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November 28, 2012

The Grand Aviation Tour of North Korea 2012 Part 2

 (See Part 1/2 of the Grand Aviation Tour of North Korea here)

 The October 2012 Aviation Tour of North Korea schedule:

19 October 2012   Meet and greet in North Korean Restaurant in Beijing.

20 October 2012   Fly from Beijing to Pyongyang on Air Koryo IL-62. Follow by city walk of Pyongyang.

21 October 2012   Visit DMZ, border with South Korea and Kaesong city.

22 October 2012   Fly from Pyongyang to Orang (Mt Chilbo), visit Kyongsong revolutionary site and back to Pyongyang on Air Koryo IL-18

23 October 2012   Pyongyang city tour

24 October 2012   Fly from Pyongyang to Sondok (Hamhung) and back on IL-76 and An-24

25 October 2012   Fly from Pyongyang to Sondok (Hamhung) on Tu-134. Overnight in Majon Deluxe Hotel on the seaside of Majon.

26 October 2012   Fly from Sondok (Hamhung) to Pyongyang on Tu-134. Pyongyang city tour in afternoon.

27 October 2012   Fly from Pyongyang back to Beijing on Air Koryo Tu-204. (Some tour members chose to fly to Shenyang with Tu-154)

 

Flying Route Map

 

 

24 October 2012 – Day 5

 

Today is the highlight of the whole tour to me, our group is due to fly the IL-76, a 4 engine cargo transporter to Sondok (Hamhung).

The group will have lunch there and return on either An-24 or IL-76. I am flying the IL-76 both ways. This is also my first time on a cargo plane!

 

 

Flight JS5105

Pyongyang to Sondok (Hamhung)

IL-76MD P-912

Flight time 25 minutes

We were issued with another hand written boarding pass at Pyongyang Sunan Airport.

The weather was fair, both An-24 and IL-76 were prepared on the apron for us. There were only 3 persons in the tour group taking An-24 on the outbound. Most of the enthusiasts took IL-76 flight option.

Boarding with my heart rate racing…….

Climbing up to the cargo hold.

A real beast and what a mean looking machine!

Inside the rear compartment.

Some rice and fertilizer pellet were carried as cargo. Not sure the exact purpose is weight balancing or transportation.

With everyone seated, we were about to takeoff.

Marc, does the tyre taste good ?

The engine noise was incredible on the IL-76 like no other plane I have flown before. It is even much noisier than the 4 Soloviev on the IL-62! We sat in the rear compartment where it is considered much noisier than the forward section.

Please see my video on IL-76 takeoff. It was just incredible, the video do much better visual realization of the moment.

View of looking down the whole fuselage from the rear end.

The IL-76MD is powered by four D-30KP turbofan engine. These photo were taken from one of few windows onboard.

 

Getting comfortable inside the cargo hold, cruising at 5,700m.

Left window view. Not long after, we are descending into Hamhung. The landing was again incredible and caught on video.

The whole flight from takeoff to landing was only 23 minutes, but it rocked everyone’s socks off!

After landing, in the usual fashion, we were allowed to walk around the aircraft and visit flight deck and the famous glass cockpit navigation area.

 

Kissing an IL-76 !

As usual, the crew are happy to pose for photos!

With Miss Peng, our lovely tour guide.

After 20 minutes, the An-24 has finally arrived. The IL-76 flew way too fast in comparison with the older, slower An-24. This flight carried a total of only 3 passengers, which they have a choice of IL76 or An-24, contrary to popularity, they opted for the An-24. I think they must be extreme prop lovers!

We can take more photos around the AN-24. She was built in 1966. 46+ Years old, being one of the oldest plane in Air Koryo’s fleet.

After we went to Hamhung city for lunch in a state hotel. The hotel has a typical grim Soviet style.

There is always plenty of picture of the great leader at the lobby, this time he is overlooking Mount Paktau!

The dining hall with North Korean style wall decors.

A cold lunch includes cold schnitzel and 3 pieces of potato fries, plus other condiment. All cold but with warm rice.

Korean Beer on offer.

After lunch, it is time to go back to Sondok Airport. Both planes were waiting for our group on the apron.

This time, the majority of the group flew back to Pyongyang on An-24, while only 8 or 9 of us stayed on the IL-76 include me. I have flown plenty of An-24 so will give away for the much desired IL-76 jet power!

The terminal at Sondok. It is the standard affair with Kim Il Sung’s portrait at every airport.

