OPERATION MOOLAH

THE PLOT TO STEAL A MIG-15

by Herbert A. Friedman

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During the Vietnam War, many Americans were surprised to read of gold offered to North Vietnamese soldiers and Viet Cong Guerillas. This offer was an attempt to persuade the enemy to aid American pilots forced down over Communist held territory. For example, early in the war the enemy shot down Lieutenant George E. Flynn's A-1 Skyraider while flying somewhere over Dong Thai. U. S. Aircraft dropped leaflets offering $35,000 in Vietnamese currency for the safe return of the pilot. "$35,000 reward. The Department of the Air Force of the United States of America offers a reward of $35,000VN for the recovery of, or information leading to the recovery of Lt. George E. Flynn, who is a pilot of the U.S. Air Force. Lt. Flynn was flying in an A1E Skyraider, last seen Wednesday morning, 23 September 1964, flying over the Dong Thai outpost, Hieu Le District, Kien Giang Province...After giving the information and collecting the money, the bearer of this leaflet will be completely free to come and go as he pleases. Signed: Commander, U.S. 2nd Air Division."

There are virtually hundreds of cases where warring nations have made cash offers to the enemy. Sometimes the money is for defections or weapons. Other times it is for aid to friendly personnel or to purchase loyalty to a friendly government.  We are going to discuss one of the most amazing of the reward campaigns, the attempt to steal a combat-ready Soviet MiG-15 Fighter for one hundred thousand dollars. This entire operation is a mystery. There is still a great deal of doubt about who first conceived the idea of stealing a Soviet Fighter plane. To make it even more interesting, there is some doubt as to whether anyone ever really expected to get an aircraft.

The previously classified report Guerrilla Operations 1952, published by the Headquarters, Guerrilla Division, Far East Command, Liaison Detachment, 8240th Army Unit, mentions the American desire for a MiG-15:

A complete MiG-15 is one of the highest priorities establish by the Air Force. The Air Force and Navy will offer support for any feasible project that will acquire a MiG-15. The MiG-15 technical orders are highly desirable. These are sometimes carried in the cockpit.

Why did the United States need to study a MiG-15? The Soviets designed the new fighter just after WWII. It was a high-altitude interceptor able to reach almost Mach 1, maneuverable at high altitude, armed with cannons, and had the ability to stay in the air for over 1 hour. The Soviets powered it with their copy of the British Rolls-Royce jet engine that had a higher thrust than the original. Its performance was superior to that of any Western fighter. The MiG-15 totally outclassed the American P-51 Mustangs, F-80 Shooting Stars, and the F-84 Thunder jets. The Americans had to wait until December 1950 for the arrival of the swept-wing F-86 Sabre-jet. Even then the MiG-15 climbed faster, and was every bit as maneuverable.  

The name of this mysterious plot is Operation Moolah, the Korean War effort to entice a Communist pilot to fly a MiG-15 fighter to an allied airfield for a reward of $100,000.

There are several versions of how this campaign came to be. A Saturday Evening Post article entitled "How to knock the Reds off balance" stated that the Russian Research Center at Harvard University conceived the plan. In the late 1950s, the Center rejected any question of it being involved in propaganda and a member of the staff told me "We are mainly a research organization publishing scholarly works."

Alan K. Abner has a completely different explanation in PSYWARRIORS – Psychological Warfare during the Korean War, Burd Street Press, Shippensburg, PA, 2001. Then Captain Abner was the Chief of the Psychological Warfare Branch of the United States Air Force Air Resupply Communications Service stationed at 2400 Newark Street, Washington DC during the Korean War. He says that intelligence reports indicated a degree of dissatisfaction in the Soviet Air Force. As a result, his strategic “think tank” put forth the plan to offer $10,000 for a Soviet MiG. He wanted the plan classified Top Secret and there would be no leaflets or radio broadcasts. The offer would be passed by rumor behind enemy lines so that the United States would have deniability and could state that it had no official knowledge of the offer. He states that he sent the plan to the Pentagon on a Monday, and he was shocked the following Saturday to see newspaper headlines reading, “General Mark Clark offers $100,000 Reward for Russian Jet.” Abner says that his crew was quite disappointed to have received no credit for the idea.

markclark.jpg (10437 bytes)General Mark W. Clark, who was President Emeritus of the Military College of South Carolina (The Citadel) at the time I spoke to him in 1967, mentioned a second version of the origin of the operation. He recalled that a war correspondent hatched the plot sometime in 1952. He did not recall too much about the origin of the plan, and even told me “I do not recall the identity of the newsman who developed the idea. In fact, I don’t believe I ever knew who it was.” He said that during a night of heavy drinking the correspondent allegedly got to thinking about the mythical western hero, the Lone Ranger. This led him to consider the masked rider's silver bullets. The idea of silver bullets against North Korean, Chinese, or Russian troops then evolved into the idea of an offer of silver or cash that might cause a member of the enemy armed forces to defect with a desirable weapons system.

The correspondent wrote a fictional tale of an imaginary interview with a bogus United States Air Force general. This is where the concept of offering a reward for a combat-ready Russian MiG fighter first appeared. It was a gag, an attempt at humor. According to Clark, the U.S.A.F. staff in Tokyo liked the idea so much that they rewrote the offer and forwarded it to Washington D.C. By November of 1952, after several months of considering the idea, Washington approved the concept; the Pentagon made some minor changes, and authorized Clark to offer a reward for a North Korean Air Force jet fighter. The UN would offer political asylum and fifty thousand dollars to an enemy pilot in an attempt to get a late-model undamaged Soviet Fighter Plane. To sweeten the pot, an extra fifty thousand dollars would be given to the first pilot to take advantage of the offer.

General Clark was right about the war correspondent, but had either forgotten some of the background of this very interesting story or wanted to protect the writer's name. I interviewed him shortly after the war. I will now report on a third version of the story, from the man who actually gave birth to the idea of Operation Moolah.

Edward Hymoff was the Bureau Chief of the International News Service in Korea during the late stages of the war. He told me that during fall of 1952 he and General Clark were aboard a U.S.A.F. Constellation flying to Tokyo. They talked during the long flight and Hymoff mentioned his concept of offering $100,000 for a combat-ready MiG-15. The newsman recommended that the UN broadcast the offer in several languages. He also thought that the U.S. should offer asylum in the United States. Hymoff said "He (the defector) wouldn't have any worries the rest of his life, plus, he would be a rich man, tax free."

