JMSDF Squadron Histories & Markings
An impressive lineup of 11 JMSDF P-3C Orions on a rainy day in Hachinohe. The aircraft have been
parked left to right in numerical order by squadron: the 1st to the 9th, with the 51st and 203rd
bringing up the rear. The presence of the 8th FAS, which disbanded in March 2001, places the
likely date of the photo in the late 1990s. (Photo: JMSDF/Hachinohe AB)
The main fixed-wing aircraft-equipped elements of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) currently comprise four two-flight anti-submarine patrol squadrons, each of which is assigned to a separate Fleet Air Wing reporting to the Fleet Air Force headquartered at Atsugi, Kanagawa Prefecture. All four squadrons have histories that date back to and in two cases even pre-date the founding of the JMSDF.
As can be seen in the table below, the most recent Fleet Air Wing, the helicopter-equipped 22nd FAW, was formed in December 1987, and thus the structure at that level has remained essentially unchanged for some time.
Fleet Air Wing Formation Dates/Base Locations
|FAW||Date Formed||Base Location|
|1st||Sept. 1, 1961||Kanoya|
|2nd||Mar. 16, 1957 (as
Sept. 1, 1961
|3rd||Sept. 1, 1961||Disbanded at Tokushima
Mar. 1, 1963
|4th||Sept. 1, 1962
|Atsugi (since Dec. 25, 1973)|
|5th||July 15, 1981||Naha|
|21st||Sept. 1, 1961||Tateyama|
|22nd||Dec. 1, 1987||Omura|
|31st||Mar. 1, 1973||Iwakuni|
Initially, and later at the second-tier level, units were formed in a system that followed the traditions set by the Imperial Japanese Naval Air Force. Under this system, a unit adopted the name of its base and its aircraft bore a katakana character denoting that base.
“All hands on deck.” An engine problem forced the pilot of this Kanoya Kōkūtai PV-2D Harpoon to
make an emergency landing at the former (until 1971) Oita airport on August 23, 1957. A PV-2 that
crashed on takeoff from Kanoya on July 8, 1955, was the nascent JMSDF’s first fatal accident.
Coincidentally, the other two losses that befell the type occurred four months before and four
months after this fortunately uneventful incident. (Photo: Takao Kadokami)
Local Base-Named Unit* Formation Dates
|Based Unit*||Date Formed||Notes|
|Hachinohe||Mar. 16, 1957||Carried ハ (‘HA’) tail code.
Became 2nd FAW
|Iwakuni Air Training Corps
|Feb. 1, 1958||Carried イ (‘I’) tail code|
|Kanoya (T-34)*||Dec. 1, 1953||Carried カ (‘KA’) tail code.
Became 1st FAW
|Kanoya (JRF-5, PBY-6A)||Dec. 16, 1955||Became Omura Kōkūtai|
|Kanoya Air Training Corps
|Dec. 16, 1958||Equipped with PV-2, R4D
|Kanoya Air Training Wing
|Komatsushima||Mar. 25, 1965|
|Ohminato||May 16, 1956|
|Okinawa||Oct. 16, 1973||Carried ナ (‘NA’ for Naha) tail
code. Became 5th FAS
|Omura||Dec. 1, 1956|
|Ozuki Air Training Wing
|Mar. 26, 1965|
|Shimofusa Air Training Wing
|Tateyama (Helicopters)||Sept. 16, 1953||Inauguration ceremony held
Dec. 1, 1953
Carried タ (‘TA’) tail code.
Became 21st FAW
|Tateyama Naval Air Training Unit||TBC|
|Tokushima||Mar. 16, 1958||Carried ト (‘TO’) tail code.
Became 3rd FAW
|Tokushima Air Training Wing
* Kōkūtai unless otherwise stated
* The initial Kanoya Kōkūtai later formed the 1st Training Flight (Kunren Dai-ichi Hikōtai, TBM Avenger) and 2nd Training Flight (Kunren Dai-ni Hikōtai, PV-2 Harpoon) on July 13 and September 1, 1955, respectively.
TBC = To be confirmed
Active from 1955 to 1957, the 1st Training Flight Avengers sported yellow lightning flashes
edged in white. (Photo: Takao Kadokami [Oita airfield, April 1956])
Please note that searches through Japanese-language sources have revealed one or two discrepancies in the dates squadrons were formed or changed bases, and thus all the text entries are subject to change and/or correction. In addition to photographic content, J-HangarSpace will be gradually adding more facts and figures, particularly those gleaned from the unit visits made over the years by the Japanese aviation press.
As with its sister services, the information also covers unit tail markings, which in the case of the patrol squadrons were at one time, prior to the advent of low-visibility schemes, very distinctive.
The main squadron listing is broken down in numerical order by squadron (Fleet Air Squadron) number:
|1st–9th||Four-engine patrol aircraft squadrons, past and present|
|11th–14th||Disbanded squadrons that operated the S2F-1 Tracker|
|21st–25th||Current squadrons, equipped with SH-60J/K patrol helicopters|
|31st||Disbanded squadron that operated the PS-1 patrol flying boat|
|From 51st||Special mission/support squadrons|
|From 101st||Helicopter squadrons, past and present|
|From 201st||Training squadrons, past and present|
Glossary of Principal Terms/Abbreviations
|Air Corps (to Aug. 1961)||—||Kōkūtai||航空隊|
|Air Training Command||—||Kyōikukōkūshūdan||教育航空集団|
|Air Training Group||ATG||Kyōikukōkūgun||教育航空群|
|(Naval) Air Training Squadron||ATS||Kyōikukōkūtai||教育航空隊|
|(Naval) Air Training Wing||ATW||Kyōikukōkūgun||教育航空群|
|Fleet Air Force (from Sept. 1961)||FAF||Kōkūshūdan||航空集団|
|Fleet Air Squadron||FAS||Kōkūtai||航空隊|
|Fleet Air Wing||FAW||Kōkūgun||航空群|
|Maritime Self-Defense Force||MSDF||Kaijōjieitai||海上自衛隊|
|Maritime Staff Office||MSO||Kaijōbakuryōkanbu||海上幕僚監部|
|Self-Defense Fleet HQ||—||Jieikantai||自衛艦隊|
PATROL SQUADRON HISTORIES
A pair of Kawasaki P-1 patrol aircraft from the Atsugi-based 3rd FAS in flight near Mt. Fuji.
Commenced in 2015, the 3rd’s gradual re-equipment from the P-3C as the first operational squadron to
receive the P-1 marks the latest major milestone in the more than 60-year aviation history of the JMSDF.
(Photo: JMSDF/Atsugi AB)
|Formed|| (As Kanoya Kōkūtai)
Dec. 1, 1953 (T-34)
(As 1st Hikōtai, under Kanoya Kōkūtai)
Aug. 5, 1958 (P2V-7)
(As 1st Kōkūtai)
Sept. 1, 1961 (P2V-7, 1st FAW, Kanoya)
|Current Base||Kanoya (1st FAW, P-3C)|
(*) JMSDF units are often designated by U.S. Navy-style role abbreviations, such as VP for patrol squadrons, and bear nicknames derived from their radio call-signs. These are given where applicable.
Initially equipped with the T-34 Mentor for training purposes, what was then the Kanoya Kōkūtai received North American SNJs in the course of 1954 and TBM Avengers in 1955.
This evocative photo of a quartet of SNJ-5 training aircraft assigned to the Kanoya Kōkūtai shows the
hand-me-down nature of the early equipment provided to the fledgling Japanese air arms. Note also
the crudely applied kanji characters for Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force on the
sides of the aircraft. (Photo: Takao Kadokami [Oita airport, Jan. 17, 1958])
Redesignated as the 1st Hikōtai (Squadron) under the Kanoya Kōkūtai (Air Corps) in 1958, following the receipt of its eight P2V-7 Neptunes from the United States, the 1st gained Fleet Air Squadron status with the reorganization that came into effect on September 1, 1961.
The arrival of factory-fresh P2V-7 Neptunes from 1956 represented a quantum leap for the JMSDF in
terms of its equipment and capability. Undergoing checks at Fukuoka airport on September 24th,
1961, this aircraft still carries the markings of the Kanoya Kōkūtai, which had been officially
designated the 1st FAS from the beginning of that month. (Photo: Takao Kadokami)
The 1st FAS provided one of its by now two-tone aircraft for static display at Iwakuni on May 22, 1966.
In 1963, the Hachinohe-based 4th FAW had been the first to add the white upper surfaces to the
standard overall dark seaplane grey scheme, and this was gradually applied to the aircraft
of other units as they went through their overhaul cycles. (Photo: Takao Kadokami)
Having relinquished the last of its P2V-7s on February 27, 1971, the 1st was aptly enough the first to be re-equipped with the domestically produced P-2J Turbo-Neptune variant.
A 1st FAS P-2J Turbo-Neptune about to touch down at Kanoya in early March 1980. The P-2J
fleet retained the two-tone colour scheme of its predecessor. (Photo: Takao Kadokami)
Conversion onto the P-3C was commenced July 10, 1989, and the last P-2J mission flown in the following December.
From 1984, the unit also operated a Beech B-65 as a liaison aircraft, which was replaced by an LC-90 in 1991. Being somewhat smaller than that of the P-3C, the latter was devoid of the full unit marking and carried only the number “1”, as had the two Neptune variants.
The 1st FAS’s then newly added Beechcraft B-65 liaison aircraft in front of a hangar at Kanoya in April
1984. In typically good condition even after by then 20 years in JMSDF service, the aircraft was finished
in the standard red-and-white training colour scheme, with dayglo-orange areas on its nose, wingtips
and tail as well as a black cheat line on the engine cowlings. “6709” ended its days in a village park
up in Aomori Prefecture, from where it had been removed by 2009. (Photo: Takao Kadokami)
In 1985, the unit had achieved the milestone of 80,000 accident-free flying hours since its formation. At the time of its participation in the 32nd joint training exercise with the U.S. Navy in 1997, the 1st had notched up 18 appearances dating back to its P2V-7 era.
Media reports in the mid-1990s made mention of its accident-free track record and that the unit was primarily active in the Kyushu area, conducting training and working to improve anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities.
The 1st remained as the surviving unit, comprising the 11th and 12th flights, following the organizational change that resulted in its merger with the 7th FAS on March 26, 2008.
