This story was featured in Toronto, Canada’s TheStar.com and was written by Eric Talmadge of the Associated Press. At the end of his article Eric wrote, “Officials say the ultralight aircraft used for the flights were made in North Korea.” If so, I’d say they are a knock-off of a Chinese aircraft that I have examined.
A China airplane looking very similar has been seen at AirVenture 2015 though I’m guessing few visitors paid it much attention as it was far from the sleek, beautiful light aircraft commonly seen at the big show. However, China’s A2C-L aircraft, developed by the AVIC Special Vehicle Research Institute, was this year the first ultralight aircraft to obtain a certificate of model design approval and a production permit issued by Civil Aviation Administration of China, according to China Aviation News. Nearly 100 A2C planes have been sold, that publication reported.The lead photo is mine from a China airshow in May 2015 and it looks very similar to the ones appearing with the rest of this article. Ironic, you might find it, that a China airplane could be knocked off by another country. Many American think China is taking products from other nations and making their own copies. Perhaps this shows how far China has advanced?
Mr. Talmadge reported in The Star, “Until a few months ago, if you wanted a bird’s-eye view of North Korea’s capital, you basically had only one option: a 492-foot-tall tower across the river from Kim Il Sung Square.
Now, if you have the cash, you can climb into the back seat of an ultralight aircraft.” He explained that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has vowed to give North Koreans more modern and “cultured” ways to spend their leisure time, and with foreign tourism companies looking to entice visitors with unique things to do besides visit war museums and political monuments, a Pyongyang flying club has started offering short flights over some of the capital’s major sights. Maybe it’s working as Talmadge reported, “Officials say more than 4,000 North Koreans have gone up in the ultralight fleet since, along with ‘hundreds of foreigners’ from 12 countries.”
His report continued, “The tours, which began in late July, are operated by the Mirim flying club out of a fancy new facility on an old airfield.” Flights go directly over some of Pyongyang’s most iconic spots, including the gargantuan May Day stadium, the torch-tipped Juche Tower and Kim Il Sung Square area, and the Munsu Water Park (center photo), another of Kim’s leisure spot “gifts” to the city. After each flight, the tightly controlled society requires club officials to inspect photographs taken from the air.The Star reported that seeing the city from a height of 6,000 feet while moving through the skies at ultralight speeds offers a different perspective from anything tourists, and even most Pyongyang residents, had ever been able to get before.
Flights aren’t cheap. A 25-minute mission from the airstrip on the outskirts of the city to Kim Il Sung Square and the Juche Tower, which had previously been the best place to get an urban panorama, sells for about $150 (2-3 month’s wages for an average Korean factory worker). Shorter flights are offered at lower prices, starting from about $65, but those only fly around the immediate vicinity of the flight club, which is fairly rural. Prices for North Koreans are much cheaper, though club officials reportedly would not say exactly how much.
Officials say the ultralight aircraft used for the flights were made in North Korea. Perhaps, but if so, they must have used the A2C-L as their template. North Korea does trade with China, one of its few export/import partners.
I can only marvel at what North Koreans or tourists would think if they saw one of our modern Light-Sport Aircraft or a well-made American ultralight-like aircraft. China has other models North Korea might access but maybe the A2C-L was chosen for specific reasons. I’m guessing those few thousand folks that have taken a flight find it a special experience… one any American can take virtually for granted.