Iluyshin IL-18. Photo by Bernie. Leighton.

An Air Koryo Ilyushin IL-18. Photo by Bernie Leighton.

I was lucky enough recently to visit the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). In retrospect, I went to DPRK for this aircraft. It is such a wonderful aircraft that I periodically investigate how to buy one. That plane would be the Ilyushin IL-18.

Modern aircraft, even modern turboprops, have one glaring flaw. They are not loud enough.

While I love the first and business products aboard A380s, one person snoring can ruin the entire flight. I admit most people probably are not like me and don’t consider the risk of permanent hearing damage to be something they’d want out of a regular passenger transport flight. I will, forever, consider them wrong.

Boarding the IL-18 (P-835) in Pyongyang. Photo by Bernie Leighton.

Boarding the IL-18 (P-835) in Pyongyang. Photo by Bernie Leighton.

Better in every way than a Lockheed Electra II, the IL-18 was the premiere long-haul airliner of the Soviet Union until the Tupolev Tu-114 (an even louder, more wondrous, beast) took its crown.

Daalo Air of Somaliland used to use a few chartered from Maxair in Kazakhstan to fly from Hargeisa to various other points in Somalia and Sudan- but when the airport was shut down for upgrades, the IL-18 service ended. This means that the last commercial IL-18 operator anywhere on Earth is Air Koryo — and what an IL-18D they use!

P-835 was once commissioned as the VIP aircraft for Great Leader Kim Il Sung. What is unclear, however, is what the VIP configuration was like. All that remains of its former role is a special instrument panel in the rear cabin; installed so the senior Kim could watch the instruments without having to go to the flight deck.

The inside cabin if the IL-18.

The IL-18 has a 2-3 layout in economy. Photo by Bernie Leighton.

Much like an ATR, boarding of an IL-18 is done via the rear entrance. For weight and balance purposes (I later found out concern over comfort was a factor, ha!) the front pax cabin was blocked off.

Seats on Russian planes of that vintage have a unique feature: they can fold forward. I am not sure if that really matters to the overall passenger experience, but it was rather fun to experiment with. On the outbound leg to Chongjin I took a wing seat so I could get a better view of the engines and propellers.

BONUS: See Bernie’s story on flying on an Ilyushin IL-62M

The IL-18 cabin is surprisingly wide, and for an Air Koryo aircraft befit with generous seat pitch. The main cabin is separated from the front cabin via a gigantic, crowded, galley. Complete with a vintage 1968 Russian refrigerator. A fairly standard bulkhead, however only separates the rear-cabin.

The blue blades of the IL-18. Photo by Bernie Leighton.

The blue blades of the IL-18. Photo by Bernie Leighton.

Driven by four Ivchenko AI-20M turbines, the props are properly Soviet Cold War blue. The aircraft on start-up was relatively quiet- at least in the main and rear cabins. It smells different, not like vodka and communism as I had hoped, but certainly a stronger aroma of Jet-A.

During taxi, the aircraft seemed to glide over the bumps of the Soviet concrete that formed Pyongyang Sunan International Airport’s (FNJ) taxiways, ramps, and runways.

Takeoff, much as you would expect could be described as lumbering. Even for the short flight to see the collectivized fish farms of Chongjin, one could describe the pace as leisurely.

Unlike many of the Russian jets, the IL-18 handles turbulence robustly. The rotational force generated by the four props and reasonably high aspect ratio means that this aircraft can take any condition in stride. It was a very relaxing and an amazing ride.

Up close shot of instruments installed when this IL-18 was a VIP aircraft for the leader of North Korea. Photo by Bernie Leighton.

Up close shot of instruments installed when this IL-18 was a VIP aircraft for the leader of North Korea. Photo by Bernie Leighton.

I decided I should venture to the front cabin and see what a real Russian prop was like. Turns out, the closest experience is entering a very large paint shaker. There is either less sound insulation, or it is insufficient. The vibration is so strong, that when I went to take a photo of the wing- my camera slammed back into my face and left a nasty scratch on my glasses.

Eventually, I got the photo. But after that, the polite thing to do was to leave the cabin and let the other people experience the sheer bliss of real flying. If I could have had it my way, I would have spent the whole flight seated in 3A watching the engines turn and slowly jarring loose fillings I do not even have.

I may be in the minority, but I certainly think that is how short-haul flying should be — even in the front cabin at cruise thrust. My ears didn’t even ring and I have been to a louder concert in Vancouver less than a month before. Oh well, I knew there had to be a vintage Russian aircraft out there that was truly out of Stage-III compliance.

Although the aircraft was aged, service was still prompt and polite. As the IL-18 is so large, not only were we offered beverage service, there were also the same magazines and newspapers from my IL-62M flight that I took two days prior.

The Flight Deck of the Il-18.

The classic looking flight deck of the Il-18.

Orang Air Force Base, where we landed, is the headquarters for People’s Korean Air Force fighter training. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take photographs of the pristine Mig-15bis (all 28 of them) and Mig-15UB (There were seven of those). Furthermore, due to their positioning on the ramp, it made it rather challenging to actually photograph the IL-18.

The flight back from Orang was roughly the same as the flight there. In other words, awesome! The only downside of the entire experience was not getting to experience takeoff from the front cabin.

Soon I will be sharing my flight on a Tupolev TU-134, stay tuned.

This story written by Bernie Leighton, Correspondent.

Bernie has traveled around the world to learn about, experience & photograph different types of planes. Bernie will go anywhere to fly on anything. He spent four years in Australia learning about how to run an airline, while putting his learning into practice by mileage running around the world. You can usually find Bernie in his natural habitat: an airport.

@PowerToTheThird | Flickr |

CONTRIBUTOR - SEATTLE, WA. Bernie has traveled around the world to learn about, experience, and photograph different types of planes. He will go anywhere to fly on anything. He spent four years in Australia learning about how to run an airline, while putting his learning into practice by mileage running around the world. You can usually find Bernie in his natural habitat: an airport. Email: [email protected].

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33 Comments
tim aurich

I had the “pleasure” to fly on an IL-18 from Frankfurt (Germany) to Burgas (Bulgaria) roundtrip in the early 70s with then BULAIR. Unfortunately i don’t remember much since i was only 7 or 8 years old. I wish i could do it again now.

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Nice flight report. It’s a dream of mine flying what I consider the most venerable turboprop made. Imagining this used to fly the route MOW-HAV.
Just wished you have taken pics of the mentioned galley and something I’ve never seen of those planes: the lavatories.

I do have photos, I can put them up when I get back from a current assignment.

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David Uscus

Is this the last il-18 PAX in service?

Yes with a but.

It is the last Il-18RV in quasi-scheduled service. Thing is, if you know who to ask and have a lot of cash, Unit 223 from Chkalovsky Air Base has an Il-18D you can charger. Was supposed to fly it earlier this year, but there were some regulatory issues.

David Uscus

As of right now, 2015 or 2016, is this the last active il-18 PAX?

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