Monday, April 15, 2013

North Korea's 1940s-vintage Il-28 bombers photographed from China

Photo © Jacky Chen/Reuters

Despite the presence of the relatively modern MiG-29 interceptor in its ranks, the Korean People's Air Force of North Korea is, for the most part, still operating some very aged and obsolete aircraft. That last fact has again been re-emphasized in the latest photo of the KPAF's equipment, courtesy of a Reuters photographer who snapped the above photo of four Ilyushin Il-28 "Beagle" (or its Chinese clone, the Harbin H-5) bombers sitting on the ground at the KPAF base of Uiju. The airbase is located just 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) across the Chinese border town of Dandong in Liaoning province, from where the photo was taken. Interestingly, the leftmost aircraft in the photo appears to carry wingtip tanks, a rarity for Il-28s with the exception of specialised reconnaissance or Electronic Warfare versions used by the Soviet Union.

The Il-28 stemmed from a 1947 Soviet requirement for a twin-engine tactical jet bomber. Powered by unlicensed Soviet copies of the Rolls-Royce Nene jet engine, the first flight of the design took place in July 1948 and entered service with the Soviet Air Force in 1950. The Il-28 was capable of a top speed of 900km/h (560mph) and could carry up to 3 tons of bombs in an internal weapons bay or wing pylons.

The People's Republic of China received over 250 Soviet built Il-28s from 1952, and when Sino-Soviet relations soured in the late 1950s, China started manufacturing its own unlicensed copies of the Il-28 designated the Harbin H-5 (哈尔滨 轰-5). Widely exported, the Il-28/H-5 served, or in the case of North Korea, is serving with the air forces of some 20 former Warsaw Pact nations and/or Soviet client states.

The KPAF reportedly received 24 Soviet-built Il-28s in the late 1960s followed by Chinese-built H-5s thereafter, eventually operating two regiments of the bombers. As with many things about North Korea, the current strength and serviceability of the KPAF's Beagle fleet is unclear, but judging from the protective covers placed over the front fuselage and engines of these four aircraft, these relics from the earliest days of the Cold War do appear to still flyable.

Oh, and I like the fact that there doesn't appear to be any fences separating the public road the cyclists in the photo are on, from an military active airbase. In North Korea of all places!

More Photos:

Google Earth satellite image showing Uiju AB on the right and Dandong on the left. The yellow line is the Chinese-North Korean border.
Il-28/H-5 bombers at Uiju. Google Earth image dated 31st Oct 2012

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