 

Flight JS5106

Sondok to Pyongyang

IL-76MD P-912

Flight time 25 minutes

 

The return flight is definitely more relaxing and casual even among the tour guides and Air Koryo crew. 8 of us have the whole IL-76 cargo hold to enjoy.

We took off before the An-24, so the group members got a chance to take photo and video footage of our IL-76 roaring past them and onto the runway for takeoff. It was quite a sight from Michael Prophet’s video

Here Charlie is reading the Pyongyang Times onboard the IL-76!

I took some rest by laying down on the benches.

Miss Peng did the same thing.

And some friendship posing together, looks like we own the IL-76! A disco inside the IL-76 with the Soloviev Symphony at 6,500m!

Miss Peng who dosen’t mind posing for pictures at my request. Beauty onboard the beast!

View from the back. You can see the cargo pellet was offloaded in Sondok, now we are heading back with empty load!

This is the load master station onboard IL-76. The small door on the right lead you to the cockpit and navigation glass area.

Window view. We’re on descend very shortly.


Shortly we started the descend to Pyongyang, quite a few of us actually fell onto the floor due to the descend rate/pitch was so steep that you can feel the nose is diving. Never mind, it was a “one of a kind” experience falling to the floor on an IL-76!

Here a picture after fell onto the floor 🙂

After only 25 minutes of flight, we touched down again in Pyongyang Sunan Airport. I couldn’t see outside during landing so I felt like I was in a flying truck (very loud one) veering left and right. The landing itself was a smooth one.

After waiting the rest of the group for over 20 minutes, we finally saw the An-24 slowly taxi into the apron. A very nice drumming sound from the prop!

I climb onboard the An-24 to take a look, it was 50 Degrees Celsius inside like a sauna, probably the air conditioning was not functioning.

Cabin of An-24 in good condition.

The cockpit of An-24. Famous black cockpit instrument panel. Unlike the IL-62, everything is black here!

Follow the tradition, a group shot taken in front of the An-24.

After the photo, we were taken to the adjacent apron to view the IL-14 and other aircraft parked around her.

This is the engine of IL-18. It seems maintained extremely well.

The IL-14 was preserved and unlikely to fly again, it was a gift from the Soviet Union to Kim Il Sung.

Feeling Nostalgic?

The preserved cockpit of IL-14

The cockpit of the IL-14 follows by radio controls.

Cabin inside the IL-14

A small bathroom located at the back.

The Air Koryo fleet line up at home base, almost all T tails except the Tu204. Note the Cubana IL-62 was a gift from Cuba, now she is used as spare parts only. She wear the registration P-886.

 

After the airport tour, we head to the tower of Juche.

The Juche Tower (officially the Tower of the Juche Idea) is a monument in Pyongyang, North Korea. The tower is named after the principle of Juche, developed by Kim Il Sung as a blend of autarky, self-reliance, nationalism, Korean traditionalism, and Marxism-Leninism.

An elevator brings you to the top and from there you have a nice 360 degrees view of Pyongyang. It cost 5 Euros for the visit.

 

View of Kim Il Sung Square.

At the bottom is a wall with signs of all kind of organizations and ‘Kim Il Sung Study-groups’ from many countries that support the concept of Juche.

We ended a very nice day at the BBQ Duck Restaurant; I was told Korean people love eating duck. Some brave members also tried their hot and spicy “Dog” soup!

 

Video from Day 5. Do not miss the sound of IL-76!

 

 

25 October 2012 – Day 6

 

Today, we are flying to Sondok (Hamhung) again but onboard the sleek looking Tu-134. We will be staying at Majon (a seaside town near Hamhung) and return with the flight on the next day.

The FIDS display at the airport.

JS5105

Pyongyang – Sondok

Tu-134-B3 P-814

Flight time 25 minutes

The Air Koryo Tu-134 is a B3 version. Means no glass nose.

View from the last row, 19. You can hear the sounds of Tu-134 from the video here.

Flight attendant sits at the exit row with passenger during takeoff and landing.

Charles enjoyed reading of Aviation News Magazine onboard Tu-134.

After a very smooth landing again in Sondok, we were allowed to visit the cockpit one by one. Follow by the usual group photos with the operating crew members.

Notice the elevation of the captain and first officer seat from the engineer seat inside the small cockpit.

Notice the elevation of the captain and first officer seat from the engineer seat inside the small cockpit.

