Hyakuri Air Force Base, Japan

One of the holy grail locations for aviation photography has got to be Hyakuri Air Base north-east of Tokyo, Japan. Over the past few months I’ve been lucky enough to have visited twice so I thought I’d give you my impressions and some tips if you’re able to skip across the Pacific to the Land of the Rising Sun.

Hyakuri Air Base (pronounced hee-YAK-oo-ree) was originally an Imperial Japanese Navy holding from seized farm lands dating back to 1938. World War II’s conclusion saw the lands being worked again by local farmers until 1956 when the Japanese Air Self-Defense Forces took control. Many farmers refused to sell their land to the government which is the reason for the unique dog-leg taxi way (more below).

Today, Hyakuri is home to a plethora of flying aircraft. The 302nd Tactical Fighter Squadron flies the F-4EJ Kai Phantom II, the 305th Tactical Fighter Squadron flies the F-15J Eagle. The 501st Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron flies RF-4E and RF-4EJ Phantom IIs and all three squadrons also have attached T-4 trainer aircraft. Hyakuri Air Rescue Wing flies UH-60H Blackhawks as well as the U-125A search and rescue aircraft. There is a limited amount of transient traffic from what I can gather.

The “shooting towers” at Hyakuri are the result of local farmers refusing to give up their land to the Japanese Government and home to one of the most unique photography locations I have ever encountered (providing a bit of income for the farmers as well). Currently there are four towers built in two different locations. Constructed of wood and some with metal ladders they can easily hold 6-8 photographers with big lenses as some of the regulars will often bring small stepladders making two rows. There is ample room along the surrounding fence lines as well for those who choose to bring ladders. The two towers I have photographed from are in this area of land that was never relinquished to the government. So, when the airfield expansion was built, it forced a dog leg to be built into the course (the link will open a Google map and you can clearly see the kink in the taxi way ).

Entrance to the shooting tower location with phone number to call

 

Two of the four shooting towers, these are at the “elbow” in the taxi way dog-leg
UH-60J 98-4569 does a slow taxi past the towers at photographer level

 

Entrance to the towers is gained by calling a phone number on the gate (not before 0715 local time please) and a very nice lady will arrive in short order, take your ¥2000 entrance fee and have you sign a form. I have no idea what the form says. There is parking inside for 8-12 vehicles as well as a small Tori gate and shrine. PLEASE NOTE: the towers are monitored by CCTV and more than likely if you don’t look like a local the JASDF Security Police will show up. Why they bother with me I’ll never know since I fit in so well here in Japan. The have a standardized list of questions (How long are you here? Where do you come from? etc.) and will ask to see your passport which they will photograph or you can provide a copy for them to keep. They will also photograph you so try to look nice. They are very courteous and I have never had the slightest hint of trouble with them. If you are going to photograph from multiple locations tell them and later patrols will just smile and wave.

For photographing at Hyakuri I take two camera bodies: a Canon 40D with a 24-105mm f4 L IS and a 7D with the 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS. Both are 1.6 crop factor bodies. Here are some representative images with the focal lengths noted.

24-105mm @ 50mm, minimal crop for composition on 1.6 crop factor body
100-400mm @ 220mm no crop on 1.6 crop factor body
USMC McDonnell Douglas F/A-18D Hornet 165410 VK-01 from VMFA(AW)-121 Green Knights 100-400mm @ 380mm 15% crop for composition on 1.6 crop-factor body

 

As the twin runways are a 03/21 orientation the towers are great photographing locations in the morning with progressively worsening lighting conditions as the day wears on. Aircraft that are scheduled to fly for the day are parked on the ramp outside the hangars so you can quickly see what you have a very good chance to see in the air. The runway closest to the towers is for military use and the far runway mainly utilized by a small amount of commercial traffic (Spring Airlines A320 and Skymark Airlines B737) although I was treated to a twin landing by two JASDF Phantoms while photographing from the north-west fence line once. A curious note; when the Chinese-based Spring Airlines Airbus is close to arriving all the hangar doors at Hyakuri will be closed and things will get pretty quiet. The doors will not re-open until the aircraft has left.

