MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan -- For more than four decades, live aircraft performances, hot food, cold beverages, and service members from the U.S. and Japan have created opportunities for new experiences and everlasting memories through a single-day air show which, over the years, has evolved into a multi-generational tradition: 43rd JMSDF/MCAS Iwakuni Friendship Day 2019.
“This year marks the 43rd Friendship Day held at MCAS Iwakuni,” said U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Jacob Billups, the MCAS Iwakuni aviation safety officer and Friendship Day lead planner. “Friendship Day has become an annual tradition in showcasing to the public the close working relationships that have developed between U.S. service members and our Japanese counterparts. Iwakuni is a microcosm of the strong ties that exist between our two countries, and we look forward to the opportunity to celebrate this relationship with our friends and neighbors every year.”
Indeed, diversity flooded the streets of MCAS Iwakuni as approximately 165,000 aircraft enthusiasts and future aviators made their way to the Marine Corps’ only shared-use commercial and military flight line to witness the extraordinary, and history-making, airshow as it flew by.
“For the first time, we featured the U.S. Navy F/A-18 tactical demonstration team as part of the show as well as a U.S. Air Force C-17 demonstration flight,” said Billups.
Along with the performance from Carrier Air Wing 5, many other historic events filled the airspace, such as: a Japan Ground Self-Defense Force rappelling demonstration, a U.S. Air Force F-16 demonstration, the classic race between an automobile and Japan’s favored Whiskey Papa, the return of the F-35B II Lightning demonstration, and a full show-of-force with a Marine Air Ground Task Force demonstration.
According to Billups, Friendship Day is one of the largest airshows in Japan, and one of the most unique airshows in the world. He added that the airshow often hosts a large amount of people, yet still feels like a local venue, and both the air station and the community look forward to it every year.
Koudai and Kaisuke Hayashi, twin boys who traveled from Fukuyama City, said they like Friendship Day because they can see various kinds of aircraft such as the Osprey and F-35.
They also mentioned that they inherited their love for aircraft from their grandfather who was part of a hang glider team in his younger years.
Another airshow attendee, Hiroshi Takenada, a three-year Friendship Day veteran, exclaimed his excitement as he attempted to capture photographs of a near-mach-speed F-16. He added that he and his family placed Japanese and U.S. flags in front of their tent to show their love for Friendship Day.
The essence of Friendship Day flies far beyond the airfield at which it takes place. The airshow takes months of coordination between JMSDF, Iwakuni City and MCAS Iwakuni.
“The relationships with the City of Iwakuni and the JMSDF are both crucial to Friendship Day and our overall mission at MCAS Iwakuni every day,” said Billups. “Without our mutual cooperation, we would be unable to effectively host this event or even operate as efficiently as we do together. We are proud of the strong bonds we’ve developed here in Iwakuni, toward ensuring success for this event and for each other.”
Preserving the legacy, and taking Friendship Day to new altitudes, continues to positively reinforce the U.S.-Japan relationship and leaves the door wide open for future endeavors.
"It has been my distinct pleasure to serve as commanding officer of MCAS Iwakuni for three Friendship Days,” said Col. Richard Fuerst, commanding officer of MCAS Iwakuni. “I hope that the tradition of Friendship Day will live on long after I leave and it will continue to highlight the mutual respect and cooperation between our two nations that make this alliance so strong. MCAS Iwakuni truly is the crown jewel of the Marine Corps and we showed that today with this awesome event. Thank you to all involved for your hard work and for making my final Friendship Day so special.”