Spotting Report: Star Wars BB-8™ ANA Jet Roll-Out at Osaka Itami

Star Wars BB-8™ ANA Jet Pt. 1: The Roll-OutThis is the first half of a report about my recent trip to Osaka related to the rollout and inaugural flight of ANA’s third Star Wars aircraft – the BB-8 Jet. The first part covers the background of the trip as well as the rollout and subsequent night shooting of the aircraft. To read about the inaugural flight, click here.

The ANA Star Wars Project

While All Nippon Airways is famous worldwide for its cooperation with Pokemon and for painting aircraft in Pokemon-themed liveries, in April 2015, All Nippon Airways annouced that it would paint one of its Boeing 787-9 in an R2D2 livery based on the popular Star Wars character. This was part of a 5 year partnership contract signed between the airline and the Walt Disney Company – the new owner of the Star Wars franchise.

ANA Star Wars Project
The partnership titled ANA Star Wars Project even got its own website.

Later on that year, in August, it was announced that further two planes would be painted into a Star Wars livery – a Boeing 777-300ER featuring the new Star Wars character BB-8 and a Boeing 767-300 featuring R2D2 on one side and BB-8 on the other.

The first aircraft – “R2D2 ANA Jet” – premiered on October 17, 2015 with a sightseeing flight for selected few winners of a lucky draw.

The R2D2™ ANA Jet was the first to be painted in a Star Wars livery. Here it is seen being prepared to embark on its first international flight from Tokyo Haneda to Vancouver on October 18, 2015.

The second one – “Star Wars ANA Jet” featuring both R2D2 and BB-8 – operated its first flight with passengers onboard on November 22, 2015 from Tokyo Haneda to Osaka Itami.

The second Star Wars jet – Star Wars™ ANA Jet – features BB-8 on the right side…
…and R2D2 on the other.

The final, third aircraft – “BB-8 ANA Jet” – was set to fly its first revenue service on March 28, 2016 from Osaka Itami to Tokyo Haneda.

Booking the Inaugural: A Bit Too Late to the Party

Since I am not a big Star Wars fan, I was a bit hesitant to join the flight in the beginning. However, having missed the inaugural R2D2 Jet flight and seeing the great photos and reports afterwards made me want to participate in the BB-8 Jet inaugural.

By the time I decided to go ahead and book the flight, it was already full. Luckily, ANA allows passengers to register on a wait list, and so I went ahead and put myself on the waitlist for both the “Tokuwari” discounted economy fare and “Stockholders” fare which would require me to obtain stockholder vouchers later on.

After about a week of waiting, I had a missed call and a voicemail – “This is ANA. We would like to inform you that a seat on NH22 on March 28 is open now…” A seat in the “Tokuwari” fare became available and so I proceeded to book it.

“Tokuwari A” ticket became available about a week after putting myself on the wait list.

At the time of booking, no more window or aisle seats were available, but that was not important as I was at least able to get a seat. Later on, I was at least able to switch from a middle seat to an aisle seat.

After two seat switches – from middle to window in the back, I finally settled with 25H.

Introducing BB-8 Jet: The Official Rollout

The trip began for me on March 27 – one day before the flight. While undecided until the last minute, in the end, I decided to take ANA’s NH13 flight from Tokyo Haneda to Osaka Itami. The flight was uneventful, and the only thing worth mentioning is that it was operated by JA8197 – at 20 and a half years old, the oldest Boeing 777-200 in ANA’s fleet.

Pushing back from gate 65 at Haneda with a nice line-up of aircraft including the Star Alliance 777-200 and Pokemon 777-300 visible.
“JA8197” – the oldest Boeing 777 in ANA’s fleet.

I arrived in Osaka Itami at about 8:20AM and walked straight to the MRO Japan (ex-ANA Maintenance) area where the BB-8 Jet rollout would be happening.

While the aircraft was towed out of the hangar for the first time the day before, March 27 was the official rollout day, and as such, a large number of enthusiasts gathered around the fence to watch the rollout.

Standing By
Many photographers were standing by at the roll-out location long before the actual roll-out.
Sneak Preview
Sneak preview – the staff testing out the hangar doors before the roll-out event.

The official rollout was part of an event for 50 guests that were chosen by lucky draw. While the official start of the event was 11AM, the guests started arriving on the apron shortly after noon.

Guests Arriving
Lucky guests arriving on the MRO Japan apron. There were even some lightsabers…

Then, finally, about 10 minutes after noon, the moderator announced that the BB-8 Jet would be rolled out.

Guests Waiting
Guests lined up in front of the hangar, waiting for the door to open.

Right afterwards, the hangar doors started opening, and the aircraft was towed out accompanied by the sound of Star Wars theme music (video including the music follows after photos).

Door Opening
The hangar door is opening with the BB-8 Jet starting to appear.
Door Open
The hangar door is fully open and the aircraft is ready to be towed out.
Towing Out
The BB-8 Jet being towed out of the hangar in front of tens of event visitors, staff and enthusiasts watching from outside the fence.
On the Apron
…and the roll-out is complete – BB-8 enjoying the spotlight on MRO Japan apron.

Full video of the roll-out including the Star Wars theme music.

With the aircraft out on the apron, the visitors were handed out bright orange coats symbolizing BB-8. Then they were moved to the right side of the aircraft for a group photo. This luckily allowed us – photographers – to get a clear photo of the aircraft in front of the hangar.

A lot of BB-8s on the apron – everyone is getting ready for the group photo shoot.
Here it is in all its beauty – the BB-8™ ANA Jet.
Group Shot
The “outside-the-fence” group in front of the BB-8 Jet.

After the initial event was finished, ANA held another event aimed at its employees and their families.

Family Time
ANA employees and their families enjoying the latest ANA plane in special colors.

Once we finished photographing the roll-out, I headed for lunch and then visited friend’s home for a couple of hours before heading out again to take night pictures of the BB-8 Jet.

The Dark Side: BB-8 Jet Night Shooting

While it was raining a bit, we left friend’s home around half past six and went back to the MRO Japan area this time in the hope of capturing the aircraft at night.

By the time we got there, the area was already crowded with other like-minded people hoping to get a decent shot of the aircraft in front of the hangar.

Night Crowd
Not even rain stopped people from gathering at the gate at night to take a photo.
BB-8 at Night
The livery looks great during the day. At night, it looks stunning!

While the rumor had it that the aircraft would stay parked in front of the hangar overnight, around 8PM a towing car came. As such, we changed location to one of the many parks around Itami airport from where spot 53 – where the aircraft would be towed – is nicely visible.

BB-8 ready to rest for the rest of the night, pictured shortly after getting towed to spot 53.
BB-8 ready to rest for the rest of the night, pictured shortly after getting towed to spot 53.

After taking (more than) enough pictures of the BB-8 Jet parked in front of the Itami tower, we headed for a dinner at a steak restaurant before each going our separate way – in my case to Toyoko Inn Itami hotel right next to the restaurant.

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