- The White House & Airliners.net/ Hiroshi Nakamura
With the imminence of the high-profile US-North Korea summit happening next Tuesday (Jun 12) in Singapore, there has been a lot of buzz about US President Donald Trump and North Korea leader Kim Jong Un’s respective aircraft that will be touching down on the island country.
While there are no prizes for guessing that Trump will be arriving in style aboard the iconic presidential Air Force One, Kim’s choice of aircraft remains much of a mystery.
Although it has been widely reported that Kim would be using his official private plane, Chammae-1, to make the long-haul flight, no official statement has been made confirming that the Soviet-era aircraft would make an appearance in Singapore.
Nonetheless, the consensus is that the Chammae-1 would most likely be the North Korean leader’s choice of transport. Given its ability to cover the 4,950km direct journey from Pyongyang to Singapore without the need for fuel stops, it seems to make the most sense for him to use it, albeit with some doubt due to the plane’s age and waning condition.
With that, here are some things you should know about Air Force One and Chammae-1.
Air Force One
US President Donald Trump’s Air Force One is a specially configured Boeing 747-200B and it’s the newest as well as largest presidential aeroplane to date, according to Boeing.
Unlike most other conventional commercial airliners, Air Force One is capable of longer range flights for presidential travel, aerial refueling and self-sufficiency at airports around the world, which means that it never has to dock itself at a terminal.
The iconic aircraft has served five US presidents in times of peace and crisis since 1990, playing the role of a mobile airborne White House, says a report by CBS News.
The “Air Force One” call sign was permanently bestowed following a near collision accident in 1953, when a control tower confused President Eisenhower’s plane – call sign Air Force 8610 – with Eastern Airlines flight 8610 as both entered each other’s airspace.
The 70.66m-long Air Force One is equipped with four General Electric CF6-80C2B1 jet engines, allowing it to punch through the air with 56,700 pounds of thrust and fly at 965km/h (Mach 0.92) – almost the speed of sound.
Compared to typical commercial airliners that fly at altitudes of up to 9,100m, Air Force One is capable of soaring at a maximum altitude of 13,750m.
It can also attain a flight range of 12,600km without the need to refuel – although emergency in-air refueling is still an option.
“Flying Oval Office”
Dubbed a “flying Oval Office”, Air Force One boasts 4,000 sq ft of interior floor space divided into three levels, housing a plethora of accommodations.
Starting from the front, the aircraft contains a presidential suite and private office which was upgraded with telecommunications equipment capable of establishing air-to-ground contact, following the 9/11 terror attacks.
The mid-section of the plane houses a conference room which doubles as a dining room, two fully equipped galleys which can serve up 100 meals at a time, and quarters for guests, presidential staff, media representatives and Air Force crew.
Towards the rear are work spaces for secret service and security personnel as well as a press section for journalists.
- The White House
Air Force One can even serve as an airborne nuclear bunker, with armour plating that allows it to withstand nuclear blasts from the ground.
Its communications centre located at the upper deck carries onboard electronics that are shielded against electromagnetic interference in the event of a nuclear explosion.
Armed with wing-mounted mid-air defences that repel enemy missiles, an electronic countermeasure defence system that cripples radar and armoured glass for all its windows, it’s no wonder Air Force One is often described as a “flying fortress”.
If you happen to see two Air Force Ones flying into Singapore or sitting on the tarmac and think you’re seeing double, there’s no need to panic.
The presidential air transport fleet comprises two identical Boeing 747-200Bs with tail numbers SAM28000 and SAM29000, both bearing Air Force designation VC-25A.
While one is undergoing maintenance, the other is ready to transport the US president at short notice.
One may even serve as a decoy to confuse enemies in times of emergency.
The two planes are maintained by the Air Mobility Command’s 89th Airlift Wing of the US Air Force at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland.
As mentioned, “Air Force One” technically isn’t an aircraft but a radio call sign for any US Air Force plane carrying the President. Thus, either SAM28000 or SAM29000 can be referred to as “Air Force One” depending on which is being used at that point in time.
North Korea leader Kim Jong Un’s state plane, Chammae-1, could be considered intriguingly enigmatic. Not much is known about his plane yet its striking features are likely to turn many heads upon its arrival for the summit.
The aircraft is an Ilyushin-62M (Il-62M), a Soviet-made medium to long range jetliner designed for non-stop intercontinental flights and was first launched in 1963. It is currently operated by North Korea’s state-owned national flag carrier airline Air Koryo.
BBC quoted North Korea watchers at website NK News as saying that the name “Chammae-1” was derived from the name of a local species of goshawk, which is also North Korea’s national bird.
Based on a report by South Korean news agency Yonhap, Chammae-1 bears the identification number “PRK-615”, which BBC said could be a symbolic reference to the North-South Joint Declaration signed on Jun 15, 2000, by the two countries.
The aircraft is furnished with modern interiors and although it’s not as spacious as Trump’s Boeing 747-200B, there’s enough space for meeting tables and Kim’s personal work desk.
The Il-62M garnered worldwide attention in February when Pyongyang’s high-level Olympics delegation, including Kim’s sister Kim Yo-jong, used another Il-62M – code-named “Chammae-2” – to fly to South Korea for the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
Old plane still able to make the journey
With a total length of 53.12m and wingspan measuring only 43.20m, Chammae-1 is dwarfed by the mammoth Boeing 747-200B and certainly pales in comparison in terms of flight capabilities.
But the important question is: will the ageing plane be able to cover the entire journey?
It’s hard not to notice Chammae-1’s four rear-mounted Soloviev D30KU turbofan engines which give it the power to fly at a maximum speed of 900km/h and reach a maximum range of 10,000km.
Despite its age, the Il-62M seems to be more than capable of flying from Pyongyang to Singapore – provided that the plane has been well-maintained.
Yet, it remains to be seen if the Il-62M will indeed be Kim’s airliner of choice for his fourth trip out of his beloved country or he would opt for one that better befits his status as “supreme leader”.