Aircraft Logistics and the United States-North Korea Summit

We now know that the June 12, 2018 summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un is scheduled on Santosa Island in Singapore. All summits require many logistical variables the come together to allow the summit to be held. In this case, Singapore has agreed to host Trump and Kim Jong Un. Among the most important variables are security for both individuals. Accommodations, food and other things to be made available for the summit, including meeting places, also play into the logistical nightmare.

As a pilot I was immediately interested in the logistics of getting both individuals together. Putting aside diplomatic necessities, I focused on getting everyone to Singapore with the fewer stops possible, both for security and national honor. The first thing we need to know is what types of aircraft each individual has access to. From there, we need to see the range of the aircraft and if, necessary, the fuel stops, and runways for the type of aircraft to land on. You can’t land jumbo jets on small runways.

Most readers likely know that the United States uses one, of two, modified Boeing 747-200B aircraft designed as VC-25A. The moniker “Air Force One” is used when the president is on board. The VC-25A has the unique capability to refuel while flying, so technically Trump can fly directly from Andrews Air Force Base direct to Changi Airport in Singapore. Changi is the closest airport to Sentosa, where the summit will be held. It is likely that Trump will helicopter into Sentosa from Changi.

However, air refueling many not be convenient for many reasons, and I wanted to look at likely routes based on the limitations of the VC-25A. Air Force One has a publicly-released range of 6,800 nautical miles. From Washington direct to Changi is about 8,396 nautical miles. Thus, Air Force One is not capable of flying direct without refueling.

Each country likely wants to use their own facilities for safety and national pride purposes. Thus, the United States has two possibilities, besides an air refuel. They are Alaska or Hawaii as refueling points on the way to Singapore.

The calculations work out as follows:
1. Elmendorf (Anchorage) Air Force Base [EDF] to Changi Airport [WSSS] is about 5,796 nautical miles. The flight will take about 15 hours and 48 minutes.
2. Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam [HNL] to Changi Airport [WSSS] is about 5,828 nautical miles. The flight will take about 15 hours and 27 minutes.

It is also possible that Air Force One departs Andrews Air Force Base [ADW] in route to Changi Airport [WSSS], which is about 8,396 nautical miles and refuel somewhere over the ocean. That flight would take about 22 hours and 24 minutes.

Note: I made several assumptions, such as winds and routes so these are only best guesses as to the actual route that Air Force will take.

Which route that ultimately is used will depend on many variables.

As for Kim Jong Un, his flight is much closer and is mostly over land. From Pyongyang International Airport [FNJ] to Changi Airport [WSSS] is about 2,558 nautical miles. That flight should take about 6 hours and 4 minutes. Kim Jong Un’s aircraft will likely be an old Soviet-era Ilyushin IL-62M. The IL-62M has a range of 5,400 nautical miles, thus Jong Un has no need to refuel midpoint to Singapore. There is much speculation about the reliability of Kim Jong Un’s aircraft.

It is likely that Kim Jong Un was the limiting factor as to where the summit was to be held. Jong Un would have to feel comfortable in the host country and his transport capability is logistically limited.

For comparison purposes, here are the specification for each aircraft:

United States Air Force One (modified 747-200B, designated VC-25A)
Maximum range: 7,800 miles (6,800nm)
Cruise speed: 575 mph
Note: U.S. Airforce One has inflight refueling capability extending the range as necessary.

North Korea (Ilyushin IL-62M)
Maximum range: 6,215 miles (5,400nm)
Cruise speed: 510 mph

For fun, I’m also including Mexico’s own Air Force One:

México (787-8 Dreamliner)
Maximum range: 8,464 miles (7,355 nm)
Cruise speed: 567 mph

Just in case any one is interested – I was – Mexico City to Changi Airport is about 8,964 nautical miles. It would take about 25 hours and 23 minutes. Mexico’s presidential aircraft would likely refuel in Hawaii and continue on to Singapore were it to make this flight.

Here is the what it would look like: MMMX->HNL is 3,295 nautical miles HNL->WSSS is 5,828 nautical miles.