Another situation I could avail myself of there was that of flying on an Antonov An-24. This flight happened before the Tupolev Tu-134 flight that I described on the earlier chapter, but it was much easier for me to describe it here.
There was no need to go anywhere in particular, but the chance arose to fly on the Airplane departing Pyongyang and coming back to the same place.
And since I arrived in North Korea throwing money to the sky and shooting my shotgun while I would tell beautiful korean women “hey babe all this is yours” (but no one would understand English and they’d run scared) I took advantage of the chance. The ride costed its good amount of euros. Nah, not so many, but when you’re not millionaire everything is expensive.
The An-24 is a turboprop that carries more than 40 passengers and flew for the first time in the late 50s, purposely designed to replace the Ilyushin Il-14 that I mentioned beforehand (which replaced the Il-12, which replaced the Li-2 that was a soviet DC-3, hi hi hi).
This Airplane on its many variants turned out to be SUCH a good Airplane that nowadays there are many still flying, even in Colombia.
On top on the original Antonov, they make two Airplanes called the MA-60 and the MA-600 in China that are based on the An-32, and in Saudi Arabia there’s a company called Taqnia that is making yet another improved An-32 called the An-132, jointly with the main factory in Kiev.
Here in Colombia there’s An-26 and An-32, later versions of the An-24. Even the army has a pair of An-32, as can be seen on the photo below.
I don’t know if there’s is an original An-24 flying around here.
The An-32 in particular has a huge engine and is deliciously sexy, but the one I had in front of me there in Pyongyang was an original An-24, and it thrilled my socks!
So I boarded the P-537 that by that time was more than 45 years old (one of the oldest Airplanes I’ve had the honour of flying on), and we went to take a little flight around the neighbourhood.
What a masterful sound! What an eardrum-busting symphony! (nah, it was louder than a modern turboprop, but not soooo much so, no).
The Airplane’s interior was very classic, and like many Airplanes of this kind it didn’t have a window for all the seats. Fortunately it wasn’t a problem for me and I got one.
It was curious to see the sign they had to activate the emergency exit. It said “FOR STEPPED OUTSIDE CABIN ATTRACT THE HANDLE”, another example of funny and misused English in Asia, something all too common there.
I have no idea exactly where did we fly over, but I do remember we went almost all the way to the chinese border and as usual I was having a blast.
After some time we started the descent and started the approach. The sun was already out (it had been cloudy when we took off) and I saw the shadow of the Airplane get progressively bigger as we got lower.
And so we landed, and what would be the next to the last flight within North Korea on that trip was over, the next one would be the Tupolev Tu-134 flight described on the sixth part, and after that one, the flight returning to China.
Minutes after I stepped out the Airplane, the Air China Boeing 737 inbound from Beijing landed, the only flight operated to Pyongyang by a foreign airline.
Just like in the Tu-134 flight, on this one the crew was happy and postured for us.
“Heeeey waaaaait for meee!”
Now that’s more like it.
Little by little the trip was coming to an end.
And indeed it came to an end (what did you think? that it was going to last forever? well, no!), and it was time to go back. I had a choice to return to either Beijing or Shenyang, and I chose Shenyang.
The reasons for that were threefold, the first reason is that in theory the flight was going to be on a Tupolev Tu-154, another Airplane I’m dying to fly on (note I write that on present tense).
The second one is that it was a city that I hadn’t been to, I had been to Beijing already anyway. The third one is that my grandfather had lived in Shenyang and I wanted to undo the old man’s steps, even though he had died a long time ago and he couldn’t tell me anything about it.
So on flight JS155 I was off to Shenyang, but so many people were going to Shenyang that day that the Tupolev Tu-154 was changed for an Ilyushin Il-62, since the latter can carry more passengers than the former.
To make things even more flavourful, lots of people were going to Beijing as well, so much so that they put an additional flight on top of the original that was operated on Tupolev Tu-204 (the original was JS151, and the additional was JS221, as can be seen a couple of photos up), and this additional flight was flown on… Tupolev Tu-154! God damn it!
I felt like if I had been told I was HIV-Aladeen (see video), I was going to be flying the magnificent and spectacular Ilyushin Il-62 again, but my Tupolev Tu-154 day wasn’t going to be that one!
I still haven’t been able to fly on the Tu-154 at the time of writing this, and time passes by… I wonder if I’ll make it.
Thing is I made the formalities to exit the country, got back my blue Nokia mobile, and departed to Shenyang very happy with all I had experienced. Besides, I was going to be able to get in the internet again, great!
Back then Air Koryo had two Il-62 Airplanes flying passengers, P-881 and P-885. I had arrived in the country on P-885, so in light of the Tu-154 change I hoped at least it was going to be P-881, but no joy. The return flight was again on the P-885.
I talked to you about the P-885 already, the only thing I can say about that particular flight (besides the delight it was to be able to fly on Ilyushin Il-62 again, in spite of everything) was that the food was the famous Koryo Burger, which is pretty famous in the world of Aviation geeks such as myself. Can’t really say it was bad.
