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Double-Duty Operations Base: JCG Sendai Air Station

Japan Coast Guard SendaiAn aerial view of JCG Sendai Air Station probably taken in 2015, towards the end of the Bell 212 era,
shows Hangar 2 in the foreground with the new administration block and adjoining Hangar 1 behind.
(Photo: JCG Sendai Air Station)

The remit of the Japan Coast Guard (JCG) encompasses a wide variety of hazardous operations that far exceed assisting those in peril on or near the sea, the bread and butter of coast guard services elsewhere. As a lead-in to a more detailed look at aviation aspects of the JCG, J-HangarSpace uses Sendai Air Station to provide a “hoverview” of the service’s air operations. This was prompted by the air station’s open day held, in this the service’s 70th anniversary year, on October 28, 2018.

JCG Sendai posterIncluding the JCG’s 70th anniversary logo, the poster used to advertise
Sendai Air Station’s 2018 open day event.

Headquartered in Shiogama, Miyagi Prefecture, the JCG’s 2nd Region—one of 11 that span the length and breadth of the country—is primarily responsible for the Tohoku region (Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures) but also covers Aomori, Akita and Yamagata. The 2nd Region’s area thus extends into both the Pacific Ocean to the east and the Sea of Japan to the west; according to 2014 government statistics, the six prefectures have a total coastline length of 2,900 km.

It is from Shiogama that the 2nd Region operates a pair of helicopter-capable patrol vessels, the 4,040-tonne Zaō and the 2,000-tonne Kurikoma, and controls a string of port stations and their assorted vessels to monitor Japan’s territorial waters, which extend out to 12 nautical miles (22 km), which would equate to an area of 64,000 sq. km (18,800 sq. nautical miles). The protection of the nation’s vast exclusive economic zone (EEZ) usually falls under the JMSDF’s area of responsibility, but in May 2018 elements of the JCG were called upon to protect the Yamato Bank fishing grounds, around 215 nautical miles (400 km) west of the Oga Peninsula in Akita Prefecture, from incursions by North Korean trawlers.

JCG ZaouThe pilot of a JCG AW139 hovers off the stern of the Zaō. The 2nd Region’s patrol vessel is named after
a mountain that straddles Miyagi and Yamagata prefectures.
(Photo: Japan Coast Guard)

The shore base for the region’s air operations, Sendai Air Station is tucked away in a corner of the city’s international airport, the gateway for the Tohoku region, only around 10 miles (16 km) as the seagull flies from its HQ. In terms of the extent of the 2nd Region’s area of responsibility, the prefectural capital on the coast of Miyagi, the next to southernmost of the six, is far from being centrally located. It is from here, though, that the service maintains part of its front-line aviation presence and also houses its rotorcraft flight training assets.

Fate was to place the air station very much on the front line on March 11, 2011. Already damaged that afternoon by the Great East Japan Earthquake, Sendai airport itself was then engulfed by the resultant massive tsunami, which affected a vast area and claimed thousands of lives. Lying under several feet of water, the airport’s runway was soon covered with all manner of debris, including cars, aircraft and even houses.

Live aerial images of the approaching tsunami were transmitted from a helicopter that national broadcaster NHK had managed to launch from Sendai, while the JCG subsequently released a dramatic image (link), taken from one of its own helicopters that happened to be airborne at the time, of the tsunami bearing down on the airport. Some footage of the appalling scenes of devastation, filmed from the roof of the operations building by a JCG officer while tense communications were maintained with their helicopter, can be viewed on YouTube (link).

According to a report in the JCG’s own newspaper, the Kaiho Shimbun, dated April 4, 2014, the ground floor of the office block was flooded to the ceiling, and 22 staff members spent that night on the roof of the building. Although the air station would normally have played a major role in disaster relief following the earthquake, some members had to be transferred to Hanamaki airport in Iwate Prefecture and other locations to be able to at least partly fulfill their assigned functions.

Sendai Airport tsunamiSendai airport two days after the huge tsunami struck, on March 13, 2011.
The JCG air station hangars and facilities can be seen on the left.

