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501st Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron
Active December 1, 1961
Country Japan
Branch Japan Air Self-Defense Force
Part of Tactical Reconnaissance Group
Garrison/HQ Hyakuri Air Base
Aircraft flown

The 501st Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron (第501飛行隊 (dai-go-hyaku-ichi-hikoutai)) is a squadron of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force based at Hyakuri Air Base (Ibaraki Airport) in Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan. It is equipped with RF-4 Phantom II and Kawasaki T-4 aircraft.[1][2][3]


The 501st is Japan's only tactical reconnaissance squadron. In addition to its defense role it has also been deployed in response to disasters, such as the Great Hanshin earthquake in 1995.

The squadron formed at Matsushima Air Base in Miyagi Prefecture, with 10 North American RF-86F Sabre aircraft on December 1, 1961. On March 26th, 1962 the 18th and final F-86F was delivered. On August 31, 1962 it moved to Iruma Air Base in Saitama Prefecture. At this time the squadron also had two Lockheed T-33A and one North American T-28B Trojan aircraft. The aircraft's armament of six .50 calibre machine guns was removed to install the cameras, so fake gun ports were painted on.[3]

In 1972, the JASDF decided that the RF-86Fs were replaced by 14 RF-4E aircraft and that an RF-4E detachment to be formed at Hyakuri Air Base in Ibaraki Prefecture. On October 1, 1974 the first RF-4E was deployed to Hyakuri. In 1975 an "Iruma detachment" continued with RF-86Fs but on March 25th 1977 this was dissolved.[3]

Japan air self defense force Mitsubishi RF-4E 501SQ RJAH

An RF-4E in maritime camouflage

From 1981 the F-15J Eagle began entering service with the JASDF, replacing the F-4EJ Phantom as the JASDF's main fighter. Starting in 1992 a total of 15 of the surplus F-4EJ fighter aircraft (seven F-4EJ and eight F-4EJ Kai) were modified to RF-4EJ status.[3]

There have been plans to replace the aging RF-4E and RF-EJ Kai aircraft with reconnaissance versions of the F-15J / F-15DJ aircraft. There were plans for Toshiba to produce a reconnaissance pod, but this was not expected to reach the ministry of defense's standards, so the contract was cancelled.

After the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami the squadron was used to survey damage.[4]

It 2016 it was announced that Lockheed Martin will work with Japanese firms to produce a synthetic aperture radar pod to be used by Japan's F-15s.[5]

Squadron emblem/Tail markingsEdit

RF-4E -501 Hikōtai

Woody Woodpecker emblem

Since 1961 the squadron's emblem has been the American cartoon character Woody Woodpecker wearing a bowtie.[3] The use of a woodpecker also references a battle tactic of Takeda Shingen from the 16th century battles of Kawanakajima.

Then the squadron was equipped with RF-86 Sabres the aircraft wore a blue and yellow chevron on their tails. The replacement RF-4Es also sported this design, until it was replaced by the woodpecker emblem on February 25, 1981.[3]

Aircraft operatedEdit

Reconnaissance aircraftEdit

Liaison aircraftEdit

In popular cultureEdit

The squadron appeared in the 2006 film Sinking of Japan.



  1. Thompson, Paul JASDF - Order of Battle January 1, 2017 Retrieved January 31, 2017
  2. Hyakuri Air Base - About Force Retrieved January 31, 2017 (Japanese)
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Thompson, Paul JASDF Squadron Histories - 501st Squadron J-HangarSpace Retrieved August 18, 2017
  4. Hiscock, Kyle W Thesis:Japan's Self Defense Forces after the Great East Japan Earthquake: Toward a new Status Quo March 2012 Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  5. Japan to Replace RF-4EJs with F-15Js + SAR Pods October 14, 2016 Defense Industry Daily Retrieved August 18, 2017

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