North Korea

Kim Jong-un’s private jets, and where he could fly them to meet Donald Trump

Having broken with his usual preference for rail travel by flying to China, the leader may be ready to hold a summit with the US farther afield – and he has aircraft at his disposal

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 May, 2018, 9:13pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 May, 2018, 6:26pm

North Korean leaders usually travel by train when going overseas, but Kim Jong-un flew to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday – which may broaden the choice of locations for his meeting with US President Donald Trump next month.

For his first China visit in March – also his first foreign trip as leader – Kim travelled on a 22-carriage armoured train moving at 60km/h, exactly as his famously aerophobic father used to.

But on Monday he flew to China’s northeast city of Dalian, which is only 360km from Pyongyang, by air.

The North Korean Air Force One – named Chammae-1, a modified Soviet-made jetliner Ilyushin Il-62M aircraft – was photographed at Dalian airport.

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This means that for the meeting with Trump, it would not be impossible for Kim to travel to more distant destinations by air, rather than to one of the few options accessible by train.

Kim’s long-haul Il-62M

The four-engine cold war legacy aircraft Il-62M has a range of about 10,000km, enabling it to make a non-stop journey from North Korea to the west coast of the United States, or to European cities such as Zurich and Stockholm.

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It is more than capable of the 5,000km trip from Pyongyang to Singapore, if a summit between the US and North Korea were to take place there, as has been suggested.

The long-range narrow-body jet Il-62 was introduced in the 1960s and the variant Il-62M was developed in the 1970s until production stopped in 1995. Air Koryo, North Korea’s flag carrier and only airline, now operates four of them, including a converted VIP aircraft for its head of state.

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Kim’s younger sister Kim Yo-jong, who was also among the delegation to Dalian, had taken the Chammae-1 to Pyeongchang in South Korea as the special envoy of North Korea for the Winter Olympics in February.

In 1983, an Air Koryo Il-62M crashed in Guinea, where it was bound from Pyongyang, after making two refuelling stops on the way. All 23 people on board were killed in what was the airline’s first fatal accident.

The personalised An-148

As well as Chammae-1, Kim has another private jet, a Ukraine-made Antonov An-148, which had its first test flight in 2004 and began mass production in 2009.

Air Koryo bought a couple of these in 2013 and used them for commercial trips in China, but this smaller, newer aircraft soon became a chartered option for the leader – although it has a shorter range, of about 3,500km.

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Kim has been shown by official North Korean media boarding or stepping out of the newly purchased An-148 and was photographed taking the plane – with an interior refurbished for his private use – for a spin over Pyongyang to celebrate his late father’s birthday in February 2015.

Korean Central News Agency images showed Kim sitting behind a large wooden desk with a lamp and an ashtray, and occasionally staring out over the capital from his opulent white leather executive chair.

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Satellite images have shown Kim built several new runways long enough to land this aircraft next to some of his family palaces across the country in the first few years of his reign, in a further sign of his interest in taking to the sky.

He has even piloted what may have been this plane himself – with the help of pilot. In an official documentary released in 2014, he was shown sitting in the cockpit, going through the manual checklist, taking off, flying and landing.