A fading beauty at Hyakuri Air Base


The most iconic air base in Japan is certainly Hyakuri in the Ibaraki prefecture, not far from the Japanese capitol of Tokyo. The air base offers spectacular photo possibilities for aircraft enthusiasts and is the home base of the shrinking F-4EJ and RF-4 Phantom fleet of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF). Our visit in October 2018, was one of the last possibilities to see all three Phantom squadrons in action. In December 2018, 302nd squadron was disbanded.

The F-4EJ
In 1971, four F-4Es arrived at Komatsu Air Base, Japan. They came straight out of the McDonnell Douglas plant in St. Louis, Missouri. McDonnell Douglas supplied Mitsubishi with 11 kits of parts and fuselages. The Phantoms for the JASDF were assembled at the Mitsubishi plant in Nagoya. The first one was delivered in 1972, the last one in 1981. A total of 138 F-4EJs were produced. The models were similar to the United States Air Force F-4E models, but missed the in-flight air refueling possibility and the ground attack systems.

The Kai models
In 1984, a Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) upgrade was initiated, in which 96 models of the F-4EJ Phantoms received ground attack capabilities. The airframes were also improved to extend their lifetime from 3,000 hours to 5,000 hours. This gave the F-4EJ Phantom designation the addition ‘Kai’, meaning ‘Plus’.

The Recce models
Japan also received 14 RF-4Es built by McDonnell Douglas as a reconnaissance aircraft. These models were almost identical to the Luftwaffe RF-4Es. These 14 RF-4Es, together with 17 F-4EJs modified during the Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) to the RF- 4EJ Kai standard, form the JASDF Recce fleet.

306th Tactical Fighter Squadron
On June 30, 1981, the 6th and final F-4EJ squadron was formed as the 306th Tactical Fighter Squadron ‘The Golden Eagles’ at Hyakuri Air Base. The 306th was formed from the disbanded 205th Squadron, which flew the F-104J Starfighter. In 1997, the unit converted from the F-4 and became the 8th and final of the F-15J squadrons existing at that time, and moved to Komatsu.

301st Hikotai
The squadron was formed on 16 October 1973 at Hyakuri. In 1985 it moved to Nyutabaru were it received the updated F-4EJ Kai-version in 1991. The squadron moved back to Hyakuri in October 2016. Now it is the last air defense squadron equipped with the Phantom within the JASDF. Together with the already disbanded 302nd Hikotai, the 301st will move to Misawa -in the North of Japan’s main island Honshu- to receive the F-35.

302nd Hikotai
Formed on 1 October 1974 at Chitose. The squadron moved to Naha in November 1985 where it welcomed the Kai-version in 1995. In March 2007, the 302nd went to Hyakuri. The squadron disbanded in December 2018. The squadron is scheduled to be re-activated with the F-35 at Misawa.

501st Hikotai
This is the only squadron within the JASDF that fulfills the reconnaissance role. After the transition from Sabres to Phantoms at lruma in 1974, the 501st moved to Hyakuri in 1975. The squadron will be present there until March 2020.