North Korea’s (illegally supplied) armed Hughes 500E helicopters emerge after 30 years in the dark

On Jul. 27, North Korea staged a huge parade to mark the 60th anniversary of the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.

Among the hardware that took part in the traditional flying parade, there were even a couple of Hughes 500E helicopters, armed with AT-3 Sagger missiles.

The North Korean “Little Birds” are an interesting addition to the display: since there were no images of them in North Korea, their presence in DPRK has long been considered a sort-of legend, even if the fact that they had been illegally supplied to Pyongyang was unveiled in the ’80s.

Most probably they didn’t fly a lot since they were delivered but during the 60th anniversary air parade, the light choppers flew quite low over the marching tanks, as if they were closely supporting ground operations.

DPRK 500E 2‘s Ugo Crisponi has drawn a rendering of the Hughes 500 helicopters in the North Korean Air Force markings.

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About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.


  1. There were more than two. I saw news footage that clearly showed four of them flying over the parade. I noticed immediately that they were Hughes helicopters.

  2. I think these choppers came from Vietnam when the south lost in the hand of communist.

  3. Reminds me of all the Hughes choppers that turned up in Airwolf… didn’t know some actually ended up in communist service.

  4. I just came across a 1980s newspaper article about these helicopters. It said that they were bought by a West German businessman and sold to North Korea. He claimed that he did nothing wrong, because West German law allowed the sale of “civilian” equipment to North Korea, and the helicopters were not capable of being used for military purposes. He claimed that they could not mount weapons. Of course, as you see in the photos, they do mount weapons. His claim of innocence was also not believable, because he kept secret the fact that he was selling them to North Korea. He knew that people would object. If he thought it was fine, why didn’t he tell anybody?

  5. Way late to the discussion but I might as well comment. I was a young student in S Korea when this happened. Obviously S Korea govt was not happy because it seriously increased the risk of N Korea fooling S Korean forces (who has lots of Hughes choppers in various roles and they still are today).

    I believe about 50 were sent off to N Korea. With cannibalizing and obtaining parts illegally from abroad, N Korea is obviously still keeping some aloft.

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