Tour Report: Wonsan Air Festival 2016 Day 1 – “Photographing Soviet Classics”

Wonsan Air Festival 2016 Pt. 2: Airshow Day 1

(Traveled on September 24, 2016)

When I learned that North Korea would be hosting its first public airshow, the Wonsan Air Festival, I did not spend much time thinking about whether to participate or not. Participating turned out to be the right choice given the photo and flying opportunities the airshow provided. In the second part of the report, I take a close look at the second day of the tour, the first day of the airshow.

A Quick Visit to Wonsan’s Central Square

Since the plan was to leave the hotel at 7:00AM, the alarm rang at 6:15AM. Still half asleep we went down into the hotel cafeteria to grab a quick breakfast. Unfortunately, once again, the food didn’t fit my preferences too well, and so after 10 minutes, I was done with the meal.

The KN Aviation group of 16 people met up in the lobby with the three guides that were taking care of us throughout the trip, and we were driven to Wonsan’s central square.

After all the groups arrived, we gathered and walked over to the statue of the Leaders where flowers were presented by the festival organizers before heading back to the buses and driving over to the airport.

Traffic Police

A typical North Korean traffic policeman.
Flower Stand

A flower stand in a vicinity of the statue.
Flowers

The festival organizers presenting flowers to the Leaders.
Statues

The central square in Wonsan full of red flowers.
Port

Driving along the coast, many ships – large and small, can be seen.

Morning on the Ramp

Once we cleared the airport security, the fun could begin.

Wonsan Airport Terminal

The brand new Wonsan airport.
Wonsan Airport Terminal

Heading towards the security to enter the ramp.

In the morning, all the Air Koryo aircraft except for the Ilyushin Il-76 were on static display in front of the terminal where we could see them up close, photograph them freely, and even touch them.

Air Koryo Tupolev Tu-154

Air Koryo Tupolev Tu-154B, the aircraft that brought us in from Pyongyang the day before, resting on the sunny Wonsan ramp.
Air Koryo Antonov An-24

Air Koryo Antonov An-24 on the ramp.
Air Koryo Ilyushin Il-18

Three Air Koryo noses: Il-18, Tu-134, and Il-62.
Air Koryo Ilyushin Il-62

Me together with the Air Koryo Ilyushin Il-62.

After about 30 minutes of photography, we walked across the runways to the other side of the airfield, the official location of the airshow. Simultaneously, thousands of local people started arriving. In fact, reports say there were over 15,000 local people, making it one of the largest events in the DPRK ever where the locals could mingle with foreigners.

Taxiway Sign

There are not many chance to sit on a taxiway sign!
V1, Rotate!

…or to become an airplane.
Locals Arriving

The local crowd arriving at the airport.

The Airshow Officially Begins

With everyone ready on the east side of the airport, the airshow could officially begin. At 10AM, the opening ceremony started with a speech from Yun Yong Sok, the First Vice-Chairman of the Wonsan Air Festival preparatory committee. It was followed by a couple of words from David Thomson-Rowlands, the president of Juche Travel Services and an Honorary Vice-Charman of the preparatory committee.

Moderators

Moderators of the opening ceremony.
Yun Yong Sok

Yun Yong Sok, the First Vice-Chairman of the preparatory committee.
David Thomson-Rowlands

David Thomson-Rowlands, the President of Juche Travel Services.
VIP Tribune

Spectators on the VIP tribune.
Media

Media from around the globe was present.
Crowd

The local and global crowd together, in one place.

Once the speeches were over, the crowd was ready for some aviation action. The first aircraft to awe the spectators was a Hughes 500 helicopter of the North Korean army performing a spectacular aerobatics display.

Hughes 500

Hughes 500 helicopter hovering in front of the tower.
Hughes 500

The helicopter performed a variety of stunts.

In the meantime, the civil aviation enthusiasts were getting excited as the four Ivchenko AI-20 engines of Air Koryo’s Ilyushin Il-18 (P-835) were coming to life, one after another. The Il-18 took off at 10:25AM, and from there on, it was flying display after flying display filling the entire morning.