U-turn after back-taxi on the civilian runway from the “arming & approach” point on the map
Skymark Airlines Boeing 737-86N JA73NF from the Orchard location on the map

 

On the opposite side of the air field are three locations to photograph from. One is a little north of the terminal with a long fence line favored by the masses and nestled near some orchards (very nice in the summer). Fences at Japanese bases are shorter than the American style Cyclone fencing so a 4-step ladder will do you fine.

 F-4EJ Kai 97-8425 of 302th Tactical Fighter Squadron from the Orchard location on the map

 

Another spot is at the northern edge of the runway which can be good for the Phantoms dropping the chutes. I have not seen a departure from this end in my two visits so no info regarding that aspect.

Lastly there’s the other end (southern end) of the runway for some great late-afternoon arrival opportunities as well as some decent arming area sights with a long enough lens. The arming area is slightly below the level of the runway so if you’re picky about the tires being all the way in the shot just realize that it ain’t going to happen. Civilian aircraft use this closer runway but without a taxi way they back-taxi affording a nice opportunity for turning images.

Taxi to takeoff from the arming area on south end of runway, 100-400 + 1.4x II @ 560mm
F-15J 42-8828 leaving the arming area on south end of runway, 100-400 + 1.4x II @ 560mm

 

 U-125A (BAe.125) 22-3020 of Hyakuri Rescue Wing from the south runway end

 

Now if you want to try and get some “breaking” photos you go to what my friends refer to as a “gambler’s field” called such because if they break early you can get a real nice image and if they break late you get, well…. mostly trees.

So there, in a nutshell, is Hyakuri Air Base/Ibaraki Airport northeast of Tokyo, Japan.

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Desert Splash Adventures


Cessna 208 Caravan Amphibian


Desert Splash Adventures is Metro Phoenix’s only seaplane air tour, and is located at Scottsdale Airport next to the airport control tower at the Southwest Jet Corporate Center. The aircraft they are using for this adventure is a Cessna 208 Caravan Amphibian with an upgraded, more powerful 850 hp turbine engine, synthetic flight vision, and room for up to nine passengers. During the air tour you will see the beauty of the Sonoran Desert and experience a water landing on Roosevelt Lake. The aircraft and pilots are from the bush in Alaska, where they normally operate charters with Island Air Express. Desert Splash is a new adventure that they operate from October through May. During the summer months the aircraft and pilots will return to Alaska to operate flights with Island Air Express.


Departing Scottsdale Airport on another adventure.


After being greeted and briefed by our pilot, Tor Svendsen from Norway, I allowed the other passengers to get situated in the aircraft before I made my way up to the empty co-pilot’s seat. After a short startup and taxi, we departed to the East and flew over the town of Fountain Hills. Tor then turned towards the Salt River and followed the river up the canyons past Saguaro Lake, Canyon Lake, Apache Lake, and on up the Salt River Canyon to Roosevelt Lake. Once past Roosevelt Dam and Bridge, we turned towards the Tonto National Monument and their well-preserved Native American cliff dwellings. After viewing this amazing history from the air, Tor set the aircraft up for the water landing on the far side of the lake. I have always wanted to experience a water landing, and now I was about to get my chance! The water landing was much smoother than I expected and it was a bit surreal to be in an airplane floating on a lake in Arizona. Tor pointed out a few landmarks, Four Peaks and Haystack Island, while he turned the aircraft into position for takeoff. Once back in the air we went for a short trip up Fish Creek and the narrow canyon surrounding it. Tor then turned us to head back down the Salt River Canyon where we were able to see the Apache Trail as we made our way towards the Superstition Mountains. We flew past Weaver’s Needle and Flat Iron Peak on our way back to Scottsdale Airport. I have lived in this area my entire life and I have seen this part of Arizona many times from the ground, but it was truly spectacular from the air!


Weaver’s Needle


This is an amazing experience with majestic views of the Sonoran Desert, and is a must for any aviation enthusiast that has ever wanted to see this area of Arizona from the air and/or experience a water landing.