Hymoff did not take the idea seriously. It was just casual conversation. He speculated that Clark gave the idea to his Intelligence Section, who sent it to the Central Intelligence Agency. He told me that Clark later told him that the CIA recommended against the operation. Hymoff was not an admirer of the CIA and told General Clark to ignore anything they told him.

Regardless of which of the three scenarios is correct, we do know that Operation Moolah (GI slang for money) was ready by April of 1953. On 1 April, the U.N. Joint Psychological Warfare committee approved Operation Moolah. The data sheets of the Headquarters, 1st Radio Broadcasting & Leaflet Group, 8239 AU, APO 500, are all dated 20 April 1953. The United Nations Command would offer $50,000 to any pilot who flew his MiG-15 to the south. It offered an additional $50,000 to the first pilot who took advantage of this offer. The campaign used both radio and aerial leaflets in the Russian, Chinese, and Korean languages. It was believed at the time, and later proven, that all three countries provided pilots for the air war over North Korea. Each of the three countries (The U.S.S.R., China, and North Korea) operated their own air force units as if they were fighting against their enemies. No pilot served in another country's air force unit. All the MiG-15s, however, were marked with North Korean insignia (A red star inside red and blue circles).

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Russian Language Blue Leaflet (Front) Leaflet Code # 5701

It is interesting to note that a photograph of this leaflet was released by the New York Bureau of the United Press on 2 May 1953 to newspapers using that service. Some of the caption with the picture is:

Reds to get Green for MiGs

Tokyo: This is one of the leaflets, written in Chinese, Korean and Russian and addressed to “Courageous jet pilots,” which offers a $100,000 reward and freedom to the first Communist pilot who delivers a Soviet-built MiG-15 jet fighter to the Allies…The dramatic offer which also applies to “other Russian-built jet combat types,” was made not only to obtain a new MiG, but to prey on the morale of the Communist Air Force, whose pilots must now watch each other as well as fight. Clark’s statement was broadcast to North Korea and Communist China and the leaflets were dropped over the Yalu River to flutter onto the Communist air bases just across the boundary.

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Russian Language Tan Leaflet (Front) Leaflet Code # 5703

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Chinese Language Blue Leaflet (Front) Code # 5502

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Korean Language Blue Leaflet (Front) Code # 2508

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Korean Language Tan Leaflet (Front) Code # 2510

There are slight variations in the wording of the leaflets, depending on which of the opposing forces is the target. The code number of the Russian-language leaflet is 5701 or 5703, The Chinese leaflet 5502, and the Korean leaflet 2508 or 2510. This probably means that there is a Chinese-language tan leaflet coded 5504. All the leaflets have the same general appearance. They are on a blue or tan-tinted paper and are about 8 x 10 inches in size.

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Private Charles R. Gaush doing Color Correction on a Leaflet Negative

U.S. Army Private Charles R. Gaush was a photo lithographer assigned to the 3rd Reproduction Company, 8239th Army Unit, 1st Radio Broadcasting & Leaflet Group. He was deployed to Japan in early 1953 from Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. He told me:

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The Omiya Printing Plant

We got the leaflet “copy” from Headquarters in Tokyo, printed it at our Omiya printing plant; a former Japanese optical shop. The leaflets were then sent to Tachikawa Air Base. The “MIG” leaflets were loaded into leaflet bombs (We didn't call it the Moolah leaflet at the time because the operation was secret). They would be stored and then suddenly shipped out in the middle of the night. The Air Force would wait for a strong wind blowing north into China. The bombs were loaded in the B-29s which flew at maximum altitude exactly over the Yalu River where they were dropped. Our intelligence said they were found some 200 miles up into China. We printed many 4 x 5-inch leaflets; but mostly we did 5.5 x 8.5-inch which is exactly 1/8th of a 17 x 22-inch press sheet which our four Harris LTV presses printed. We also printed some 8 x 10-inch newspapers.

The Russian language leaflet 5703 and the Korean language 2510 are both on Tan paper. This implies there is a sixth Chinese language tan colored leaflet. Charles R. Gaush explained that he had helped produce what he called the “tan” leaflets. He suspected that the objective of the tan leaflet was to get a more advanced version of the MIG. He told me:

The number MIG-17 keeps running through my mind but I'm not sure which version they were after. This project was classified as Secret and I recall we were not allowed to talk to anyone about it. The leaflet was made from a 16 x 20 charcoal drawing done at Headquarters and this was combined with the text in three languages. It was printed as a tan/black duotone. The tan leaflets were printed late in the war and before they could be disseminated the armistice was signed. Since they could not be used they were all burnt - some 900,000 eight by ten leaflets. Their destruction took several days.

[Author’s note] I thought that the vague memory that the second leaflet might have asked for a MiG-17 to be unlikely because at that time the most advanced Soviet fighter was the MiG-15. The MiG-17 had just been developed and the Soviets would not have given them to North Korean pilots. MiG-17s saw combat for the first time over the Straits of Taiwan when the People’s Republic of China clashed with Republic of China F-86 Sabres in 1958. Retired Republic of Korea Major Jae Hyon Kim perused the leaflet and found no mention of the MiG-17 so we assume that the message was very close to the same message as found on the blue leaflets.

The front of each leaflet consists of a letter signed by General Clark on the stationery of the Far East Command.  The text is:

Headquarters
Far East Command
APO 500

20 April 1953 

To:  Brave Pilots of Jet Aircraft
Subject: A Road to Freedom

Pilots! The Far East Command offers its help to all brave pilots who wish to free themselves from the vicious whip of the Communist regime and start a new and better life, with proper honor in the Free World.

The Far East Command offers you refuge, protection, human care and attention. You are given full guarantee that your names will remain secret if you so desire. Pilots! Your brave move will bring you to freedom and will give you opportunity to live in the future without fear for your well-being. Besides that, your heroism and decision will help others by pointing to them the road to freedom.

The Far East Command will reward $50,000 United States dollars to any pilot who delivers a modern, operational, combat-type jet aircraft in flyable condition to South Korea. The first pilot who delivers such a jet aircraft to the Free World will receive a bonus of an additional 50,000 US dollars for his bravery.