Air Koryo Ilyushin Il-18

Air Koryo Ilyushin Il-18 departing for its display with some smoke.
Air Koryo Ilyushin Il-18

The Il-18 performing a low pass over the runway.

The displays were happening at just the right pace, with an aircraft taxiing for departure while another one was performing, and taking off right after the previous display’s end. With altering between civil and military displays, the organizers ensured that the program was well-balanced and that both sides of the enthusiasts’ spectrum were kept busy throughout the day.

After the fifteen-minute-long display by the Il-18, it was time for a Mig-29 of the North Korean air force to perform a breathtaking display. Performing a number of passes, including passes over the audience, the excitement grew as the enthusiasts were enjoying displays that would not be allowed in many other countries.

Korean People's Army Air Force Mig-29

Korean People’s Army Mig-29 fighter jet flying past the crowd.
Korean People's Army Air Force Mig-29

The Mig-29 retracting its gear after take-off.
North Koreans During Mig-29 Display

Local crowd waving at the Mig-29.

The next aircraft to perform was Air Koryo’s Tupolev Tu-134B-3 (P-814). In a bit less than fifteen minutes, the aircraft performed a loop around the airport and landed back on the dusty runway.

Air Koryo Tupolev Tu-134

The Tu-134 departing for its flight.
Air Koryo Tupolev Tu-134

The Tu-134 landing on the dusty Wonsan runway.

With the Tu-134 back on the ground, it was the military’s turn again. This time, a Sukhoi Su-25 performed a ten-minutes solo display before landing back at the airport and slowing down using a parachute.

Korean People's Army Su-25

KPA Su-25 shortly after taking off for its display.
Photographers

Military spotters in action.
Korean People's Army Su-25

The Su-25 slowing down with some help from parachute.

The final airliner display of the morning followed when Air Koryo’s Tupolev Tu-154B (P-552) took off at 11:53AM. After doing a fairly low pass over the crowd, it landed, giving space for the last flying display of the morning.

Air Koryo Tupolev Tu-154

Air Koryo Tupolev Tu-154 taxiing out for its display.
Air Koryo Tupolev Tu-154

The Tu-154 taking off in front of the Il-18, Il-62, and Tu-134.

Four Hughes 500 helicopters and their breathtaking aerobatics had the honor of being the last performers of the first part of the day. Even though I am not a big helicopter and military fan, some of the stunts were mesmerizing – especially when two pairs of helicopters passed each other head on at full speed.

Hughes 500

Fly by of a formation of four Hughes 500 helicopters.
Hughes 500

The most impressive maneuver of the Hughes 500 diplay – pairs of the helicopters flying towards each other. (The picture doesn’t do it justice.)

Once the performance was over and the runway cleared, we crossed it on foot once again to have a lunch in the terminal restaurant. The local people stayed on the east side, enjoying food and drinks from the stalls at the airshow.

Lunch Buffet

Lunch buffet.
Lunch Fruits

Lunch fruits.
Lunch Plate

My lunch.

The Afternoon Displays

After the fairly tasty and filling lunch buffet, rather than returning to the east side where the rest of the attendees was, we were allowed to stay on the west side to photograph aircraft with the sun behind us. What a great understanding of our hobby by the authorities and organizers.

While some people wandered around the apron, large number of us sat down on the grass next to the taxiway, and waited for the afternoon displays to begin.

The first aircraft to do a couple of fly-pasts was PAC P-750 XSTOL aircraft wearing an all-white livery, carrying the North Korean flag on its tail, and not having any registration. It was followed by another “mysterious,” unmarked light aircraft – Alpi Pioneer 400.

PAC P-750 XSTOL

Unmarked PAC P-750 XSTOL, only carrying the DPRK flag on its tail.

Alpi Pioneer 400

Unmarked Alpi Pioneer 400, an Italian light aircraft.

After the New Zealand and Italian light aircraft, it was time for Soviet heavy metal again. With the two Tupolevs and the Il-18 having flown already in the morning, next up was the Ilyushin Il-62 (P-885).

Air Koryo Ilyushin Il-62

Air Koryo Ilyushin Il-62, P-885, taxiing for take-off.

Air Koryo Ilyushin Il-62

The Il-62 starting its take-off run.