On June 2, 2010, two of the unit’s aircraft were sent to Djibouti on the JMSDF’s fourth Deployment Air Force for Counter-Piracy Enforcement (DAPE) mission as part of international efforts against Somalia-based pirates operating in the waters off the Horn of Africa. The 1st is planned to once again provide air support, for the seventh time, on the 26th deployment from February 2017.
1st FAS Tail Markings
Used to transport personnel who would provide assistance in making airworthy its grounded sister
aircraft, depicted in the earlier photo, this PV-2D also carries the Kanoya Kōkūtai tail marking that
was typical of that period in JMSDF history. (Photo: Takao Kadokami [Oita airport, Aug. 24, 1957])
(P2V-7) Natural metal-finished aircraft in the Kanoya Kōkūtai era bore the Kanoya base identifier カ (‘KA’) ahead of a hyphen and the serial number on the tail fin. On later aircraft, which were initially painted dark silver-grey overall, this was removed in favour of a simple number “1” from 1961.
(P-2J) Retaining just the small white number “1” on the tail, the 1st FAS was the only P-2J unit that did not follow the trend of adding a colourful design to the tails of its aircraft. Taken from a Japanese-language website, this colour image [link] shows an aircraft on approach to Gifu in December 1986.
Photographed in November 1994 from a vantage point overlooking the ramp at Kanoya, this fine
lineup of P-3Cs of the 1st FAS shows their then distinctive Sakurajima tail marking to good effect.
Note, however, that the seemingly dark-coloured right side of the design is caused by the
positioning of the aircraft’s rudders. (Photo: Rob Schleiffert via Wikimedia Commons)
(P-3C) As shown above, a combination of Sakurajima, the active volcano that is a prominent local landmark in Kagoshima Prefecture, in orange with the number “1” appearing in what resembles a dark green ribbon-like plume of smoke and volcanic lava. Reverted to just the number “1” when the JMSDF began progressively removing all flamboyant tail markings from 2002 (photo below).
A formation of 1st FAS P-3Cs flies across Kinko Bay, Kagoshima Prefecture, with the real
Sakurajima in the background. (Photo: JMSDF/Kanoya AB)
(As Hachinohe Kōkūtai)
(As 2nd Kōkūtai)
|Current Base||Hachinohe (2nd FAW, P-3C)|
(**) The name of a Norse god, adopted in 2008.
In the time-honoured fashion, the members of the newly formed 2nd Hikōtai had their photo taken to
record for posterity the unit’s formation on August 5, 1958. (Photo: JMSDF/Hachinohe AB)
What had started service life in the spring of 1957 as the Avenger-equipped Hachinohe Kōkūtai worked up on the P2V-7 Neptune in 1958 and was declared operational as the 2nd Hikōtai under the Hachinohe Kōkūtai on August 5 that year.
Three years later, the newly established 2nd Kōkūtai (Fleet Air Squadron, FAS) was assigned to the 2nd Fleet Air Wing (FAW) with effect from September 1, 1961.
Progressively upgrading its ASW capabilities, the 2nd FAS began receiving its quota of Kawasaki P-2J Turbo-Neptunes on April 28, 1971, and its first three P-3C Orions July 20, 1985.
A formation of 2nd FAS P-2J Turbo-Neptunes airborne from Hachinohe (Photo: JMSDF)
A solitary 2nd FAS P-3C patrols the ice floes off Hokkaido. (Photo: JMSDF/Hachinohe AB)
From November 13, 1975, the unit also operated a B-65 liaison aircraft, but this was withdrawn from use and replaced by an LC-90 on August 1, 1990. The LC-90 remained on strength until April 1995.
The 2nd FAS has been tasked with patrolling the seas off Hokkaido and the Tohoku region in northeastern Japan. Since 1957, the former operations have included the environmental monitoring of the ice floes in the Sea of Okhotsk from the end of December to mid-May on what are termed Mike Flight patrols.
The 2nd FAS remained as the surviving unit, now comprising the 21st and 22nd flights, following the organizational change that resulted in its merger with its former neighbor at Hachinohe, the 4th FAS, on March 26, 2008.
Bilateral training exercises have been occurring with increasing frequency among the maritime patrol/ASW community in recent years. In the case of the 2nd FAS, the unit has hosted and trained with P-3C crews from the U.S. Navy’s VP-8 during their 2004–2005 full deployment to Japan and summer 2012 visit. The latter included communications and Expendable Mobile Anti-Submarine Training Target (EMATT) exercises.
The P-3C crews from VP-8, U.S. Navy (left) and the 2nd FAS (VP-2), JMSDF, line up in front of their
counterpart’s aircraft at the end of a training exercise held at Hachinohe in August 2012.
(Photo: U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Pedro Rodriguez, Naval Air Facility Misawa)
Like its sister units, the 2nd has undertaken its share of the four-month anti-piracy rotations to Djibouti. Having made its in-theatre debut in February 2010, its seventh detachment is planned to end in February 2017.
On December 17, 2016, SDF personnel stand in front of a 2nd FAS P-3C to mark the 1,700th anti-piracy
mission conducted from Djibouti International Airport. (Photo: Japan Ministry of Defense/JMSDF)
2nd FAS Tail Markings
(P2V-7) Aircraft in the Hachinohe Kōkūtai era bore the Hachinohe base identifier ハ (‘HA’) ahead of a hyphen and the serial number on the tail fin. Later, they merely bore a white number “2” on their tails.
(P-2J) A chevron-shaped stylized representation of the unit’s U.S. Navy-style squadron number VP-2, read from top to bottom, in red on a white background.
A close-up of the marking, albeit on a detailed scale model of a P-2J, can be found here [link].
(P-3C) A golden trident, the three-pronged fisherman’s spear held by the Greek god Poseidon—the squadron’s radio call-sign—on a blue diagonal band with a small white disc containing the number “2” (for 2nd FAS) in red on the trident’s middle prong. Diagonal stripes at the top of the fin were painted in the same colours, gold above blue.
This design resulted from a call for submissions from squadron members to mark the achievement, on October 22, 1981, of 110,000 mishap-free flying hours; the 200,000 hours milestone was passed on November 29, 1995.
Just the number “2”, this time in black, has remained since the JMSDF began progressively removing all flamboyant tail markings from 2002.
|Formed||Sept. 1, 1962 (P2V-7, 4th FAW, Shimofusa)|
|Current Base||Atsugi (4th FAW, P-1 [31st Flight], P-3C [32nd Flight])|
This fine operational shot shows maintenance personnel working on two of the 3rd FAS’s P2V-7s at what
in earlier times would have been a dispersal point for IJNAF aircraft. The aircraft to the right was to be
tragically lost in an accident soon after, crashing into the sea on approach to Iwo To on April 27, 1973,
with the loss of eight lives. The box in between the aircraft is storage of some kind; the writing on that
and the sign is difficult to make out. The bins provide places to drop items and thus prevent foreign
object damage. (Photo: Takao Kadokami [Kanoya, April 8, 1973])
Newly formed at Shimofusa, Chiba Prefecture, the 3rd FAS was thus the first JMSDF long-range ASW squadron in the Tokyo area with responsibilities to cover operations over the Pacific. Following the return of part of the Atsugi base in Kanagawa Prefecture to Japanese control in June 1971, the 3rd FAS moved its P2V-7s across to the other side of the capital to take up residence at what was deemed a more suitable residence on Christmas Day 1973 and has remained there ever since.
A 3rd Sqn P-2J comes into land at Atsugi in January 1983. Receiving a total of 83 of the type, the
JMSDF maintained an unblemished safety record in the 25 years of P-2J operations.
(Photo: Takao Kadokami)
Following the familiar pattern, the 3rd began receiving P-2Js on July 6, 1974, and was fully re-equipped during the course of 1975–76.
The conversion to the P-3C was equally protracted, the 3rd reaching operational status on May 10, 1984, a year later than planned as priority was given to its newly forming sister unit under the 4th FAW at Atsugi, the 6th FAS.
The 3rd FAS continued as the surviving two-flight entity following the merger of the two Atsugi-based squadrons on March 26, 2008, and in 2015 became the first operational squadron to receive the Kawasaki P-1.
In addition to its standard operational patrols over the Pacific dictated by its proximity to Tokyo, the 3rd has also taken part in the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) training exercises.
A photo taken at Djibouti International Airport in 2009 records the participation of the 3rd FAS in the
very first anti-piracy flights over the Gulf of Aden, alongside likewise Orion-equipped units from the
United States, Germany and Spain. (Photo: JMSDF/MSO)
In May 2009, the 3rd FAS provided the aviation element in the very first JMSDF deployment to Djibouti as part of international efforts to counter pirates operating in the Gulf of Aden. The unit provided air cover for five of the total of 25 deployments in this ongoing operation, the last ending in February 2015 in time to enable the unit to concentrate on converting from the P-3C to the P-1.
A 3rd FAS P-3C comes home to roost at Atsugi in October 2014. The 3rd began to convert to the P-1 the
following year and was thus excused from the anti-piracy deployments to Djibouti. (Photo: Andy Binks)
The 3rd FAS has already done much to raise the P-1’s profile outside of Japan. One of the two aircraft that attended the Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford in July 2015 was from the 3rd FAS (the other was from the 51st). En route, the aircraft staged through Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia as they crossed both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Aside from the promotional aspect with an eye to an albeit unlikely sale to the Royal Air Force, the pair’s ultimate destination was Djibouti, separate from the planned P-3C detachments, to conduct operational trials under the demanding desert conditions there.
A 3rd FAS P-1 was one of the pair that made their debut at the Royal International Air Tattoo in the
UK en route to Djibouti in July 2015. (Photo: Tim Felce via Wikimedia Commons)
More recently, the 3rd sent two P-1s on a two-week deployment to New Zealand in November 2016, which included participation in an international fleet review marking the 75th anniversary of the Royal New Zealand Navy. The close cooperation practiced in training with the RNZAF Orion squadron was put to the test in unexpected real-life situations in the aftermath of the major earthquake that struck the country’s South Island on November 14. Over the space of four days, personnel from both squadrons were intensely involved in the targeting of relief efforts by conducting damage-assessment flights.
On the ramp at Atsugi, November 9, 2016. 3rd FAS personnel make final preparations prior to departure
on what was to be an unexpectedly eventful goodwill visit to New Zealand by two of their P-1s.
