Until a few months ago, if you wanted a bird's eye view of North Korea's capital, there was basically only one option: a 150m-tall tower across the river from Kim Il Sung Square.

Now, if you have the cash, you can climb into the back seat of an ultralight aircraft.

With the support of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who has vowed to give North Koreans more modern and "cultured" ways to spend their leisure time, and with foreign tourism companies looking to entice visitors with more than war museums and political monuments, a Pyongyang flying club has started offering short flights over some of the capital's major sights.

North Korean pilot Mun Jong Hun performs flight checks before flying his ultralight aircraft over Pyongyang. Photo / AP
North Korean pilot Mun Jong Hun performs flight checks before flying his ultralight aircraft over Pyongyang. Photo / AP

The tours, which began in late July, are operated by the Mirim flying club out of a fancy new facility on an old airfield adjacent to another of Kim's signature modernisation projects: a sprawling equestrian club and horse racetrack.

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Officials say more than 4000 North Koreans have gone up in the ultralight fleet since, along with "hundreds of foreigners" from 12 countries.

The flights go directly over some of Pyongyang's most iconic spots, including the gargantuan May Day stadium, the torch-tipped Juche Tower and Kim Il Sung Square area, and the Munsu Water Park, yet another of Kim's leisure spot "gifts" to the city.

Flights start off over a typically rural setting, with a mixture of farmland and small hamlets.

But that quickly transforms into what one would expect from a city of about 2.5 million: block after block of densely concentrated high-rise residential buildings, some in the drab grey color of concrete but many painted over in pink, beige or blue pastels. Toward the center of the city, spaces open up once again with large public plazas and the parks that surround Pyongyang's many monuments to its leaders and war memorials.

A staff member of the Mirim Air Club walks across the tarmac. Photo / AP
A staff member of the Mirim Air Club walks across the tarmac. Photo / AP

Considerations of places best not subjected to flyovers were almost certainly a factor before the tours could get off the ground. And, just to be safe, photographs taken from the air are screened by club officials after each flight.

But seeing the city from a height of 2000 meters or less while slowly puttering through the skies provides quite a different perspective from anything tourists, and even most Pyongyang residents, had ever been able to get before.

North Korean pilots stand with their ultralight aircraft on the tarmac of the Mirim Air Club. Photo / AP
North Korean pilots stand with their ultralight aircraft on the tarmac of the Mirim Air Club. Photo / AP

The flights aren't cheap - a 25-minute ultralight ride from the airstrip on the outskirts of the city to Kim Il Sung Square and the Juche Tower, which had previously been the best place to get an urban panorama, goes for around US$150 ($207). Shorter flights are offered at cheaper prices, starting from about US$65, but those only fly around the immediate vicinity of the flight club.

Prices for North Koreans are much cheaper, though club officials wouldn't say exactly how much.

Officials say the ultralight aircraft used for the flights were made in North Korea.

- AP