Air Koryo Ilyushin Il-62

The Il-62 performing a low-pass with the next performer taxiing for departure.

Air Koryo Ilyushin Il-62

The Il-62 landing at the end of its performance.

Air Koryo Ilyushin Il-62

The Il-62 taxiing to its parking stand with the four Soloviev engines peeking out from behind the wing.

After performing a low pass over the runway, the Il-62 gave space to the next aircraft, the Antonov An-24 (P-537).

Air Koryo Antonov An-24

Air Koryo Antonov An-24 departing in front of the local crowd.

Air Koryo Antonov An-24

The An-24 slowing down after landing.

Next up was Mil-17 of the North Korean air force, before the last airliner of the line-up – Ilyushin Il-76 (P-913) took-off for its low pass.

Korean People's Army Mil Mi-17

Korean People’s Army Mil Mi-17 hovering above the runway.

Air Koryo Ilyushin Il-76

Air Koryo Ilyushin Il-76 departing for its show.

Air Koryo Ilyushin Il-76

Low-pass by the Il-76. I wish photos had sound!

Air Koryo Ilyushin Il-76

The Il-76 landing after its demo.

Air Koryo Ilyushin Il-76

The Il-76 on its way to the cargo area via the dusty taxiway.

Air Koryo Ilyushin Il-76

So close! The aircraft did not fit in side-on at 18 mm APS-C.

The flying displays were concluded with two formation displays – firstly by three Su-25s, followed by a pair of Mig-21s.

Korean People's Army Sukhoi Su-25

One of the three Sukhoi Su-25s taxiing for take-off.

Korean People's Army Sukhoi Su-25

Number 28 shortly after take-off.

Korean People's Army Sukhoi Su-25

Fly-by in a formation of three aircraft.

Korean People's Army Sukhoi Su-25

A Su-25 slowing down using a parachute.

Once the Mig-21 engines started roaring as the aircraft taxied for take-off, the military enthusiasts chatter and excitement grew louder. Without a doubt it was the highlight for a large percentage of them. …and rightfully so, since the two female pilots dubbed the “flowers of the sky” by Kim Jong-Un performed a spectacular show.

Korean People's Army Mig-21

First of the two Mig-21s taxiing for take-off.

Korean People's Army Mig-21

The “flowers of the sky” lifting off with the help of afterburners.

Korean People's Army Mig-21

Number 42 landing with left gear touching down first.

With the “flowers of the sky” on the ground again, and the flying displays over, we crossed the runway once again to attend the charity raffle and to mingle among the locals a bit more before meeting up with our guides and heading back into the bus.

Locals

Group of local men.

Locals Drinking Beer

Locals enjoying some beer.

Beer

One of the stalls serving beer.

Locals

A local in traditional clothing walking past the crowd.

Model Store

Model store staff.

Sunset over Wonsan

Sunset over Wonsan airport at the end of the first day of the airshow.

Kangwon Province Art Troupe’s Performance

By the time the airshow was finished, it was already dinner time. As such, we drove directly to a local seafood restaurant where we enjoyed a fairly tasty course meal.

Restaurant

Dinner venue – a local seafood restaurant.

Kimchi

Kimchi.

Fish

Fish of unknown origin.

After the meal, being very tired, we reluctantly went to a live performance. However, the performance by Kangwon Province Art Troupe was so impressive that have we not gone there, we would have missed out on one of the best parts of the festival! Performance after performance of fine North Korean art, each one better than the previous one.

The performance lasted until about half past ten, and as such, after getting to the hotel, it was almost time to sleep. Another early morning, and a day full of flying was awaiting us!

Kangwon Province Art Troupe

Large crowd awaiting the performance.

Kangwon Province Art Troupe

Children in traditional North Korean clothes.

Kangwon Province Art Troupe

Performance by drummers.

Kangwon Province Art Troupe

Traditional theatrical performance.

Kangwon Province Art Troupe

Performance by children.

Kangwon Province Art Troupe

Grand closing of the show – all performers present on the stage.
 

Travel Products to Consider

Disclosure: KN Aviation is, among others, a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. As such, if you purchase products or services through some of the above links, I might earn a commission.
 

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