(Photo: U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Samuel Morse via Wikimedia Commons)

With the assistance of the U.S. Air Force, the former resident of what was Yanome air base back in the 1950s, the runway was cleared and the airport re-opened for limited services just over a month later, on April 13, 2011. A return to normal airline operations, albeit with a reduced amount of traffic, was achieved late that September. Following the construction of a temporary building, the JCG air station had been able to recommence operations at the lowest functional level permissible on June 21.

Tsunami Losses

The current JCG Air Station has, not surprisingly, been shaped by and still shows some signs of the events of that day. Although JCG personnel were fortunately able to safely make their escape, the service lost a total of six front-line aircraft to the tsunami. Of the fixed-wing fleet then based at Sendai, a Beech King Air 350 deemed to have been damaged beyond economic repair (link) was decommissioned on May 15, 2011, while a Beech 200T was sold to the U.S. company Dynamic Aviation in a still sorry-looking state the following August. The front-line helicopters, a Bell 212 and a Bell 412EP, were both decommissioned on June 15, 2011; the former is now enjoying a new lease of life with a U.S. buyer, and the latter, having passed through the United States, is in service in Uganda.

The presence of maintenance contractor JAMCO Corporation at Sendai airport resulted in other JCG aircraft being put out of action. Two Haneda-based aircraft that were undergoing overhaul at the time were a Bombardier Dash 8-Q300, known in JCG service simply as the Bombardier Q300, and an Airbus Helicopters (Aérospatiale) AS332L-1 Super Puma. The Q300 finally returned to Haneda duty late in March 2012, while the Super Puma ended up being sold, initially to a Canadian company for repair and refurbishment, and is currently with an operator in Norway. Seen toppled over inside the facility in a photo included in a JCG-released report on the tsunami, a Hakodate-based Sikorsky S-76C, one of the six that were delivered in the 1990s, was written off and also decommissioned on June 15.

The aforementioned patrol vessel Kurikoma was in port at Shiogama when the tsunami arrived, all those on board having disembarked as there had been insufficient time to put to sea. The force of the tsunami resulted in the ship breaking its moorings and drifting before running aground in Matsushima Bay. Rescued by a civilian salvage operator and towed to a shipyard in Muroran, Hokkaido Prefecture, for extensive repairs, it was to be late December 2011 before the Kurikoma could again take her place on front-line service.

Airfield Potted History

Yanome Oct. 1947Yanome air base, October 1947 (Photo: Geospatial Information Authority of Japan)

Yanome SendaiSeen on the extreme left of the aerial photo taken on March 13, 2011, this old hangar—standing among
tsunami-ravaged trees—dates back to the days of Yanome air base. Taken over by the Allies during the
the postwar Occupation, Yanome was used for T-6 training by the 2nd Flying Training School based at 
nearby Matsushima in the early days of the JASDF and renamed Sendai airfield in 1957, the year after
its return to Japanese control. Sendai airport officially started operations from the location in 1964.

Sendai Air Station was established in 1963, and a new apron built, the hangar extended and taxiways widened two years later. The original two-storey administrative building was completed in 1981, and the hangar reconstructed in 2002. The area had been inundated twice before, by heavy rainfall in 1986 and 1993, before that fateful day in 2011.

Combining the administrative block with the larger of the two hangars, a new facility was constructed, being declared operational in March 2014. Learning from the painful lessons of and the damage inflicted by the tsunami, the building is on a raised embankment 1.8 metres above the level of the apron. In addition, the ground floor is devoted to the storage of equipment, and the offices and operations center now occupy the second floor. On the top third floor are a large conference room that can serve as a command post in the event of a disaster, backed up by emergency power generation that can operate for 72 hours, temporary sleeping quarters as well as ancillary facilities. The building has also been designed to facilitate crew exit and egress when scrambled on rescue missions. 

As the situation had returned to normal, the open day that had been a regular event on the calendar from 2007 (link) to 2010 was reinstated in October 2014. Since then, it was only in 2016 that circumstances prevented the event from being staged. (Historically, the date of the very first Sendai open day cannot be given with any degree of certainty.)

Amateur video footage taken inside the hangar during the 2009 event can be viewed here (link) and another, with some more clickable images, of the rainy event in 2017 here (link).