Following is a list of instructions to all pilots who desire to free themselves from the Communist yoke.  Escapee pilots will fly to Paengyong-do Island, fifty (50) kilometers south of Chodo Island. From Paengyong-do escapee pilots will proceed to Kimpo Air Base at 6100 meters altitude, descend over Kimpo Air Base, and proceed to make an immediate landing. UN Aircraft will accompany escapee remaining always above and behind, unless low clouds or visibility prevent escapee from locating Kimpo Airbase. If escapee is unable to make a visual let-down,  he will proceed to the Seoul area at 6100 meters and circle with his gear down. A United States aircraft will then fly close abreast and lead the way to the landing field. Upon initial contact with UN Aircraft, or if at any time UN Aircraft attempts attack, escapee will immediately lower landing gear and rock wings violently.

The Free World shall welcome you as an old friend as well as a hero.

Mark W. Clark
General, United States Army Commander-in-Chief
Far East Command

The leaflet instructions were later critiqued by the defecting North Korean pilot. He said:

During the last 90 days of the war, MiGs seldom flew to North Korea. Chodo is 100 km (62 miles) southwest of Pyongyang in the Yellow Sea. To fly to Chodo would be all but fatal at that time. Moreover, flying from Chodo to Paengyong-do, 50 km (31 miles) over the sea does not make any sense. Nobody had ever heard of Paengyong-do in the Yellow Sea. Finally, proceed from Paengyong-do to Kimpo, 200 km (124 miles) at 6100 meter (20,000 feet) altitude. Any MiG following the above flight path for defection would have been an easy prey for the Sabre jets. The USAF had not instructed F-86 pilots with escorting procedures for defecting MiGs. They were unaware of the Operation Moolah. Might I have defected then if I had seen the leaflet? Absolutely not. Flying safely to reach Pyongyang from China in 1953 was impossible. To reach Chodo out in the Yellow Sea without being shot down in 1953 was unthinkable. I would have never followed the leaflet’s instructions. I would have done exactly what I did disregarding the escape flight route in the leaflet. I Waited until after the armistice and took off from a North Korean airbase close to the DMZ. It was the wisest decision in my life. As it turned out, my escape plan, including the timing, was carried out perfectly. Subsequently, I have fulfilled my lifetime goal of coming to America.

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Russian Language Leaflet (Back) Code # 5701

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Chinese Language Leaflet (Back) Code # 5502

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Korean Language Leaflet (Back) Code # 2508

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Korean Language Leaflet (Back) Code # 2510

The back of the leaflet depicts a MiG-15 and the text, slightly changed on each version:

Courageous Pilots! If you like freedom...If you have courage...If you want to live a better, honorable life.... This is your opportunity of once in a thousand years! Free yourself from the Communist tyranny! Fly your jet toward the free world.

Courageous pilots! The Far East Command U.S. forces offers its help to all brave pilots who wish to free themselves from the Communist yoke and start a new and better life with proper honor in the free world.

General Mark W. Clark, Commander in Chief, Far East Command guarantees you refuge, protection, humane care, and attention. You have our full guarantee that your name will remain a secret if you so desire. The Far East Command will reward with the sum of $50,000 US dollars any pilot who delivers a modern, operational, combat-type jet aircraft in flyable condition to South Korea. The first pilot who delivers such a jet aircraft to the free world will receive an additional $50,000 US dollars bonus for his bravery.

There is a letter explaining directions to you on the other side of this leaflet. After reading the instructions, fly to freedom.

There is also a photograph of a Polish Lieutenant Frank Jarecki who defected earlier. He first lived in the United Kingdom, later moved to Erie, PA. The text is:

This is a picture of a Polish Air Force Lieutenant who, piloting a Soviet-made MiG-15 jet, escaped from the iron curtain and landed safely on the Danish island of Bornholm. He received political asylum and is now living comfortably in England.

This is an excellent propaganda message since it proves to the reader that it is possible to defect with safety.Curiously, The CIA man who looked after him when he first came to the United States later became the mentor of the North Korean pilot.

The Chinese and Korean language versions of the leaflet have an additional short message:

This is a message from the Americans to any jet pilot who reads Russian. If you know such a person, please give it to him. It tells him how to escape to the UN Forces.

The leaflet for Chinese pilots is identical, except that there is an additional request in the Korean language that asks the finder to hand the leaflet to a pilot that can read Chinese.

Two B-29 Super-Fortresses dropped more than one million of the reward leaflets along the Yalu River on the night of 26 April 1953. The Air Force dropped another half-million leaflets over Sinuiju and Uiju airfields on the nights of 10 and 18 May. At the same time, The United Nations beamed a concentrated radio attack at the Communists all along the "Bamboo Curtain." Fourteen radio stations in Japan and Korea stated in Korean, Russian, Mandarin and Cantonese Chinese that the United Nations would pay $50,000 dollars for a MiG and guarantee protection for the pilot. The pilot who we will mention later that actually flew his MiG-15 south told me:

When the two B-29s dropped those million Moolah leaflets along the Yalu River, my MiG-15 Squadron was stationed in Tunghua Air Base, about 50 miles north of Manpo on the Yalu River. The Americans dropped no leaflets there and we had no radio. I do not believe any North Korean pilots saw the leaflet. Our unit had returned to the Dandong airbase in early July 1953. All the MiG-15s flew to combat from China most of the time. My squadron was the only one stationed in Uiju airbase in November-December 1951. After repeated B-29 raids, we moved to Dandong airbase in Manchuria. In the summer of 1952, we stayed in Uiju a few days at a time.

If a North Korean pilot had read one of the leaflets, the money offer would have meant little. No one could have trusted the authenticity of the offer, and North Koreans knew nothing about the purchasing power of the dollar. Operation Moolah may have overlooked the most important point: the defecting pilot had to be an anti-Communist who wanted political asylum in the United States, Therefore, a statement in the leaflet of guaranteeing freedom and a job in America after defection would have been more effective.

We should note that at the time the air base was called “Antung,” but like the change in name from “Peking” to “Beijing,” the Chinese have since changed the name of the base to Dandong. Researchers wanting to learn more about the Soviet Air Force during the Korean War should search under both names.