A detail I saw when departing is that there was another Il-62 that had been operated by Cubana somewhere else in the Airport, kind of hidden but visible to some extent, and that still had the airline’s colours.
Someone told me they had bought it for spares for the rest of the fleet, but I never knew for sure. Its registration was CU-T1280, and it was very curious because I had seen that exact Airplane in Bogotá’s Airport a couple of times (do you remember I told you that Cubana used to fly Il-62 between Havana and Bogotá?), and I came to see it again in Pyongyang of all places, ja!
Cuba and North Korea have diplomatic relations and interchanges, so much so that in Panama they seized a ship that was traveling between both countries after having departed from the island, because they declared they were carrying only sugar, but they also had on board some Airplanes, some radars, and other undeclared ordnance. The cubans later said it all was going to be serviced in North Korea. It created turmoil!
The day was beautiful, and so we left for Shenyang. Bye-bye Pyongyang!
The flight went by normally, and soon we were descending to land.
Shenyang is the biggest chinese city close to North Korea, it’s the capital of Liaoning province. So the flight was shorter than the Beijing one.
Approaching Shenyang, my last minutes on board an Ilyushin Il-62 up until now (and who knows if forever).
Some friendss were waiting for me in Shenyang, the photo below was taken by my friendss Feiruitao, that’s P-885 coming to land in Shenyang with me as a passenger.
After disembarking I had one last photo taken with the Ilyushin Il-62, and then we were bussed to the terminal to do the formalities.
When I finished the immigration and customs formalities in China, I met with my friendss and we went to a forest that runs parallel to the runway at Taoxian Airport, as can be seen on this other photo taken by my friendss Feiruitao, and in which my friendss Zhao also appears. I would meet Zhao again in Australia a couple of years later.
We reached the forest so quickly that the Airplane I had arrived in was still in the Airport. Right in the moment the ultra beautiful Ilyushin Il-62 was getting ready to depart back to Pyongyang a Korean Air Boeing 737 landed from Seoul, and they crossed each other.
After that, the south’s Boeing 737 followed the north’s Ilyushin Il-62 along the taxiway, the former arriving and the latter departing.
I wonder what were the Pilots of each Airplane thinking when they saw the others, whether they would be having stern looks between themselves, or cursing each other, or something like that (all in the generally civilised world of taxiing in Airports).
In that moment some security guy from the Airport arrived and I thought he was about to get annoying about the photos, but he was just talking with my chinese friendss. After a while he started to do a crazy dance, got into his Volkswagen Santana, and left.
After him a second guy arrived and also began talking to my friendss, but this time around it was about me, he asked whether I was studying chinese, where was I from… I was the curiosity! He didn’t annoy at all with the photos.
And after a little while the Airplane I had arrived in finally began its voyage back to Pyongyang.
After that I just remained there some more time, taking photos, and then I left with my friendss to meet some other friendss of theirs and to eat. Below there’s a photo of me on that extra time we remained in the place, also taken by Feiruitao.
On arrival in Shenyang I realised in my suitcase’s tag (a warrior and beaten up suitcase by the way) that my name was still “Anders” as if I was danish, the little detail I had discovered in Beijing’s Airport prior to our departure days before. Turn your head 180 degrees and read the image below. I then laughed and went to take a stroll around the city.
I saw and did a lot in North Korea within what was possible, but there were many things left to do. For instance, I want to go to the Arirang Mass Games (see video), I want to go to Paektu mountain without the bus stalling and see the Heaven Lake, I want to go to the International Friendship Exhibition, that is basically a museum showing the many gifts Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il were presented by other foreign dignitaries, some of them quite curious!
I want to go to Kim Il-Sung square when they’re on a military parade, I want to go to the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, where Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il are embalmed (like the Lenin mausoleum in Moscow’s red square). In fact, I was supposed to go to Kumsusan, but it was being refurbished and the work wasn’t finished by the time I went there.
Besides that, I want to fly on Tupolev Tu-204, Tupolev Tu-154, Mil Mi-17 (this one’s a Helicopter) and Ilyushin Il-76. This is all possible at the time of writing this, I hope it still is when I get out of my current quagmire and I am in a position to do so, if the regime hasn’t collapsed or there hasn’t been a nuclear war, that is.
The trip left me some of the best experiences, not only in the North Korea part, but also in the remaining places I visited, which as I said are material for another article. I met some friends that I still talk to, many years later, and I have souvenirs that I cherish.
On top of all that, an article on the solely Aviation part of the trip I made was published on a japanese magazine, and when it went out it apparently was a hit and they said to me: “heeey it was a hit, we’re going to pay you more just because of that”. After it all had been paid and settled as far as I was concerned. What a great moment that was.
I was not on a financial surplus (I have never been in that position in my life), and I was squeezed even tighter after all this adventure, but the unexpected and not budgeted for yen that came my way because of the article in Japan helped cushion the hit, go figure.
But ask me if I regret it one single second! The answer, as my korean friendss would say, would be an outright 아니요.