‘Military aviation history in the making’ — that’s what those who made the journey to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) over the weekend of September 24-25 said as the country opened its forbidden doors to stage its first ever public air event – including participation of its ultra-rare military hardware.
The Wonsan Air Festival took place at the newly opened Kalma International Airport at Wonson in the central eastern coast of this somewhat unique country. In face of multiple sanctions, including aviation fuel, the country staged a truly incredulous event that not only saw continuous flying of the Tu-134, Tu-154, Il-18 and Il-62 of state airline Air Koryo (the only place in the world where this can happen), but also – most significantly – the first ever public appearance of the MiG-29 ‘Fulcrum’, MiG-21 ‘Fishbed’, Su-25 ‘Frogfoot, MD500 helos and Y5s (the Chinese-built copy of the An-2 ‘Colt’), plus Mi-8/17s flying.
In complete awe of the occasion were 200 western aviation enthusiasts and, just as open mouthed, were some 15,000 members of the DPRK public. It was a ‘first’ for both cultures. Never before has the military of the DPRK been seen – let alone actively enabled for photography.
Organising the event was London-based Juche Air Travel Services in partnership with the Korean International Travel Company. ‘It’s taken three years of hard work’, said David Thompson of Juche, ‘but they delivered what they promised and we have seen aviation history being made’.
The first day’s air display consisted of a smooth MiG-29, Su-25 and MD500 solo performances, as well as a three-ship Su-25 flight and a two-ship MiG-21 flight, plus a four-ship MD500 routine and each Air Koryo machine performing fly-bys. The second day’s proceedings saw the 200 westerners board the Air Koryo fleet for pleasure flights, as well as a static display of one of each military type, whilst the license-built An-2s, Mi-8s and an Mi-17 were also conducting pleasure flights, using full DPRK AF examples on multiple flights.
The sights and scenes of this event are almost indescribable (including those of the country’s first ever beer festival!), but ensure you buy the December issue of Combat Aircraft for a full report, including interviews, a full set of images and plans for 2017.