China and North Korea September 2016

 

 

          Going back several years.. the thought of anyone visiting North Korea would have been branded foolish or naive, specially when going to take pictures of aircraft and hanging round airports in this secretive country.... but these days several companies organise trips for the Aviation/Train enthusiasts to see and photograph something very special that are very seldom seen outside of its native country,  so with this in mind 'and also speaking to a number of friends who have visited North Korea and say it was a fantastic experience' i got the wallet out and headed out to see the first ever Airshow at Wonsan Air Festival......

                    As mentioned above several companies operate these tours now, but I'd decided on 4Aviation from the Netherlands... not been with them before but read some great reports from some of their trips....   anyway i was meeting a fellow shooter at Amsterdam Mr Craig 'Hamish' McCorriston from Edinburgh and then meeting 'Stockton's only Sheikh' Kevin Perry in Beijing with him working in the middle east...  Hamish and i had booked with KLM out of our local airports via Amsterdam and were planning on the flight to Beijing being a China Southern Airbus A380, but unfortunately they downgraded the flight to the smaller Airbus A330-300 due to less demand on that route of late......

  

    (DAY 1)  Wednesday 21st September 2016.  

          So.... the day had arrived, which seen me do something i thought I'd never do....  pay a 6 charge to use the Terminal at Durham Tees Valley (aka) "The White Elephant"  but hey... someone's got to use it while peel abuses it, or what was it peel said "use it or loose it" cant remember now ;-)..... anyway i boarded a 75% full KLM Fokker FK70 PH-KZP as (KLM1533) for the smooth 55 minutes to Amsterdam.. Not much in DTV other than the regular Gulfstream 650 N288Z, which had been on stand 1 for several days... and on arrival at Amsterdam i didn't have much time before the flight to China, so just wondered the piers hoping to shoot anything tasty...  again though, 'not much in'  with only a Dutch registered Falcon 7X going in the box.... eventually i headed to my gate and met up with Hamish, where we seen our ride, B-5959 Airbus A330-300 of China Southern being towed onto the stand. After an hour or so we were on our way for the 9hr 25 minutes overnight flight to Beijing...  very smooth flight until the approach where we seemed to be near supersonic in the descent getting bumped around as we descended through the build up of clouds...  

    (DAY 2) Thursday 22nd September 2016

        On arrival we had the free 72 hour visa to sort out, which took a while through immigration if im honest, then out to look for our driver, who was taking us round Beijing City to shoot stuff in the local museums and around the city... 'with the later not having much luck if im honest'....  anyway the first visit of the day was to the incredible China Aerospace Museum at Xiaotanshanzen,  where the weather wasn't the best though with thick grey cloud and heavy rain showers.. something that held us up leading to us not having enough time to get round the city later in the day....

       Just a couple of shots of the impressive stuff that can be seen their.....      

       After the museum we headed south to see the Air China Ilyushin IL62 in the World Park (3948'40.19"N// 11616'46.92"E)....   just as we arrived though down came the rain again and looked as though it wasn't going to stop for a while.. so with us already being behind schedule we decided to leave getting a shot and head to the next port of call...  Nanyuan Airport! this place has some very tasty inmates... Chinese Air force Tupolev TU154's and Boeing 737s.. but being a part military, base didn't know what to expect with regards to getting shots of them...  unfortunately though our driver 'who didn't speak English' took us to the military side, and after trying to show him our coordinates, weren't getting anywhere, so we left with nothing to show for the effort of going well out of our way.  So.. with us being well late now, we decided to leave the other two aircraft stored around the City..  the first being Y-7 (Antonov AN24) look a like, which was in a car park (3951'41.80"N// 11627'25.97"E), and a Boeing 727-200 N721DB in Air China Colours (3955'21.27"N//11630'46.83"E), which was in a shopping mall...   and onto our final stop of the day...  The China Civil Aviation Museum at Xiedao, another tasty museum with some nice transport aircraft..... 

     Again... a couple of shots from their... 

           Then later...  back to the Hotel Ibis at Beijing Airport, where we met up with Kev.   So..... not having the best start to the trip, Kev then rubbed salt in the wounds by showing us some tasty landing shots of the TU154s at Nanyuan, where he'd spent the day shooting arrivals the day before...  gutted!!  anyway, the rest of the night seen us heading into Beijing city centre to catch up with the 4Aviation group and collect our North Korean Visa and Flight details etc, while also experiencing the North Korean Cuisine, this was certainly my first taste of a North Korean meal and drink... and if im honest, looked as though i might be starving by the time i got back into China.. some 4 days later!

