This trip report can be seen in Youtube video format from below link. It is highly recommended.
Flying Air Koryo’s oldest and latest aircraft IL-18 and An-148
Flying Air Koryo An-24 and Tu-134-B3 to and from Sondok
Air Koryo IL-76 and IL-62 Soloviev Symphony. Highlight of North Korea Aviation Tour
Joy flight on Air Koryo Tu-154 and Mil-17
September 18th is the highlight day of the tour, there are as many as four aircraft types to be flown that day; IL-76, IL-62, Tu-154 and Mil-17.
Some participants on aviation tours have flown on some Russian hardware before – as well as Russia, Tu-154s have been active in Iran until recently, and still fly to beaches from Minsk in the service of Belavia. However, one current type that is almost impossible to fly on, that has become a staple of North Korean aviation tours, however, is the Ilyushin Il-76. This four-engined hulk is intended to fly heavy cargo, military materiel, and sometimes soldiers. It is not normally a people-mover, so boarding is up an awkward set of steps while clutching a leather strap; once onboard, bench seating is provided down each side of a cavernous interior that could not be more designed for function no matter how hard the Ilyushin boys tried.
Cargo nets, cranes, reservoirs of hydraulic fluid and other pieces of machinery needed for either loading or safe flight are plainly on view. Only four portholes, one ahead of the high wing and one behind, on each side of the cabin, provide a view outside or allow any natural light to enter.
At the front of the cabin is a workstation for the loadmaster, who has his own instrument panel that gives a readout of the essentials – speed, altitude, vertical speed, cabin pressure, and other data. Even the obvious stuff is hard to interpret as it is displayed in metres and kilometres, not feet, miles or knots.
During taxi, takeoff and flight, the noise is thrillingly loud. Alas there is no admission to the glass nose while airborne, but tour participants are invited to visit after landing. Another fantastic addition to any aviation enthusiast’s flight log.
Each joy flight’s duration is about 30 minutes. We’re blessed with excellent weather in Pyongyang.
The IL-76 giant (Reg P-913) departed with 40 enthusiasts inside its cargo hold. For the rest of us who opted out, we were free to stroll around the ramp taking pictures of the IL-76 depart and other aircraft parked on the ramp.
A rare action shot in Pyongyang as there were max 5 flights a day usually at Pyongyang.
With my new book and the exact feature aircraft on the cover, IL-62M,P-885 (cover of my book was taken on my last visit in 2012)
Highly recommend to see the video on Air Koryo IL-76 and IL-62 Soloviev Symphony.
With the rest safely arrived after a 29 minute flight on IL-76, we are ready to board our next flight, the “Soviet Inter-continental” IL-62, reg P-885 with huge excitement. This would be my 4th time to fly on this beautiful classicliner.
I have the good fortune to have our tour guide Ms Peng sit next to me in J class
It was amazing to feel how much power IL-62M have when it is light. On takeoff we could feel the power from the rear pulling our back! During the flight, we can roam freely around to visit behind the “secret door” which stores is avionics, blackbox right next to those 4 Soloviev engines! I enjoyed so much that time was clearly forgotten. I was able to immerse myself completely into the flight.
Please enjoy the sight and sounds from my video
The next aircraft inline ready for boarding is the Tu-154-B2, P-561 to Sondok. I can’t figure any morning gets better than this by flying 3 Classics in one go!
The Tu-154B is the only non-M version flying passengers in the world, and combines the old school charm of a spinster aunt’s apartment, and the 1970s Russian version of the Jet Age. Although the Il-62 tends to steal the show, with it’s four engines and massive wing, the 154 is an underrated gem and many tour participants come away with a new favourite type.
The flight time to Sondok is merely 25 minutes.
Very spacious cockpit of Tu-154. 5 men operating.
In the afternoon, two Mil-17 helicopters from North Korea Air Force (operate by Air Koryo I believe) would take us to our resort in Mount Myohyangshan. Flight time was surprising long about 55 minutes. Mil-17 was sturdy and smooth, feel almost riding a proper airplane, not helicopter.
Neat interior of Mil-17 Reg 867. Each can accommodate about 15 pax.
We flew in almost formation with sistership together up North.
Interior of the other Mil-17 Reg 847
5 star resort for VIP and foreign guest. Hyangsan Hotel. It was completely refurbished and really lavish for North Korea standard.
A beautiful sunset in the mountains.
Rainbow Trout for dinner.
The last day of the tour spent concentrating on sightseeing at the nearby International Friendship exhibition, which showcases all the gift from other head of state to DPRK’s leaders. In the afternoon, we visited several more sights of Pyongyang. I opted out of the military exhibition as I was not interested. Instead, I grabbed the last sunshine up at the Juche Tower which offer panoramic a view of the city.
The attitude of the North Korean authorities is a welcome surprise. In fact there are no restrictions on photography of civilian aircraft and the group is generally able to roam the length and breadth of the tarmac, even at Pyongyang. Of course the itinerary of the tour overall is carefully managed by the North Korean authorities but inside the bubble, the group is always made to feel welcome.
The old Russian hardware will soon leave the Korean peninsula. It may not take major political change, just an export version of the Sukhoi Superjet or more Antonov An-148s. Meanwhile this remains a unique destination for anyone wanting to tick off most of Russia’s greatest civilian types, with a glimpse of an unusual and rarely-visited country included.
Travel broadens the mind and none more so than in North Korea. The tour is an enlightening, one-of-a-kind experience that can lead to greater understanding of the country. 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 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. We were 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 few visitors and you can have a big impact on whom you meet.
There are restrictions on the movements of foreign visitors to DPRK. You are 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 the people are generally very wary of foreigners and also are very shy (and careful with drawing attention to themselves). Photos of aviation subjects are always welcome, as seen in this report.
Today, I have a strong feeling that the country wants tourism, and it is inevitable that tourism brings outside influence. For them, perhaps economic reform is more important than the consequences of imperialist influence. They have placed a huge amount of their GDP in recent years investing into tourist infrastructure.
Lastly, I would say it’s irresponsible to go to North Korea just to frown 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 unpleasant. An open mind goes a very long way in all travels.
I would highly recommend North Korea to anyone, both aviation enthusiasts and non-aviation enthusiasts. It is a one of a kind experience that combines aviation travels and sightseeing in a completely unique country. I would like to thank David of Juche Travel Services for the organization of the tour. Special mention must be made of the ever-patient guides provided by the KITC, most of all Miss Pang, who has accompanied most of the tours and captured many a flight hound’s heart. (“Flight hound” is the literal translation of what Koreans call aviation enthusiasts.)