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Remembering an Incredible Airman

  • Published
  • By Maj. George M. Tobias
  • 5th Air Force Public Affairs
Michael J. Bishop, the Chief of Aviation Affairs at 5th Air Force, passed away in the morning of Aug 9.

He left behind an enduring legacy here in Japan after 55 years of service to the United States Air Force.

"Our hearts, prayers and deepest condolences go out to the family and friends of Mike,” said Lt. Gen. Jerry Martinez, 5th Air Force commander. "We all share in the loss an incredibly valued member of our 5th Air Force family."

Bishop, was born in Tulare, Calif. on Sept. 14, 1942, and enlisted into the Air Force in 1962 at Beale Air Force Base, California, at the age of 20. He served six tours in Vietnam in various roles in the reconnaissance community. Bishop eventually cross-trained and served his last seven years as an Air Field Management Superintendent in 5th Air Force, Yokota Air Base, Japan. He retired after 28 years on active duty as a Senior Master Sergeant.

Upon his retirement from active duty in 1991, he continued his service in 5th Air Force as an Air Force civilian.

As people come and go through 5th Air Force, many might not realize the far-reaching effects Bishop had on the command and the U.S.-Japan Alliance.

One of his most significant accomplishments came in 2008. Bishop engineered the return of nearly one third of Yokota Air Base’s airspace to the Government of Japan, according to his friend Michael Dolby, an airspace manager who knew Bishop for the last 12 years. The return of airspace to Japan allowed commercial aircraft from Haneda Airport and Narita International Airport to fly direct routes to their destinations instead of having to detour over the ocean. This resulted in the reduction of costs, fuel use and pollution for the airlines and improved air traffic into the airports.

Another of Bishop’s significant accomplishments was enabling the recent establishment of a training airspace called the Gaicho Altitude Reservation at Misawa Air Base. This training area is only about a five-minute flight for 35th Fighter Wing aircraft, which maximizes flight training. Previously, the wing had to fly hundreds of miles out to sea to reach a training range.

In addition, Bishop played an instrumental role in completing the reversion of Okinawa airspace, which took 10 years. For nearly the entire period following World War II, the U.S. retained control of the Airspace over Okinawa. However, in 2010 the U.S. successfully returned control of the airspace to the Japan.

The most recent pivotal event in Bishop’s career was being part of the Okinawa airspace redesign, Dolby explained. Over a decade in the making, this was an effort to redesign the airspace around Okinawa so that the shape, size and dimensions of that airspace would not only benefit U.S. Forces on Okinawa for current aircraft and next generation aircraft but also benefit the Japan Self-Defense Force and commercial aviation.

“There is not much that goes on in the aviation community or airspace community that Mike [did] not have some influence on,” said Dolby.

Bishop was known as a person who would go out of his way to help get things done in Aviation Affairs for units that required assistance.

If you looked at his office walls you could see all the mementos of thanks for the things he did for units operating in Japan. “Everybody is so appreciative of Mike making things happen,” said Dolby.

Bishop was also regarded a true subject matter expert in his field.

“He was one of those guys that if you don’t know where to turn, you call Mike Bishop first,” said Dolby. “And if he didn’t know, he knew the right person to talk to, and that it is such a great asset to have.”

“His expertise was recognized in 2014, by being named “Man of the Year” by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association,” said Lt Col. Andrew Lipina, 5th Air Force Directorate of Operations and Plans.

He will also be remembered for his work with the Government of Japan.

Negotiating with the Government of Japan can be a very slow and methodical process, but Bishop truly understood the politics of how things worked and how to navigate the issues.

“I can’t think of a single GoJ entity, whether our [Japan Civil Aviation Bureau] counterparts or airspace guys or [Ministry of Defense] guys that we deal with who did not appreciate Bishop,” said Dolby. “I think they all truly appreciate who Mike Bishop was because he supported them just as much as he supported us.”

For Bishop, it was not just about taking care of 5th Air Force or USFJ, it was truly about working with the alliance the best way he could, to make the alliance between the U.S. and Japan better and stronger.

At his memorial service at the Yokota AB Main Chapel, there was a huge attendance of not just Americans, but also Japanese.

Several former 5th Air Force leaders, Government of Japan and Koku-Jieitai (Japan Air Self Defense Force) officials have also reached out to pay their respects to a remarkable Airman, whose accomplishments will be remembered for years to come.

He is survived by his wife, Yasue, his daughter, Marnya, and his brother Daniel.