Rear passenger cabin of Tu-134. Very cosy feel.

We were able to walk around and snap photos of the Tu-134 from all angles.

Indeed, it was a great looking aircraft!

I found myself with the captain and have him signed my log book.

After the airport, we are on our way to see one more site before heading to the sea side town of Majon for lunch and a relaxing afternoon.

We saw some interesting sights along the way. “Men at work” came to my mind!

The lady guide is showing us some historic site that I forgot the name of the place.

Hugging this tree is to be considered lucky! We were told that this tree survived for a very long time even during the war.

Marc, you have really long tongues!

 

With another 30 minutes drive, we finally arrived at the Majon Deluxe Hotel. This hotel is an upgrade from the standard hotel, cost an extra of 90 Euro per person per night. The other group members who didn’t opt in for the upgrade are staying in a standard hotel 10 minutes away. In my opinion, the upgrade is well worth it. You get to sample unparallel luxury in a country like North Korea!

 

It was immaculate and clean, rival to Western 5 star standard.

I don’t think any average North Korean citizen can afford to stay here.

Rooms are airy, clean and spacious.

Funny that everything in the room has Sheraton label. However there was a mis-spelling of “Shoe Sine Mitt” on it leading us to believe it was a fake Sheraton.

We were treated to this deluxe six course lunch afterwards.

Seafood Gratin.

Pork Schnitzel

After lunch, some brave members went for a swim in the cold East Korean Sea. It was freezingly cold so I didn’t dare to try.

The hotel is right on the deserted beach. Would make a great place in the Summer!

After the beach, I chose to go to the indoor Sauna and Pool. The entrance ticket cost about 10 USD. The Sauna and Steam room was great! The water in the jacuzzi was cold though!

Further exploring the 5 star Majon Deluxe Hotel revealed they have a 2 lane bowling alley!

So the game was on!

Please see the video for some amazing bowling action!

I was winning all the way according to the score board. (top left)

 

We had a great relaxing afternoon and evening inside the hotel. During the dinner, we have discussed about our feeling towards the DPRK and whether it is moral to visit DPRK, what was the best and worst moment of the trip. Many answered “IL62 or IL76”!

 

26 October 2012 – Day 7

 

The next morning we met up with the rest of the group who stayed at the standard hotel and a quick visit to the Fertilizer factory in Hamhung city was planned.

Hamhung is an important chemical industry center in the DPRK. It is an industrial city which serves as a major port for North Korean foreign trade. Production includes textiles, metalware, machinery, refined oil and processed food.

First sight of heavy industrial side of North Korea with Slogan and Propaganda everywhere! In addition, there was a large smell of Ammonium in the air that really wakes you up instantly in the morning!

 

This man, stand in the middle is the chief of the factory.

The factory equipments are the oldest I’ve seen. I presume they’re made in the 50/60s with the help of USSR/China.

After the interesting factory visit, we were on the bus back to Sondok Airport. We’ve got to see more country side life like Ox Cart, farmers using primitive tools farming around. Literally no cars was around, people are walking or riding bicycles. Very much looks like 40 years ago in China!

We went straight to board the Tu-134 which awaits for us.

Flight: JS5106

Sondok (Hamhung) to Pyongyang

Tu-134-B3, P-814

Flight time: 35 minutes include a go around!

Can it get better than this? Standing in front and about to board to fly a Tu-134 in late 2012!

Everyone’s hand searched without X-ray at the airport.

Felix, chose to stay inside the cargo hold of Tu-134 the entire way from Sondok back to Pyongyang! The tour guide tried to do the head count with 1 missing, but I told him, “he was inside the toilet” so he was spared and left inside the cargo hold the whole way!

The bathroom with a ceiling window, a unique feature on the Tu-134.

Engine started, I got a reward by sitting at the last row window seat 19D.

The view from my window and my seat.

Enjoy the onboard atmosphere!

From the back to the front. Our Tu-134 was separated in 3 cabins.

We were surprised by the early geared down. The Tu-134 continued approach till about 500 feet then suddenly a surge of power on the Soloviev D-30 engines and we went climbing again! It is a Go-Around! Who would have thought this happens even in Pyongyang when there are only a few movements a day! The jet did a left bank and then a few more turns and landed safely after 15 minutes. The go around was welcomed by the group and added 15 more minutes of flying time.

