Japan Air Self Defense Force 747’s Last Appearance at Chitose Air Festival in 20 Photos

Chitose Air Festival held in Japan every summer was likely the only airshow in the world where one could regularly get close to a governmental 747 – in this case the Japan Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) one also colloquially known as “Japan Air Force One.”

Japan Air Self Defense Force 747-400
The two 747s parked side by side at the airshow for the first (and the last) time.

Unfortunately, starting from next year, that will not be the case since the two Japanese 747s will be replaced by a pair of 777-300ERs which will be delivered later this year. While during past years, a single 747 was displayed at the airshow, to bid a farewell to the Queen of the Skies, JASDF displayed both of them this year.

Of course, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to see them from up close one last time and so I headed to Sapporo last month!

As the airshow was largely similar to the one held last year, I will not be writing a full report.

Instead, I will focus on the main attraction of the airshow – the two Japan Air Self Defense Force 747-400s.

Issue with Engine No. 3: Will It Fly?

Just like last year, one of the 747s was scheduled to perform a fly-by together with a couple of other aircraft types. But, because of the weather, that was cancelled and the Jumbo only performed a solo fly-by before landing.

Even that was more than we, at one point, thought would happen given that the aircraft that was meant to be on flying display (20-1102) had issues with engine number 3. Luckily, the crew was able to change aircraft and with a bit of a delay, 20-1101 taxied past where I was standing.

And soon after that, at 10:20AM, it took off from Chitose Air Base’s runway 36R.

Japan Air Self Defense Force 747-400
The 747 that was supposed to be only on static display taxiing to save the flying display.
Japan Air Self Defense Force 747-400
20-1101 taking off from runway 36R with condensation forming over its wings.

About twenty minutes later, it performed a lowpass over runway 36L – the one closer to the airshow venue. Unfortunately, the combination of cloudy skies and the fact that the lowpass was done with the landing gear down resulted in a photo that looks like the aircraft was simply performing a “cloudy approach.”

Japan Air Self Defense Force 747-400
An approach to… I mean, a lowpass over runway 36L.

Not One, But Two JASDF 747s on Display

After the lowpass, I headed to the airshow venue to take a look at the 747s from up close. By the time the shuttle bus that I got on at Minami Chitose station arrived inside the airbase, the 747 that did the flying display was already parked next to the other one and surrounded by hundreds of people.

Japan Air Self Defense Force 747-400
For several hours, it was possible to walk around and between both of the 747s to see them from all angles.
Japan Air Self Defense Force 747-400
Unfortunately, from next year, the 747-400 sign will be replaced by a 777-300ER one.

As the day progressed, the weather started clearing up, and by the time it was time for a show by Blue Impulse – JASDF’s aerobatic team – there was enough blue sky to make the small jets’ white smoke trails visible. There was also a performance by a Japanese Red Bull Air Race pilot.

Japan Air Self Defense Force 747-400 and Blue Impulse
Blue Impulse performing their show with one of the 747s in the foreground.
Japan Air Self Defense Force 747-400 and Red Bull Air Race
A Japanese Red Bull Air Race pilot showing his skills. Once again, with one of the 747s in the foreground.

In the meantime, the 747s were standing in the static display area being admired by as many people as the aerobatic performances were.

Japan Air Self Defense Force 747-400
A special flag made by the 747 team to commemorate the upcoming retirement of the type waving in front of 20-1101.
Japan Air Self Defense Force 747-400
This year: a real 747-400 and a 777-300ER balloon. Next year: a real 777-300ER and a 747-400 balloon?

Unfortunately, shortly before 3PM, it was time to slowly start calling it a day. And so, first, the official JASDF photographer assembled well over a hundred people in front of the 747s for a group photo to commemorate the occasion.

As you can see below, I sacrificed being in the photo for getting the photo…

Japan Air Self Defense Force 747-400
Airshow visitors in front of the biggest stars of the show.

Then, just like last year, the 747 crew assembled in front of the aircraft for a photo shoot. The big difference was, of course, that this time there were two 747s behind them and that they were holding a “747 FINAL” flag.

With the amount of people assembled around them and pointing camera at them, they must have felt like rockstars!

Japan Air Self Defense Force 747-400
The two 747s and the 747 crew receiving a rockstar-like treatment towards the end of the airshow.
Japan Air Self Defense Force 747-400
The 747 crew posing in front of their favorite aircraft together with the Red Bull Air Race pilot.

Hanging Around Until the Very End

After the photo shoot, it was time for the staff to start cleaning up. And, time for Auld Lang Syne – a song played in Japan at closing time – not only to signify the end of this year’s airshow, but also the end of the 747s at Chitose Air Festival.

Japan Air Self Defense Force 747-400
Time to clean up.

Of course, the hundreds of aviation enthusiasts and people that love the Japan Air Self Defense Force 747s didn’t just go home at that point. Instead, they hanged around to see the two aircraft being prepared to be towed away from the airshow venue.

Japan Air Self Defense Force 747-400
Everyone hanged around to see the two aircraft being towed away even after the airshow “officially closed.”

Then, around 3:45PM, the first of the two aircraft, 20-1102, was pushed back, followed by the second one. This allowed for a rare opportunity to see the two Jumbos side by side.

Japan Air Self Defense Force 747-400
20-1102 after being pushed back from the static display, waiting to be towed away.
Japan Air Self Defense Force 747-400
One of my favorite photos from the day – not two halves of the same photo reordered, but the nose of 20-1102 and the tail of 20-1101.
Japan Air Self Defense Force 747-400
Both of the aircraft ready to be towed away.

And, then, finally, the sad moment came as both of the 747s were towed away to the apron in front of their hangar.

Japan Air Self Defense Force 747-400
20-1101 was towed away first.
Japan Air Self Defense Force 747-400
It was followed by 20-1102, ending the long history of the 747s at Chitose Air Festival.

The Future of the JASDF 747s

It was great to be able to bid a farewell to the two 747s at Chitose airshow. Luckily, though, they will be around in one way or another at least until April 2019 when their capability is expected to be fully replaced by the two incoming 777-300ERs.

As such, I will make sure to go to Chitose air base where they are based and can be seen practicing on many weekdays at least a couple more times.

In the meantime, if you want to see some more photos of the JASDF 747s, make sure to check my report of last year’s Chitose Air Festival, as well as an article about a spotting trip to Sapporo that I did at the beginning of this year.

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