If you love air shows, you have probably heard of the Blue Angels, the United States Navy’s flight demonstration squadron formed in 1946. But did you know that Japan also has an aerobatic demonstration team?
Blue Impulse (ブルーインパルス) is part of the Japan Air Self Defense Force and was formed unofficially in 1958 at the Hamamatsu Airbase located in the city of Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, in central Japan.After four demonstrations, the team was disbanded. The following year the USAF Thunderbirds visited Japan, and inspired Japan’s Air Self Defense Force’s (JASDF) commanding officers to establish an official aerobatic team. In 1960 the new team was formed flying five F-86F fighters, with three of the pilots coming from Japan’s 1958 team.
The first demonstration of the new team “Tenryu” took place on March 4, 1960. The team derived its name from the Tenryu River which arises out of Lake Suwa in the Nagano Prefecture and meets the sea at the coast of Shizuoka near the base. However, the name “Tenryu” was difficult to pronounce in western languages, so the team was renamed “ Blue Impulse.”
During the opening of the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 1964, “Blue Impulse” was invited to performed where they painted all five Olympic circles in the sky with colored smoke. They also performed at the opening of Expo ’70 in Osaka in 1970, where the team drew “Expo ’70” in the air.
In February 1982, after 545 air demonstrations, Blue Impulse stopped using the F-86F fighters and converted to six Japanese-built Mitsubishi T-2 trainers. The first airshow with these new aircraft was in June of 1982 at the team’s new home in Matsushima Air Base in the Miyagi Prefecture.
On November 14, 1982, during a bomb-burst maneuver at an air show in Hamamatsu, plane #4 failed to pull up in time and crashed into a building, killing the pilot and injuring 11 people on the ground. This accident brought a halt to the team’s performances for the year.
Bad luck again plagued the Blue Impulse when the team’s #2 and #4 aircraft both crashed during a training flight on July 4, 1991 over the Pacific Ocean. This disaster once again halted the team’s performances for a year. Blue Impulse’s last performance with the Mitsubishi T-2 aircraft was in December of 1995, after 175 performances.
Today, the team consists of seven Kawasaki T-4 training aircraft painted in white and blue colors, but only six of them actually perform at demonstrations. The team’s aircraft are each equipped with white, red, blue and yellow smoke systems. The Blue Impulse team consists of 11 pilots and about 30 ground crew. The Matsushima Air Base was heavily damaged by a tsunami on March 11, 2011 and the team is once again based out of the Hamamatsu Airbase.
The air shows are extremely popular where the pilots perform intricate and extremely difficult maneuvers in very close proximity, drawing crowds in excess of 300,000!