Desert Splash Adventures also offers a gourmet Sunday brunch option prepared and served by the owners of FnB Restaurant on Roosevelt Lake’s Rabbit Island, and there is also wine served from an award winning, Arizona grown, wine maker.

For more information, or to book your adventure, contact Colin Williams at: colinw@islandairx.com

A big thanks Colin and Tor for inviting me on this flight so that I could be able to experience this great adventure, it was truly awesome!

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HSC-3 “Merlins”


Sikorsky MH-60S Knighthawk
HSC-3 Color Bird


During a couple of recent visits to Naval Air Station North Island and Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron Three (HSC-3) I observed as maintenance and flight crews prepared their Sikorsky MH-60S Knighthawks for their next mission. And, on my second visit, I was also able to see the flight training firsthand at Naval Outlying Field Imperial Beach. I was able to watch HSC-3 pilots put their MH-60S Knighthawks through all sorts of maneuvers including auto-rotation and hovering. It was impressive to see both HSC-3 and the MH-60S Knighthawk in action!

On both of my visits I was able to talk with one of the squadron’s Fleet Replacement Pilots to learn about the mission of HSC-3 and to learn about the MH-60S Knighthawk. The Naval Aviator that showed me around and answered my questions has asked that I not release his name, but I still wanted to thank him for all the time and help he has given me. I truly appreciate the friendship we have formed over the past few months.

What capabilities does the Knighthawk bring to the fleet that previous H-60 variants (and legacy helicopters like the H-46 and H-3) did not?
The Knighthawk was designed to replace the SH-60F/H variants. The Fox variant in particular doubles as a cargo and not-very-capable sub hunting platform. The Knighthawk has zero anti-submarine gear on board. It is strictly designed to move up to 13 people or 5000+ lbs of cargo, and to carry weapons when required. It is designed to work closely with the new MH60-R model, which is the most capable sub hunting air platform in the Navy. Together, the two new models make up the Hunter-Killer team that is the Navy’s “Super Hawk” program.

The H-3 could do both these roles, but it is much more underpowered than the new H-60’s. The H-46’s are still used by the Marines, but as for the Navy, they are massive with 2 main rotors and take up a great deal of room on-board a ship, limiting their ability to land on any kind of single spot ship. The H-46 is also very maintenance intensive and is always leaking something. The Knighthawk solves most all of these problems and provides a massive upgrade in engine technology and reliability and a beautiful avionics system.

Do Knighthawks deploy aboard ships as well as shore-based squadrons or detachments?
Yes, Knighthawks deploy aboard both ships and shore based detachments. We normally deploy with larger aviation ships like carriers or amphibious assault ships, but we also work with supply ships and hospital ships. We have several shored based expeditionary detachments around the world as well. In fact, my upcoming deployment will take me to Kuwait to fly in the Naval Air Ambulance Detachment in support of MEDEVAC missions for contractors and personnel still on the ground in Iraq. Normally, Knighthawks do not deploy aboard cruisers, destroyers, or other single spot ships, the MH-60R model and older SH-60B’s continue to support those ships. We do also have the privilege to work with the SEAL community in the Knighthawk and provide them with transportation and air support.

What is the primary training curriculum of HSC-3 and how have real-world missions influenced it?
Briefly, HSC-3’s syllabus includes basic familiarization with the helicopter in various conditions along with a basic introduction to some of its missions. These include night flying on goggles, mountain/low-level flying, formation flying, instrument flying, ship deck qualifications, external cargo exposure, and strike/Hellfire missile training. The first half of the syllabus focuses on learning the aircraft while the second half focuses on learning to employ it in various missions. The whole syllabus takes approximately 8-10 months for newly winged Aviators, or much less for returning Aviators who have been out of the cockpit or type of model. With this broad spectrum of knowledge and missions, we can then train to higher qualification levels upon reaching our final fleet squadrons to meet specific real world needs and threats.

