North Korea 2013
In 2013 we visited North Korea for the first time. A small group joined an international group to the country for an aviation oriented tour.
Report and photos; Eric Raadschelders and Arjen Weterings
On Wednesday morning 11 September 2013, 4 travellers departed for the first 4Aviation trip to North Korea. First, two days in China were planned before traveling to this exotic country.
In the afternoon of Thursday 12 September the group arrived in Beijing, where they were greeted by the local guide. As the Forbidden City was about to close, this was the first stop (via Tiananmen Square). A very good way to start the visit to Beijing, although the group felt a bit tired from all the traveling.
On Friday 13 September the group visited the Great Wall and the immense Chinese Aviation Museum in Xiaotangshan. At the Great Wall, the group was an attraction in itself, a lot of people wanted to take pictures of the group. By the end of the day, it was time for a first North Korean encounter; a meeting with the rest of the group in a North Korean restaurant.
On Saturday 14 September, a Tupolev 204 from Air Koryo took us to Pyongyang. The first encounter with this airline felt very good. The Tu-204 feels like flying in a Boeing 757 and the staff is very friendly. After about one and a half hour the group arrived in North Korea. After a very fast customs and passport check the group boarded the bus to the Capitol. Noticeable are the very wide highways and the lack of cars! More bikes than cars can be seen on the roads leading to Pyongyang. On Sunday 15 September the group visited the border with South Korea at the DMZ. Very impressive!
On Monday (16 September), it was time for the first of many flights of this week. The Ilyushin 18, a great sound when the engines run. After an hour of flying the group arrived in the Northern part of the country. Before leaving the airport, the group was allowed to take all pictures they wanted from the Ilyushin. Even an MiG-15 was heard starting up on the air base, but unfortunately it wasn’t seen. The great weather resulted in a lot of nice pictures! Later that day, beautiful Mt. Paektu was visited, the birthplace of the great leader Kim Yung Il.
The next morning (Tuesday 17 September) the group headed back with the Il-18 to Pyongyang. It is a great feeling to fly this rare aircraft! After arrival in Pyongyang, an Antonov 148 was available for pleasure flights. About half of the group took this opportunity and experienced the 30 minute flight as quiet and very comfortable.
On Wednesday 18 September flights were planned with the Tupolev 134 and Antonov 24. The Tu-134 is a dying breed, so a lot of people took the chance to fly this “rocket” one last time. After a 24 minute flight the group arrived in Sondok. This is an air force base which has a lot of operational An-2s based. Unfortunately, photography was prohibited but serials of the aircraft are very suitable for reading off during take-off and landing. About ten were noted! About fifteen minutes after landing at Sondok, two An-24s landed to take the group back, but not before these aircraft were photographed from all sides. Lunch was in Hamhung, a city nearby Sondok. At the end of the day, the Tu-134 was photographed from close by during start-up and take-off. After that, the group was split over the two An-24s and flown back to Pyongyang. In the evening, it was possible to visit the “Arirang Games” (Mass Games). This yearly show, held in August and September, features over 100,000(!) participants. It is very hard to describe how immense this spectacle is, a must see!
Thursday 19 September was the last day that was planned for aviation related activities. Today, it was possible to fly the Ilyushin 62, 76 and Tupolev 154. The first flight was with an Il-62 and after the flight it was again possible to photograph it from all sides. The second flight was with “the Beast”, the Ilyushin 76. Flying a cargo aircraft is special, but the Il-76 takes it to the next level! Chairs are placed sideways and safety-belts are primitive, so you have to hold on! The sound of this aircraft is overwhelming and especially loud. At the end of the day, a Tupolev 154B-2 was available for a return flight to Sondok. As it was free seating, business class was available for the group!
Friday (20 September) was used for some relaxation and some visits the highlights in Pyongyang, including the metro. Also, a visit was made to the war museum where some old Fighters are on display. On Saturday 21 September it was time to go home. After landing in Beijing the group saw yet another highlight; a Cubana Ilyushin 96! A very nice end to an unforgettable trip to this secretive country.