(Photo: JMSDF/Atsugi AB)
3rd FAS Tail Markings
(P2V-7, retained on P-2J) Initially carrying only a small white “3”, the move to Atsugi prompted the adoption of a white-capped orange/red letter “A” that also represents Mt. Fuji and a green stylized letter “t” from Atsugi above a white “3”. The red Mt. Fuji was reportedly inspired by 36 Views of Mount Fuji, the famous series of woodblock prints by the artist Hokusai (1760–1849). Taken from a Japanese-language website, this colour image [link] shows a 3rd FAS aircraft landing at Atsugi in October 1977.
(Early P-3C) The same white-capped red letter “A” and green stylized letter “t” for Atsugi, this time paired with three parallel diagonal blue stripes, edged in yellow, to represent the 3rd FAS. A black number “3” edged in white appeared within the red of the letter “A”.
Atsugi, May 2000
(Later P-3C/P-1) The unit was forced to revert to just a plain, small black number “3” when the JMSDF began progressively removing all flamboyant tail markings from 2002 onwards.
|Formed||Mar. 31, 1963 (P2V-7, 2nd FAW, Hachinohe)|
|Disbanded|| Following merger with 2nd FAS, Mar.26, 2008
A Pictorial History of 4th FAS
The 4th FAS formed with nine P2V-7s in the spring of 1963. This photo shows two close six-aircraft
formations from Hachinohe’s 4th FAW in the 70s. That nearest the camera is made from the 4th FAS,
that farthest away is from its sister unit, the 2nd FAS. (Photo: JMSDF/Hachinohe AB)
The unit’s eagle tail marking can be seen more clearly on this shot of a P2V-7 landing at
Atsugi in January 1976. (Photo: JMSDF/Hachinohe AB)
Following the standard re-equipment sequence, the 4th FAS traded in its P2V-7s and worked up on the
P-2J Turbo-Neptune in 1978–80. Yet to have its eagle marking applied, this example was
spotted away from its Hachinohe lair at Iwakuni in May 1987. (Photo: Takao Kadokami)
The differences between the two versions of the 4th FAS tail marking can be seen on this P-2J and P-3C
on ice floe patrol. The 4th received its first P-3C on August 15, 1986, and for a time
operated both types. (Photo: JMSDF/Hachinohe AB)
This 4th FAS P-3C was delivered to the JMSDF in October 1993. The 4th itself passed into history when
merged with the 2nd FAS in March 2008. (Photo: JMSDF/Hachinohe AB)
Two against Nature (Photo: JMSDF/Hachinohe AB)
4th FAS Tail Markings
(P2V-7/P-2J) Having initially followed the standard practice of applying a small white “4” to the tail of its P2V-7s, the 4th FAS added a white Steller’s sea eagle marking, taken from the squadron badge, above a yellow “4” from 1971.
A close-up of the marking, albeit on a detailed scale model of a P-2J, can be found here [link].
(P-3C) A large yellow “4” this time surrounded by a black eagle’s head and wings.
|Formed|| (As Okinawa Kōkūtai, under direct FAF command)
Oct. 16, 1973 (P-2J)
(As 5th Kōkūtai)
July 15, 1981 (P-2J, 5th FAW)
|Current Base||Naha (5th FAW, P-3C)|
The Okinawa Kōkūtai was formed in the year after the island’s reversion to Japanese administration on May 15, 1972, and it was then not unusual for the unit’s P-2J Turbo-Neptunes to share hangar space with a JASDF fighter at the tri-service Naha base.
A P-2J bearing the first, simpler version of the 5th FAS’s Pegasus insignia basks in the sun at
Naha in May 1990. (Photo: Takao Kadokami)
The far more decorative Pegasus design developed for the P-3C is emblazoned on the tails of a pair of
5th FAS aircraft at Naha in March 1991. Kawasaki had delivered both of these aircraft to the
JMSDF in 1983. (Photo: Takao Kadokami)
Reorganized and re-designated as the 5th FAS with 11 P-2Js and a Beechcraft B-65 nine years later in 1981, it was July 11, 1990, when the unit was declared fully operational on the P-3C; the P-2J continued to soldier on with the 5th FAW until January the following year.
The morning sun does its best to make up for the lack of colour on a standard-finish 5th FAW P-3C
arriving back at Naha on October 30, 2014. (Photo: Andy Binks)
Since becoming the sole P-3C unit at Naha, following its merger with the 9th FAS in the spring of 2008, the 5th has sent aircraft and personnel to Djibouti on four-month detachments on no less than seven occasions, the most recent being from July to November 2016. These operations form part of international efforts to counter pirates operating in the Gulf of Aden.
From March to April 2014, two 5th FAS aircraft and their support team personnel participated in operations off Malaysia and Australia as part of the ultimately unsuccessful efforts made to locate the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370.
Snapshots of 5th FAS Operations
During a joint exercise held in mid-November 2007, a 5th FAS P-3C overflies the then Japan-based
aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk in the Philippine Sea.
(Photo: U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Juan Antoine King
via Wikimedia Commons)
A 5th FAS P-3C Orion stands parked next to two of its Royal Canadian Air Force CP-140 Aurora
cousins on the ramp at Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, during the multinational
Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise in July 2010. Held biennially, the exercise is designed to
strengthen regional partnerships and improve interoperability.
(Photo: U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Meagan E. Klein
via Wikimedia Commons)
Djibouti International Airport, August 20, 2016. During its seventh and latest four-month anti-piracy
detachment, the 5th FAS marked becoming the JMSDF patrol squadron that had photographed and
identified the 180,000th vessel during the course of operations that date back to May 2009. Such is
the volume of maritime traffic passing through the JMSDF’s area of responsibility, the 2nd FAS had
reached the 170,000-vessel milestone only four months earlier, on April 22.
(Photo: Japan Ministry of Defense/JMSDF)
Members of a 5th FAS P-3C crew “at the office” during anti-piracy operations from Djibouti in September 2016. (Clockwise from top left): Engine start; pilot in command at the controls; ship identification photography building up a picture of vessels navigating the area.
(Photos: Japan Ministry of Defense/JMSDF)
5th FAS Tail Markings
(P-2J 1975–90) The unit had adopted a white-outlined Pegasus—the winged stallion of Greek mythology that also happened to be its radio call-sign—as its marking while still the Okinawa Kōkūtai in 1975. The design subsequently appeared over a white number “5”, in place of the previous ナ (‘NA’) for Naha, following its re-designation as the 5th FAS.
(P-3C 1990–2002) Surviving the change of aircraft type, the Pegasus design was enlarged, made more elaborate and its colour changed from white to blue.
(P-3C 2002 to date) The unit was forced to revert to just a small black number “5” when the JMSDF began progressively removing all flamboyant tail markings from 2002 onwards.
A collection of 5th FAS P-3C photos can be found on this Japanese-language website [link].
|Formed||May 1, 1957 (S2F-1, Kanoya)|
|Renumbered||21st Hikōtai, Apr. 1, 1958|
(J-HangarSpace is searching for details of this short-lived Tracker unit, which formed with the first six aircraft delivered to the JMSDF at Kanoya 60 years ago.)
|Formed||Mar. 30, 1983 (P-3C, 4th FAW, Atsugi)|
|Disbanded|| Following merger with 3rd FAS, Mar. 26, 2008
Imported from the United States, the first three JMSDF Lockheed P-3C Orion’s arrived at Atsugi for initial testing and evaluation by the 51st FAS on Christmas Day 1981. The JMSDF’s first dedicated P-3C squadron, the 6th FAS was officially formed at a ceremony held at the same base on March 30, 1983, to assume responsibility for the operational testing of the type while licence production by Kawasaki gained momentum. From the outset, the unit was pulling double duty, having also been placed in charge of crew conversions from the two versions of the Neptune, types that the 6th had itself never operated.
6th FAS aircraft soon became a familiar sight both at home and abroad. Delivered to the JMSDF in
September 1983, this brand-new P-3C was present at the Tsuiki airshow in November 1983,
the year in which the squadron was formed. (Photo: Takao Kadokami)
The 6th was thwarted in its efforts to be allocated Orion as its radio call-sign, as this was apparently already in use. Lucifer thus came to be adopted from its double meaning as the planet Venus when appearing as the morning star—then squadron commander Capt. Okada had likened the unit as a pioneer at the dawn of a new era—and, from an enemy’s viewpoint, as an alternative name for the devil.
Seen departing from Nyutabaru in November 1984, this example unusually carries its U.S. Navy-style
squadron number VP-6 on its rear fuselage. (Photo: Takao Kadokami)
In July 1983, a mere four months after its formation, the 6th deployed to take part in its first joint training with elements of the U.S. Navy. Over the following 15 years, the unit participated in primarily RIMPAC training exercises on nine occasions, and its distinctive tail marking became well-known among the air arms of other nations. To further cement ties with the U.S. Navy, a sister squadron relationship was formed with the likewise Atsugi-based and now disbanded Lockheed S-3B Viking-equipped VS-21 Redtails in September 1991.
On April 7, 1997, the 6th FAS held a ceremony to mark 80,000 accident-free flying hours; the 90,000-hour milestone was achieved in March 1999.
A 6th FAS P-3C formates with one operated by U.S. Navy Patrol Squadron VP-4 Skinny Dragons over
the ocean off Hawaii during the RIMPAC exercise held in mid-July 1998.
(Photo: U.S. Navy/PH1(NAC) Spike Call)
Delivered in June 1985, P-3C is seen taxying at its Atsugi home base in May 2002. This aircraft is now
used as an instructional airframe at the JMSDF’s 3rd Service School (3MSS) at
Shimofusa AB near Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture.
In 2003, the 6th’s parent 4th FAW held a ceremony commemorating the 20th anniversary of the P-3C’s entry into service. In contrast, with Kawasaki having delivered its final P-3C in September 1997, the ninth and final unit to form, the 209th, had notched up only a decade of service in July that year.
Despite its place in JMSDF history, however, the 6th lost out to the 3rd FAS on March 26, 2008, following the decision to change from two patrol squadrons sharing a base to a single, two-flight squadron.
6th FAS Tail Markings
As the first JMSDF Orion squadron, the 6th also pioneered the JMSDF’s adoption of the type of flamboyant tail marking then in vogue in the U.S. Navy and thus heavily influenced its sister units that followed. Aptly enough. the chosen design was a stylized representation of the Orion constellation, which resembled a blue charging warrior holding a shield and a sword (with 12 yellow stars), on a yellow-edged, diagonal light blue band. Also incorporated into the design was a black “6” with the “hole” coloured yellow.