JCG SendaiAs a precautionary measure, a third storey was added for the new administrative building, which
with the adjoining Hangar 1 was declared operational in March 2014.

Current Aircraft Fleet

In terms of the number of aircraft in service, Sendai is today the JCG’s largest base by dint of the co-located Miyagi Branch School. The air station also provides a good case study of the progressive fleet upgrade, undertaken in recent years, which has resulted in a more versatile, four-type, five-aircraft operational fleet. The Branch School also boasts the JCG’s latest helicopter acquisitions.

The primary fixed-wing aircraft is a single Q300. Used for search and rescue and maritime patrol operations, the type represented a significant advance in capability over its YS-11 predecessor, being equipped with surveillance radar and forward-looking infrared (FLIR) equipment for night operation. The standard crew of six comprises two pilots, two flight mechanics, whose duties include loading the compressed air-powered chutes used for dropping sea markers, a radio communications operator and a search radar operator. Taken on the corresponding event in 2014, a walkaround video on YouTube also offers a glimpse of the then newly arrived Q300’s interior (link), which can accommodate up 32 passengers and be configured to carry stretchers for the casualty evacuation role. Not surprisingly, the radar equipment was kept under wraps for security reasons.

JCG Q300 Sendai(Above and below) The Sendai-based Q300, which entered service early in 2014, bears the name Ōtaka
(Goshawk). The name was selected after a request for suggestions was made to the general public that  
summer. The conditions were that the name had to be of a bird, not necessarily a living species, and
no more than six katakana characters long. The person or persons who submitted the
winning name would win JCG merchandise by lottery.
JCG Sendai Q300 (2)

Operated alongside the Q300, a Beech 350 essentially replicates the larger aircraft’s equipment fit on a smaller scale. Based with the 7th Region in Fukuoka, the last of the Beech 350s delivered between 1999 and 2001 is equipped with laser surveying equipment. In June 2011, this aircraft was drafted in to map post-tsunami Sendai Bay, the data from which would be utilized by government agencies for earthquake simulations and the monitoring of coastal erosion.

Sendai Beech 350A distinctive feature of the JCG’s Beech 350s are the large acrylic windows for the two observers’ seats
at the rear of the cabin, which facilitate photography and filming, for instance during fishery
protection missions. Not named after an actual species, the Sendai-based example is
simply called
Hakutaka (White Hawk).

As covered in the lead story on the JCG Aircraft Data File page of this website (link), the last JCG Bell 212 was retired from service in January 2016, and the type replaced by a top-up order for 11 Sikorsky S-76Ds and 18 newly introduced AW139s; a pair of the latter is now operated from Sendai.

JCG Sendai AW139 (3)The first Sendai-based AW139 was commissioned in March 2012, when the air station was
marking the passing of a year since the tsunami.

Action Stations

Despite the wide-ranging additional tasks that have been forced upon the service since its inception, especially in recent years, the JCG retains the fourth emergency service role for which coast guard services are most often associated elsewhere.

JCG AW139 Sendai

In fiscal 2017, which ran from April 1, 2017, to the end of March 2018, the latest full year for which figures are available, Sendai Air Station rescued 13 people during the course of 40 missions. The unit had been launched on 60 missions in the previous fiscal year, the difference being caused by the higher number of days in fiscal 2017 on which the weather conditions resulted in a total ban being placed on swimming in the sea.

One recent incident that involved the 2nd Coast Guard Region’s assets occurred on June 20, 2018. A Japanese fishing vessel with a crew of 18 was in difficulty after having taken on water around 850km (460 nautical miles) off the coast of Miyagi Prefecture. Coordinated from the regional HQ, rescue efforts were immediately initiated, involving the patrol vessel Zaō and its S-76D as well as other trawlers operating in the vicinity of the stricken vessel. Three of the fishing vessel’s crewmen were successfully airlifted to hospital by members of the JCG’s helicopter-borne Mobile Air Rescue Team, the first of which had been formed under the 7th Region in Fukuoka in October 2002. Belatedly established in October 2011 in light of the lessons learned from the March 11 disaster, the 2nd Region’s team had marked its 300th mission in April 2018. The JCG released a short video of the June 20, 2018, helicopter rescue on YouTube (link).

