The 560-foot-tall Juche Tower in Pyongyang, North Korea.
The 560-foot-tall Juche Tower in Pyongyang, North Korea. Aram Pan/NK News

A photographer in a microlight aircraft shot 360-degree video over the secretive North Korean capital.

In September, as tensions ratcheted up over North Korea’s nuclear program, Aram Pan was high above Pyongyang as a passenger in a tiny, buzzing microlight aircraft, his video cameras pointed down at the North Korean capital.

Pan, a Singapore-based commercial photographer who has been traveling to North Korea since 2013, shot a 45-minute, 360-degree video of the city, recording a view that few outsiders have witnessed. Pan shot the video for NK News, an independent media organization with staff in Seoul and Washington, D.C.

The aerial 360-degree video, which Pan believes is the first shot over North Korea, shows such Pyongyang landmarks as the colossal May Day Stadium (2:15), the atom-shaped science and technology center (5:45), and the candy-colored array of waterfront high-rises on Mirae (Future) Scientists Street (4:58), said to have been constructed in less than a year to house faculty of Kim Chaek University.

May Day Stadium, said to have seating for 150,000. (Aram Pan/NK News)

Also seen: the cruise ship Mujigae (9:55), fountains spraying from the Taedong River (1:43), a smoke-belching factory (6:34), and the Yanggakdo International Hotel (4:00), where North Korean officials say University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier attempted to steal a propaganda poster. Warmbier was imprisoned for 17 months in North Korea and died soon after his release.

Mirae Scientists Street, home to university faculty. (Aram Pan/NK News)

From the air, Pyongyang is oddly beautiful; its wide Soviet-style highways are nearly empty of cars, and its vast clusters of modernist towers—the product of a recent building boom—are painted festive pastel hues. “I’m quite amazed at how much this city has grown, considering most of it was flattened in the bombing of the Korean war just a generation ago,” Pan says in an e-mail interview.

This wasn’t Pan’s first flight in North Korea; he’s flown over the country multiple times in helicopters and light airplanes. He bought tickets for his most recent shoot at Mirim Air Club, which arranges tourist flights from a Pyongyang airport in ultralights.

Tourists are not usually allowed to take cameras or cellphones on these flights, but Pan received permission from North Korean officials—and he says state censors allowed him to keep most (but not all) of his footage. (Some edits are clearly visible.) “Long story short, they got me approval. I could bring any camera that was strapped or tethered to me, so they wouldn’t come falling from the sky.”

Tourist cameras are not usually permitted over the friendly skies of North Korea. (Aram Pan/NK News)

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A photo-illustration of several big-box retail stores.
    Equity

    After the Retail Apocalypse, Prepare for the Property Tax Meltdown

    Big-box retailers nationwide are slashing their property taxes through a legal loophole known as "dark store theory." For the towns that rely on that revenue, this could be a disaster.

  2. A photo of a resident of Community First Village, a tiny-home community for people who were once living in homelessness, outside of Austin, Texas.!
    Design

    Austin's Fix for Homelessness: Tiny Houses, and Lots of Neighbors

    Community First! Village’s model for ending homelessness emphasizes the stabilizing power of social connections.

  3. A photo of a mural in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
    Life

    Stop Complaining About Your Rent and Move to Tulsa, Suggests Tulsa

    In an effort to beef up the city’s tech workforce, the George Kaiser Family Foundation is offering $10,000, free rent, and other perks to remote workers who move to Tulsa for a year.

  4. The charred remnants of a building in Paradise, California, destroyed by the Camp Fire.
    Environment

    How California Cities Can Tackle Wildfire Prevention

    Wildfires like Camp and Tubbs are blazing with greater intensity and frequency, due to factors including climate change and urban sprawl. How can cities stay safe?

  5. A photo of a small small house in San Francisco's Noe Valley that sold for $1.8 million in 2014.
    Equity

    Why Cities Must Tackle Single-Family Zoning

    As cities wake up to their housing crises, the problems with single-family-home residential zoning will become too egregious to ignore.