Naturally, the unit was forced to town this down to just a small black number “6” when the JMSDF began progressively removing all such tail markings from 2002 onwards.
|Formed||Dec. 1, 1987 (P-2J, 1st FAW, Kanoya)|
|Disbanded|| Following merger with 1st FAS, Mar. 26. 2008
A 7th FAS pilot runs up his P-2J’s engines prior to departure from Kanoya in May 1991. At the end of its
service career, this aircraft was passed to the JMSDF Aviation Museum adjacent to the active base.
Not an option on the Orion, the Neptune’s glazed nose was popular among crew members as the
perfect place to take a bentō box for an in-flight meal break.
(Photo: Takao Kadokami)
Having become the final P-2J unit to form in 1987, at a time when they were already a dying breed, the 7th was the last to operate the type.
On October 11, 1992, a formation of four aircraft from the unit took part in the fleet review held in Sagami Bay, Tokyo, commemorating the 40th anniversary of the founding of the JMSDF. (Rather than the founding of the Self-Defense Force elements in July 1954, the JMSDF regards the founding of the Maritime Guard in April 1952 as its starting point.)
An eyewitness account of that event comes from the unlikely source of the notes that accompanied a set of metal scale models, produced by a Japanese company, which depicted all four of the aircraft involved in that flight [link]. Summarized below, the notes were written by Capt. Yūichi Azuma, the unit’s third commander, who was that day piloting “4783”, the last P-2J built. He had joined the 7th around 18 months before, in the spring of 1991, when the unit was down to seven aircraft and six crews, and conversion to the P-3C was already under way at the time the flight took place.
The weather was fine, but the pronounced swaying of the masts of the minesweepers marking the route gave away the extent of the high swell.
After completing our part in the initial flypast, we held over Hatsushima [the closest island to Tokyo, off Shizuoka Prefecture] and at the appointed time headed back to provide the finale to the day’s flight demonstrations. I brought the aircraft down to about 200 feet and aimed for the destroyer Shirane, which had Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa [1919–2007] on board. Soon after, we caught up with the review fleet heading eastward in line astern formation, and I ordered the bomb bay doors open.
Lining up 150 yards off the port side of the Shirane, I pushed the bomb release button, illuminating the “armed” light on the instrument panel. As per standard procedures, the light flashed four times, and the weapons officer reported the successful drop of four depth charges and confirmed the normal operation of the bomb bay doors. Set to explode at a depth of 150 meters, the four depth charges caused four tremendous columns of water to rise up into the air. Thinking “That’s another P-2J mission completed,” I closed the bomb bay doors and gained altitude.
The 7th had received its first P-3C in July 1992, and the unit continued to operate both types over a period of three years before P-2J operations finally came to an end in 1994 (see End of the P-2J Era below).Taken from a Japanese-language website, this colour image [link] from circa 1993 shows a formation of three P-2Js and leading five P-3Cs, with 16 disused P-2Js visible below them on Kanoya airfield.
Azuma takes up the story: In the case of other squadrons, every P-2J had been replaced by a P-3C in less than six months, but in our case we had to operate both types for the best part of three years. I had hurriedly retrained on the P-2J [prior to joining the 7th]. For the previous six years I had only worked on the P-3C and thus spent a while away from the P-2J, but its balanced flying characteristics helped me get back into P-2J mode. Compared with the P-3C’s hydraulically assisted flight controls and digitally controlled autopilot, I derived immense pleasure from having to make use of my own muscles to move the P-2J’s three-part rudder for both takeoff and landing while smelling the grass and occasional volcanic ash [from Sakurajima in Kagoshima Bay] at the airfield.
[J-HangarSpace plans to add other pilot perspectives to its squadron history coverage when time permits.]
Participating twice in joint training with U.S. Navy units, the 7th FAS was more often called upon to mount disaster prevention and relief operations. In the case of the former, aircraft were even used for cloud seeding in a bid to resolve water shortages in the summer period.
The squadron ceased to exist following the organizational change that led to its merger with what became the two-flight 1st FAS on March 26, 2008.
A 7th FAS P-3C is edged forward to line up for takeoff from Kanoya in November 1994. This particular aircraft was later modified to OP-3C intelligence-gathering standard for service with the 81st FAS at Iwakuni. (Photo: Rob Schleiffert via Wikimedia Commons)
End of the P-2J Era
On June 5, 1994, it fell to the final P-2J unit to bring the final curtain down on the P-2J’s service career. Centre stage that day at Kanoya was 4783, the last P-2J built that had been part of the four-aircraft formation at the 1992 fleet review described above. Although two other P-Js (4780 and 4782) were present, it was aptly decided that 4783 should be used for the type’s final flight. Open to the public, the day’s events even included a running race that took competitors through the static display.
The crew lines up for speeches after completing the final flight of a P-2J on June 5, 1994. Although the
standard crew complement was 12 members, the final P-2J flight carried 14. (Photo: Takao Kadokami)
As tradition demands, a garland is placed over the nose of the aircraft, its duties completed. Doing the
honours here is probably an official representative from Kawasaki, the aircraft’s manufacturer.
(Photo: Takao Kadokami)
The JMSDF’s 83-aircraft P-2J fleet accumulated a total of 610,000 accident-free flying hours.
Originally delivered on March 14, 1979, 4783 after that day had just one more journey to make—to
be towed across the road to the JMSDF Aviation Museum, where she would be put out to grass and
remains to this day. (Photo: Takao Kadokami)
7th FAS Tail Markings
Another unit that based its unit marking on its radio call-sign, the tails of 7th FAS aircraft were adorned with a design featuring a blue Omega, the last letter of the Greek alphabet, as befitted the last squadron to be equipped with the P-2J. Aptly, the shape of Ω lent itself well to design alterations to incorporate the shapes of the Satsuma and Osumi peninsulas on either side of Kagoshima Bay that make up part of the squadron’s home prefecture. The design also incorporated the seven stars of the Big Dipper (or Plough) cluster in yellow to denote the 7th FAS.
The tail marking of the 7th FAS P-2J that graces the Kakamigahara Aviation Museum in September
2014. The aircraft is now in much better condition than the sorry, weather-beaten
aircraft of earlier years.(Photo: “z tanuki” via Wikimedia Commons)
From around 2002 until its deactivation, the unit’s low-visibility aircraft just carried a small “7” in black on their tails.
|Formed||July 30, 1992 (P-3C, 31st FAW, Iwakuni)|
|Disbanded||Mar. 5, 2001 (P-3C, Iwakuni)|
This comparatively short-lived squadron formed with an initial three aircraft in the summer of 1992, as a delayed result of the disbandment of the PS-1 patrol flying boat-equipped 31st FAS in March 1989. Primarily responsible for patrolling the Sea of Japan and the waters to the north of Kyushu, the 8th FAS brought life back to a corner of Iwakuni that had fallen into disuse since the departure of the PS-1s.
Initially, raijin (Japanese for Thor, the god of thunder) was selected as the unit’s radio call sign but dismissed due to the likelihood of its pronunciation leading to misunderstandings.
The 8th immediately set out to catch up with and surpass its seven elder sister squadrons and commenced its primary responsibility of surveillance flights and quick reaction alert operations from April 1, 1994. From that time on, this latecomer unit built up a track record of appearances in training exercises and drills that rivalled those of the other patrol squadrons. Participation included the 30th joint training exercise with the U.S. Navy in 1995 and the winning of a tactical competition held among the JMSDF patrol squadrons in 1996.
As was the case with its sister squadrons, the 8th saw the nature of its maritime operations diversify away from ASW preparedness training to more immediate needs. These included involvement in responses to disputes over exclusive economic zones with neighbouring countries and to the problems of refugees adrift on the high seas.
Closer to home, the 8th was actively involved in the airlifting of emergency relief supplies in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that struck the Kobe area on January 17, 1995. Two years later, in January 1997, the unit played a key role in short-term rescue and oil spill containment and long-term monitoring operations when the Russian tanker Nakhodka broke up in stormy weather off the coast of Shimane Prefecture.
(J-HangarSpace is searching for photos of this apparently camera-shy unit. In the meantime, this photo [link] was taken at the Iwakuni Friendship Day event in May 2000. Featured on a Japanese-language website, another colour image [link] shows an 8th FAS P-3C at the children’s event day held at Iwakuni in August the same year.)
8th FAS Tail Markings
Seen in this admittedly poor quality image [link], the 8th’s tail marking took the overall form of a lightning flash to form a link with its radio call-sign, Thunder. To meet the requirement that the design be related to Iwakuni, the yellow-edged blue flash was made in the shape of the first two letters ‘IW’ of the city’s name. The white disc, which was actually intended to represent the thunder god Thor’s drum, contained the number ‘8’.
|Formed||July 30, 1993 (P-3C, 5th FAW. Naha)|
|Disbanded|| Following merger with 5th FAS, Mar. 26, 2008
The final of the original nine P-3C units to form, after a three-year gap the 9th FAS formed with its initial three aircraft in July 1993.
The 9th FAS provided one of its P-3Cs for display at the Nyutabaru airshow held in November 2000.
This [link] to a Japanese-language website shows the aircraft departing the event.
By the time the first unit, the 6th, was marking 20 years of Orion operations in 2003, the 9th had notched up only a decade of service.
The second P-3C unit to form at Naha, the 9th was disbanded five years later, in March 2008, following the reorganization that resulted in the unit merging with its sister squadron, the 5th FAS.
During its service career, the 9th was very much in the frontline of geopolitical disputes, such as those concerning the allegedly oil-rich, Japan-controlled but uninhabited Senkaku (or Pinnacle) Islands, known as Diaoyutai to the Chinese, and in the monitoring of incursions into Japanese airspace.
9th FAS Tail markings
Depicting a god said to protect the Ryukyu Islands of which Okinawa is a part, the 9th’s aircraft bore an ornate hinomaru (Japanese national flag) red dragon and a small black ‘9’ on their tails.
