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YouTube video of US fighter jet flying low over Iwate Pref. raises questions

A screen grab of a video uploaded on the USA Military Channel on YouTube on April 2, 2018, showing a cockpit view of a low-flying F-16 fighter jet. (Mainichi)
An F-16 fighter jet, which is the same type of U.S. Air Force aircraft stationed at Misawa Air Base in Aomori Prefecture that dumped two external fuel tanks into Lake Ogawara after its engine caught on fire on Feb. 20, 2018. (Photo from the U.S. Air Force website)

MORIOKA -- A cockpit video of a U.S. F-16 fighter jet flying extremely low over mountains and residential areas in Iwate Prefecture has been uploaded to YouTube, raising questions from some users about the appropriateness of such flights.

It is said to be rare for a cockpit view from a fighter jet in flight -- as shown in the video-- to be made public. The video, titled "Awesome F-16 Fighter Jet Low-Flying Over Japanese Mountains: Cockpit View," was uploaded to the USA Military Channel on the video-sharing website on April 2. As of 3:45 p.m. on April 27, 2018, it had amassed over 153,000 views.

In the comments section of the video, many expressed shock over the low flight path. "Flying at such an altitude crosses a line," one commenter wrote. Another wondered, "Are they allowed to fly that low over residences?"

Under the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), U.S. military aircraft are not subject to Japan's Civil Aeronautics Act, which sets the minimum safe altitude for flying at 300 meters in densely populated areas, and 150 meters in other areas. Many U.S. military aircraft have been sighted conducting drills at low altitudes. Misawa Air Base in neighboring Aomori Prefecture, where the F-16 featured in the video is based, did not respond to the Mainichi Shimbun's request for comment by April 26.

In the video, the fighter takes off and flies at altitudes in which mountains covered in snow and individual residences are clearly visible. At what appears to be a wind farm on the Takamori highlands in the Iwate prefectural town of Ichinohe, installed and operated by the prefectural government, the fighter jet flies between turbine towers.

According to the Iwate Prefectural Government's Bureau of Enterprise, the turbines stand at 119 meters including the rotors, while the towers themselves stand at 78 meters. It appears from the video that the F-16 is flying at around the height of the towers.

Because assembly of the turbine towers began in April 2017, the video is believed to have been taken during the winter from late 2017 to early 2018. An Iwate Prefecture official, who said they did not know about the video before being contacted by the Mainichi Shimbun for comment, said, "We'll deliberate how to proceed."

There have been problems with U.S. F-16 fighter jets stationed at Misawa Air Base -- used by both Japan's Air Self-Defense Force and the U.S. Air Force -- in the past. One F-16 crashed and went up in flames in the mountains of Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, in 1999. In February this year, a U.S. F-16 dumped two fuel tanks into Lake Ogawara in the Aomori Prefecture town of Tohoku after an engine caught fire, with the tanks falling close to basket clam fishing boats on the lake.

The cockpit video of the F-16 flying low over Iwate Prefecture can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fhdKp3F6Mx0.

(Original Japanese by Kei Sato, Morioka Bureau)

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