Paul Dunn's 2011 blogGAR Entries

APR 03 2011
In Happier Times...

Just over three weeks ago I was lucky enough to spend 48 hours in Japan. With all that has happened since then, it now feels like a lifetime ago. The earthquake and subsequent tsunami wreaked havoc across wide portions of the main island of Honshu and have caused a deathtoll which seems to rise daily, not to mention the spectre of a possible nuclear disaster, although this thankfully appears to be abating slightly as I type these words.

As I had been in Japan just a week before the earthquake, I felt a strong connection to what was happening. Iíve been fortunate enough to spend quite a bit of time in the country over the last couple of years and whilst I have had good and bad days there, Iíve developed a strong respect for the country and its people. Whilst this is certainly a terrible time for the country as a whole, I am certain that the Japanese people are better equipped to deal with the situation and recover than many others around the world.

My most recent visit corresponded with some wonderful early spring weather and once again my destination was Hyakuri Airbase. The main reason for my visit was to try to catch the aggressor F-15s from the Hiko Kyodotai Ė the unit has been operating from Hyakuri recently due to the eruption of Mount Shinmoedake. The Hiko Kyodotai photos formed the basis of a GAR report which went out last week Ė this blog contains the more usual Hyakuri residents.

After catching the aggressors returning from an early morning sortie, I made my way to the entrance to the famous platforms. Once again I telephoned the old lady and once again I had a conversation where she spoke to me in Japanese and I spoke in English and neither of us understood what the other was saying! While I was waiting and hoping that she would come and let me in, I was disappointed to see one of the local UH-60J rescue helicopters fly very close to the platforms. There are two UH-60Js based at Hyakuri and Iíve wanted to get good shots of one of them for some time, so I was gutted to miss out.

However, I was very pleased when the helicopter turned towards me and started conducting training in the field next to where I was waiting!

With that the lady turned up and I went through the usual routine of signing the form (petition?) and paying my money to be allowed into the viewing area. Despite having had a great day the last time I visited, there were still some aircraft on my list that I wanted to catch.

Although I had photographed Eagles last time, the conditions when they flew were almost universally poor, so I was hoping to catch some of the local F-15s in nice light. Fortunately the resident 305 Hikotai was very busy throughout the day Ė I counted approximately 30 missions flown in the time that I was there. The early light was superb too.

Of course it wasnít just Eagles, there were plenty of other types too Ė F-4EJs, RF-4Es (no RF-4EJ though) and T-4s. The resident U-125 also flew.

After completing its training mission, the UH-60J also returned and passed very close to the platform Ė the side on shot below was taken at 70mm!

By lunchtime the sky had clouded over a little, so I decided to move on and try to find some new spots to shoot from. I moved to the arrival end of the runway, hoping to photograph the F-4EJs returning from an early afternoon sortie, but ATC promptly changed ends! However, when the Phantoms returned, I was treated to a spectacular break by one of the jets.

After a few further moves around the airfield and a fair few runway changes, I spent the final part of the day at the approach end of runway 03R, where it was possible to shoot aircraft turning from base to finals, although this was quite frustrating as itís always difficult to predict when pilots will make that turn.

As it got later in the afternoon, the sun once again made an appearance, treating the few remaining photographers to a spectacular sunset. Fortunately a T-4 and U-125 were in the circuit, so I was able to move around to find an optimum position to shoot from.

This effort paid off when this final F-15 returned and I was rewarded with this shot of the aircraft against the setting sun.

Another fantastic day at Hyakuri, and for a variety of reasons almost certainly the last time I will visit the airbase. Itís certainly been good to me over the last couple of years, so I feel like I have come away with all that I wanted to shoot there.

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