Photo/IllutrationThe Boeing 777-300ER jet, foreground, one of the new carriers for use by government officials, and one of the retiring Boeing 747-400 jets are featured in the replacement ceremony in Chitose, Hokkaido, on March 24. (Yoshinori Toyomane)

  • Photo/Illustraion

CHITOSE, Hokkaido--Two Boeing 747-400 jets known as the "Japanese Air Force One" were praised for playing "historic roles" at a ceremony on March 24 marking their retirement from service and the introduction of their replacements.

The retiring jumbo jets have been used to fly government officials, including the prime minister and the emperor, around the globe for more than a quarter-century. They were also dubbed "the prime minister's flying office," and sport red lines on both sides of the white fuselage and a massive red sun insignia on the tail.

A baton-passing ceremony was held at the Air Self-Defense Force's Chitose Air Base here on March 24.

Takako Suzuki, vice minister of defense, handed over one of the circular Air Self-Defense Force emblems that had adorned two retiring 747-400s to the new captain of the debuting Boeing 777-300ER jets, which will replace them.

Suzuki cited in her address that the two retiring aircraft have been used since 1993, and the carriers transported former abductees from North Korea back home to Japan in 2004.

“They have played historic roles,” she said.

One of the two 777-300ERs, scheduled to start their missions on April 1, was on display during the ceremony.

Both planes measure 73.9 meters in length and their cruising range is 14,000 kilometers, extended from the 747-400 aircraft by 1,400 km.

The first of the new carriers arrived at the air base last summer followed by the other in December 2018, to be prepared for their operations.

The two 747-400s will end their missions on March 31 and will be sold off.