In the last (at least for now) of my posts about 747s, I will be discussing a time when I got lucky with seeing a particular plane. The plane was the 747 version of Japanese Air Force One (I don’t really like the phrase since Japan doesn’t have an air force per se, but it’s easy to understand for most people, so I will use it in this post), the plane used by the Japanese government, particularly the Prime Minister, or Emperor.
According to the information on Wikipedia, the current planes (the 747s were replaced by 777s in 2019) are officially referred to as Japanese government exclusive aircraft (日本国政府専用機, Nippon-koku seifu sen’yōki). They have the radio callsigns Japanese Air Force One and Japanese Air Force Two when operating on official business, and Cygnus One and Cygnus Two when operating outside of official business (e.g., on training flights).
Back in 2013, I was at Haneda Airport as part of my research on aviation – which has gone on to be included in publications such as Contents Tourism in Plane Sight and Japan: The Basics. This was part of my busiest trip around Japan. Having arrived at Haneda, I went to take some photographs of planes and soon spotted the Japanese Air Force One 747, but couldn’t get a very good shot.
There is no shortage of photographs that I have taken where I have planned all the details. But sometimes the best shots involve some luck – such as the one of the Shinkansen East-i featured in my post about Photographing the Shinkansen: Takasaki, the Avro Lancasters near my great aunt’s house, seeing Dr Yellow at Kokura, or even a photo I got in New York (again, a post for another day)
Anyway, the next morning, I was back at Haneda for my next flight. Soon I spotted buses going to the plane and shortly after the plane was on the move…
There seemed to be dignitaries and the media to see the plane off…
Soon the plane was ready for take off…
As the plane took to the skies, buses turned up to collect the people who had seen the plane off.
By the time that I got to a hotel that evening, I discovered that Prime Minister Abe was on the plane. He was off to Argentina to make the final push for trying to get Tokyo awarded the 2020 Olympics. He was successful. That, and the busyness of Haneda Airport, were something to discuss in my book book Japan: The Basics, and the photo of the plane preparing to take off was also included in the book (see this page for the photos in the book).
Of course, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics did not happen in 2020, but that hasn’t stopped me writing about them. First, they feature as the backdrop (having taken account of the shift to 2021 thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic) in my novel Tokyo 20/20 Vision. Second, as I am updating Japan: The Basics, a reflection on the Olympics will be included. Sadly, there will be no place for the photograph of any 747s. For not only was the aforementioned picture in the first edition, but also one of the ANA 747 Pokemon jet (a photograph taken on the same day as the Japanese Air Force One picture – I guess I was particularly lucky with my photos that day) – but neither are relevant now. As my recent posts have pointed out, 747s are very hard to see in Japan now. Perhaps, instead, the second edition will feature one of the Star Wars planes.