(A unique opportunity to see all the tail markings of the P-3C units then operational was provided by the Shimofusa Open Day in May 2001. Taken at the event, other photos of the tail markings described above are to be found at this Japanese-language web page [link].)
|Formed|| (As 11th Hikōtai)
Sept. 1958 (split from 21st Hikōtai,
under Tokushima Kōkūtai, S2F-1)
(As 11th Kōkūtai)
Sept. 1, 1961 (S2F-1, 3rd FAW, Tokushima)
|Disbanded||Mar. 30, 1984 (S2F-1, 1st FAW, Kanoya)|
Having come into being from the splitting up of the 21st Hikōtai, the 11th Hikōtai kept the same number when upgraded to kōkūtai status on Sept. 1, 1961.
A black day in the squadron’s history came on January 16, 1967, when a Tracker was involved in a collision with a 101st FAS HSS-2 Sea King off Tokushima, resulting in the loss of 10 lives.
The 11th was transferred and operated under 1st FAW command from Kanoya from March 1, 1973 up until it became the last JMSDF Tracker squadron to disband, in March 1984.
11th Fleet Air Squadron Tracker Photo Album
(All Photos: Takao Kadokami)
The pilot of an 11th FAS Tracker has lowered the radome of the aircraft’s AN/APS-38 search radar and
extended its AN/ASQ-8 magnetic anomaly detection (MAD) boom for the benefit of spectators at Ozuki
in May 1981. The 60-aircraft JMSDF Tracker fleet was second only in size to that of the U.S. Navy, but
this example is today one of only two that remain in Japan
(at the JMSDF Aviation Museum opposite Kanoya AB).
An 11th FAS Tracker comes in over the runway threshold at Omura in May 1981.
The 11th’s nickname was Acorns, from its local flight radio call-sign.
JMSDF Trackers were delivered in a simple Light Gull Grey and Insignia White colour scheme, but the
grey was later changed to a much darker tone, as evidenced by this example photographed
against a hangar at Kanoya in March 1980.
With its wings folded, a Tracker rests on display at Ozuki in May 1980. A key factor in Grumman’s
winning of the design competition that resulted in the Tracker, the wing-fold mechanism was very
complex and required particular attention during maintenance. The 11th FAS and its sister units
made extensive use of this feature when shoehorning aircraft into hangars,
which took on the appearance of U.S. Navy carrier hangar decks.
The pilot of 4118 extends the aircraft’s wings prior to departure from Nyutabaru in November 1977.
In typical “squatting on its haunches” pose, a Tracker trundles along a taxiway
at Kanoya in March 1980.
On a wet day at Kanoya AB in March 1982, a pilot carefully brings his aircraft to a halt on the apron.
The braking action of the early model S2F-1 reportedly required firm, decisive inputs
on the part of the pilot.
Sadly, the JMSDF did not pioneer the example set later by other air forces and civil operators—or take
note of Kawasaki’s decision to go ahead with its own P-2J Turbo-Neptune development—by converting
its many stored Trackers to turboprop power. This was the scene at Kanoya’s dump in April 1978, where
several Trackers were awaiting shipment and transfer to the U.S. civil register.
(Please refer to the Where Are They Now? page of this website [link] for the reportedly
current whereabouts of the nearest aircraft, 4108.)
The Kanoya-based 11th also flew a T-34A Mentor in the liaison role. It was with this aircraft type that
the then pre-JMSDF Kanoya Kōkūtai commenced training in December 1953; this aircraft was
that assigned to the 11th in March 1975.
|Formed|| (As 12th Hikōtai)
Sept. 1958 (split from 21st Hikōtai,
(As 12th Kōkūtai)
Sept. 1, 1961 (S2F-1, 3rd FAW, Tokushima)
|Disbanded||Mar. 1, 1973 (S2F-1, 3rd FAW, Tokushima)|
Having come into being from the splitting up of the 21st Hikōtai, the 12th Hikōtai kept the same number when upgraded to kōkūtai status on Sept. 1, 1961.
(Above and below) Two Tokushima-based 12th FAS Trackers seen on visits to Iwakuni in May 1966
(above) and, a year later, in May 1967. The first S2F-1 handed over to the JMSDF, on April 8, 1957,
4102 was mothballed on July 14, 1970, but later returned to service. (Photos: Takao Kadokami)
|Formed|| (As 13th Hikōtai)
May 1959 (Tokushima, S2F-1)
(As 13th Kōkūtai)
Sept. 1, 1961 (S2F-1, 2nd FAW, Hachinohe)
|Disbanded||July 1, 1971 (S2F-1, 2nd FAW, Hachinohe)|
Formed at Tokushima in May 1959, what was then the 13th Hikōtai had already relocated to Hachinohe before the September 1961 reorganization came into effect.
|Formed||Jan. 1960 (Tokushima Kōkūtai, S2F-1)|
|Disbanded||(Became 204th ATS, Sept. 1, 1961)|
Not to be confused with the 14th Kōkūtai, this short-lived squadron fulfilled the role of Tracker operational conversion unit up until the September 1961 reorganization. The 14th Hikōtai was thus the only one of the then four Tracker units not to be upgraded to kōkūtai status, being redesignated as a training unit and allocated a number in the 200 range.
|Formed||Mar. 1963 (Tokushima, S2F-1)|
|Disbanded||July 15, 1981 (S2F-1, 4th FAW, Atsugi)|
An air-to-air study of an S2F-1 from the 14th Kōkūtai, which operated from three bases in the course of
its 18-year history. One of the first delivered to the JMSDF in 1957, 4107 previously served with the
51st FAS and was withdrawn from use in November 1976. One of those sold to the United States for
firebomber conversion in 1978, the aircraft was to have ended its days in Alaska, but apparently
this plan never materialized. (Photo: JMSDF)
Having formed at Tokushima in March 1963, the 14th Kōkūtai was moved over the following two months to Shimofusa, where the 4th FAW had formed in September the previous year.
A 14th Kōkūtai aircraft sits on the tarmac at Ozuki in May 1978. As reported in the May 1983 issue of
the Japanese magazine Aviation Journal, this particular aircraft was rolled out of the Japan Aircraft
Manufacturing (NIPPI) hangar at Atsugi om February 23, 1983, as the last JMSDF Tracker to have
undergone a scheduled overhaul. Interim reworks had dated back to March 1957, and work on the
first overhaul had commenced exactly 23 years before, on February 23, 1960. NIPPI carried out
the overhaul work 280 times and interim reworks 125 times for a cumulative total of 405 aircraft.
(Photo: Takao Kadokami)
On Christmas Day 1973, the squadron moved to Atsugi, where its disbandment came on July 15, 1981.
|Formed|| Apr. 1, 1958
(Renumbered from 6th Hikōtai, S2F-1, Kanoya)
|Disbanded|| Aug. 31, 1961
(11th and 12th kōkūtai officially formed next day)
Renumbered after having existed less than a year as the 6th Hikōtai, the 21st Hikōtai moved to Tokushima in September 1958 and, with Tracker deliveries ongoing, was expanded to eventually allow the simultaneous formation of the 11th and 12th kōkūtai (see 11th and 12th FAS above) on September 1, 1961.
|Formed||Mar. 26, 2008 (SH-60J, 21st FAW, Tateyama)|
|Current Base|| Tateyama (21st FAW, 211th Flight [SH-60J/K];
212th Flight [SH-60K])
A 21st FAS SH-60J speeds across a stretch of ocean in October 2011. (Photo: JMSDF/21st Kōkūtai)
On March 26, 2008, the disbandment of the squadrons with three-digit unit numbers gave rise to two-flight patrol helicopter squadrons with two-digit numbers, bringing them more into line with the numbers of their respective air wings, albeit not as closely as in the case of the fixed-wing patrol squadrons.
In Tateyama’s case, the 101st, 121st and 123rd FAS simply became the 21st FAS under the 21st FAW.
Six helicopters from the 21st FAS head the line of Tateyama-based aircraft preparing to depart on the
first training flights of the New Year on the morning of January 7, 2014. (Photo: JMSDF/21st Kōkūtai)
A pair of 21st FAS SH-60Ks lifting off from Tateyama in October 2013. Like all units numbered in
the 20s range, the 21st’s only identifying mark is a small black squadron number on the tail.
There appear to be no markings to differentiate between aircraft assigned to the 211th and
221st helicopter patrol squadrons that comprise this fleet air squadron.
|Formed||Mar. 26, 2008 (SH-60J/K, 22nd FAW, Omura)|
|Current Base|| Omura (22nd FAW, 221st/222nd Flight [SH-60K];
223rd Flight [SH-60J])
The 22nd FAS was formed by merging the former 122nd, 124th and Omura kōkūtai in March 2008.
Hajimemashite! Factory-fresh SH-60K 8448 after landing at Omura for the first time on March 1,
2016. Reportedly gleaming and smelling like a new car upon its arrival, the aircraft underwent
the standard welcome ceremony, which included having its nose carefully anointed with
sake amid hopes for many years of mishap-free service ahead.
(Photo: JMSDF/Helicopter Patrol Squadron 22)
On the occasion of the unit’s sixth anniversary in March 2014, then commanding officer Capt. Katsushi Oomachi described the 2008 transition to the current organization as the most significant in JMSDF history. Although in 2014 the 22nd and its sister units had only six years of history, their role as “mother” squadrons providing aircraft and crews for highly demanding and specialized shipborne operations dates back to the 1960s. In his message, Oomachi mentioned that, even in the JMSDF, those involved in the rigours of shipborne operations are regarded as an elite. Having evolved into a core element of Japan’s maritime defence, the patrol helicopter units were now undertaking daunting anti-piracy and disaster relief operations far away from their home waters as part of international efforts on a regular and ongoing basis. He felt that, in the years ahead, there would be an increasing need for the 22nd to display its ability to balance attention to detail with rapid responses to any given situation.
Via the profile section on its Japanese-language website [link], Helicopter Patrol Squadron 22—as it officially refers to itself—provides snapshots of the rhythm of life at Omura. Among the regular events recorded are the pilots embarking on and coming to the end of their flying careers as well as the departures of old and the arrivals of new aircraft.
