The Japanese Air Self Defence Force (JASDF) is in a period of transition as it replaces its older aircraft with a new more modern, efficient and capable air force. One of the unsung stalwarts of the Japanese transport fleet – and celebrating 45 years of service in 2019 – is the Kawasaki C-1, which will be replaced in the coming years by the Kawasaki C-2. The drawdown of C-1 airframes has been underway since 2014, and at the time of writing, just under half of the 31 aircraft built by Kawasaki are still active.

Back in the early 1960s, the JASDF had drawn up plans to replace its ageing C-46 Commando aircraft with its own indigenously designed and manufactured medium lift transport aircraft. The Nihon Aeroplane Manufacturing Corporation (NAMC), which was made up of several of Japan’s aerospace companies, was tasked with designing and producing the new aircraft – and it made Kawasaki Aircraft Industries (subsequently Kawasaki Heavy Industries (KHI)) the Prime Contractor for the project.

Two prototype aircraft were built, 18-1001 & 18-1002, designated as XC-1, with the type’s maiden flight taking place on 12th November 1970. Production began in 1971, with the first operational production aircraft entering service with the JASDF in 1974, with the 31st and final C-1 being delivered in 1981. The two prototype aircraft remain in service today, with 18-1001 re-registered 28-1001 and utilised by Hiko Kaihatsu Jikken Dan (the Air Development and Test Wing) at Gifu Air Base under its new designation C-1FTB, the FTB suffix denoting its status as a Flying Test Bed. 18-2002 was reregistered 28-2002, designated a C-1 and is utilised by 402 Hikotai at Iruma AFB near Tokyo.

By modern day standards, the C-1 is fairly crew heavy for a medium lift platform, with two pilots, a flight engineer, navigator and loadmaster, whereas its successor the C-2 has a crew of just three, consisting of two pilots and a single loadmaster.

Powered by two Pratt & Whitney JT8D-M-9 Turbofan engines, the C-1 has a cruising speed of 408mph and a maximum speed of 501mph with a ceiling height of just short of 38,000’. Taking off in a C-1 requires around 7200 feet of hardened runway, however when landing the distance is roughly halved to just 3900’, with effective use of the reverse thrust incorporated into the wing mounted engines.

With a range of just 1300km when loaded to its maximum payload of 11.9T, the aircraft had been deliberately designed this way to ensure the aircraft remained inside Japanese boundaries and to comply with Japanese policies at the time (Article 9 of the Constitution, introduced in 1947, outlawed war as a means to settle international disputes – the clause was “reinterpreted” in 2014 to allow collective self-defence in some instances) to ensure it could not be used in an offensive role.

However, the United States ended its occupation of the Okinawa islands during 1972, returning them to Japanese rule, and the short range of the C-1 was found wanting, unable to carry a substantial payload from mainland Japan to Okinawa. This issue caused a cessation of further orders of the C-1 as the JASDF looked to an aircraft with an increased range to supply the southern islands (resulting in the purchase of Lockheed C-130 Hercules aircraft), a move which diverted funding from the C-1 program. The last five C-1 aircraft delivered to the JASDF were fitted with extra internal fuel tanks capable of holding an additional 4,730 litres, and designated C-1As.

Underneath the large distinctive T-tail, two clamshell doors open to provide access to the surprisingly large pressurized cargo bay. The doors can also be opened in flight to dispatch stores and personnel. Up to 60 fully kitted troops can be accommodated in the cargo hold, or 45 paratroopers. In the Medical Evacuation – or medevac – role, 36 stretchers or litters along with medical assistants can be squeezed in.

There is also the option to carry vehicles, either one light truck or three jeeps, along with palletised cargo loaded utilising K loaders. The K loader is the generic term for a series of independent fully drivable platforms to help assist in the loading of pallets to a variety of aircraft. The platform is tiltable, can move forwards, backwards, left and right to align the pallets with the floor guides of the aircraft, ensuring the cargo is loaded or unloaded in a safe and efficient manner to shorten turnaround times.

The C-1 has had a fairly good safety record with just four C-1 airframes having been lost in the 40+ years of operations. Sadly on the 19th April 1983, a five ship of aircraft were transiting from Komaki air base to Iruma when the lead aircraft in the formation strayed off course by some 13km. Whilst flying at low level and in inclement weather, the lead aircraft 58-1009 with eight persons on board (POB) flew into a hillside near Toba, with the second in the formation 68-1015 with six POB also crashing into the hillside sadly killing all on board both aircraft. The third aircraft narrowly avoided crashing, striking trees and damaging a wingtip and the underside of the aircraft, but was able to radio the 4th and 5th elements of the formation to warn them to pull up before returning and landing safely back at Komaki Air Base.