 

    (DAY 3) Friday 23rd September 2016

       Well....the day had arrived and off we went to Beijing Airports Terminal 2 for the check inn of our Air Koryo flight (PS152) to Pyongyang, once through  immigration we headed to our gate where our ride was sat in the midday smog, an Air Koryo Tupolev TU204 registered P-633.    No turning back now though as we boarded the 3 year old jet, which is very modern in terms of what we were due to fly in over the coming weekend, with all being the classic 1960's/70's soviet types that Air Koryo are renowned for...  anyway once airborne the smartly dressed stewardess came round with our so called lunch "cold North Korean Chicken burger"  being a picky eater i decided to give it a miss after having a weee nibble of it.....  and if im honest, was how the rest of the weekend went with regards to the food out in North Korea, something which i didn't enjoy if being truthful..  but back to our ride, and while i didn't enjoy the lunch.. i must say how impressed i was with the quietness of the TU204.....very nice aircraft....   

        So....   after 90 minutes, here we were arriving at a very modern looking Pyongyang International Airport terminal.. 'not the impression i was expecting at all if im honest'  but equally impressive was all the classic Air Koryo fleet of Tupolev's, Ilyushin's and Antonov's scattered around the ramps.... ohhh  baby!!  anyway.. once off the TU204 we headed to the tasty viewing balcony where we took pics of stuff on the ramp and waited for our next flight to be called....  this i was looking forward to as it was the first of the classic Air Koryo fleet we had flights in, and a first type for me to fly in.. A Tupolev TU154B registered P-552.... the 70s classic looked fantastic in the afternoon sun resplendent in the new Air Koryo livery, something that couldn't be said once inside im afraid though, with it looking a wee bit tired...  once onboard i headed straight to the back of the aircraft along with most of the party wanting to hear the famous start up of the soviet engines that power the beast....   Fantastic sound along with an impressive take off and slow climb out.. but the fun soon was over as the flight to Wonsan was only 30 minutes long which soon passed, and so came to an end of possibly my only flight in a classic Tupolev tri-jet!! 

TU154 Take off Video

  TU154 Landing Video

       Once arriving at Wonsan 'which again was a very impressive modern Terminal' we headed straight down the stairs of the spider (TU154) and onto the ramp rather than use the air bridge and started taking shots of the beast in the early evening sun along with the Ilyushin IL62 which arrived just before us with the other party on board... while on the ramp though the classic Air Koryo fleet started to arrive for the show, which included a Tupolev TU134, Ilyushin IL76, Ilyushin IL18 and Antonov AN24 to name a few, so by now everyone was going crazy round the ramps taking shots of the landing/taxiing aircraft, which was really unbelievable given that we still had not cleared Immigration/customs into North Korea, and if im honest had to pinch myself as to where we were and what we were doing and no one got bothered by security staff etc.. "Jesus" this is not what i expected to this place...,  i couldn't have had a bigger smile on my face when we eventually went to the gate with the light fading and headed though immigration and legally then entering the DPRK!   once through though, we were met by our guide 'Miss U' an English speaking local who was with us for the long weekend and our driver "Mr Driver" who did nothing but smile and nod at us all the time.. very funny character.. 

       So....   with all our party's safely on the six busses we headed off to our hotel, which was a couple of miles the other side of Wonsan city centre...    and relax....    "we were in" ;-)

 

        (DAY 4) Saturday 24th September 2016  (Wonsan Air Festival 1st day)

        This morning after breakfast we had to head into Wonsan city centre to meet up with several officials and the hosts of the Wonsan Air Festival to start and officially open the event, which seen us all meeting up in front of two big statues of past/present leaders of the country.. All the local media and photographers were their, who if im honest were around us all weekend, following our every move......   

 We then boarded the busses and headed off to the short drive to the airport, and on arrival each given a towel to sit on on the damp grass as we then had to go through the main ceremony for the opening of the first ever Airshow at the impressive Wonsan Airport.... Once finally over.. we settled on the south side next to the runway with the local crowd line behind us... so fantastic for shots! 

         The Airshow its self (which was due to start at 10am) was a mixture of the classic Air Koryo fleet, some of the North Korean Air Force and a couple of light GA stuff.. so something for everyone,  but as expected, 'quality as appose to quantity' was always going to be the reason for the visit...    anyway the plan for the Airshow was to stop at 12pm for lunch, and us regroup at 2pm, where we headed to the north side of the runway for the remainder of the show.... which finished at 4pm... 

         So.. some of the morning shots south side.... 

 

          And after lunch once the sun had gone round.. north side..

        After the Airshow we headed back over to the south side to visit the stalls, and later beer festival and enjoyed some of the local beers/food etc.. some more enjoyable than others if im honest with some mushroom  juice/vodka going down well with a few of the group!! After a few hours we then headed back into Wonsan city to a local restaurant to have an evening meal, and after to an open air concert...   and so back to the hotel for which was a long day over....