In August 2016, Capt Nishio (holding bouquet) made his last flight prior to reassignment after a year
as 22nd FAS commanding officer. (Photo: JMSDF/Helicopter Patrol Squadron 22)
In December 2016, the time came for Warrant Officer Otsuka, the leader of both the 223rd Flight and
of a line maintenance equipment section, to make his final flight before retirement. Since joining the
JMSDF in 1979, he had accumulated around 5,350 flying hours on all versions of the HSS-2 Sea
King and on both versions of the SH-60. (Photo: JMSDF/ Helicopter Patrol Squadron 22)
There is a rite of passage on a JMSDF squadron known as a “solo” flight for newly qualified aircraft captains, the symbolic meaning of which is of a flight in a helicopter of which they are in sole charge. Tradition dictates that, upon the return from the solo flight, the pilot first report the completion of his first training flight as an aircraft captain to the unit commander. To receive personal congratulations, he then walks along a line of unit personnel and of his peers, two of whom will be waving squadron flags as another pair unceremoniously drench the pilot with water from large buckets; at the end of the line, the duly soaked pilot then bows deeply to the assembled throng. A woman pilot who recently qualified was naturally not excused this tradition. If married, the pilot’s wife will be present and be included in the commemorative group photo; one photo on the website shows one unattached young pilot’s mother decked out in flying gear especially for the occasion.
(Above) A newly qualified SH-60K captain assigned to the 221st Flight, a drenched Petty Officer
3rd Class Tanaka bows to his applauding colleagues after his “solo” flight in June 2016, which was
probably the best time of year to undergo the traditional ceremony associated with this milestone in
his career. The group photo (below) shows him suitably dried out and holding a bouquet of flowers.
(Photos: JMSDF/Helicopter Patrol Squadron 22)
One of the latest in a small select band of women to have qualified as JMSDF pilots, Petty Officer
3rd Class Ide (seated centre, with bouquet) completed her “solo” flight ritual on a 22nd
FAS SH-60K in October 2016. In 2014, Ide had become the first woman to serve as
a pilot at Omura. (Photo: JMSDF/Helicopter Patrol Squadron 22)
As deliveries of the SH-60K continue, the 22nd received two new aircraft over the course of 2016 and bid farewell to a pair of its SH-60Js. As aircraft become due to a return to Mitsubishi’s Nagoya plant for major overhaul, they are normally replaced to maintain unit strength and readiness.
22nd Sqn SH-60J 8277 on the morning of its retirement from squadron service on February 19, 2016.
(Photo: JMSDF/Helicopter Patrol Squadron 22)
(Above) In February 2016, stalwart SH-60J 8277 was approaching the limit of its airframe flying hours
and thus had to be struck off charge. Following the aircraft’s final flight with the squadron, tradition in
this case called for the CO to place a garland on the aircraft’s nose (below), which the pilots on its
last flight then proceeded to anoint with sake from a bottle.
(Photos: JMSDF/Helicopter Patrol Squadron 22)
Another event on the calendar marking the passage of time is the annual aircraft inspection by 22nd Fleet Air Wing staff in December. For this, all eight of the squadron’s assigned aircraft are brought out onto the ramp. One of them is parked precisely within a circle with a maintenance gantry positioned next to its open engine bay for ease of inspection. Alongside assorted safety equipment, the relevant manuals and aircraft tech logs are placed on trestle tables in front of every aircraft.
On the operational front, the 22nd FAS makes a regular commitment to Deployment Air Force for Counter-Piracy Enforcement (DAPE) operations in the Gulf of Aden. The unit provided the two helicopters that operated from two JMSDF destroyers, the Sazanami and the Samidare, on the very first DAPE mission, which ran from March to August 2009. The two-helicopter detachment for the six-month tour of duty on board the Kirisame as part of the 26th DAPE mission in November 2016 was the eighth seconded from the 22nd FAS.
The safe return home of a two-helicopter detachment, at the end of its six-month DAPE tour on
January 11, 2017, provides another perfect photo opp. (Photo: JMSDF/22nd Fleet Air Wing)
Training naturally forms a large part of 22nd FAS flight operations from Omura. Aside from the exercises that you would expect for a unit that operates extensively from and in concert with JMSDF helicopter-capable vessels, time is also allotted to honing the exacting skills required for rescuing injured people on terra firma where a landing is not possible.
Participation in major land-based damage assessment and airlift operations was most recently called for in the aftermath of the series of earthquakes that struck Kumamoto in April 2016. Overseas, the 22nd was one of the JMSDF elements that responded to assist those affected by a typhoon that had caused catastrophic damage on the island of Leyte in the Philippines in November 2013.
(Above and below) Other landmarks in the 22nd FAS’s short history include, in March 2014, being
the first to embark on the destroyer Suzutsuki, itself the first time that the unit had embarked on a
ship that had just entered service. This was one of the two ships from which 22nd FAS helicopters
operated during the DAPE mission that ran from July 2016 to January 2017. Aircraft from the
22nd embarked aboard the helicopter carrier Izumo for the first time in July 2016.
(Photos: JMSDF/Helicopter Patrol Squadron 22)
(Above and below) A 22nd FAS SH-60K helicopter flies in medical supplies to Ford Island, in Pearl
Harbor, Hawaii, during a mass casualty drill as part of Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief
(HA/DR) response training during the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise that was held from
June 26 to August 1, 2014. That year, what is the world’s largest international maritime
exercise involved more than 40 ships, 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel from 22 nations.
(Photos: U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Tiarra Fulgham)
Away from the hustle and bustle of the flight line at Omura or the pitching deck of a JMSDF destroyer in the Gulf of Aden, another ritual performed by 22nd FAS personnel involves tending to two memorials to airmen who fell in the Pacific War. This will be covered on the JMSDF Base Histories page of this website.
A lineup of 22nd FAS helicopters at Omura prior to the first training flight of the year, January 7, 2014.
(Photo: JMSDF/Helicopter Patrol Squadron 22)
(As Maizuru Detachment, SH-60J
(As 23rd FAS)
|Current Base||Maizuru (21st FAW, SH-60K)|
The presence of a pair of SH-60Ks amongst the SH-60Js places this undated photo in around 2010,
possibly on the second anniversary of the 23rd FAS’s formation that March.
(Photo: JMSDF/Helicopter Squadron 23)
A leaflet produced by the 23rd [link] states that the unit initially formed as a detachment under Tateyama-based 21st FAW, at the then newly completed Maizuru air base in March 2001. The detachment went on to participate in the first of five deployments to assist in the anti-terrorism mission in the Indian Ocean in February 2002. Relief operations were undertaken in Japan on two occasions in October 2004, after Typhoon No. 23 had caused the Yuragawa in Kyoto Prefecture to burst its banks and after the Niigata-Chuetsu Earthquake.
The Maizuru Detachment was elevated to kōkūtai status as part of the extensive reorganization of JMSDF helicopter squadrons that came into effect on March 26, 2008.
The 23rd FAS website [link] refers to its sole constituent flying unit today as the 231st Flight Squadron, although J-HangarSpace refers to these squadron sub-elements as flights to avoid confusion. The 23rd fulfills the primary role of provider of helicopters to the JMSDF escort vessel flotillas homeported in Maizuru and Kure and has thus also been heavily committed to Deployment Air Force for Counter-Piracy Enforcement (DAPE) operations in the Gulf of Aden.
(Above) The then officer commanding the 23rd FAS, Captain Taro Yoshida, performs his duties at the
ceremony held for Lieutenant Commander Yoshizawa and the two four-man helicopter crews departing
Maizuru to join the 25th DAPE mission on October 21, 2015. Given a rousing send-off by base
personnel (below), the two helicopters embarked aboard the destroyer Suzunami and left the
port of Ohminato on their six-month deployment two days later.
(Photos: JMSDF Helicopter Squadron 23)
Continuing the responsibilities of its predecessor unit, the 23rd likewise maintains a high degree of
readiness to enable rapid responses to natural disasters and requests to mount search and
rescue (SAR) missions. (Photo: JMSDF Helicopter Squadron 23)
Maizuru Detachment/23rd FAS Involvement in SAR/Disaster Relief Operations
|Apr. 3, 2003||Monitoring of oil slicks from cargo ship Aige that sank after colliding with Japanese trawler off Oki Islands, Shimane Prefecture|
|Oct. 21, 2004||Rescue operations following Typhoon No. 23|
|Oct. 25, 2004||Relief supply operations in aftermath of Niigata-Chuetsu Earthquake|
|Mar. 25, 2007||Damage assessments following Noto Peninsula Earthquake|
|Apr. 15, 2007||Damage assessments following Mie-Chubu Earthquake|
|July 16–24, 2007||Relief supply/damage assessment operations following Niigata-Chuetsu Offshore Earthquake|
|Jan. 23, 2008||Emergency airlift of patient suffering from burns from Maizuru to Kanazawa|
|Feb. 12, 2008||Rescue of fishermen who fell into Maizuru harbour from raft|
|Mar. 3, 2008||Search for fishing vessel in distress off Kyogamisaki, Kyoto Prefecture|
|May 20, 2008||Search for survivors from capsized jet ski|
|Dec. 6–7, 2008||Search for surfer missing off Takahama, Fukui Prefecture|
|July 20–29, 2009||Search for civil helicopter involved in fatal accident in bad weather near Tajima Heliport, Hyogo Prefecture|
|Nov. 2, 2009||Search for fisherman in Fukui harbour|
|Mar. 11–Aug. 31, 2011||SAR/airlift operations following Great East Japan Earthquake|
|Apr. 22–May 4, 2016||Relief operations in response to Kumamoto Earthquake|
(Above) The pilot of a 23rd FAS SH-60K expertly hovers above the helicopter deck of the 4,725-ton
destroyer Suzunami (DD-114) in December 2015. (Below) A 23rd FAS SH-60K appears to be
clinging tightly to the deck of the confusingly and slightly inappropriately named sister ship
Sazanami (meaning “ripple”, DD-113), as she makes her way through choppy seas.
Both vessels have been deployed on anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden.
(Photos: [Above] Japan Ministry of Defense/JMSDF; [Below] JMSDF Helicopter Squadron 23)
When reformed to full kōkūtai status in March 2008, the 23rd was solely equipped with the SH-60J. The first SH-60K was delivered on September 3, 2009, but it was to be March 12, 2015, before the unit ceased to operate the earlier type.
Were there a J-HangarSpace award system, the 23rd FAS website [link] would be a regular gold award contender for the high standard of its photo content. Other SDF units could learn a lot from the high standard of the aforementioned Japanese-language leaflet, too.