While all this was going on, it seems that there was little hope on the part of the allies that the plan would work. According to Time Magazine, dated 11 May 1953, General Clark's Psychological Warfare Chief stated, "I have absolutely no expectation of seeing a single MiG." Stephen E. Pease comments on the unpopularity of the plan in Psywar - Psychological Warfare in Korea 1950-1953, Stackpole Books, Harrisburg, PA. 1992. He adds, "President Eisenhower was not in favor of Operation Moolah, He thought it was unethical to offer money to a defector; he should defect for ideological reasons."

The defecting pilot agreed. He said,

He is absolutely correct!   In addition, the determined defector must prepare to die if it fails I certainly did. It is a life and death gamble with 80% chance of failure. Picking up an enemy leaflet and reading it is a capital crime and punishable by death in North Korea. We had a radio in our barracks in 1952. The dial was firmly set at official N. Korean Radio Station in Pyongyang. Nobody could touch the radio dial. It was forbidden.

Churchill01.jpg (3106 bytes)At the same time, our allies and our enemies criticized this operation as being against all the "civilized" rules of warfare. In Great Britain's House of Lords, a Labor Peer stated that the attempted bribe was "Dastardly." Prime Minister Churchill thought that although the plan was within the rules of war, the timing was bad. The London Catholic Herald called the offer a "Deplorable Business." while the Catholic Times of London stated that the "Almighty dollar is doing an ill service to humanity when it attempts to buy the souls of men. The London Tablet called the plan "not so much a crime as a blunder."

The United States government tolerated the criticism without answering in kind. Had it wanted to embarrass the British, it might have mentioned that during the Communist rebellion in Malaya they had offered cash for the bodies of Communists "Dead or Alive." One leaflet dropped over the jungle by the Royal Air Force offered thirty thousand dollars for the body of the Secretary General of the Central Executive Committee.

Winston Churchill was correct in questioning the timeliness of the offer, since peace talks were going on at the time of Operation Moolah. However, General Clark pointed out that the exact moment to launch the campaign was selected with great care. Korean President Syngman Rhee was being difficult at the time, with his own ideas about how the talks should be carried on and what concessions, if any, should be granted. There was a possibility that the North Koreans might try to take advantage of the dispute among the allies. Therefore, General Clark chose to give them something to "Chew on." The United Nations made the reward offer on the very day that armistice talks resumed in April, toward the end of the exchange of sick and wounded prisoners in Operation "Little Switch."

Why did we really make the offer?  We already know that Clark wanted to give the Communists something to worry about while he worked out his differences with President Rhee. Is it possible that the propagandists had another motive? Time Magazine of 11 May 1953 stated “At best, the offer was designed to sow tension and mistrust among the Red flyers…there was even the possibility that, to prevent defection, the Reds might ration fuel, thus limiting the time that the MiGs can stay in the air to patrol and fight.”

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MiG-15                                                             F86 Sabre-Jet

The MiGs had been elusive in 1953 and it was difficult to get them to come up and challenge the F-86 Sabre-Jets of the U.S.A.F. Up until the time of the Moolah offer, dogfights were fairly sporadic.  The Communists pilots usually knew their business, and if things appeared to be going badly, they would scamper toward the protection of the Yalu River.

This all changed drastically after Operation Moolah. Could the sudden aggressiveness on the part of the Red pilots be due in part to the reward offer?  Although the Air Force wanted a MiG, could it be that this was not the primary purpose of the offer? Did we hope to cause a "loss of Face" by the Red pilots, as well as a purge of unreliable elements?   If the Communist Party leadership feared defections, they might ground experienced but "politically unreliable" pilots.  The result would be that only loyal Communist Party members would take to the air, regardless of their expertise. The Russians were certainly worried. They immediately jammed broadcasts in their language, although they allowed the Korean and Chinese broadcasts to pierce the Bamboo Curtain. They also grounded all their pilots to assure that no defection would occur.

F86check.jpg (6557 bytes)What was the result of the Moolah operation? The Reds grounded their air force for eight days. It might have been weather, or it might have been time needed to weed out the pilots who were liable to defect. Whatever the reason for the halt, there is no doubt that with the return of the MiGs, a new breed of pilot was behind the stick. The United States Air Force in Korea 1950-1953 says, “They were willing to engage in combat, but they had far more enthusiasm than ability.” These were the most aggressive, and by their record, the worst flyers of the entire war. In the ninety days following the Moolah broadcasts, The Allied air forces destroyed 165 MiGs at a cost of just three friendly aircraft. Young politically correct pilots flying MiG-15s attacked repeatedly only to fall in flames before the thundering guns of American F-86 Sabre Jets. A fantastic ratio of 55:1 in favor of the Fighter aircraft of the United Nations. The Air Force has compared these aerial battles to the "Marianas Turkey Shoot" of World War Two fame where the back of Japanese naval airpower was broken. Although we shall probably never know for sure, there can be little doubt that during those brief ninety days our enemy were young Communist Party members with more political reliability than flying ability.

A second explanation for the loss of so many enemy aircraft could be the change in Allied strategy. The F-86s had virtually besieged the MiG airfields near the Yalu River in China in the last 90 days of the war. Many of the 165 MiGs were shot down while taking off and landing. Typically, the MiGs took off and dropped the wing tanks immediately to pick up the speed and engaged in dogfight at low altitude at full throttle. The MiG can fly less than 30 minutes in that kind of flight condition.

The British humor Magazine Punch parodied the idea of a North Korean defector in a cartoon. Two Communist officers inspect the barracks of a fighter squadron.  There is a line of bunks, each with a framed picture of Mao Tse-tung hanging overheard.  One bunk, however, had a large photograph of Marilyn Monroe.  Nearby we see a leaflet stating "UN offers $100,000 for MiG."  One of the inspecting officers turns to the other and says, "It's okay Tovarisch.  He's been grounded."

