Located in the south west of Japan, and sitting on the North Coast, Miho Air Base is home to the 3rd Tactical Airlift Wing of the Japan Air Self Defense Force (JASDF). Like many JASDF facilities, for one day a year the base is opened to the local community and a selection of static and flying displays are organised. Michael Lovering attended for AeroResource.
Miho is home to two squadrons that make up the 3rd Tactical Airlift Wing. 403 Squadron operate both the Kawasaki C1 and NAMC YS-11, the former being the workhorse of the JASDF strategic transport fleet whilst the twin Rolls Royce dart powered YS-11 airliners are used primarily for VIP transport duties. These two types make up the majority of aircraft and movements at Miho. In addition to 403 Squadron, 41 Squadron fly thirteen examples of the T-400 multi engine training aircraft. The T-400 is a modified variant of the Raytheon T-1 Jayhawk and is used to train pilots destined for the C1 and newly developed Kawasaki C2.
Miho also houses a small museum containing a number of historic JASDF fighters as well as a Curtiss C-46 gate guard. Across the airfield from the military facility is the terminal of Yonago Airport, served by All Nippon Airways, Skymark and Asiana Airlines which operate flights across Japan and South Korea. Throughout the day, the airport remained active and a number of commercial flights arrived and departed.
Visitors expecting a western airshow experience at a Japanese event will be very confused. The day is not aimed at the enthusiast or photographer, but is intended to act as a thank you to the residents of nearby towns who may be disturbed by the activity of the base. This way of doing things is very popular: Over 40,000 people attended over the course of 6 hours to experience a number of ground demonstrations, static airframes and a planned 4 hour flying display. All aircraft participating were operated by the Japanese armed forces, with an emphasis being on based aircraft and other transport squadrons. The result of this was a generously sized static display consisting a number of heavy aircraft. Based C1s from 403 Squadron were joined by examples of the type from 402 Squadron based at JASDF Iruma and a beautiful C-130H in green camouflage operated by 401 Squadron from Komaki Air Base. These units make up the foundations of JASDF Air Support Command.
The second resident squadron added to the static line up with six T-400s, a number of which had life size fluffy ‘pilots’ in the left hand seats! Other large fixed wing assets in the static park included a DeHavilland Canada DHC-8 used by the Japanese Coast Guard for search and rescue (SAR) duties, one of the many P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft used by the Japan Marine Self Defense Force (JMSDF) and a 402 Squadron Gulfstream U-4 in VIP transport configuration. These were joined by the smallest aircraft present: a Fuji T-7 basic trainer from the 12th Flying Training Wing at Hofu-Kita Airbase.
Helicopters were well represented in the static lineup as well as in the flying display. The Japanese Coast Guard attended with a SAR configured AgustaWestland AW139 which was joined by rotorcraft from the JASDF and JMSDF. The air force brought an impressive blue SAR UH-60J manufactured under license by Mitsubishi as well as a Kawasaki manufactured CH-47J in a jungle camouflage scheme. Unfortunately, the advertised Japanese Army OH-6D was unable to attend but luckily the JMSDF MH-53E Sea Dragon was present. The Japanese variant of the Sea Dragon is operated by 111 Squadron based at Iwakuni Air Base near Hiroshima and is tasked with airborne mine spotting and clearing. Parked next to the Chinook and the UH-60, the sheer size of the MH-53 was immediately obvious and made for a very popular exhibit.
The four hour flying display was planned to showcase a number of JASDF assets, including set pieces from the two based squadrons involving multiple aircraft and parachute drops. Unfortunately, the weather remained very poor for much of the morning with 700ft cloud bases and light rain. This resulted in the majority of flying being cancelled, including all the C-1s, YS-11s, T-400s, F15 solo and JASDF helicopters. Whilst this was obviously very disappointing the reasons for doing so were completely understandable. Frustratingly, when the weather began to clear, an hour’s break for ceremonial marching and other activities had been scheduled, and so still nothing flew. Eventually, the Coast Guard AW139 launched into a very impressive display, with plenty of topsides and some agile manoeuvring turns.
This would turn out to be the first and last display of the day, since the next item was the JASDF’s aerobatic display team, Blue Impulse. Flying six Kawasaki T-4 training aircraft, Blue Impulse are the public face of the JASDF and were immensely popular with the local crowd as they went through the thirty minute choreographed preparation before their flying slot. This was similar to the routine performed by the USAF Thunderbirds, which while appreciated by the general public, is often maligned by enthusiasts for taking valuable time out of the flying program. This certainly felt like the case at Miho, where the weather would have possibly allowed a number of the previously cancelled acts to display.
Eventually the team made their way to the end of the runway but only a single aircraft departed and flew a number of distant passes before landing. This was followed by the whole team taxying back in and another twenty minutes of ceremony as they exited the aircraft. Fortunately a local photographer explained that the cloudbase was too low (c.1400ft) and they could not display. This was hugely disappointing, made worse by the amount of time wasted in which other acts could have performed.
Luckily, Japanese airshows also differ from western events in another aspect: The static aircraft depart at the end of the day while the public are still on the airfield. This led to a number of unique photo opportunities as aircraft and helicopters were pushed back and started their engines just metres away.
In conclusion, visiting a Japanese airshow was a unique experience. Everyone was exceedingly friendly and happy despite the weather and the members of the JASDF manning the displays were genuinely pleased to be able to exhibit the day to day activities of Miho Air Base. The show was saved by the organisers allowing photographers to stay on base to catch the departing static due to the number of weather cancellations in the flying display. A special mention must be given to the Japan Coast Guard for flying one of the best helicopter displays out there and also managing to display in less than favourable weather. It was disappointing that Blue Impulse did not fly, especially after the amount of preparation and build up, but once again they cannot be blamed if the weather was below their minimums. Very few airshows would be able to pull off a great day with only one flying participant, but JASDF Miho’s air festival did just that.