JCG Sendai S-76DThe last delivered of the order for 11 S-76Ds placed in June 2013, the aircraft currently assigned to
the patrol vessel
Zaō and shore based at Sendai was commissioned in December 2015.

JCG School Miyagi Branch

JCG Miyagi Branch School

The JCG operates an academy, located in Kure, Hiroshima Prefecture, a main school in Maizuru, Kyoto Prefecture, and two branch schools, in Moji, Fukuoka Prefecture, and the Miyagi facility next door to Sendai Air Station. The latter is primarily responsible for providing the certified courses that enable personnel to obtain the national qualifications required to serve in the three departments into which of the JCG, a civil organization, is divided: aviation, maintenance and communications.

Opened in October 1988, initially in a prefabricated building next to the hangar, the branch school’s dedicated main block and dormitory, the latter designed to give the impression of rotor blades, were completed in December 1997.

The 18-month aviation course for Maizuru graduates at the Miyagi Branch School offers basic training only for helicopter pilots, the JCG’s five recently acquired Cessna Turbo-Skyhawk JT-A (Cessna 172S) training aircraft being based with the 1st Region at Sapporo airport.

JCG Bell 206 FTD SendaiBuilt by the U.S. company FRASCA International, a Bell 206 Jetranger flight training device (FTD)
was installed in a dedicated building at the Miyagi Branch in March 2003.
(Photo: Japan Coast Guard)

The ground floors of the main training centre and dormitory were inundated by the March 2011 tsunami. Training restarted in earnest four months later, on July 5, albeit in a temporary return to the branch school’s beginnings in prefabricated facilities.

A Bell 206B Jetranger, seen wrecked inside its hangar in the JCG-released report on the tsunami, was decommissioned on June 15, 2011, and a Bell 212 that had seen operational service with the 1st Region in Hokkaido from 1979 to 1998 and been used for instructional purposes was damaged beyond repair and removed. The same fate befell a Bell 206L-3 Longranger instructional airframe that had been used operationally by the Nara Prefectural Police Aviation Unit.

The service received its first four of a total of eight Bell 206Bs in 1973. One was lost in a non-fatal crash into the Inland Sea off the town of Nakajima (now part of the city of Matsuyama) in Ehime Prefecture, on June 18, 1988. A single Bell 206B Jetranger II delivered in 1991 was followed by three others in 1996, resulting in the sale of the three older Jetranger III aircraft.

Japan Coast Guard JetrangerFormerly based at Hiroshima Air Station, the first of the second batch of Bell 206B Jetrangers (right)
was transferred to Sendai to replace the aircraft wrecked by the tsunami,
thereby centralizing the type’s operations.

Sendai Kochi Police JetrangerIts registration having been cancelled late in 2011, this former Kochi Prefectural Police Bell 206L-3
was acquired in 2012 to partly replace the two instructional airframes that were scrapped after
being damaged in the tsunami. Its instrumental panel stripped, this aircraft now
 seems to be awaiting its turn for disposal.

Changeover to Bell 505 Training

JCG Bell 505 (1)

As covered on the Bulletin Board page of this website (report dated March 29, 2018), this year saw the arrival of four Bell 505 Jetranger X helicopters. In the same way as the Q300 and the YS-11, the Garmin G1000 glass cockpit-equipped new model represents a major advance when compared with the Bell 206B and is thus better suited for preparing trainee pilots for state-of-the-art helicopter cockpits. Also offering improved visibility, the five-seater JCG examples are, like the 206Bs, equipped with loudspeakers, so they can play a role in rescue and emergency work.

Their first port of call in Japan was the 10th Region in Kagoshima, where the aircraft were fitted with DART Aerospace emergency flotation system kits for overwater operations.

Present when the new aircraft were shown off to the media at Sendai Air Station on April 24, 2018, was Coast Guard Officer Second Grade Mihoko Hotta (link), the first woman to be certified by the JCG as a helicopter pilot instructor in 2016. In an article that had appeared in the Sankei Shimbun online on April 20 that year, there were then 166 helicopter pilots serving with the JCG, five of whom were women; Hotta was one of 12 instructors.

