Hyakuri Air Festival 2018
visit Hyakuri airbase for The last F-4 show.
Article and pictures by Ronald de Roij
The clock is ticking
on Japanís F-4 Phantom fighters as the country prepares to draw down use
of the Cold War-era jet that has been in service for almost half a
302sq F-4 final Year - one of the two 302 Hikotai Phantom Farewell schemes presented during the Hyakuri Airshow 2018.
Hikotai was formed on October 1st, 1974 at Chitose Air Base in Hokkaido
as the second of the JASDF's F-4 Phantom squadrons. It was the first
operational unit to operate the F-4 in the JASDF, as 301 Hikotai was the
F-4 training unit.
The disbandment of the 302 Hikotai, on of the last three squadrons
operating the F-4 Phantom is a fact now.
On 2 December 2018, Hyakuri Airbase hosted an air show and celebrated
the final day of this famous squadron operating the F-4 Phantom.
Two of the unitís F-4 Phantom painted in commemorative markings took
center stage on the show.
302 Hikotai will not be disbanded as a unit; instead it will move to
Misawa AB and take over the F-35A Lightning II from Rinji F-35A
Lightning II Hikotai as the first operational F-35A Lightning II unit.
The 301 Hikotai will follow a year later in its transition to the F-35A
Lightning II and 501 Hikotai will be transformed into a fighter unit in
The bird badge of 302 is a very stylised representation of the Hikotai
number, head and body being the '3', the white tail '0' and
the blue wings the '2'.
In addition to the large crowd of locals who attended, the Hyakuri
Air Festival also drew aviation enthusiasts from around the world, with
groups from Australia, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom among the
various nationalities present at the show.
The Phantom had been a key component of many U.S.-aligned air forces for
almost 60 years. With most air forces having retired their F-4 Phantom
in recent years. Off the last operator Japan remains one of the most
accessible places to see the Phantom still in service. In the countries
of the three other operators South Korea, Turkey and Iran this is no
really an option.
Mitsubishi built 138 of Japanís 140 F-4EJ Phantomís under licence from
aerospace company McDonnell Douglas between 1971 and 1981. They were
mostly similar to the F-4E Phantom used by the United States at that
time, although the Japanese aircraft had their in-flight refuelling and
ground-attack capabilities removed to align with Japanís defensive
policy. The F-4J Phantom equipped seven Hikotai in the JSDAF starting
with 301 Hikotai at Hyakuri with the first aircrafts arriving in 1972. .
The squadron emblem of the 301st squadron is a frog wearing a scarf. The word for "frog" in Japanese is kaeru, the same sound (but different characters) as the word for "come home" (safely).
An upgrade program in the 1980s saw the reintroduction of ground-attack
capabilities in the form of anti-ship missiles, bombs and rockets.
Improved, lightweight radar was also fitted along with an improved
avionics suite. Less than a hundred F-4 Phantoms were upgraded, and were
known as F-4EJ Kai (Improved) in JASDF service.
Japan also acquired fourteen RF-4E Phantom's built by McDonnell Douglas
to serve in a reconnaissance role. These, together with seventeen F-4EJs
modified to the RF-4EJ standard, capable of carrying a variety of
external reconnaissance pods, all operated by 501 Hikotai at Hyakuri.
After this show
Japanese F-4 Phantom numbers will start declining rapidly with only the
301 Hikotai with F-4EJs and reconnaissance 501 Hikotai with a variety of
RF-4E and RF4EJ remaining. The last flight of a Japanese Phantom is at
the moment planned in the end of 2020, ending what will then be Japanís
almost 50-year association with the type.
Since 1961 the 501 Hikotai emblem has been
Woody Woodpecker wearing a bowtie.
In the last few years RF-4E are seen in a maritime
Japan is introducing
a fleet of forty-two F-35A Lightning II to replace the F-4 Phantom, with
pilots training on the fifth-generation fighter at Misawa Air Base. Next
to the first badge of F-35A Lightning II Japan is planning for a
procurement of another hundred F-35 Lightning II in both the A and B
variant as a counter measure for the still growing Chinese military
302 Hikotai was still on active QRA duty the day before
the air festival .