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2013: 330,818

Flying Old Soviet Metal Inside North Korea

Il-18

Ilyushin Il-18 with flight attendants for Air Koryo, flying from Pyongyang to Samjiyon.Image by Paul Filmer.

Paul Filmer (aka @Skippyscage) recently took a trip to North Korea and had some amazing experiences flying on old soviet aircraft. He posted his experience on his website and above is just one of many great photos and below is an except and another photo. These experiences won’t last too much longer and I am glad that Paul was able to share. Here is part of his story…

I was alerted to a trip to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) via a newsgroup posting which promised the opportunity to fly on a variety of Soviet aircraft including the Il-62 and the Il-18. After doing a little research and talking to the tour organiser, David Thompson of Juche Travel Services (JTS) in London, I decided to take the plunge. Other operators have attempted aviation centric tours in the past, but photography of the aircraft involved had been almost impossible, so the chance of flights plus photo opportunities was a big pull for me.

All visits to the DPRK must be co-ordinated via the Korean International Tourism Company (KITC) which is a state run company that provides transport and guides, as you are still not allowed to travel inside the country independently.

The majority of visitors arrive via China, as only a handful of countries have flights to the DPRK, and Air Koryo has a small fleet with restricted routes due to sanctions and bans. Our tour would depart Beijing Capital Airport, and this is the major hub for such flights, with multiple sectors operating on some days. Other destinations served include Shenyang in China, Vladivostok in Russia and Bangkok in Thailand.

Air Koryo Ilyushin Il-62 flying from Beijing to Pyongyang. Image by Paul Filmer.

Air Koryo Ilyushin Il-62 flying from Beijing to Pyongyang. Image by Paul Filmer.

It would be remiss to not mention the long and complex changes that have happened to this country over the last century to put the current political climate into some kind of perspective. Japan annexed Korea from 1910 until the end of World War II, when Japan surrendered, and the country was divided at the 38th parallel by the United Nations, with the Soviet Union administering the North and the United States the South. Both Korean governments wanted to control the whole of the Korean peninsular, and border conflicts escalated over the years until a full-scale civil war broke out in 1950, the infamous Korean War.

This could also be described as the first armed conflict of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States and created the idea of a proxy war, where the superpowers would fight in a remote country. The North managed to push almost all the way to the far south before eventually being forced back northwards. An armistice was signed in 1953 where the original border set in 1945 was re-established. Part of the deal was that Soviet and American forces were to leave the peninsular, but only the Soviets left in the end, leaving a large US presence in South Korea to this day. Keep reading Paul’s story on his website…

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