JCG Bell 5050 (2)All four 505s have retained the name Ōruri (Blue and White Flycatcher) borne by their predecessors,
which is actually the prefectural bird of neighbouring Tochigi Prefecture.

P&W R-985On display amidst all the modern equipment was this relic from yesteryear.
The 450 hp Pratt & Whitney R-985 radial was the engine that powered the
JCG’s fleet of Beech 18s from the late 50s to the early 1980s.

Parting Shot

JCG SendaiSendai Air Station, seen from the spectator enclosure on the roof of Sendai International Airport,
with the 2018 open day still underway.

J-HangarSpace gratefully acknowledges the additional information kindly provided by the 2nd Region’s public relations office for the making of this report.

JCG 60th Anniversary Event, Sendai Air Station, May 25, 2008

JCG Sendai 2008 (1)The view inside the Sendai Air Station hangar during the JCG 60th anniversary event in May 2008,
which drew around 600 visitors. In comparison, the 2018 event attracted a crowd of around 1,130.
(Photo: Japan Coast Guard, Sendai Air Station)

JCG Sendai 2008 (2)(Above) One of the JCG’s workhorse Bell 212 helicopters was put through its paces on a morning and an
afternoon rescue demonstration, a tradition that continues today with the AW139. The Bell 212 that
flew that day was in JCG service from July 1981 to March 2013 and reportedly remains in use with
a Canadian operator.
(Below)
The view from inside the Bell 212, looking back at the assembled
throng corralled in the hangar for safety. In 2018, visitors were allowed to view the flights 
from out on the apron.
(Photos: Japan Coast Guard, Sendai Air Station)
JCG Sendai 2008 (3)
JCG Sendai (4)The Sendai Beech 200T makes a low pass at the end of the rescue demonstration. Although still bearing 
signs of damage from the March 2011 tsunami, this aircraft was purchased by a U.S. company five
months later. The resident Beech 350 remained on the ground during the 2018 event.
(Photo: Japan Coast Guard, Sendai Air Station)

******************************

msa480501(2)A photo on display at the Japan Coast Guard Museum in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, shows the then Maritime Safety Agency’s first director, Takeo Ōkubo (1903–1996), hoisting the newly formed organization’s flag on May 1, 1948.

After providing a history of what is now essentially a paramilitary service, this section will delve into a variety of aspects of JCG operations, divided into fixed-wing and helicopter sections, while incorporating human interest angles.

jcgB350One of the 10 Beechcraft King Air 350s delivered to the JCG from 1999 to 2001, JA868A was
assigned to Sapporo/Shin-Chitose Airport in Hokkaido at the time this photo was taken. 
(Photo: Japan Coast Guard)

JCG RyukyuA Bell 212 approaches the Ryūkyū, the Tsugaru-class patrol vessel that has been assigned to the
11th Region since she was commissioned in March 2000.
 (Photo: 11th Region, Japan Coast Guard)

PLH22 YashimaAt the time home-ported in Yokohama, the patrol vessel Yashima is seen here nearing Seattle, Washington,
for the three-day Exercise
Pacific Unity in August 2009. In partnership with other Pacific nations’
maritime assets, the Japan Coast Guard is a very active participant in drills designed to
fine tune the coordination of search and rescue, law enforcement and security operations.
The
Yashima is currently assigned to the 7th Region at Fukuoka.
(Photo: U.S. Department of Homeland Security/Zac Crawford via Wikimedia Commons)

JCG SuperPumaThe JCG AS332L-1 Super Puma JA6686 hovers astern the then Patrol Vessel Large (PL) Erimo
(Photo: Japan Coast Guard)

