Back in July, we told you about plans for North Korea’s first airshow. Now it’s time to report how the Wonsan Air Festival 2016 turned out!

Kalma International Airport in Wonsan, North Korea was the scene of North Korea’s first international airshow, dubbed the Wonsan International Friendship Air Festival 2016. In an effort to promote tourism to the hermit kingdom, the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) held the two day festival from September 24-25th. North Korea opened its country to international aviation enthusiasts with several travel agencies providing airshow packages to the event.

The Wonsan area, on the east coast of North Korea, has been targeted as an economic improvement zone and tourism area. Curiously, there are currently no international flights in and out of Kalma International Airport. Tourist flights instead arrived via Pyongyang via Beijing.

North Korea has called the festival “a non-political event organized to bring together aviation and air sports enthusiasts from around the world to share in their passion.”

The airshow consisted mainly of commercial aircraft performing straight and level flybys with military aircraft interspersed between demonstrating basic rolls and maneuvers. Aircraft spotted included the Russian built Air Koryo IL-18, the Air Koryo IL-62M and the massive Air Koryo IL-76TD. Air Koryo is the official state airline of the DPRK.

DPRK MiG-29 (Sam Chui)
DPRK MiG-29 (Sam Chui)

Military aircraft performances included a MiG-29 performing a vertical climb on takeoff. The MiG-29 made several passes in front of the crowd line performing turns and an inverted pass. Additionally,  a light division of SU-25’s performed a three plane flyby as well as a section of MiG-21’s performing a section takeoff. The MiG-21 was flown by the country’s first female fighter pilot.

“This plane is faster than other airplanes and can maneuver quickly, so there is little time to think, you must make fast decisions,” said Rim Sol, standing beside her MiG-21 on the tarmac.  Taking the opportunity for North Korean MiG-21 pilots to practice landings might also help with getting ahead of the jet (See video at 9:40 for a sporty landing).

While the military aircraft were impressive, none of the fighters carried ordnance (a common airshow practice). Based off what was seen at the airshow, determining DPRK’s ability to conduct real world missions would be difficult. Getting aircraft airborne and flying is only one step. Having a fighter or bomber aircraft shoot or drop real ordnance on actual targets is performing a much larger step.