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Photo of the Actual MiG-15 Flown to South Korea

Did we ever get a MiG? The answer is yes, but the pilot claimed to have never heard of the offer. On 21 September 1953, a MiG-15BIS appeared over South Korean air space.  Nobody saw the MiG-15 approaching Kimpo airbase against the flight pattern from north until after it had touched down on the runway. The defecting pilot “wagged” his wings and fired four colored flares, red, yellow, green and white, to indicate that he was friendly, in distress, and intended to land. The air base was ringed with anti-aircraft guns and he wanted to be sure that there was no mistake or thought that he was attacking the field. The Kimpo airbase radar was out for overhaul on that day. The MiG pilot spotted a half dozen F-86s on practice flights in the Kimpo's southeastern sky at slow speed but the American pilots failed to notice the MiG coming down for landing. An F-86 was landing at the same time at the other end of the runway and the two fighters passed at high speed barely avoiding a head-on collision. Five months had passed since the dropping of the "Moolah" leaflets, and not a single defecting aircraft had been delivered.  The offer had all but been forgotten, and President Eisenhower later stated that he had thought the operation cancelled after the signing of the truce in Korea. There is some doubt that the American pilots were even informed of the Moolah offer. As the North Korean pilot taxied in front of the F-86s on alert at alert pad, one pilot said that he had very nearly pulled the machine-gun trigger to destroy the MiG-15 preparing to park in front of his fighter. If he had seen the MiG-15 in the air, he would have surely shot it down. There were only Americans on the ground when the MiG pilot got out of his aircraft. There were no Korean pilots to translate for him. All the Americans could do was shake his hand and welcome the young defector.

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The canopy opened, and from the plane stepped a cocky young lieutenant in a blue flying suit.   While the American pilots watched in open-mouthed wonder, the Red pilot tore up a photograph of North Korean dictator Kim Il-sung, and handed his pistol to a nearby F-86 pilot in a jeep on the way to the 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing Headquarters. Early reports were that he had torn up a picture of his girlfriend, but North Korean pilots were forbidden girlfriends during the war. They were warned that many girls were South Korean spies.

I know where the story of his girlfriend came from. Airman 2nd Class Joe Duncan was an F-86 flight line mechanic assigned to the 334th Fighter Interceptor Wing at Kimpo Air Force Base (K-14) from December 1952 to December 1953. He told me:

I was on the alert pad the day the MiG landed. The pilot split two F-86’s taking off (leader & wingman), one went west and east. The MiG landed & taxied to the alert pad scaring the hell out of us. The pilot on his way down from the cockpit, stopped, reached into the cockpit and came down with something in his hand, crunched it up and threw it on the ground. I picked it up to offer it back to him. He refused the photo of a young lady. When security arrived I turned the Photo over to them. As I recall there was only 3 of us airman at the alert pad initially, along with our weapons-carrier type vehicle.

I asked the pilot about this but he said that the airman was mistaken. He repeated:

No, the picture I smashed on the ground was a picture of Kim Il-sung in a small frame. His picture was in the instrument panel of every North Korean plane. No intelligent person would have thrown a girl's picture on the ground after such a fateful flight to freedom. Besides, no North Korean fighter pilot was allowed to have a girlfriend during the war. I have been asked about that picture of a girl for 60 years and now I know where the story started.

Back to the landing - After a few moments of shock, the defector was rushed to intelligence while his MiG Fighter was placed in a well-guarded hangar.The North Korean Lieutenant, No Kum-Sok, explained his motives to the officers assigned to interrogate him.  He had been brought up in a Christian atmosphere and educated in a Catholic Mission School.  Although he had learned to shout Communist slogans and profess loyalty to the Party, he had always carried within himself the pro-western thoughts and ideals instilled during his early schooling.Many of the Russian soldiers that he had met had deepened his convictions.As a youth, they had come to his house and demanded wine at the point of a bayonet.  As the years passed, Lt. No often saw the Russian troops reeling through the streets in drunken stupor.He later stated that the average Russian infantryman was an “illiterate peasant who supplemented his small pay by looting our homes.” As a child, Rowe dreamt of becoming an American citizen. When he was accepted by the North Korean Naval Academy at age 17, He was the youngest in the academy and also the youngest North Korean jet pilot who flew in the Korean War. The day he entered the Academy he began plotting an escape to freedom.

In his biography, A MiG-15 to Freedom, McFarland & Company, North Carolina and London, 1996, Lieutenant No tells how he convinced the Communists of his loyalty.

I was twice decorated, with the Red Flag Medal (similar to the American “Silver Star”) and Gold Medal (similar to the American Distinguished Service Medal, given for flying 50 combat missions). I was considered an enthusiastic and inspiring young Communist…I was vice chairman of my Second Battalion Communist party, squadron commander of four jet fighters, and the only pilot in my division whose MiG bore the treasured Youth Organization Seal…All that time I was living a gigantic lie…I shouted red slogans, berated true Communists for “not hating the enemy enough,” and practiced Marxist antics with more apparent zeal than my comrades.

I was the youngest Communist jet fighter pilot of the war, entering battle at the age of 19 in 1951. I believe I was younger than any American jet pilot in that war.

I spoke up against American “imperialism” during air force meetings, some with the entire division of 3000 people. I became the designated officer called upon publicly to read statements from Kim il-Sung and Stalin…I was expected to make frequent denunciations, and I played the role to the hilt, even though it turned my stomach. Not even rank stood in the way of a skillful denouncer. I once denounced our chief of staff….

He entered the North Korean Naval Academy for the purpose of receiving a free college education. He secretly planned to defect from North Korea and Kim Il-Sung's navy at the first opportunity. When the Korean War broke out, he was one of 80 North Korean Naval Academy cadets who passed a rigorous physical examination and were transferred to the North Korean Air Force. Along with the other cadets, he was trained by the Soviet Air Force in Manchuria, and became one of the first generation of North Korean jet fighter pilots.

Retired USAF Colonel John Lowery mentions the North Korean Academy in an article entitled “Lt. No,” Airforce-Magazine.com, July 2012:

Discipline at the academy was severe. Cadets had no days or weekends off, no chance to leave the base, no vacations, and no visitors until graduation. Beards and mustaches were forbidden, and cadets were instructed to shave daily—but not provided razors. Their solution was to pull out the whiskers with their fingernails.

Classes in calculus, physics, chemistry, meteorology, navigation, communist history, gymnastics, calisthenics, even infantry training and marching for military parades, were held seven hours a day, seven days a week. The cadets were allowed only two hours each day for study and about four hours per night to sleep.

Once the war started, their day-to-day life became even tougher. The 150 cadets in No’s class were moved 60 miles north and housed in a newly constructed railroad tunnel that had not yet been equipped with rails. The floor was muddy and the air dank. There he and his classmates lived, taking infantry training and enduring endless political meetings that denounced American aggression.