(Above) A major public relations event for the 23rd FAS is the Summer Festival open day in late July; in
2016, the event attracted 3,568 visitors, a new record. “At Home” days, such as that in March 2015
(below), are organized to allow the families of unit personnel to gain more insight into squadron
operations and socialize over the special Maizuru version of Navy curry, a JMSDF base staple.
(Photos: JMSDF Helicopter Squadron 23)
(Above) At the start of every year, both the 23rd FAS commanding officer and, as here, the
commanding officer of the 231st Flight colour in first the right and then the left eye of a daruma
doll while making a wish. A big-eyed and thus “all-seeing” daruma doll—this customized example
even bears the inscription “23rd Air Squadron”—is thought to act as a powerful talisman. Along with
a visit to a nearby shrine, the daruma doll tradition forms part of the unit’s New Year rituals designed to
safeguard the lives of all squadron personnel during and long after the first formation training flight
of the year, which is conducted soon after. The photo below shows Commander Saito of the
231st Flight addressing the squadron prior to the first three-aircraft training flight of 2015.
(Photos: JMSDF Helicopter Squadron 23)
A tranquil shot of a 23rd FAS SH-60K parked on the apron at Maizuru in late November 2014. Located
in a picturesque setting on a spit of land on Maizuru Bay, the base is surrounded by hills and on three
sides by sea, which accounts for the mist that can be seen rising in the background. As a result of its
exposed location, the squadron regularly practices moving its personnel and aircraft to safety as
part of its tsunami response training (below). (Photos: JMSDF Helicopter Squadron 23)
As is customary for an aircraft returning from an extended over-water flight, a 23rd FAS SH-60J
passes over what the JMSDF terms a water rack built into a taxiway. What could be seen as
a Shinto purification ritual is actually intended to remove any salt deposits and thereby
inhibit corrosion. The 23rd phased out the last of its SH-60Js in March 2015.
(Photo: JMSDF Helicopter Squadron 23)
As seen in the above photo, taken in earlier, higher visibility times, 23rd FAS aircraft did on occasion
sport the squadron emblem (below), which comprises a crane, a symbolic bird in Japan, in a stylized
representation of the number “23”. Incorporating the kanji for crane in its name, the city of Maizuru
grew close to the site of Tanabe Castle, which is also known locally as Bukaku (Crane) Castle.
The background design evokes Kyoto and Maizuru.
(Photo and image: JMSDF Helicopter Squadron 23)
|Formed||Mar. 26, 2008 (SH-60J, 22nd FAW, Komatsushima)|
|Current Base||Komatsushima (22nd FAW, SH-60J)|
Airborne on their first training flight of the year, on January 5, 2017, a pair of 24th FAS SH-60Js
passes over a section of the Seto Ohashi (Great Seto Bridge), the major landmark in their area that
connects Japan’s mainland islands of Honshu and Shikoku. (Photo: JMSDF Helicopter Squadron 24)
The 24th FAS replaced the Komatsushima Kōkūtai that had been present at the Tokushima Prefecture base since March 1965 and under the command of the Kure Naval District since December 1985.
Since then reporting to the 22nd Fleet Air Wing at Omura, the 24th FAS still flies the SH-60J, having received the first of the type on August 29, 2001, during its time as the Komatsushima Kōkūtai.
A 24th FAS pilot holds his aircraft at the hover during sonar “dunking” training.
(Photo: JMSDF Helicopter Squadron 24)
The August 4, 2012, issue of the local newspaper, the Tokushima Shimbun, ran an interview with Captain Kei Imai [link]. Having previously commanded the 73rd FAS, he had taken up his post at the beginning of that month and was to remain until the end of November 2014.
Born in Takatsuki, Osaka Prefecture, Imai had harboured dreams of becoming a pilot, but his high school teacher father had persuaded him to follow in his footsteps and enroll at Kyoto University of Education. His change of course had been prompted by coming across an SDF pilot recruitment leaflet when ostensibly hunting for a teaching position. As a trainee pilot, he had attended the JMSDF course further north along the coast at Tokushima air base in 1987, as a line pilot he had been deployed overseas and participated in the international RIMPAC training exercise.
On March 11, 2011, near the end of his more than two years as chief of staff at 21st Fleet Air Wing headquarters in Tateyama, Chiba Prefecture, he was instrumental in expediting the launch of a helicopter on SAR operations from Ohminato in Aomori Prefecture 11 minutes after the Great East Japan Earthquake had struck. He was thus also bringing to the 24th FAS first-hand experience of the need for rapid response and the preparations essential, at both individual and unit levels, to maintaining constant readiness.
Practice makes perfect. Based in a potential earthquake zone and likely to be called on to mount a
maritime rescue operation at a moment’s notice, the 24th FAS conducts regular training flights.
(Photo: JMSDF Helicopter Squadron 24)
The 24th FAS naturally figures prominently in the Nankai Trough earthquake scenario that attempts to put in place contingency plans for a coordinated response to a major natural disaster in the area. In the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake, from March 13 to April 4, 2011, the 24th itself had deployed two of its six helicopters to the Tohoku region to assist in SAR operations and in the airlifting of relief supplies.
In March 2011, a 24th FAS SH-60J squats seal-like on a beach to facilitate the unloading of relief
supplies to an outlying island in Miyagi Prefecture in the aftermath of the tsunami triggered by
the Great East Japan Earthquake. (Photo: JMSDF Helicopter Squadron 24)
Raising and maintaining the unit’s profile in the local community is far from limited to interviews with newly appointed COs published in the local press. Aside from the base open day, community relations activities include performances by members of the unit’s traditional dance troupes at local festivals.
A PR exercise often used by SDF squadrons is to offer air experience flights. For example, to coincide with the Komatsushima port festival in July 2016, the squadron ran a lottery offering members of the public (to be exact, Japanese nationals from elementary school age upwards) the chance to be one of 70 winners of a 15-minute clatter around the vicinity of the air base in an SH-60J. There is always the chance that some future 24th FAS CO will be among those experiencing their first flight in a helicopter.
The executive officer of the USS George Washington looks on as an SH-60J from the 24th FAS prepares
to land in June 2012. JMSDF personnel were visiting the aircraft carrier, at that time under way in the
East China Sea, during a trilateral exercise that also involved elements of the Republic of Korea Navy.
(Photo: U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Brian H. Abel)
As will be noticed from the accompanying photos, 24th FAS aircraft have standard colour schemes differentiated only by the small black squadron number on the tail.
(JMSDF Helicopter Squadron 24)
In 2015, to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of its predecessor, the Komatsushima Kōkūtai, the unit adopted a new squadron emblem (above), which will likely be applied to aircraft for other special events. The design draws on the relationship between Komatsushima and the nobleman and military commander Minamoto no Yoshitsune (1159–89), who landed his forces on the spot where the city now stands during a military campaign. A throwback to the previous squadron marking, the background features a representation of the tidal whirlpools in the nearby Naruto Channel.
|Formed||Mar. 26, 2008 (SH-60J, 21st FAW, Ohminato)|
|Current Base||Ohminato (21st FAW, SH-60J)|
(Photo: JMSDF/Maritime Staff Office [MSO])
The last of the five helicopter squadrons that were newly formed in March 2008, the 25th FAS replaced the independent Ohminato Kōkūtai.
(Photo: JMSDF Helicopter Squadron 25)
Having survived with its sister unit at Omura following the reorganization implemented on September 1, 1961, under which other base kōkūtai were replaced by the Fleet Air Wing system, the 25th’s forerunner had been present at the Aomori base since 1956.
As the most northerly of the JMSDF patrol helicopter squadrons, the
25th is more subject than most to the vagaries of winter weather.
(Photo: JMSDF Helicopter Squadron 25)
Accompanied by UH-60Js from the 73rd FAS, the first of flight of the year traditionally passes over the
JMSDF naval base at Ohminato, to which the 25th provides helicopters for shipborne operations.
The photo (above) was taken on January 8, 2015, that below on January 14, 2017.
(Photos: [above] JMSDF Helicopter Squadron 25; [below] JMSDF/MSO)
The squadron bade farewell to a high-hour SH-60J on March 9, 2016. The event was recorded for
posterity with a photo (above) taken prior to the ritual of sake being poured over the nose of the
aircraft and (below) of a commemorative gathering of squadron personnel.
(Photos: JMSDF Helicopter Squadron 25)
|Formed||Mar. 1, 1973 (PS-1/T-34, 31st FAW, Iwakuni)|
|Disbanded||Mar. 17, 1989 (Iwakuni, PS-1)|
A 31st FAS PS-1 gingerly climbs the slipway at the Iwakuni Friendship Day event in May 1988.
(Photo: Takao Kadokami)
Inextricably linked with the operations of the innovative Shin Meiwa (now ShinMaywa) PS-1 ASW flying boat, the 31st Fleet Air Squadron came into being at Iwakuni on the same day as its overseeing 31st Fleet Air Wing. At the time of its formation, the unit had five PS-1s on strength alongside a single T-34 in the communications role.
That day marked the culmination of years of design, development and testing, firstly of the UF-XS technology demonstrator—a converted Grumman UF-1 Albatross—from December 1962, and of the prototype PX-S patrol seaplane, which had first flown on October 29, 1967, and been handed over to the JMSDF at a ceremony at its manufacturer’s Konan Plant in Kobe on August 10, 1968.
As a pure flying boat not designed to land on runways, the PS-1’s introduction necessitated the setting up of specialized operational infrastructure, utilizing the slipways at former wartime bases as alternates. Offshore at Iwakuni, a floating refueling point was installed in case the sea conditions prevented beaching, and three sea lanes marked with buoys located in a triangular pattern to the east of the base to allow the 31st to ply its trade and gradually work up on the new aircraft during the day and, later, at night.
Experienced crews were transferred to the new unit. Seven of them took part in the JMSDF fleet review that took place on the Sea of Japan in the autumn of 1974; for the final appearance in 1983, there were 13.
In 1975, the 31st was involved in the airlifting of personnel from Yokosuka to slipway-equipped Chichijima in the Ogawasara (Bonin) Islands. The following year, the unit also took over the responsibility for any medical flights requiring the airlifting of patients from Chichijima after the JMSDF retired its UF-2s in 1976.
A lineup of late-build PS-1s seen on the 31st FAS ramp at Iwakuni during the type’s heyday in May 1982.
