Air Koryo Tupolev TU-134 (P-814) with crew.
Read Bernie’s other Russian Metal reports of the Ilyushin IL-62 and the Ilyushin IL-18.
Andrei Tupolev was an engineering hero. When he saw that the Tu-124’s wingroot engines were sub-optimal for unpaved airfields and difficult to maintain, he decided to change it and create what would be the most prolific regional jet of the Warsaw Pact: the Tupolev Tu-134.
With most of the Russian airlines having replaced their Tu-134 with Canadair Regional Jets, once again- Air Koryo (airline code: JS) is your best bet to catch a ride. Flights within Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) are always challenging to arrange. Not only do you need permission from the landing and departing airport, you also need permission to overfly every province and air defense district.
It turns out that “flying on a vintage Russian aircraft” is not enough to satisfy the DPRK bureaucracy. As such, the tour guides always needed a more conventional “touristy” reason for the flights to be conducted for approvals to be granted quickly. On top of that, the guides had to be granted permission to leave Pyongyang months in advance.
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.
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.