Sayonara Phantoms! Hyakuri Air Festival retrospective

A JASDF RF-4E during the Hyakuri Air Festival (All images: Author)

All the highlights of a memorable airshow.

During the first weekend of December the Japanese Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) held another Air Festival at Hyakuri Air Base, home of the last Japanese F-4 Phantoms. While the Saturday was only accessible for personnel and families, on Sunday tens of thousands gathered together at Hyakuri, which is located around 50 miles east of Tokyo, to witness the last demonstrations from the Phantoms as the F-4s will be retired in 2020.

With already loads of people waiting outside the gates opened around 6 o’clock. After passing some preserved aircraft near the gate and a security check a small static and flightline was presented on the Eastern side of the field. Besides the Blue Impulse demonstration team with their T-4s, the JASDF sent a T-7, F2, 2 F-15’s, C-2 and Gulfstream 4 to Hyakuri while the Navy flew in a P1 on Friday. But the most interesting were probably the aircraft from the base itself. The Air Resque Wing showed a blue U-125A and a UH-60J on the flightline and on two static areas two special coloured and retired F-4EJs from 302 Hikotai were presented together with two reconnaissance RF-4s from 501 Hikotai. More Phantoms could be found on the flightline with three F-4EJs from 301 Hikotai and four beautiful camouflaged RF-4s from 501.

Two F-4EJs of the 301 Hikotai.
The special colored aircraft of the 301 Hikotai.

The flying program began at 07:30AM with the start-up of two F-4EJs on the northern side of the flightline which later on performed a weather check. Fifteen minutes later also three RF-4s and a third F-4EJ fired up their J-79 engines and after these Phantoms departed runway 03R an impressive six-ship formation was flown over the field. Next in line was the Air Rescue Wing which showcased their UH-60J and U-125A in their Search and Rescue role. Also the U-125 made several passes dropping emergency kits.


Around 10:30 a F-15 from 303 Hikotai took to the air using full afterburner. Eagles were based at Hyakuri till 2016 and therefore still highly appreciated by the local community. But for most the demonstration flown by the six blue and white T-4’s from the Blue Impulse were the highlight of the day. Despite the cloudy weather the team flew an impressive show including tight formations, high speed passes from the two solo aircraft and lots of smoke.

An F-15J of the 303 Hikotai.
The Blue Impulse display team.

After lunch it was back to the Phantoms with a scramble from three F-4EJ’s including a special colour one. The trio did several simulated airfield attacks after which two RF-4Es took to the air to asses the attack and take pictures. After landing and shut down the show was over and the last official demonstrations with the Phantoms at their homebase Hyakuri in history books.

A pass by one of the 501 Hikotai’s RF-4Es.

The Phantoms and their unique sound will be missed in Japan, Sayōnara F-4!

About Edwin Schimmel
Edwin Schimmel is a freelance photographer based near Utrecht city in The Netherlands. His first article and photo publications date back to the mid 90’s in Dutch aviation magazines like Onze Luchtmacht and De Vliegende Hollander. Later on he also got published in international aviation magazines like Air Forces Monthly and Combat Aircraft. Since 2000 he works in the Air Traffic Control at the Royal Netherlands Air Force. He reported from many bases around Europe but also in the US and Japan.