What are the advantages of training in southern California; do the mountains, deserts, and open-ocean of the region help to better prepare aircrews than other areas of the country?
I would like to think we get much better training here than our Norfolk-based brethren! We are fortunate to have mountains, ocean, and desert here, so there is much more ability for exposure to different environmental types than there is for our sister fleet replacement squadron on the east coast (HSC-2). Therefore it is possible for us to practice basic mountain flying and low level flight in canyons and valleys, while they may not see this for quite a while. We also can experience “brownout” landings in the desert much sooner than they.

Simply flying in such busy airspace with the commercial and general aviation traffic, near Marine air bases, and the proximity of the Mexico border makes for a trial by fire experience. Coordinating with SOCAL Approach or other facilities in the area can be difficult, but a great learning experience. Overall, it really is amazing training and a welcome change from Florida or the east coast.



Sikorsky MH-60S Knighthawk
Taxiing out for a training mission.



Sikorsky MH-60S Knighthawk
Training at NOLF Imperial Beach.


My visits weren’t just to take photos and learn about HSC-3, it was also to learn about Naval Aviation through the eyes and experiences of a Naval Aviator:

What has being a US Naval Aviator taught you?
I’ve learned a lot about being a part of a team/family of fellow brothers and sisters that I have the privilege to fly with. As we all go through flight training, it is not something that you accomplish without a great deal of help. I have been very fortunate to have received plenty of help from peers further along in the pipeline, outstanding instructors who volunteer their own free time, and encouragement from former Aviators in the local community. Flying, especially helicopters, really enforces the beauty and necessity of working together to accomplish a goal or mission, and I love being a part of that.

Additionally, outside of work, the bond and camaraderie that we share as fellow Aviators is rivaled by few other professions. We get to work hard together during the weeks and kick back and play hard on the weekends. It has been great to get to spend time with so many fun people outside of work, in some amazing places like Florida and California.

What has being a Merlin taught you?
Being a Merlin has taught me more about how to employ my aircraft for a greater cause. Be it Search and Rescue, External Cargo Operations, Logistics, Anti-Surface Warfare, or Strike operations, one begins to realize that all the training and skills we have developed as pilots over the past several years start to develop into second nature as we use these massive and capable aircraft as instruments to accomplish numerous missions in support of others.

What is your favorite part of being a Merlin?
Simply put, flying the MH-60S. At the same time, I have loved getting to be a part of the replacement pilots and wardroom of officers that we have at HSC-3. There is an extremely high concentration of very experienced, very good instructors who know how to teach the finer points of flying such a massive and maneuverable aircraft. I’ve worked with good and bad units in the military and just getting to know and be a part of this group at squadron socials and events is wonderful, and I enjoy going in to work there every day, and it is easily worth all the time and hard work we put in.

What is your favorite memory of flying Knighthawks?
One of the best memories I had was in my very first flight in the MH-60S last fall; I had been used to flying much smaller and very underpowered TH-57’s (basically a Bell 206 Jet Ranger) – I distinctly remember loving the feeling of pulling in collective for the very first time in a massive 18,000 lbs/65 ft long helicopter and could not believe the sheer amount of power it could produce as I shot up over the San Diego Bay in a 2500 fpm climb!

That amount of extra power later manifested itself to doing night time VERTREP training down at NOLF IB, and I remember standing underneath the Sierra for the first time hooking up an external cargo load to it as my buddy flew a side-flaring “quick stop” to 10 feet over my head and it felt as though a 150 mph hurricane force wind was about to blow me across the concrete practice pad.

And, as a Naval Aviator I will always remember the first time I landed on a boat, for me an amphibious assault ship 50 miles of the California coast. You suddenly realize then that all the training and precision that goes in to instructing you to get this level has paid off, and it is an amazing feeling to be operating off the deck of a ship in the middle of nowhere.