Later on, some other group members confirmed the jet did not line up to the runway perfectly on the first attempt so it aborted the approach and did a go around! This may attributed to the fact it was a training flight. The second landing was so smooth that the pilots did more than enough to makeup for the shortfall on the first approach.

 

The cabin after landing, the row of chair collapsed like a domino when one pushed on the last chair.

After deplane, we can see all Air Koryo planes at the airport including a Tu-154B and IL-18F in storage. (P-551 and P-836)

Another surprise from Air Koryo and the organizer, we were given a ramp tour with the IL-62 and Tu-154 towed out from the base and parked in a great angle for photographs. What an awesome presentation and they seems truly know what we want!

Me and the IL-62!

You can walk around under the wing of IL-62! Who would dare of thought that a ramp tour in North Korea!!??

Tu-154B2, P-561 on the ramp.

Our last group shot together, standing in front of the IL-62! Weather couldn’t be better!

After the fantastic ramp tour, we boarded the bus and head back to Pyongyang city for lunch. This time we tried the Pyongyang Cold Noodles!

We love the Korean Sausages!

We have another day of packed schedule till evening in Pyongyang ahead, first stop is the Party Monument and we were also able to walk around. We observed some more sights of Pyongyang traffic ladies and some buses/trams along the way.


The Monument for the party founding is located across the Taedong river in the direct line of sight of the statue of President Kim Il Sung on Mansu Hill. The monument was erected for the 50 year jubilee of the Korean Workers Party founding in October 1995. The tower measures 50 meters in height and its three components are a hammer, sickle and writing brush which represent the worker, the peasant and the intellectual.

After that, we visited the USS Pueblo, where it is celebrated as one of the county’s most popular tourist attractions. Guided tours are offered which describe the DPRK version of the events. Politically it is an interesting excursion.

We were given a DVD presentation of the historic event of the capture of Pueblo from the North Korean stand point of view.

A North Korean website summarizes the story as follows:

“In January Juche 57 (1968) the navy of the Korean People’s Army captured the US imperialist armed spy ship Pueblo in the very act of espionage in the territorial waters of Korea. Like a thief raising a hue and cry, the US imperialists raved about “reprisals,” and ordered out many war vessels including a nuclear aircraft carrier and aircraft, bringing the situation to the brink of war.

Kim Il Sung denounced the US moves as a shameless aggressive act that would threaten peace and security of the DPRK and its people, and clarified the principled stand that the Korean people would retaliate for “retaliation” and return all-out war for all-out war.

Alarmed by Kim Il Sung’s resolute stand and the unyielding fighting will and indestructible strength of the Korean people who were rallied closely around their leader Kim Il Sung, the US imperialists signed a letter of apology, recognizing their aggressive act in the eyes of the world and guaranteeing that no US warship would intrude into the territorial waters of the DPRK again.”

The survelliance room of the ship.

Copy of the letter of apology from US Government. But later, the US retracts the apology after the release of hostages!

A captured “Tornado” is also on display next to USS Pueblo.

After visiting Pueblo, I photographed some of the daily life around the shores of the river.

Our last stop is visiting the Gymnastic Hall (Circus) where a great show was offered. We sat among other privileged citizens of North Korea in a great theater.

Unfortunately we cannot take photo or video inside. But I snapped one or two. The show was about love story between a young man and a lady in ancient Korean time. The gymnastic show was fabulous, just as good as the Cirque du Soleil!

Some of the guys also went to the tailor shop and Clive, seen below got his suit made in DPRK!

After the theater and tailor shop visit, we went for our final dinner in North Korea, in a restaurant called Paradise! It was a great night and we finished the night with a 40 questions of Aviation Quiz ran by Charlie.

One last group farewell photo at the hotel before our group separates; about 10 people will fly to Shenyang by Tu-154 and majority return to Beijing by Tu-204 tomorrow.

We have a great night in the Karaoke Bar till 3am!

 

 

27 October 2012 – Day 8 (Last Day)

 

This is our last day in North Korea, we were given our passport back the night before. We have a very early departure of 7am from the hotel for the airport. The group going to Shenyang starts later because of late departure time.

The FIDS revealed that double departure to both Beijing and Shenyang is planned today. Apart from our Tu-204-100B (P-633) flight, the other flight to Beijing is operated by Tu-134! (P-814) The flight to Shenyang are operated by Tu-154B (P-552) and Tu-204-300 (P-632)

After checking in our luggage, we were finally given our mobile phones back at the departure lounge. We say farewell to our excellent guides from Korean International Travel Company (KITC) and straight head out to the tarmac for boarding our flight.