(Photo: Takao Kadokami)
In September 1976, an aircraft was flown on a training mission of nearly 13 hours’ duration and with an additional fuel tank installed in the rear fuselage. The plan was to train for deployments to Guam and Hawaii, but the U. S. Navy ultimately decreed that its facilities at Midway and Hawaii could not as they were support such operations. (J-HangarSpace will include more detailed information on PS-1 operations in its Aircraft Profile section in due course.)
The 31st also received the PS-1s formerly flown for operational testing purposes by the Iwakuni bunkentai (detachment) of the 51st FAS that had formed at Iwakuni on June 26, 1968, but disbanded on March 30, 1983.
(Above and below) The 23rd and last PS-1 built taxying in and approaching the Iwakuni slipway when
in service with the 31st FAS in May 1988. Delivered on November 8, 1979, this aircraft was withdrawn
from use after only nine years’ service on November 22, 1988, six months after these photos were taken.
(Photos: Takao Kadokami)
Whereas the 31st FAW was expanded to have three support squadrons under its command and remains in existence today, its formative front-line squadron was wound up and all PS-1 operations ceased after 16 years in March 1989. Three of the squadron’s former aircraft were still present at the time of the Iwakuni Friendship Day event in May 1990 [link].
Parked at its Iwakuni home base in May 1980, the S2F-C (above) operated by the 31st FAS from around
1978 was replaced by a B-65 in 1982; the latter (below) is seen taxying at JASDF Hofu AB in
August 1985. (Photos: Takao Kadokami)
Withdrawn from use in September 1986, this particular B-65 is now the long-term resident of a park in
the town of Waki, Yamaguchi Prefecture [link].
The nature of PS-1 operations exerted a heavy toll on the fatigue life of the airframes. Also, of the 23 PS-1s built, four were lost in crashes, and two capsized due to the loss of wing floats when on the sea. As shown in the table below, four of these incidents befell the 31st FAS, with the tragic loss of 37 lives.
|31st Fleet Air Squadron PS-1 Accidents|
|Apr. 6. 1977||5808||Badly damaged in heavy sea landing near Iwakuni,
aircraft sank 90 minutes later. (One fatality)
|May 17, 1978||5812||Struck high ground at night at Takaoka,
Kochi Prefecture, with loss of 13 lives
|Apr. 26, 1983||5801||Crashed at end of Iwakuni runway when practising low-speed pass for airshow display routine (10 fatalities)|
|Feb. 27, 1984||5803||Crashed into sea near Aoshima, Ehime Prefecture
Every year, 31st Fleet Air Wing personnel past and present are among those who pay poignant tribute
to the 31st Fleet Air Squadron PS-1 crew members who lost their lives.
(Above) The site of the May 17, 1978, accident (left) at the time of the 2016 memorial service—led by
then 31st FAW commanding officer, Rear Admiral Naoki Sonoda—held on the 38th anniversary in the
town of Yusuhara, Kochi Prefecture.
(Below) On November 16, 2016, a service was held at a monument on the island of Aoshima, located
off Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture, to mark the loss of 5803’s crew. Another ceremony involves the laying
of a wreath from a ship at the location of the February 1984 accident (2015 ceremony shown).
(Photos: JMSDF Iwakuni AB)
Bowing out (Photo: Takao Kadokami [Iwakuni, May 5, 1988])
SUPPORT AND TRAINING SQUADRON HISTORIES
|Formed||Sept. 1, 1961 (P2V-7/S2F-1, 2nd FAW, Hachinohe)|
|Current Base|| Atsugi (511th Flight [P-1/UP-1, P-3C, UP-3C];
513th Flight [SH-60J/K, USH-60K])
The 51st FAS was formed primarily as an aircraft and equipment test and evaluation unit flying six P2V-7s (511th Flight) and six S2F-1s (512th Flight) with the 2nd FAW at Hachinohe in September 1961. Organized into three flights with the 514th Flight and placed under the 4th FAW on March 15, 1963, the squadron moved to Shimofusa early the following month, on April 3, 1963.
The 513th Flight was added in March 1968 to accommodate the arrival of the first helicopters, three Sikorsky HSS-2 Sea Kings and two KV107-IIs. The Tracker-equipped 512th Flight disbanded upon completion of its development work on December 20, 1971.
A bunkentai (detachment) formed at Iwakuni on June 26, 1968, for the operational testing of the PS-1. This disbanded on March 31, 1983, its aircraft being transferred to the 31st FAS. Fortunately, the two PS-1 accidents suffered by the detachment resulted in no loss of life.
(Above) A PS-1 from the 51st FAS Iwakuni Detachment in flight with its magnetic anomaly detection
(MAD) boom extended over its home base in May 1972. This the second aircraft bears the jet black
(originally Insignia Blue) height mark crosses on the forward fuselage and tail carried as
photo reference points during sea testing with the 51st FAS Detachment.
(Below) Likewise marked with crosses, the first PS-1 is seen here in May 1971. 5801 was delivered
to the JMSDF on August 10, 1968, but was destined to be lost with all hands in an
accident at Iwakuni, when assigned to the 31st FAS in April 1983.
(Photos: Takao Kadokami)
|51st FAS Iwakuni Det. PS-1 Accidents|
|Jan. 22, 1976||5805||Out at sea, 50km east of Nobeoka, Miyazaki Pref. Crashed on takeoff, having capsized due to a wingtip float failure. Aircraft towed 200km to Iwakuni|
|Jan. 20, 1978||5811||Badly damaged in heavy sea landing in Kii Channel, capsized and sank while being towed back to Iwakuni|
In October 1976, a 51st FAS P-2J (above) and HSS-2A (below) visited Shimofusa, the unit’s home base
from April 1963 to October 1981. (Photos: Takao Kadokami)
One of the more unusual aircraft flown by the 51st FAS was the Variable Stability Aircraft (VSA), a
Kawasaki-modified P2V-7 that was used to evaluate fly-by-wire technologies from 1978 to 1980.
The aircraft then formed part of the test pilot courses until withdrawn from use in 1982.
(Photo: Takao Kadokami [Iwakuni, May 1978])
Placed under the direct control of the Fleet Air Force from July 29, 1969, the main element of the 51st was relocated to its current base of Atsugi on October 31, 1981. Imported from the United States, the first three JMSDF Lockheed P-3C Orion’s arrived at Atsugi for initial testing and evaluation by the 51st FAS on Christmas Day that same year.
An early-build 51st FAS P-3C landing at Atsugi in January 1983. (Photo: Takao Kadokami)
At the time of a visit by the now defunct Air World magazine in June 1998, the 51st’s flying units comprised the 511th Flight, conducting testing on three Orion variants (P-3C, UP-3C. UP-3D), and the 513th Flight, which at that time flew the HSS-2B Sea King and SH-60J. These flights remain operational and divided between current fixed-wing patrol and helicopter types today.
The 51st has been flight testing production SH-60Js since August 1991.
This example was on strength in October 2014. (Photo: Andy Binks)
The unit will have raised its profile outside Japan following the deployment of one of its P-1s to Djibouti for operational testing via the United States and the Royal International Air Tattoo in the UK in July 2015.
Over the years, the 51st has also been given additional responsibilities, resulting in the formation of more than 30 sections, including those conducting investigational research, providing training guidance and running test pilot courses. From the flight operations standpoint, the unit is naturally called upon to contribute to relief operations when such pressing needs arise, most recently during the disaster relief operations carried out in response to the Kumamoto earthquake in April 2016.
The “last two” of its serial matching its squadron number, a 51st FAS C-130R sits on the ramp at
Iwakuni on April 20, 2016, four days after the Kumamoto Earthquake. Laden with relief supplies,
the aircraft had been flown from Hachinohe to Iwakuni, which served as a logistics hub
during the emergency. (Photo: Japan Ministry of Defense/JMSDF)
|Dates Initial Aircraft Assigned to 51st FAS|
|P2V-7||Sept. 1, 1961||P2V-7 VSA||1978||UP-3C||Oct. 13, 1995|
|S2F-1||Sept. 1, 1961||HSS-2B||Dec. 15, 1979||UP-3D||Mar. 5, 1998|
|P-2J||Nov. 14, 1966||P-3C||Dec. 25, 1981||XSH-60K||June 25, 2002|
|HSS-2||Mar. 16, 1968||UC-90||1983||MCH-101||Mar. 3, 2006|
|KV1-7-II||Mar. 16, 1968||T-5||Aug. 30, 1988||TH-135||Dec. 2009|
|PS-1||June 26, 1968||SH-60B*||(See note)||P-1||Mar. 29, 2013|
|HSS-2A||Aug. 27, 1973||MH-53E||Nov. 30, 1989||C-130R||Nov. 14, 2014|
|OH-6J||1973||SH-60J||Aug. 26, 1991|
|US-1||Mar. 11, 1975||UH-60J||Dec. 9, 1991|
* “Green” aircraft; first aircraft ff. Aug. 31, 1987, tested by TRDI and 51st Sqn
from June 1989 to Apr. 1991
** First production aircraft
51st FAS Tail Markings
Tail marking on HSS-2B Sea King at Atsugi, May 2000
A stylized combination of an orange “V” and a yellow “X” from the unit’s U.S. Navy-style designation, VX-51, with a black “51”. (Small black squadron number only on P-1s)
TO BE CONTINUED . . .
More support and training squadron histories will be progressively added and eventually moved to a dedicated page.
Principal References (in Japanese unless otherwise stated)
Japan Self-Defense Force Squadron (Ikaros, September 1996)
Jieitai Kōkūki: All [Aircraft] Catalog, Kōkū Fan Illustrated No. 108 (Bunrindo, Autumn 1999)
Lockheed P2V/Kawasaki P-2J, Famous Airplanes of the World No. 50 (Bunrindo, 1995)
S-2 Tracker, Famous Airplanes of the World (Blue Series) No. 67 (Bunrindo, Nov. 1975)
ShinMaywa PS-1/US-1, Famous Airplanes of the World (Blue Series) No. 81 (Bunrindo, Nov. 1977)
ShinMaywa PS-1, Famous Airplanes of the World No. 139 (Bunrindo, 2010)
Watanabe, Akira, Japanese Air Arms 1952–1984, (self-published in English), 1984
Japanese aviation press, primarily various issues of Koku Fan
Where applicable, websites of currently active JMSDF units and their bases
(All photographs on this website are copyright J-HangarSpace
unless otherwise stated.)