°C another good trip came to its end...
These photos provide links to photo sites to see them in a higher resolution:
- Category: Air Forces
- Published: 23 November 2010
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