On the 18th February 1986, C-1 58-1010 had a runway excursion whilst attempting to take off in heavy snow, ripping off the undercarriage and wings. The aircraft was written off but all onboard survived with just minor injuries. The most recent loss was on the 28th June 2000, when C-1A 88-1027 crashed into the sea 30 minutes after departing Miho Air Base on a post-maintenance test flight, killing all five onboard. Recovered data showed the aircraft was testing the stall warning system at 13,000’ and 115kts with a nose up attitude of over 10 degrees when it departed controlled flight and never recovered.

Despite these setbacks, the C-1 has remained a constant reliable asset of the Japanese Air Self Defence Force for over 40 years. Foreign sales were not forthcoming despite encouraging noises from other nations, with the lack of deliverable range and the emergence of more cost-effective, capable and modern aircraft seeing the JASDF remain as the sole operator of the Kawasaki C-1. It has long been rumoured that four aircraft were considered for the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force (JMSDF) in a mine laying role, but this was never forthcoming or made public, and it is unclear whether these aircraft would have been taken from the 31 built, or actually undertook this role.

There have been a few variants of the C-1 since its inception. As well as the aforementioned XC-1 prototypes, C-1A and C-1FTB there is a single EC-1 electronic warfare variant adorned with ‘lumps and bumps’ and dubbed the ‘platypus’ due to its unique nose. Kawasaki converted the 21st delivered aircraft 78-1021 in 1983 to EC-1 and completed it in 1984.

There was also a unique experimental Quiet Short Take-Off and Landing (QSTOL) aircraft named “ASUKA”. The project was run by the National Aerospace Laboratory (NAL) and flown out of the Test and Evaluation Centre at Gifu Air Base, and used to evaluate the potential for quiet STOL capabilities.

The ASUKA project design was started in 1977, with assembly starting in 1982 and roll out of the aircraft in March 1985. The flight testing phase took place between 28th October 1985 and March 1989, flying for 170 hours spread over a total 97 flights. The aircraft was retired and has been preserved and now on show at the impressive Kakamigahara Aerospace Museum, near Gifu Air Base.

Other military variants were considered, including reconnaissance and air refuelling versions, but the cuts to the program funding to purchase C-130s saw these projects left firmly on the drawing board.

402 and 403 Hikotai were the two JASDF squadrons entrusted with the C-1 fleet, split between Iruma and Miho Air bases, with the 403rd receiving its first C-1s in 1978. As the fleet of C-1s is now slowly retired, all the remaining C-1 aircraft were transferred to the 402nd at Iruma in April 2018 – thus allowing Miho AB and 403 Hikotai to bring the Kawasaki C-2 into service. 402 Hikotai have been under the command of the 2nd Tactical Airlift Group (2nd TAG) since March 31st 1978, and all the 402nd C-1s have the 2nd TAGs emblem on the tail, which depicts an eagle over a map of Japan.

In 2018 the 2nd Tactical Airlift Squadron celebrated its 60th anniversary which saw a special schemed C-1 appear during late September at Iruma AB. Aircraft 78-1026 was painted in a striking red and white scheme known as ‘Kabuki’ with the aircraft being a popular addition at Japanese and US friendship days and air festivals throughout Japan. However, by February 2019 the aircraft had been returned to its standard operational camouflage scheme. With the JASDF Kawasaki C-1 celebrating 45 years of JASDF service this year, and the Japanese panache for painting military aircraft, perhaps 2019 will see another special schemed aircraft appear?

As previously mentioned the JASDF is undergoing a huge modernisation program with new Kawasaki P-1 Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPAs), Kawasaki C-2 Transport aircraft and the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II 5th Generation Joint Strike Fighters all being rolled out and joining the frontline. Waiting in the wings for the future are the E-2D Hawkeye (up to nine of which are currently expected to replace ageing E-2C variants), and the expected eventual development of the X-2 Shinshin technology demonstrator into an indigenous 5th generation fighter.

Whilst the ageing C-1 have been stalwarts for the JASDF, they are increasingly labour intensive, expensive to maintain and operate, and lacking the abilities and performance of their new stablemate, the Kawasaki C-2. The JASDF Kawasaki C-1s look, feel and smell “old school” and they do have a certain character about them. The maintainers and aircrew who operate them have a personal bond with this aircraft and talk about them fondly. When they eventually retire they will have seen a half-century of work for the JASDF and the Japanese people – who have certainly had their monies worth out of a beautiful workhorse of an aircraft.

AeroResource would like to thank the JASDF PAO, Embassy staff and the personnel of Iruma airbase for their help, kindness and time in arranging this visit.