Japan Tour of an Airplane Fan 2014


My wife has finished her Ph.D degree last month.  We were in a month-long celebration and were visiting Japan for the last two weeks.

We used All Nippon Airways again.  U.S.-based airlines are cheaper.  But, the service quality is magnitude lower.  We liked Continental Airlines, which no longer exists.

An economy class ticket of U.S.-Japan round trip from Japan-based airlines is typically about $200 more expensive than U.S.-based airlines.  However, if you consider international flights are an important part of your trip, and want a comfortable flight, the additional cost is worth investing.  Or, if you think the flight is just a waste of time that you need to endure to get to the destination, go for a cheaper airline and fly like a cargo.  For me and my wife, international flights are an important part of the trip that we want to enjoy.  So we choose All Nippon Airways or Japan Airlines when we visit Japan.  This time we picked All Nippon Airways.

I rented mobile Wi-Fi router from JAL ABC shop at Narita airport.  I was expecting it to something similar to the one I am using in Pittsburgh.  But, oh man, it was powerful.  My mobile Wi-Fi router's battery lasts only up to 3 to 4 hours.  But, the one I rented lasted 30 hours once fully-charged.  I really had 24-hour Wi-Fi connection everywhere.  The mobile internet connection in Japan seemed to be more advanced than in the U.S.  This mobile Wi-Fi router later allowed me to see a training flight of T-4 Blue Impulse over Matsushima air base during the trip.

We woke up very early, around 4:30am, due to the jet lag in the next morning.  We took advantage and left the hotel early heading to Haneda airport.  My wife was going to fly to her home town of Fukuoka, and I was going to fly to Aomori.  We were traveling separately for the first half of the trip.  My airplane was scheduled to depart in the afternoon, and I could spend several hours for taking pictures from the observation deck.  My main target was All Nippon Airways' Boeing 787 in a special commemorative painting scheme.  All Nippon Airways was the launch customer of Boeing 787, and they put large "787" on the fuselage of the first several 787s they received.  According to what I heard, this special painting will be erased as the airplane go into a regular maintenance.  So, I wanted to take good pictures before the painting is gone.

Boeing 747 of Cathey Pacific

Boeing 787 of ANA in the commemorative painting scheme.

I took some pictures of B787 in the commemorative painting, but the heat haze obscured the picture.

I stayed two days in my parents' home in Hirosaki.  Hirosaki is famous for apple production and 2500+ cherry trees in the Hirosaki castle park.  If you have chance to visit Japan, it's a good place to visit.

Iwaki mountain from the Hirosaki Apple Park.

Hirosaki castle.  This castle will undergo a maintenance work staring later this year.  This view won't be available for the next several years.

Then I was off for the four-days of expedition.  Very original plan was to go to Sendai to join up with a friend, and then go to Matsushima air base together to see Blue Impulse's over-the-base aerobatic practice.  Matsushima air base was completely under water after the disaster in March 2013.  The Japanese Air Self Defense Force's aerobatic team, Blue Impulse, was the only squadron saved from the Tsunami among the ones based at Matsushima because the team happened to be deployed to another base for an aerobatic demonstration.  The base was damaged and could not accommodate aircrafts for a while, but the team finally returned to the original home base last year.  I wanted to go there and see the aerobatic practice over the base again.  But, he had a medical condition and we gave up the plan.  My new plan was to go to Iruma air base instead to see aging YS-11 and C-1 fleets on the first day.

I packed up stuffs the night before, and did not check E-Mails.  I left home early in the morning and got on a local train at Hirosaki station headed to Shin-Aomori station where I boarded the Shinkansen train, aka the bullet train.  The mobile WiFi adapter worked very well this time.  Last year, I also rented an adapter, but it only worked while the train was stationary at a station.  But, this time, it worked almost whenever I could see a civilization.  I opened up my laptop and checked E-Mails in the train.

I then noticed an E-Mail from him saying the Blue Impulse was scheduled to fly over the base twice on that day.  I was completely giving up and didn't bother looking at the official web page of the team, on which you can check the schedule of the over-the-base practice flights.  But, he kindly checked and notified me about the schedule.

