Air Force Fighters Escape Typhoon Maria's Path, Draw a Crowd in Tokyo

An F-22 Raptor stealth fighter operating from Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, sits on the tarmac at Yokota Air Base, Japan, on July 9, 2018 after being evacuated there due to the threat of Typhoon Mari. (ALLEN ONSTOTT/STARS AND STRIPES)
An F-22 Raptor stealth fighter operating from Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, sits on the tarmac at Yokota Air Base, Japan, on July 9, 2018 after being evacuated there due to the threat of Typhoon Mari. (ALLEN ONSTOTT/STARS AND STRIPES)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- Military aircraft enthusiasts in Tokyo got a surprise treat over the weekend with the arrival of some of America's most powerful and stealthiest jet fighters at the headquarters of U.S. Forces Japan.

Eighteen F-15 Eagle fighters and 8 F-22 Raptor stealth fighters flew into the Japanese capital from Okinawa's Kadena Air Base to escape Typhoon Maria, which was on track to reach Okinawa Tuesday morning.

The unexpected sight had drivers doing double-takes as they navigated Yokota's south overrun, which crosses the base runway. Many were surprised to see Raptors lined up on a nearby ramp, a rare occurrence on mainland Japan.

The F-22s, assigned to the 525th Fighter Squadron out of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, deployed to Kadena just over a month ago, the first time the stealth jets had been on Okinawa since 2014.

The F-15s are assigned to the 18th Operations Group at Kadena.

The fighters have drawn crowds of Japanese aircraft enthusiasts, alerted by Twitter posts, to Yokota's perimeter.

“I wanted to see [F-22s] at least once,” said Terutsugu Yamaguchi, 46, of Tokyo, as he watched the aircraft through a chain-link fence.

The plane spotter said he saw Raptors on the ground when they came to Tokyo last year.

Yamaguchi watched planes outside Naval Air Facility Atsugi when the USS Ronald Reagan's fighter squadrons were there. Now that the wing has moved to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, far from his home, he may visit Yokota more often, he said.

The early-afternoon heat haze made photographing the planes difficult from his vantage point outside the base but Yamaguchi said he'd drive around and try to find a better spot.

His goal: “I want to see [F-22s] flying this time.”

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