If you’ve followed the news recently you might have heard that North Korea is planning a rocket launch “test” sometime this week or the following. It’s not the first time either, but this time the Japanese Self Defense Forces are taking precautions, and I was a little bit surprised to see a patriot missile system passing through the gates of the Ministry of Defense in Tokyo’s Ichigaya district the other day. It reminded me of the couple of times I saw these very same weapons systems up at the Air Force base in Saitama’s Iruma City in 2009 and 2010 as part of the 1st or 4th Air Defense Missile Groups. On the news we could see these trucks readied among the blossoming cherry trees inside the Ministry of Defense gates, a rather bizarre contrast. You can read about it here if you want to know more, along with some more recent photos of the missiles. The batteries (there’s three of them in the area) along with three naval destroyers have been deployed to shoot down the North Korean rocket should it threaten Japanese territory, something I really hope we don’t have to see. I hadn’t expected to ever get a use for these photos.
There’s some very conflicting claims as to how efficient these things really are at shooting down incoming rockets and missiles anyway, with a hit rate ranging from less than 10% to 97% (the higher claim coming from former US president George H.W. Bush himself). I don’t think they have ever been really tested in Japan.
As excited we are at all this hardware I added a couple of photos of one of the handsome young soldiers attached to this unit, he probably didn’t mean to look so fierce, only the sun was very very bright that day! In the photos you can see the missile battery itself as well as a mobile antenna, Antenna Mast Group with an antenna that extends 9.23m above the truck.
Some more shots of the wonderful Blue Impulse Air Show at Iruma Base up in Saitama prefecture, just north of Tokyo. Shooting air shows is a tricky thing, it demands not only that you know the optimal mix of settings on your camera, but also that you know where and how fast the airplanes are going. Waiting until you see the perfect shot is not an option, and unless you have a really fast camera, just shooting mindlessly is even less of an option. This was my second visit shooting this air show so I was lucky in that I knew what kind of formations they would be flying in an what kind of loops and angles they would be using. Of course, having the same kind of weather as the last time didn’t make things more difficult either!
I used a 50-500mm tele-zoom Sigma lens, set a very high ISO and and a quite tight f-stop to get a broad DOF. Of course, I made sure I had shutter speeds way above 500 at all times, preferably at around 2000-3000th of a second is optimal for this. Sometimes you can track the formation, sometimes you compose the picture as you follow a moving air craft with a plume of smoke, and sometimes you just shoot like crazy to catch things that happen at 2 or 3 times the speed of sound, like when two air craft move towards each other. I still haven’t been able to get that exact instant. Anyway, I hope you will like these photos better than last year’s. I think they’ve improved a little. Enjoy!
It’s this time of the year again, the annual Iruma Base Air Show! I try to go every year but this year and last we were able to enjoy fantastic weather and a brilliant blue sky with just enough clouds to make it interesting. Iruma City is in the south of Saitama prefecture, north of Tokyo. It is one the biggest Japanese Air Force bases and houses both fighter squadrons, helicopter battalions and Patriot Missile batteries. Quite interesting! Every year in November they stage a small festival and open their gates to interested visitors from Japan and abroad. There’s usually not that many foreigners though. It’s also one of the few places (the only one I think) in the Kanto region where you get to see the Blue Impulse Air Show, flying their distinctive Kawasaki T-4. As usual, their performance was perfect and a great time was had by the staggering number of 300 000 visitors! With numbers like that, you realize that this is not a day to just stroll on the train and get of at the nearest station.
More photos to follow tomorrow! Shooting air shows is, despite what you first think when you see the other photographers there, not just a question of long lenses. Sure, I had my 50-500mm Sigma lens but I took many photos with it at 100mm or 200mm. 500mm was definitely overkill for this task!
At the Air Force show in Iruma City last week I managed to get these shots of two of the contestants for the annual Miss Air Force competition. They are not actual members of the Japanese Air Force, rather local students selected for their academic achievements as well as their beauty. I kind of like the first girl, but I think the second girl won. How often do you get to see beautiful women in kimono be driven in camouflage jeep? Not very often I assume.