What other helicopters have you flown, and how is the Knighthawk similar or different to them?
The only other helicopter I have flown is the TH-57B/C variants (aka Bell 206). However, we are trained in Cessna 172’s and T-34C’s prior to selecting helicopters, so I am qualified to fly both fixed and rotary wing. The Knighthawk is so different in its size, power, dual engines, mission capabilities, and just the way it flies. There are a lot more computers on-board and the Advanced Flight Control System provides much more stability and ease of control in a hover than most other helicopters out there. One big difference is the massive glare-shield can be quite difficult to get used to looking over and around – especially when flying on night vision goggles.

A special thanks to the men and women of HSC-3, NAS North Island, NOLF Imperial Beach, and the United States Navy.

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WTI: Noncombatant Evacuation Training Exercise


Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion

During times of dissension in foreign countries, civilians and medical personnel from “Doctors Without Borders” could be in danger and may require immediate evacuation. Because of their training during the Weapons and Tactics Instructor (WTI) course held at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, the U.S. Marines are ready for the task.

The WTI course is held every six months, and part of the WTI course is the Noncombatant Evacuation Training Exercise which simulates and provides training for Noncombatant Evacuation Operations (NEOs). The most recent exercise was held on Friday, October 21, 2011 at Kiwanis Park in Yuma, Arizona.

According to United States Military Joint Publication 3-68, Noncombatant Evacuation Operations:

“Noncombatant evacuation operations (NEOs) are conducted to assist the Department of State (DOS) in evacuating noncombatants, nonessential military personnel, selected host-nation citizens, and third country nationals whose lives are in danger from locations in a host foreign nation to an appropriate safe haven and/or the United States.

NEOs usually involve swift insertions of a force, temporary occupation of an objective, and a planned withdrawal upon completion of the mission.

During NEOs, the US Ambassador is the senior authority for the evacuation and is ultimately responsible for the successful completion of the NEO and the safety of the evacuees. The Ambassador speaks with the authority of the President and serves as direct representative on site.”

In an interview with the Yuma Sun, Major Josh Smith of Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One (MAWTS-1), who is the lead instructor for the course, explained that the purpose of the exercise is to practice all the tasks Marines would have to do to conduct a short-notice, orderly evacuation, including the transportation, identification and securing of evacuees.

Major Smith said the exercise will simulate the evacuation of civilians and medical personnel from “Doctors Without Borders,” and will be held simultaneously from 4:00 to 9:30 p.m. in Yuma, Arizona and in Twentynine Palms, California. It will be conducted in three phases. Phase 1 will be the insertion of the security forces and the establishment of the evacuation control center. Phase 2 will be the actual evacuation, with waves of helicopters flying in to pick up the evacuees and taking off again. Phase 3 will consist of the extraction of the security forces and evacuation control center.

Major Smith also said that no Marine or aircraft will be carrying live ordnance. The aircraft, which will fly in groups of two, will operate at a minimum of 500 feet above ground level over the city except when they’re landing. There will also be a strict adherence to all Federal Aviation Administration regulations, and both military police and Yuma Police Department will be on site, as well as Military Crash Fire Rescue.

According to Major Smith, the learning objectives for the MAWTS-1 training exercise are as follows:

     • Conduct operations in two different cities.
     • Conduct operations in a realistic urban environment.
     • Offer real world training that may be used in conditions like the ones occurring in Libya and Egypt.
     • Phased simulated non-combatant evacuation.
          – Security forces inserted.
          – “Civilians” evacuated via helicopters.
          – Security forces extracted.


Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion



Boeing-Vertol CH-46E Sea Knight

The actual exercise consisted of more than 120 marines, and the use of Sikorsky CH-53 and Boeing Vertol CH-46 helicopters landing at the park and dropping off Marine infantrymen to secure the Landing Zone (LZ) and establish the evacuation control center. The helicopters were escorted to the LZ by two Bell UH-1 helicopters, and also patrolling the airspace above the LZ was the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School Center for Interdisciplinary Remotely-Piloted Aircraft Studies’ (CIRPAS) highly-modified Cessna 337 Skymaster Optionally Piloted Vehicle (OPV) called “Pelican.” This Cessna 337 Skymaster OPV Pelican acted as a Predator UAV surrogate.


