Kim Jong-un just made another surprise trip to China – this time, by plane.
Inside ‘Air Force Un,’ Kim Jong-un’s private jet
In his first known overseas trip by air as the supreme leader of North Korea, Kim flew into the northeastern city of Dalian on Monday to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
For this maiden international flight, the leader appears to have opted for North Korea’s Cold War-era national fleet.
On Tuesday, two North Korean planes were seen taking off from the Dalian airport: an Ilyushin IL-62, a Soviet-made long-range jetliner first designed in the 1960s, and an Ilyushin IL-76MD heavy-cargo carrier operated by state airline Air Koryo.
The decades-old IL-62, which according to consulting firm FlightGlobal was most likely bought in the 80s, is probably Kim’s version of Air Force One.
In 2015, North Korean state media released photos showing Kim aboard a IL-62 jet with similar interior décor as the US president’s Boeing VC-25.
Although North Korea’s leaders have a tradition of traveling by armored train, the younger Kim, who went to boarding school in Switzerland, should be no stranger to flying.
Kim will likely travel by air again for his upcoming meeting with Trump, but the condition of the aging national fleet may be a factor in determining where the summit will take place.
His IL-62 jet has a stated range of more than 6,000 miles – enough to fly direct to LA, for example – but age may have increased its chances of mechanical failure.
“It will be a challenge for his plane to travel across the Pacific,” said Greg Waldron, Asia Managing Editor at FlightGlobal. “If there is any mechanical issue, there are few places for it to make a landing.”
The United Nations has banned its member countries from exporting aircraft to North Korea due to the nation’s nuclear and missile programs.
Kim’s Soviet-era jets are much heavier, louder and energy-consuming than today’s passenger planes, says Waldron. They also lack the advanced communication systems that allow planes to locate each other.
“It should be relatively safe as long as they are operated by a professional crew,” he says. “They are solid planes, but in no way modern aircraft.”
The date and location of the Kim-Trump summit has not been announced, but South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo has reported that meeting is likely to take place in the city-state of Singapore.
It is a seven-hour, 3,000 mile flight from Pyongyang to the Southeast Asian nation. Air Force Un should be able to manage the trip.