Warplanes: North Korean Style


June 17, 2014: North Korea recently broadcast a propaganda video showing leader Kim Jong Un visiting an air force training facility. This visit featured a biplane and various elderly trainer aircraft (and one helicopter smuggled in from Germany years ago) firing unguided rockets at ground targets. Then there was the presentation of the new personal aircraft for the national leader. Kim Jong Uns father and grandfather did not like to fly and relied instead on private armored trains. But the 30 year old Kim Jong Un has no fear of flying. That might change once he comes to know the background of his new personal aircraft; an elderly Russian IL-62M done up in a fresh coat of paint.

The IL-62M is a design that dates from the 1960s, with a major upgrade (the “M” models) in the 1970s. It used to be a major (292 built between 1967 and 1995) airliner during the Soviet. But once the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 sales for the IL-62M disappeared because now more expensive (but more efficient and a whole lot safer) Western airliners were allowed to be sold in the former Soviet Union (and the East European states  under Soviet control until 1991). Most of the IL-62s still in service (about ten percent of those built) were conversions for special tasks. One of these special uses was airborne command aircraft for the military and VIP aircraft for senior leaders. Russia continued using their IL-62M VIP aircraft until about a decade ago. One of these VIP aircraft was exported to North Korea, which did not use it much because the senior leader did not like to fly. But now the North Korean IL-62M has a fresh paint job and more work to do.

Despite its Soviet pedigree, the IL-62M was actually well liked by passengers and pilots for its easy handling and smooth ride. Those in charge of maintenance for the Il-62 were less pleased. Russian jet engines were never as efficient and reliable as those in the West. The IL-62M was safe, as long as you spent the required time on keeping the four engines in good working order. These engines required more frequent rebuilding than their Western counterparts. This was expensive and most of the IL-62 accidents could be traced to delaying the engine maintenance in order to save money. Most North Korean warplanes are grounded most of the time because of spare parts and fuel shortages. One of the few exceptions with be the supreme leaders IL-62.





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