Air Koryo AN-24B (P-537) parked at Sondok
Antonovâ€™s AN-24 is probably the easiest of the classic Russian aircraft to hitch a ride on.Â With at least 800 still in service in eastern Europe, central Asia, Cuba, and Africa, usually all it takes to fly one is a creative routing.Â Of course, none of those AN-24 are operated by Air Koryo, the national airline of North Korea.
The AN-24 is a stereotypical high-winged turboprop. More akin to the classic Dash-8s,Â rather than the newer Q400s. It was built to take off from nearly anywhere and land on the most â€œunpreparedâ€ airfields Soviet surveyors and engineers could throw at it.Â P-537, the AN-24B I flew on, landed in Sondok shortly after myÂ arrival flight via an Air Koryo IL-76.
We were not allowed to photograph the interior until after lunch in Hamhung, but were permitted to walk around the airframe and take plenty of photographs.Â After lunch, I fought my way to the front of the line to ensure that I would have the opportunity to take an unobstructed cabin shot. My patience and persistence paid off.
Air Koryo IL-76MD (P-912) sitting in North Korea.
After UPS stopped doing weekend passenger charters with specifically configured 727s, hitching a ride on a freighter became something most civilians could only dream of.Â Even then, their charter aircraft had windows, conventional seats, easily accessible lavatories, and galleys. Although a 727 is a unique aircraft to fly on these days, I prefer Russian metal.
Soviet-era freighters are iconic. Anyone who has ever seen an AN-124 (Ruslan) land at KPAE knows the kind of crowd they can draw. I didnâ€™t get to travel on a Ruslan, but I did get to go on the most common Russian cargo aircraft: The IL-76MD.
P-912 was one of the last IL-76MDs ever made, despite still being equipped with the ubiquitous Soloviev D-30. Rolling off the line in 1990, this aircraft has been with Air Koryo ever since. Those of you who read my IL-18 article will remember my primary complaint: It was not loud enough. The IL-76 totally comes through.
An Air Koryo Ilyushin IL-18. Photo by Bernie Leighton.
I was lucky enough recently to visit theÂ 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 donâ€™t consider the risk of permanent hearing damage to be something theyâ€™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).Â Oddly, and unfortunately for collectors of rare boarding passes, flights to Pyongyang are issued on Air China stock.
Chinese police, and politeness didnâ€™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.