When the Korean War broke out, he was one of 80 North Korean Naval Academy cadets who passed a rigorous physical examination and were transferred to the North Korean Air Force. Along with the other cadets, he was trained by the Soviet Air Force in Manchuria, and became one of the first generation of North Korean jet fighter pilots. Lowery continues:

Lieutenant No and his classmates completed their MiG-15 training in September 1951. Life as a North Korean fighter pilot was severe. He and his classmates were never given a furlough or overnight pass—or even a full day off the air base. They were not allowed to drink alcohol in public. Although the young pilots were all single, dating women was forbidden. They were warned that many young Korean girls were South Korean agents.

When the North Korean Naval Academy selected Lt. No for pilot training, graduating from flight school became his first priority. He knew that being a pilot would increase his opportunities to defect. His MiG-15 squadron was the first North Korean MiG-15 unit thrown into aerial combat from Uiju Airfield in North Korea in early Nov. 1951. After repeated B-29 night raids on the field, including strafing by F-86 fighters, all the MiG-15s relocated to Dandong airbase in Manchuria. Lt. No’s fighter squadron had stationed in Dandong airbase most of the time until the war ended on 27 July 1953. He flew over 100 combat missions against F-86 Sabrejets from 1951 to 1953. During that time, he had several near-misses with death, but survived the war without being shot down and having ever shot down any plane.

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LT No in Flight Suit

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LT No in USAF fatigues

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Lieutenant No it what appears to be borrowed
"fatigues" on his way to his first news
conference in Seoul on 22 September 1953.

After years of thought on the matter, No Kum-Sok decided that his only chance for a free and honorable life was through defection to South Korea. He had, therefore, waited until the bombed-out airfield at Pyongyang had been reopened by the Communists. He told me about that hectic time in a recent conversation:

The Korean War Armistice went into effect at 2200 on 27 July 1953. My squadron was at Antung Air Base on that morning.  We knew the day would be the last day of the shooting war.   At late morning, two F-86s Sabres appeared above the base looking for a dogfight but there were no MiGs in the air. The planes dived down and Buzzed a few feet above the runway at sonic velocity. It was quite menacing with the sonic boom and the two planes sharply pulling up for near vertical climb with continuous roll-overs.

Most North Korean MiG pilots departed for North Korea by truck that evening. About six pilots missed the departing truck. I was one of them.  We got on an old barge at the Manchurian side of the Yalu River and started to cross at night.  It was very unpleasant, cool and misty.  About the middle of the river, the ship got stuck on a shallow sandbar at low tide, so we spend the night on the roofless barge in a constant cold drizzle. I was tired and was very uncomfortable. The pilots on the barge were jolly and jubilant for surviving the war. Was I happy too? The answer is “yes” and “no.” Yes, I was happy for surviving the war.   But, no, because I had an unfinished personal mission to accomplish; escaping to South Korea

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National Museum of the United States Air Force Display

By coincidence, years after our initial conversation this story was repeated in the fall 2010 edition of Friends Journal Magazine, a publication of the National Museum of the United States Air Force. The article was entitled “The Last Day of the Korean War – A personal memory.” His MiG-15 is currently on display in the Korean War Gallery of the National Museum of the United States Air Force. In the story he says:

I felt the only place I could land my MiG-15 plane would be at K-14 (Kimpo Air Base) which was the home base of the 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing with three squadrons of F-86s. I figured that my chances of making a successful landing at K-14 at 20%. This meant I had to decide on life or death. I finally decided to carry out the mission and was ready to die if I failed. I was not happy in North Korea…

On the very day that the Pyongyang base went back into service, Lt. No turned his fighter towards the south, and thirteen minutes later landed a free man on the soil of the Republic of South Korea.

As the MiG-15 flew south down the Chorwan Valley toward Kimpo Air Force Base, an 18-year old Army sergeant by the name of Ron Hill assigned to the 9th Field Artillery Battalion of the 3rd Infantry Division ran to a 50 caliber machine that had been placed in a fighting position atop a hill. He got to his weapon just as the MiG roared past and for a split-second he was eyeball to eyeball with the pilot. He said:

I was absolutely amazed and surprised. We had experienced 'dog fights' over our previous location in the Kumwah Valley, North Korea, earlier in the war, but I never expected to see a MiG-15 this low and this close.

In retrospect, it appears that Lt. No was lucky to reach Kimpo Air Base since his plane was found to be unsafe and would have never been allowed off the ground by the United States Air Force. In The Air Force Museum Foundation Magazine, summer 2006 edition, J. L. Kelper of the 6401st Field Maintenance Squadron talks about taking the plane apart for transport. He mentions that there was a fear that the North Korean might attempt to bomb the MiG so it was immediately placed in a hangar. A team of mechanics started to dismantle the aircraft for crating at 1700 that same day. There was no maintenance manual or blueprints so the mechanics used their skill and knowledge to figure out how the aircraft had been put together and how it should be dismantled. They worked around the clock and the MiG was in parts and ready to be loaded on a C-124 aircraft by 1600 the following day. Kelper mentions the poor condition of the aircraft:

All the tires needed new rubber…and the fluid-carrying lines at the wing roots of both wings looked as though someone tried to remove both wings before disconnecting the lines. With all of the bend radiuses flattened  the way they were, one would wonder how the engine could receive proper fuel flow or the landing gear system could operate under normal conditions…  No aircraft belonging to the US military would ever be flown in such a condition.

Ken Rowe said about the article:

There is merit to Mr. Kelper’s statement…The North Korean Air Force worked day and night to disassemble and crate the planes and smuggle them to North Korea before the armistice. I do not believe that the North Korean Air Force mechanics were trained or qualified to disassemble or reassemble the planes.

The smuggled planes in North Korea were in poor condition…The Soviets stopped supplying tires after 1952. The Chinese manufactured poor quality tires used on all MiG-15s in 1953.  After making a downwind landing at high speed the plane needed hard braking to slow down. It was a miracle that the tires did not blow out...

