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An AV-8B Harrier demonstrates its vertical/short takeoff and landing maneuvers in front of thousands of spectators during the annual Friendship Day air show at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni.
An AV-8B Harrier demonstrates its vertical/short takeoff and landing maneuvers in front of thousands of spectators during the annual Friendship Day air show at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni. (Salvador Moreno/Courtesy of the U.S. Marine Corps)
An AV-8B Harrier demonstrates its vertical/short takeoff and landing maneuvers in front of thousands of spectators during the annual Friendship Day air show at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni.
An AV-8B Harrier demonstrates its vertical/short takeoff and landing maneuvers in front of thousands of spectators during the annual Friendship Day air show at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni. (Salvador Moreno/Courtesy of the U.S. Marine Corps)
F/A-18 Hornets and a C-130 perform an aerial refueling during the annual Friendship Day at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni Wednesday.
F/A-18 Hornets and a C-130 perform an aerial refueling during the annual Friendship Day at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni Wednesday. (Salvador Moreno/Courtesy of the U.S. Marine Corps)

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan — It’s a man. It’s a plane. It’s a flying squirrel?

The skydiving by Melissa Aerobatics was a combination of all three.

"Squirrel suit" dives were part of the entertainment — along with aircraft exhibitions and flyovers — during the annual Friendship Day air show Wednesday at Iwakuni.

The special skydiving suits have webbing that connects divers’ arms and legs, allowing them to glide through the air in a way that is close to flight.

"When they put the smoke on their feet, it really looked like they were flying," said Capt. Christian Ortiz, the Friendship Day project officer.

The festival was created by the base 37 years ago as a way to generate goodwill in Japan, and attendance numbers have been high the past two years.

It attracted about 265,000 visitors this year, which is fewer than the record 275,000 who came in 2009 for a rare opportunity to see a U.S. military installation from the inside.

In 2008, the event drew just 200,000, base officials said.

Ortiz said the slight dip in numbers this year could be due to changes in Japanese toll fees and the festival falling on the last day of the Japanese Golden Week holiday.

The main draw of Friendship Day is an air show headlined by the Japanese exhibition flying team Blue Impulse. The U.S. Pacific Air Forces performed an F-16 Fighting Falcon flight demonstration, and Strike Fighter Squadron 102 from Naval Air Facility Atsugi showed spectators the speed and agility of their F/A-18F Super Hornets.

There were also flyovers by an F-4 Phantom II and a U-2 spy plane from the 5th Reconnaissance Squadron out of Osan Air Base in South Korea, as well as other military aircraft.

The air station had good weather including a high ceiling and temperatures in the low 70s, Ortiz said.

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