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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
In the meantime, the 747s were standing in the static display area being admired by as many people as the aerobatic performances were.
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…
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!
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.
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.
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.
And, then, finally, the sad moment came as both of the 747s were towed away to the apron in front of their hangar.
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.