Cessna 337 Skymaster OPV Pelican – Photo: Ned Harris

MAWTS-1 did an amazing job with this highly detailed and well planned exercise.

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Lockheed PV-2 Harpoon Attu Warrior

The Lockheed PV-2 Harpoon was one of the lesser known bombers of World War II. Its on-board radar and extremely long range enabled it to act as forward reconaissance as well as escort for other bombers such as the Consolidated B-24 Liberator. They mainly saw military service out of the Aleutian Islands flying against Japanese forces in the Northern Pacific.

This specific Lockheed PV-2 Harpoon was delivered to the US Navy as Bureau Number (BuNo) 37472 on November 19, 1945. In December of 1945 she was assigned to the aircraft pool at Naval Auxiliary Air Station Holtville, California. In February of 1946 she was transferred to the aircraft pool at Naval Air Station Litchfield Park, Arizona, and in June of 1946 she was put into storage at NAS Litchfield Park. In 1957 she was transferred to the civil registry as N5223V, and in 1963 this was changed to N7670C. In 2006 Dave Hansen, of Dave’s Custom Sheetmetal/Aircraft, LLC., in Heber City, Utah, purchased Lockheed PV-2 Harpoon N7670C and began restoring her back to her 1945 US Navy look and configuration. During the restoration she was given the name Attu Warrior in honor of all the Lockheed PV-2 Harpoons that flew from Naval Air Station Attu, Alaska, which was on Attu Island, the westernmost of all the Aleutian Islands. Today Attu Warrior is one of the most accurate and fully restored Lockheed PV-2 Harpoons around.

Attu Warrior is owned and operated by Dave Hansen of Dave’s Custom Sheet Metal/Aircraft, LLC. in Heber City, Utah. For more information about her tour schedule, ride program, or sponsorship opportunities please contact the Warbird Warriors Foundation: warbirdwarriors@gmail.com

     

Lockheed PV-2 Harpoon Attu Warrior by the numbers:

Specifications:

  • Crew: 7
  • Length: 51 ft 1 in
  • Wingspan: 75 ft
  • Height: 13 ft 3 in
  • Loaded weight: 36,000 lb
  • Power Plant: 2x Pratt and Whitney R-2800 radial engines, 2000 hp each

Performance:

  • Maximum speed: 282 mph at 13,900 ft
  • Range: 1790 mi
  • Service ceiling: 23,900 ft

Timeline:

  • Attu Warrior was delivered to the US Navy as BuNo 37472 on November 19, 1945.
  • December 1945 – Assigned to the aircraft pool at Naval Auxiliary Air Station Holtville, California.
  • January 1946 – Put into storage at NAAS Holtville.
  • February 1946 – Transferred to the aircraft pool at Naval Air Station Litchfield Park, Arizona.
  • June 1946 – Put into storage at NAS Litchfield Park.
  • 1957 – Transferred to Civil Registry as N5223V
  • 1963 – Civil Registry as N7670C (Current N-Number)
  • 1963 – George H. Stell, Phoenix, Arizona (Sprayer)
  • 1968 – Airfleet Leasing, Inc., Gainsville, Florida
  • 1971 – Dothan Aviation Corp., Dothan, Alabama (Sprayer)
  • 1978 – Robert F. Yancey, Klamath Falls, Oregon (Grasshopper Sprayer)
  • 1981 – Arbor Air, Columbus, Nebraska
  • 1987 – Hirth Air Tankers, Buffalo, Wyoming (Sprayer on Government Fire Ant Program)
  • 1998 – Constance C. Hirth, Buffalo, Wyoming (Put into Storage)
  • 2006 – Dave’s Custom Sheetmetal/Aircraft, LLC., Heber City, Utah (Restored to US Navy Lockheed PV-2 Harpoon Attu Warrior)

Attu Warrior is currently the first and, at this time, the only aircraft to be sponsored by the Arizona Aviation Photographers (AzAP).

A special thanks to the National Air & Space Museum for providing the Aircraft History Card for the military inventory history of this Lockheed PV-2 Harpoon.

Categories: Warbirds | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments