Amid a busy year of missile and nuclear testing, North Korea staged an unusual accomplishment this weekend. For three days, a variety of jets and helicopters roared over the skies near the city of Wonsan in what was North Korea’s first-ever air show.
Pilots with the Korean People’s Army Air Force performed a range of stunts and maneuvers in what was officially dubbed the “Wonsan International Friendship Air Festival.”
The air show showed off KPAAF MiG-21, MiG-29, and Su-25 fighters in action.
Another video shows paragliders launching fireworks, streaming colored smoke, and even flying with the flag of the Workers’ Party of Korea.
The Associated Press added that the Wonsan air show displayed an unusual feature: a remote-controlled mock up of a U.S. F-16 fighter jet, which flew at the show and launched fireworks. Additionally, the show featured a scale model of a Chinese J-10 fighter.
The Wonsan air show received extensive coverage in North Korea’s state media, which described the event as a major international event. Highlighting the event’s international credentials, North Korean authorities have created a website in English (with a .com top-level domain name, instead of the usual .kp), along with a Facebook and Twitter page to match.
“There will be acrobatic flights by military and civilian aircraft, demonstration by local parachutists, and performance of model aircraft,” Pyongyang Times noted on September 14, just days after the country’s fifth nuclear test, which drew international condemnation.
“A beer show scheduled on the sidelines of the festival will provide visitors with a chance to relish local beverages,” the Pyongyang Times added.
For North Korea, the event was a rare opportunity to highlight the country’s cultural offerings, focusing on Wonsan.
The involvement of MD500 helicopters, which are manufactured by Hughes helicopters, a U.S. firm, have raised questions regarding the implementation of sanctions against North Korea.
The light utility helicopters, which are known for their versatility and suitability for a range of civilian and military applications, are thought to have made their way into North Korea in the 1980s.
The North Korean MD500s were first seen by outside observers during a military parade held in July 2013, on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Korean War.
Reports at the time noted that Pyongyang had modified these helicopters to function as light gunships, with some of the helicopters armed with Soviet 9M14 Malyutkaanti-tank missiles (known by their NATO reporting name of AT-3 Sagger).