I looked at the train schedule.  To go to the nearest station of the base, I need to get off the train at Sendai, change to Senseki-line.  Since a part of the Senseki-line is still recovering from the Tsunami disaster, I need to change to the substitute bus at Matsushima-Kaigan (means Matsushima shore) station and get off at Yamoto station.  If I took this route, the train schedule showed that I would arrive at Yamoto station at 12:44.  Although I would need to walk 0.6 miles from there (or take a taxi), I can arrive at the base in time for the second aerobatic flight over the base scheduled for 14:45.

That was a decision.  The train was passing Morioka station.  Sendai was the next stop.  The sky was clear.  I was still recovering from jet lag.  Would I be too exhausted to continue the expedition if I change the plan and go to Matsushima base?  I could use a taxi to reduce the total walking distance.  I could also drop most of my stuff at a coin-operated locker.  The station map indicated that there is a locker stack immediately outside the Shinkansen gate.  It is the time to take advantage of the Japan Rail Pass, which allows me to get off and on the Japan Railways trains, including the Shinkansen trains, at any station as many times as I want.  I divert!  New destination was Matsushima base!

I was also chatting with the friend in Sendai over iMessage.  I told him I was going to divert, and got off the train at Sendai station.  In fact I had plenty of time.  I put my suitcase in the locker and reserved a train seat of an evening Shinkansen train to continue the travel.  It took a while to figure how to get to Senseki line.  I remembered that Senseki line was departing from an isolated platform in Sendai station, but now it seemed to be connected to other train platforms.  But, I arrived at the platform more than 15 minutes before my train was departing.

My train departed exactly on time.  Yes, exactly within one-minute precision.  One of the things that surprises international travelers in Japan is the time accuracy of the trains, even local trains.  The train arrived at the Matsushima Kaigan-station also exactly on time, and the transition to the bus was smooth.  The bus cannot be that accurate because of other traffics on the road.  But, you know what?  It arrived at Yamoto station within one-minute precision.  I wish PA Transit to be that accurate.

Yamoto station

Dai Yu Do is open for business again!

I took a taxi to a convenience store near the main gate of the base.  I used that store many times in the past.  Unlike convenience stores in the U.S., you can find pretty good-quality food in Japanese convenience stores.  One of my favorite things to do is buy lunch there and watch airplanes on the perimeter fence all day long.  Then I stopped at a local store called "Dai Yu Do", which is translated as Grate Brave Store.  A perfect name for a shop right next to an air base, isn't it?  Despite its name, it is a modest small shop.  I often bought some souvenir from the shop when I visited the base.  According to the owner of the shop, the resident building next to the shop was still under restoration, but the shop and employees all survived the disaster.  I was glad to hear that and was glad to be there again.  Since I forgot bringing a hat, I bought one there.  Also I bought a box of sweet branded as "Blue Impulse" as a souvenir.

Photo a hat I bought from Dai Yu Do.  Blue Impulse logo on it.

I walked about 0.3 mile to get to the approach end of runway 25.  I had more than an hour before the aerobatic flight was scheduled.  Since the air base is under the massive re-construction, I was expecting to see some cargo airplanes carrying whatever needed.  But, I saw only one flight of a rescue helicopter practicing auto rotation.  Maybe anything that could be carried by cargo airplanes are already brought in. 

Four Blue Impulse jets started the engines around 14:30.  The engine noise that I heard many times.  Unfortunately, the afternoon practice was flown by four airplanes, not by full six airplanes.  Also the sky over the base was getting cloudy, although the sky stayed clear over Sendai.  It was no longer a good photography condition.  But, it was ok.  Then I could watch by my naked eyes rather than through my camera lens.  Four T-4 airplanes took to the air in front of my eyes!

Three years ago in January, I was with my friends about half a mile closer to the shoreline.  I was watching white smoke trails in front of the perfectly clear blue sky coming from the six Blue Impulse airplanes flying an over-the-base practice without knowing the area was going to be totally destroyed by the Tsunami in two and half months.  Now I cannot hear the noise from F-2 fighters flown by the trainees.  But, T-4 Blue Impulse is back.  I was so glad to see them flying over the Matsushima base again.  I couldn't take a very clear and crisp pictures this time.  But, I'll be back.  Next time, I'll see all six airplanes in front of the clear blue sky.  The base should be much more active when I come next time.

