An Air Koryo Ilyushin IL-62 in Beijing, ready for boarding. Photo by Bernie Leighton.
To fly on an Ilyushin IL-62 in 2012 is not something many people would think of doing, let alone going to the lengths I did to enjoy the privilege.
On October 20, 2012 after months of planning, amounts of Euro cash that had bank-tellers convinced I was a spy; a lovely jaunt to Beijing on Air Macau and a visit to Datangshan, I was standing at the check in counter for Air Koryo in Terminal 2 at Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK). Oddly, and unfortunately for collectors of rare boarding passes, flights to Pyongyang are issued on Air China stock.
Chinese police, and politeness didn’t really allow me to capture the sight of the sheer amount of cargo the North Korean people were taking back but it was the contents I found more curious than the volume. A cursory search of the bindles and exposed boxes showed mostly flat-screen TVs and other completely civilian commercial goods.
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.
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…
Air Koryo Ilyushin Il-62M (P-881)
Air Koryo was founded in 1954 and is based out of the Sunan International Airport in North Korea. It is fully government owned. Since North Korea is not a lot of people’s friends around the world, they fleet is a bit aged. They have IL-62’s, Tu-154’s, Tu-204’s, Tu-134 and a few others. They are currently in the process of trying to modernize their fleet with additional Russian-built aircraft (and doing better than Aeroflot). Air Koryo’s TU-204 was the first one to be exported out of Russia.
Their livery looks just like you would expect a communist government-run livery to look. Drab with gray and of course red. Even though simplistic, I can’t help by love a Russian built aircraft with classic communist-looking livery on it.
Thanks Matthew D for this livery idea! Image: foo_fighter_spotting