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MiG-15 Undergoing Flight Test

There was a great deal of discussion about what to do with the aircraft. His MiG-15 was less valuable by this time because the Russians had already introduced the improved MiG-17. Since we had signed a truce with North Korea, many officials felt that the MiG should be returned immediately. Smarter minds prevailed, and the fighter was taken to Okinawa where it was first flown by Capt. H.E. "Tom" Collins. Subsequent test flights were made by Maj. C.E. "Chuck" Yeager.

I have read the report on the F-86D vs. the MiG-15 classified secret in 1954 and declassified in 1960. Just 300 copies were printed. It seems to have been very carefully written and I find little in the way of specific facts on the assets and liabilities of the two aircraft when matched in combat. Everything seems to have been filtered and I find no tactical statements that say one or the other aircraft is superior. For instance, we find comments like:

Acceleration runs were made at 35,000 feet, with both aircraft stabilized at .82 mach at the beginning of each run. During this maneuver, the F-86D gradually pulled away from the MiG-15, but the difference in acceleration was so slight that it is considered of little tactical significance, but there was a level flight speed advantage of approximately 15 knots.

If the MiG-15 has altitude and position advantage, it can force the F-86D to abort a head-collision intercept. The F-86D can evade the MiG-15, even though the latter is in firing position. The best evasive maneuver is a tight diving turn using maximum power until out of firing range.

The Air Force prepared a training film discussing the MiG vs. the F-86 and they said that the MiG could take off and land on a shorter runway, climb much faster than the Sabrejet, and fly slightly higher. On the other hand, the F-86 was slightly faster in normal flight and had much better control. At high speeds the MiG was difficult to fly and in a power dive approaching Mach 1 its controls were “worthless.”

Ken Rowe told me some other facts that might have been classified at the time:

Chuck Yeager first broke the sound barrier by flying the rocket engine powered Bell X-1 plane in Oct. 1947 at Edwards AFB. He had failed to attain supersonic speed until the horizontal stabilizer was modified to movable for change of the angle of attach at high speed. Before this modification, he lost the flight control at high speed.

He ran into the same problem when he tested the MiG-15 in 1953 when he dived straight down from 50,000 ft. He completely lost control since the flight control surfaces were not responding. However, he somehow pulled out of it at 3000 ft. above the ocean. The MiG-15’s maximum speed was Mach 0.95. The US kept the movable horizontal stabilizer secret from the Soviets.

The airplane was next disassembled and airlifted to Wright-Patterson AFB in Dec. 1953 where it was reassembled and given exhaustive flight-testing. Several interesting facts were discovered during the testing phase. For instance, the MiG-15 was powered by a Soviet-built “copy” of the Rolls Royce “Nene” engine that the British gave to the Soviets as part of a trade agreement. The Russians rebuilt the engine, improved upon it, and naturally, never paid any licensing fees. To this day some American pilots believe that if the MiG-15 went into a steep dive the canopy would fog up leaving the pilot vulnerable. The MiG had fogged up during testing on Okinawa. Ken told me that this was a myth. The canopy was free of fog if serviced properly. The canopy of the MiG-15 that the USAF flight tested on Okinawa fogged because it was not serviced for two months. When I asked why he chose Kimpo Air base, he replied:

The MiG-15 has to take off and land on paved runways with a length of at least 2,400 meters. That's why I had to land on the USAF runway at Kimpo which was the home base for the US 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing with F-86 fighters on duty. Unlike other MiG defectors from Communist countries, who landed in neutral countries, I had to take a chance and land in the enemy airbase at Kimpo which had a long enough runway while we were still technically at war. Another runway where I could have landed was at Suwon airbase, about 30 miles south of Kimpo, where the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing stationed at the time.

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This picture of Lieutenant No Kum-Sok’s MiG-15 was in the estate of Airman Second Class Billy Oliver Shelor, who served with the 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing at Kimpo Air Force Base, Korea, from July 1953 to July 1954. Notice the USAF F-86 Sabre-Jet at the right of the picture. LT. No told me:

On the day I landed and parked my MiG-15 next to the F-86, Captain Cipriano Guerra was sitting in the plane on alert.  He got out of the plane and walked toward me between the two planes. Captain Guerra was the first American I met and shook hands with.

My thanks to Drew Barbour for allowing us to show his grandfather’s photograph. 

After a brief period of debate, the United States offered to return the aircraft to its rightful owner if they would step forward and claim it. Since the U.S.S.R. was allegedly neutral, it was unable to ask for the return of the MiG without admitting publicly that it had been arming and aiding the forces fighting the United Nations.  It was common knowledge, but the Soviet Union was not about to put it in writing. The U.S. then transferred the MiG-15 to the U.S.A.F. Museum in Dayton, Ohio in 1957.

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Life magazine article of 5 October, 1953

The offer to return the fighter was published in Life magazine of 5 October 1953, which announced the landing of the MiG with a brief one-page article entitled “MIG AND A MYSTERY – U.S. gets Red fighter, then offers to return it.” Lieutenant No and his MiG were both depicted. Some of the text is:

Last week a Russian MiG 15 fighter flown by a 22-year-old North Korean startled the traffic control men at U.N. Kimpo Airfield in Korea by dropping out of a clear sky…Hastily announcing that the Red pilot would get his money, the Far East Command had the MiG crated for air shipment to the U.S. for a series of flight tests. Then two days later there was a mysterious change of plans. Revoking cash offers for future MiGs, the command announced that this one – the first working model to ever reach U.S. hands – would be held for return to its “rightful owners.” Possible solution to the MiG mystery; the U.N. was afraid to give the Communists any chance to delay the impending peace conference with cries of foul play. Besides, by the time the enemy gets around to claiming the MiG, U.S. technicians will know it inside and out.

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Meeting Vice-President Nixon

The photo above shows Vice-President Richard M. Nixon, Congressman Joe Holt (R-Cal.), Lieutenant No Kum-Sok and Major James Kim, U.S. Army Intelligence. Major Kim took Lt. No to visit Congressman Holt in May 1954. Holt called Nixon at the U.S. Senate Office Building and although no appointment had been made the trio was invited to visit the Vice-President. Congress was in session that day and Congressman Holt introduced Lt. No from the podium. No stood up and received a warm reception.

How valuable was Lt. No to American intelligence? Not only had he handed the Air Force a working MiG-15, he also provided information to the United States Air Force worth far in excess of $100,000. He served in USAF Intelligence for 7 months and provided valuable information on airport installations, materiel, and personnel of the Soviet, Chinese and North Korean Air Forces. Previously, Don Nichols, the US Intelligence Chief in Korea, had a difficult time obtaining any information about North Korea. Most of the spies sent to North Korea never returned.

