Attendance dips at Iwakuni’s annual Friendship Day, but crowds still line up for military aircraft
By JAMES BOLINGER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 6, 2019
Note: This article has been corrected.
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan — An estimated 165,000 people turned out Sunday for Friendship Day 2019 at the air station, a slightly lower attendance than years past.
Now in its 43rd year, the event often attracts more than 200,000 visitors. It is still the largest air show in Japan, and long lines of people waited to climb into cockpits for views usually reserved for the pilots of U.S. military and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force aircraft.
Several aircraft types, including the Navy’s F/A-18 Super Hornet from Carrier Air Wing 5 and a C-17 Globemaster III from Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, made their first appearances at Friendship Day alongside returning acts from Marine Aircraft Group 12, JMSDF Fleet Wing 31 and Pacific Air Force’s F-16 Viper Demo Team.
“This is the first year Carrier Air Wing Five aircraft have taken part in the air demonstration, and we look forward to becoming a regular part of this tradition,” Capt. Forrest Young, the carrier air wing’s commander, said in a statement emailed Sunday.
The Marine Corps’ fifth-generation stealth fighter, the F-35B Lightning II, capable of short takeoffs and vertical landings, was also on display and wowed the audience of aviation enthusiasts with its ability to hover in midair.
Marine Maj. Jeffery Davis, from MCAS Iwakuni’s Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121, has flown F-35B demonstrations before and described the view from the cockpit during an airshow.
The pilot can see how excited the kids are when the plane is coming, he said. They will cover their ears at the last second as it roars by.
“The best part of the show is when the aircraft displays its short take off and vertical landing capability,” he said, referencing the fighter’s ability to hover in midair.
The pilots of the Air Force C-17, a last-minute addition to the event, showcased the airlifter’s ability to take off and land in the same distances as the smaller C-130 Hercules, as well as the giant plane’s maneuverability.
Meanwhile, two F/A-18s from Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 242 teamed with a KC-130J Super Hercules from Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152 to demonstrate air-to-air refueling operations. The aircraft then provided simulated close-air support, complete with controlled explosions, while a V-22 Osprey inserted a Marine infantry squad onto the airfield, as part of the Marine Air Ground Task Force demonstration.
“Flying the Osprey is the best of both worlds. It can be a chopper or an airplane,” said Marine Capt. Jerome Miller, who piloted the aircraft from Okinawa’s Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 265 during the demonstration.
The Air Force’s F-16 Viper Demo team performed twice during the event and appeared to touch the sound barrier on one high-speed pass. The service later told Stars and Stripes in an email that none of the jets obtained supersonic speeds.
The multirole fighter can reach Mach 2 — 1,500 mph — at altitude and is highly maneuverable.
Correction: A previous version of this story identified Marine Maj. Jeffery Davis as a demo pilot who flew at Friendship Day. He is a demo pilot, but did not fly at the Iwakuni show. This story was also edited to include a U.S. Air Force statement that said none of the F-16s from its Viper Demo team reached supersonic speeds.