     

        (DAY 5) Sunday 25th September 2016 (Wonsan Air Festival 2nd day)

        Today was pretty much a repeat of yesterday... 'but with no Airshow as such'  it started with the local parachute displays teams in their Mil helicopters followed by the local Radio Controlled model aircraft club with a number of displays, then us shooting the line up of static North Korean Air Force stuff, and an added bonus later, meeting the two female MIG 21 pilots who displayed yesterday! 'would have been nice though to hear what the two pilots thought of all these grown men pushing/shoving one another trying to get the best shots, in what can only be described as a maul!!  i took a couple of elbows in the face, but dished a few out!! ;-)

 

then after lunch it was time to experience the classic Air Koryo fleet, with each type doing 30 minute pleasure flights for the rest of the afternoon until dark. Unfortunately though most only did one flight, so for those like me 'a shooter' missed a good chance to get some nice action shots of them in beautiful light, if you decided to fly on them, anyway I'd only booked three aircraft but all of Air Koryo's fleet plus some North Korean Air Force AN2's and Mil-8/17s were their for the taking....  even a microlight!!

First was the very noisy but incredible Ilyushin IL76....  Unfortunately though no one was allowed a camera onboard so no pics/video were taken...  After the flight we taxied just passed the crowd line and stopped on the taxi way and down came the back doors, where we were told to leave by the back,  with engines still running!.......  so as you can imagine "hold on to your hats boys/girls".... with some unlucky female being blown over with the jet blast as walking across the ramp behind the beast!   "No health and safety red tape here" 

second 'and the highlight for me'.. a flight in a vintage Ilyushin IL18......

 

 and third and last of the day for me..  the sleekly looking Tupolev TU134..

 

After the highs of the pleasure flights we all then decided to hang around the runway/ramps 'and with the light fading' seen a couple of Air Koryo's fleet depart back to the capital and their base at Pyongyang Airport..

 

         Again after dark we made our way to a the Wonsan square where some several thousand kids celebrating the closure of the Airshow entertained us with their dancing...  and later, eventually heading to a restaurant for a late dinner... for more closure ceremonies...  "But what an incredible day"

        

          (DAY 6) Monday 26th September 2016 (Wonsan and Beijing China)

         Well...it was time to say good bye to Miss U and Mr Driver and leave this fascinating country behind.. but not before one more classic experience.. "a flight in a VC10 ski" Ilyushin IL62M registerd P-885.   We left the hotel at 04.30am and headed to the airport for the 30 minute flight back to the capital, but had a nightmare clearing customs and immigration here with all sorts of problems with the checking inn procedures,   but all the frustration was soon forgotten about shortly after as we climbed onboard this VC10 copy. I can honestly say though, I'd never thought in a million years I'd be flying in this beast having photographed it back in 1990 at Manchester Airport, when it brought some team in for some games being held in the north west city, 'so must admit' this along with the flight in the Ilyushin IL18 were the highlights of the trip for me, 'and again' pleasantly surprised how quiet this beast was in flight... 

        but all to soon the seat belt sign came as we were in the decent to Pyongyang Airport,  after landing we stayed airside for the quick transfer onto the waiting Tupolev TU204 P-633 operating the (PS151) service back to Beijing, 'shame it was the same aircraft back' as was the snack onboard, with all of the cold chicken burger getting demolished this time!!!! mmm nice ;-)  well we had no breakfast and even i was getting a bit braver with the food!!

  Once back into China....  it was straight into a Burger King in Beijing Airports terminal 3 for a whopper...  Must admit I've never enjoyed Burger King so much! "I'll never slate them again"  anyway the rest of the day was spent on the drop off zone shooting landings on the parallel runways until dark...

 

         (DAY 7 and 8) Tuesday/ Wednesday 27th/28th September 2016 (Beijing Airport)

         Today we headed firstly to Runway 36L for some early morning landing shots, and as the sun went round, then headed back to Terminal 3 drop off zone again...

   

         And Wednesday.. basically i just had a lie inn, and headed round to Terminal 3 again, and stayed until dark shooting arrivals on 36R and 01..   then headed to Terminal 2 for my midnight overnight flight back to Amsterdam..

 

       

        (DAY 9) Thursday 29th September 2016 (Amsterdam Airport)

        After the overnight 10hr.20 min flight to Amsterdam i headed to Gate D and managed to get a nice lazy chair right next to the window..

  was thinking of a hire car and hitting the perimeter, but the weather was horrendous for shots.. grey cloud, wind and rain etc...  so just chilled until it was time to catch the KLM Fokker FK70 PH-KZM as (KL1535) service back to gods country and the White Elephant (DTV)!  Again another 75% load on the service which had me back to the North East of the UK in 50 minutes, where a Citationjet G-LUBB was sat on the ramp..

       In all a fantastic trip, which as id mentioned before, isn't about quantity but quality.. 'where else can you see and fly on so many Russian classics'  and im talking military as well, which if im honest doesn't melt my butter, 'but even i got excited to see the MIG21s perform'....and next years Airshow is apparently going to be bigger and better, with some more military already in the program...   So if your thinking about it,  "then get the wallet opened"  "you wont regret it, and you may even enjoy the cold chicken burger! ;-)