I arrived at my hotel in Tokyo around 22:00.  This time I took a hotel nearby the Akihabara station.  This area was known for electronics shops.  But, for some reason, this area is known for center of the modern Japanese culture now a days.  Still there are bunch of computer-pats shops that entertain computer geeks (like me).

The second day of the expedition was rainy all day.  I met with a professor from my previous college for lunch, and met with other friends at night.

The third day.  It was easy for me to wake up early due to jet lag.  I left the hotel early to avoid the morning rush hour and headed to Iruma air base.  I couldn't take enough pictures in last July of YS-11s and C-1s both of which may retire in several years.  Those were my main targets.

I did some survey and developed strategies to capture YS-11s and C-1s in full frame.  Since it's the beginning of the air-show season, and I was still recovering from the time off, I missed first several opportunities.  But, I got some nice crisp shots, too.

Electronic-Warfare version of YS-11 (called YS-11E) taking off Iruma runway 17.

U-125 (top) and YS-11 (bottom) of flight testing squadron.  They are in charge of testing and making sure navigation aids and instrument approach systems of the airports are working correctly.

C-1 (left).  It has a incredibly short take-off and landing capability.  But, it cannot fly very far compared to the modern cargo airplanes.

T-4 (left).

Scattered clouds started covering over the base around noon.  I was about to leave the base.  Then, the sun suddenly popped out again.  I could stay there only until 13:20 for the next appointment.  The base was in the lunch break until 13:00.  So, I had only 20 minutes or so.  But, anyway I decided to stay rather than having lunch.  Actually I could see one YS-11E and two T-4s coming back.  I had to skip lunch and was quite hungry, but it paid off.

By the way, someone flew a last flight in CH-47J.  I saw a small ceremony in the base.

Someone apparently flew a CH-47J for the last time.

The last day of the expedition.  The sky was clear as forecasted.  I took advantage of jet lag and woke up early again.  I checked out the hotel and dropped my suitcase in a coin-operated locker in the Tokyo station, where I was going to take a Shinkansen train back home.  Then I headed for the Haneda airport.

The visibility was incredibly good from the observation deck over the passenger terminal 1.  In fact, it was unlikely for the air over Tokyo.  I have been there many times, and I could see Mt. Fuji many times.  But, on that day, Mt. Fuji was particularly visible compare to my past experiences.  Wind was from the north.  Runway 34L/R were in use.  Runway 34L is visible from the passenger terminal 1 observation deck and is apparently used for landing, while 34R is for take off.  But, since it was too early for the first flights from other domestic airports to arrive, the tower directed two departure airplanes to runway 34L.  The second one was a ANA Boeing 787 with the commemorative painting, big "787" on the fuselage.  Strong northerly wind allowed the 787 to lift off with about half the runway, and the airplane was climbing up right in front of Mt. Fuji!  What a photo opportunity!

Miracle shot!

Early bird catches a worm.

It was nothing difficult to capture a landed airplane or an airplane on the taxiway with Mt. Fuji.

An airplane's wings bends upward more or less while the wing is producing positive-G lift.  But, the bending of B787's wings is particularly visible.

Heat haze was not as intensive as the last time since it was early morning and the ground temperature was not so high.

This 787 no longer has bit "787" on the fuselage any more.  It's a normal painting scheme of ANA.

The lighting condition is good for the observation deck of terminal 1 only in the morning.  I moved to terminal 2 and stayed there a few hours. 

From terminal 2 observation deck, you can capture a departing airplane with the new TV tower called Tokyo Skytree (right)

That concluded my four-day expedition, and I came back home.  I was looking for an old book from a pile of my stuffs left at home.  During the search, I accidentally found a pamphlet of the T-4 Blue Impulse distributed in the first year of the team.  That was 1996 when the team changed an airplane from T-2 to T-4.

T-4 FIRST YEAR pamphlet.

I am collecting pamphlets of aerobatic teams.  I hope some day I can scan all I have and put them somewhere on this web site.

Return flight from Tokyo was not crowded and very comfortable.  Maybe it was not so good for All Nippon Airways to fly a Boeing 777 with many empty seats, but it was good for passengers.  Again, if you are looking for a comfortable air travel to Japan, you should try Japan Airlines or All Nippon Airways. 

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