It was a cold and rainy morning, same goes with my feelings, I miss North Korea and the fun we have on the trip.

The Tu-204-100B is powered by PS90 Perm Motors.

Walking past the Business Class section.

This is the economy section, what a contras to the classic types operated by Air Koryo! I do feel like travelling back to the future!

The takeoff was non-eventful apart from the silence I’ve observed.

After takeoff, the in-flight meal started which consist of the famous “Air Koryo Burger”. This is quite a sharp contrast compared to the full meal from Beijing to Pyongyang one week earlier.

Quite a tasty burger, I think the meat was chicken!

After the in-flight service, I walked around the cabin and took this photo of what Business Class looks like in-flight. Passengers were served in a tray with fine dining China and table cloth.

Economy Class onboard Tu-204-100B. Notice the LCD drop down screen rivals the western A320 or B737 type. It was showing a North Korean Kung Fu type of movie.

Shortly we started our descend; the clear sky gave away for the smog in greater Beijing basin. I moved seat to exit row in forward economy and had a great conversation with a Canadian mother lived in Pyongyang for 2 years and her husband works for NGO in the country.

The touch down was the smoothest I’ve experienced on a 2 engine airplane! It led me to believe in Air Koryo and their flying capability despite the challenges. We landed on runway 01 and taxied to the gate within 5 minutes with no traffic holding us around. Here is a photo when we taxi past a China Southern A380 Super. I got a sense of “back to the normality” because for a whole week we’ve only seen Russian made airplane inside North Korea(which is great!)

After arrival, David for Juche Travel Service kindly arranged cockpit visit for the enthusiasts. Kudos to Air Koryo pilot who are patient and understood of what we want.

A last photo of our plane, P-633 in hazy weather of Beijing.

This concluded the great successful Grand Aviation Tour to North Korea in October 2012.

 

Thoughts about North Korea – Final Words.

 

Travel broadens the mind and none more so than in North Korea. My feeling about my visit is in no way an endorsement of the country’s autocratic regime, but rather an enlightening, one-of-a-kind experience that can lead to greater understanding. Aviation was the key motivation for me to go but during the tour, I have gained an immense attachment to the DPRK and its people.

The North Koreans were warm and friendly to me. The DPRK does not appear on any lists of countries where it is dangerous to visit and is probably one of the safest countries in the world you can visit. We are always welcomed by the Korean people and are seen as guests in their country. Certainly, if you are willing to smile and be courteous you will receive a very positive response. It is one of the last places in the world where there are very few visitors and you can have a big impact on whom you meet.

There are many restrictions on the movements of foreign visitors to DPRK. You basically have to be accompanied wherever you go. Contact with local people is difficult for several reasons; the main reason is the language barrier (foreign languages are not widely spoken in DPRK) and other reasons are that the people are generally very wary of foreigners and also are very shy (and careful with drawing attention to themselves). There are many restrictions on photography that have to be obeyed in DPRK; however you can take pictures of most things at designated tourist sites. When unsure, seek advice from the tour guide. Photo on aviation subject seems to be OK and welcomed, as seen on my trip report.

Today, I have a strong feeling that the country desperately wants tourism, and it is inevitable that tourism brings Western influence. For them, economic reform is more important than the consequences of imperialist influence. They have placed a huge amount of their struggling GDP in recent years investing into their own tourist infrastructure.

Lastly, I would say it’s irresponsible to go to North Korea just to chortle at their Kim-cult and point and laugh at the strange customs of North Koreans. Unfortunately, I feel some people go to the country with this mind-set. Those that do find the country is off-limits and very unpleasant. With an open mind, it goes a very long way in all the travels.

I would highly recommend North Korea to anyone, both aviation enthusiasts and non-aviation enthusiasts. It is a one of a kind experience combines with aviation travels and sightseeing of a completely different country nothing alike. I would like to thank you David of Juche Travel Service for the organization of the tour and thank our KITC guides. I would also like to thank all of my travel companions on the tour, you guys have made the tour even more enjoyable with lot of tales to tell!

See you in Pyongyang in 2013!

Sam Chui

 

Below are some of the souvenirs that I bought while in North Korea, include an Air Koryo Goodie bag (brand new safety cards and stamp poster)

 

Video from Day 6,7 and 8