F-35B Showcased at Iwakuni Air Show, Draws Record Crowd

A man photographs an F-35B Lightning II on display during the 42nd annual Friendship Day on May 5 at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan. (US Marine Corps photo/Lauren Brune)
A man photographs an F-35B Lightning II on display during the 42nd annual Friendship Day on May 5 at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan. (US Marine Corps photo/Lauren Brune)

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan -- America's most-advanced stealth fighter wowed a record 215,000 people Saturday at the base's 42nd annual Friendship Day.

In its first aerial demonstration in Asia, the F-35B Lightning II showed off its ability to hover and land vertically.

Friendship Day also featured aerial acrobatics from American and Japanese aviators, as well as demonstrations from the Marine Corps, Air Force, Army and -- for the fourth year in a row -- the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force.

MCAS Iwakuni is home to Marine Air Group 12, Navy Carrier Air Wing 5 and JMSDF Air Wing 31. In a statement, Col. Richard Fuerst, the base commander, called that "a unique combination of forces not only in Japan, but anywhere in the world."

Tomoko Miyabe, attending Friendship Day for the third time, was impressed by the F-35B and said she enjoyed an MV-22 Osprey aerial demonstration and the Army's Golden Knights parachute team.

In a breath-taking moment for many in the crowd, a Golden Knights parachutist intentionally sabotaged his parachute, causing it to fail. He was sent into a free fall, but pulled the reserve chute just in time.

One of the most popular things for guests to do was take pictures with uniformed service members on hand at the static displays, which included aircraft from Iwakuni's squadrons, as well as heavy equipment and Humvees.

"The best part of today is watching the Japanese people get excited about what we do every day," said Lance Cpl. Abrie Balkwill, a motor transport operator with Marine Wing Support Squadron 171.

The day concluded with a Marine Air Ground Task Force demonstration that simulated the insertion of infantry Marines in combat, combined with simulated close-air support from the F-35B and simulated aerial refueling.

Fuerst said "the very important day" is the base's way of thanking Japanese citizens for their support of the U.S. and Japanese forces stationed there.

"Friendship Day is just one of the ways we show our appreciation to the citizens of Japan and to also provide more transparency into the kind of operations we conduct here on MCAS Iwakuni," he said in the statement.

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