Blue Impulse jets eyed as source of paint stains on 300 cars

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Blue Impulse jets spray colored smoke ahead of the Tokyo Paralympics’ opening in the skies over Tokyo on Aug. 24.

The Air Self-Defense Force has been scrambling to contend with angry car owners, after dye thought to be from the colored smoke used by the Blue Impulse aerobatic team on the opening day of the Tokyo Paralympics rained down on vehicles parked near an ASDF base in Saitama Prefecture.

As many as 300 vehicles are believed to have been impacted by the dye. Although the colorful pigments are said to pose no health or environmental risk, they cannot easily be washed off, prompting a review of the claims with the possibility that the ASDF could be asked to foot the bill for repainting and other repairs.

​Since the Paralympics’ opening day on Aug. 24, the Defense Ministry’s Air Staff Office in Tokyo’s Ichigaya district has been fielding calls from residents of the area around Iruma Air Base in Sayama, Saitama Prefecture, complaining that their cars have been stained with numerous indelible dots.

​There were 12 complaints from Aug. 25 to Aug. 30, and dozens more have followed. ASDF members and other investigators are sent to take photographs of each claim and examine whether the pigments matched the dye used by the aerobatic team.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
An artist illustration : Route presumably taken by Blue Impulse jets

​According to the ASDF, the Blue Impulse’s first unit of six T-4 training jets made a flyby of the National Stadium in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, on Aug. 24 ahead of the Paralympic opening ceremony. The team drew streaks in the air with red, blue and green smoke — the Paralympic “Three Agitos” symbol colors — as part of events to celebrate the Games’ opening. During the aerobatic performance, three planes of the team’s second unit were also aloft in airspace far to the west of central Tokyo as reserve jets.

​The problem occurred at about 2:25 p.m. on the same day. Before the three reserve jets landed at Iruma Air Base, they sprayed colored smoke at altitudes below the approximately 300 meter minimum stipulated by the Defense Ministry. One of the jets sprayed the smoke at an altitude of 30 meters.

It is believed that the three dyes did not fully dissipate on their way down and adhering to cars near the base. Some of the affected vehicles reportedly showed dozens of stains, each measuring up to 0.5 millimeters in size.

​The colored smoke was procured with funds allocated for the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, to be used only for events correlated to the Games. Mission plans called for the reserve jets to eject their smoke before landing for the enjoyment of local residents. If the first team executed their flight without a hitch, the second team planned to deploy their smoke as a side show of their own as the jets made their descent toward Iruma Air Base.

​A pilot of one of the reserve jets was quoted as saying, “We wanted to use all the smoke. We wanted to make people living near the base, who always show their understanding [of the presence of the base], happy.”

​However, the altitude limit for the use of colored smoke was not thoroughly observed among personnel involved, including those at the command center on the ground.

Deja vu

In 1998, similar incidents occurred in Hokkaido and Yamaguchi Prefecture, resulting in payouts to cover repainting costs. Following the cases, the ASDF had stopped using colored smoke from fiscal 1999.

​However, the Blue Impulse have a history of featuring in past Olympics opening ceremonies, drawing the five color Olympic rings over Tokyo for the 1964 Tokyo Games and colorful straight lines for the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics.

“We wanted to somehow realize the use of colored smoke at this Games as well,” said a senior ASDF official.

​The ASDF spent ¥231 million over six years from 2013 to develop a new type of dye. If sprayed at an altitude of 300 meters or higher, the dye particles were shown to break up to sizes under 25 micrometers in the air, too small to have an appreciable effect on the ground below.

But according to sources, the dye that hit the vehicles resists removal with detergent, and most of the vehicles — include brand new cars and an Italian-made luxury car — will need to be repainted.

​“We don’t know how much it will cost total,” the ASDF official said. “We regret the inconvenience caused to our neighbors.”

​The ASDF plans to conduct close examinations of the material to determine whether the dye was sprayed by the Blue Impulse jets.