PL51 HidaThe 2,000-ton patrol vessel Hida at slow ahead on the morning of the 51st Japan Coast Guard Review in
July 2006, three months after she was commissioned. Comprising three vessels, the 
Hida class is
named after a mountain range in the Japanese Alps. 
(Photo: Sizuru via Wikimedia Commons)
 

jcgs76This Sikorsky S-76C was named Raicho (Ptarmigan) when operated by the 9th Region from Niigata.
When the aircraft was transferred to the 1st Region’s Hakodate airport base in March 2012,
its name was changed to 
Kumataka (Hawk Eagle). (Photo: Japan Coast Guard)

jcgbell212The pilot inches a JCG Bell 212 towards the deck of one of the service’s patrol vessels.
Delivered in January 1979, the aircraft shown was the second of the service’s
38 Bell 212s, all of which have now been withdrawn from use.
(Photo: Japan Coast Guard) 
 

jcgpumaOne of the three AS332L1s assigned to the 3rd Region photographed at JMSDF Tateyama,
Chiba Prefecture, in November 2002.

JCG EC225LPThe second of two Airbus Helicopter EC225LP Super Pumas was delivered late in August 2014.
Utilized for search and rescue, disaster relief and security operations, they are assigned to the
JCG’s 6,500-ton
Akitsushima, the world’s largest state-of-the-art patrol vessel that entered
service at its Yokohama home port in November 2013.
(Photo: Kaijohoan Shimbun)

jcgbell412Bell 412EP JA906A during its time based at Yonago Airport (JASDF Miho), where the aircraft was
named 
Oshidori (Mandarin Duck). (Photo: Japan Coast Guard)

jcgbell212ja906aThe crew of JCG Bell 212 JA906A Inuwashi (Golden Eagle) heavily engaged in PR operations at the
helicopter festival held at JMSDF Tateyama, Chiba Prefecture, October 6, 2013. 

MH550 SetozuruSeen having its tow bar removed before a flight, the 6th Region’s Bell 212 was withdrawn from use after
34 years’ service at a ceremony on January 22, 2015. A replacement, younger Bell 412EP is now
operated alongside two AW139s from Hiroshima Airport. 
(Photo: Japan Coast Guard) 

(All photographs on this website are copyright J-HangarSpace
unless otherwise stated.) 

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Notices

Announcements

JASDF
2018 Airshow Dates
Feb. 18  Ashiya
Mar. 3  Komaki
Apr. 8  Kumagaya
May 20  Shizuhama
miho 2018 poster
May 27  Miho
June 3  Hofu-Kita
July 22  Chitose
Aug. 26  Matsushima
Sept. 9  Misawa
Sept. 17  Komatsu
Oct. 14  Ashiya
Nov. 3  Iruma
Nov. 18  Gifu
Nov. 25  Hamamatsu
Nov. 25  Tsuiki
Dec. 2  Hyakuri
Dec. 2  Nyutabaru
Dec. 8-9  Naha

2017 Event Posters
Hofu-Kita / Miho
JASDF Hofu-Kita


Miho poster 2017

2019 Airshow Dates
Mar. 31  Komaki
May*  Shizuhama
Nov. 3  Iruma

JGSDF
2018 Airshow Dates
Jan. 12  Narashino
 (paratroop display)
Apr. 15  Kasuminome
May 26  Kasumigaura
May 27 Kita-
                Utsunomiya
June 17  Asahikawa
Aug. 26  Fuji live fire
Sept. 9  Kisarazu
                (cancelled)
Sept. 29  Tachikawa
Oct. 6  Obihiro
Oct. 14  Yao
Nov. 4  Akeno
Nov. 25  Naha 

2017 Event Posters
Kisarazu / Metabaru
Kisarazu 170225

Metabaru 2017

2019 Airshow Dates
Jan. 13  Kisarazu
 (paratroop display) 

JMSDF
2018 Airshow Dates
Apr. 21  NAF Atsugi
Apr. 30  Kanoya
May 5  Iwakuni
(joint Friendship Day)
May 27  Omura
July 15  Komatsushima
July 21  Maizuru
July 28  Tateyama
 (cancelled [typhoon])
Sept. 16  Hachinohe
Sept. 29  Tokushima
Oct. 20  Shimofusa
Oct. 21  Ozuki

2017 Event Posters
Ozuki  (July children’s
event / Oct. Swell Festival)
Ozuki event July 2017

Ozuki Swell 2017

(*) Date to be confirmed

(Please note that air show dates are subject to change/cancellation.)

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