LTNoKumSukCheck.jpg border= What about Lieutenant No? Although the offer had been made through all the means of communication available, He stated that he had never heard of the reward. The young fighter pilot had simply decided that life under Communism was slavery, and had elected to defect to freedom. He was photographed receiving a fake check for $100,000 at a ceremony in Okinawa. The photo session was staged for the benefit of the Press who heard rumors that Lt. No would not receive the Moolah reward. The photo was shown in Stars and Stripes. The United States Air Force apparently had no money allocated to pay for the Operation Moolah. In fact, the pilot later received the check quietly in Washington, DC in May 1954. Where did the check come from? The CIA is the most likely candidate. Lt. No said that the money would be used to pay for technical studies in the United States and for the care of his aged mother. She had evacuated to South Korea in December 1950. North Korean Intelligence knew that No’s mother was in South Korea, and as a result he was very nearly discharged from the North Korean Air Force as a security risk in April-May 1953 when the leaflets were dropped. Because of his apparent devotion to the North Korean Communist Party, his regular passionate pro-Communist speeches and excellent flying skills, his flying career flying was saved until his escape.

No told me recently:

There were no MiGs stationed in North Korea during the leaflet dropping period, and at no time were any Chinese or Soviet MiG-15s ever stationed in North Korea. Even if a North Korean pilot got hold of the leaflet, what would it mean? We had no concept of the value of the dollar. How could anybody trust the authenticity of the promise in a leaflet that fell down from the sky? My salary was 500,000 Chinese Won per month, which was worth about $50 in U.S. currency. However, we had no use of the money. Everything was provided for us and we were restricted to the airbase during the war. I was absolutely ignorant of what could be purchased with $100,000 then. A used car? A small house? Enough to live on for a year? Of course I had no way of knowing this in 1953. The Russians had more freedom than we did. They went outside of the base often and bought back vodka. They were generous in sharing the vodka with the North Korean pilots. North Korean MiG pilots shared the mess-hall with the Soviet MiG pilots at Dandong Airbase.

Lt. No volunteered a critique of the Russian pilots who took part in the war:

Stage One (November 1950 to March 1951)

The first group of Russian MiG-15s (old model) entered the war from Dandong AB. They were inexperienced in flying jet planes and at high altitude. They failed to secure the supply lines. They could not stop the B-29s from bombing the supply trucks and the military targets in daylight.

Stage Two (April 1951 to February 1952)

The 324th IAD, one of the most elite Soviet Fighter Aviation Divisions (Istrevitenye Avia Divizya)was commanded by the Soviets top ace, Ivan Kozhedub. That unit was stationed at Moscow Defense District to defend against B-29 raids against the Soviet Capital. They were deployed to Manchuria in late 1950 to train the first group of North Koreans to fly the MiG-15s. My group was the first and initially trained by them. Due to the Gen. Ridgway's 8th Army counter-attack to push the Chinese Army toward the 38th Parallel for the second time, the Communists needed better air cover for their supplies. Under Kozhedub, they had two squadrons. One was headed by Evgeny Pepelyalev (Top MiG ace) and the other commander was S. Vishnyakov. Most of them were WWII veterans and flew from Dandong Air Base,  with old-model MiG-15s. Another Soviet IAD, the 303rd, commanded by Kumanichkin was deployed at Dadunggo Air Base, about 30 miles west of Dandong. In June 1951, they received the new MiG-15bis, which had about 500 lbs. more thrust, and some other new features. My North Korean MiG squadron joined our first trainers, the 324 IAD, at Dandong in late 1951.  My first instructor, Alex Nikichenko, was killed in action by then. Some of my personal beliefs about the Soviet pilots and those days of air warfare:

1. The USAF 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing's three F-86 Fighter Interceptor Squadrons were not at full strength at K-14 (Kimpo).  I believe only two squadrons were deployed until late in 1951. Most of 51st Fighter Interceptor squadrons were flying F-80s, F-84s or F-51s until the end of 1951.

2. According to Boots Blesse of 334th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, Americans flew F-86A models with non-hydraulic and manual cable control systems until June 1952 when the F-86E-10 models arrived. The 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing entered the war with F-86E models from K-13 (Suwon) in December 1951.  How do I know?  Wes Tillis of 25th Fighter Interceptor Squadron told me at a reunion in Florida.  His flight and my MiG unit had a dog fight in MiG Alley on 25 January1952.  That's when I first noticed the supersonic speed of F-86E.

3. Early in the war American planes strictly observed the Manchurian Sanctuary.  I never saw any U.S. plane crossing the Yalu River into Manchurian airspace in Stage 2.

4. The Soviets flew MiG-15bis models with hydraulically controlled ailerons. The MiG-15bis engine was more powerful than the original MiG-15 engine.

5. Most Soviet aces were from 324 and 303 IAD during Stage 2.  They never mention the advantage they had of fleeing back to the Manchurian Sanctuary when the going got tough.

6. I remember Yevgeni Pepelyayev. I never believed his claim of 19 kills. He was one of the two squadron commanders under Ivan Kozhedub's 324 IAD.  The other squadron commander was A. Veshnyakov who resembled President Abraham Lincoln. We had same dining hall at Dandong Air Base. Why I do not believe Pepelyayev's claims?  The Communists recovered all the planes downed on land but planes downed by Pelelyayev were not all verified. The USAF shows four of his claims totally false and another seven as doubtful or the losses attributed to other causes.

Stage Three (March 1952 to the end of the war, 27 July 1953)

Stage 3 was a disaster for the MiG's. It was the beginning of the end for the Soviets. Young, inexperienced MiG pilots replaced Kozhedub's pilots. The Manchurian Sanctuary was no longer observed after the second week of April 1952. How do I know? I was stationed at Dandong AB and witnessed F-86s shooting down 4 MiG-15s near the airbase in China for the first time. Americans called it “hot pursuit” but that was not really true. The MiGs were now attacked while landing as well as taking off.  The daily dogfights now took place in the Manchurian skies at low altitude. Many F-86 pilots became aces in Stage 3, including Joseph McConnell. The MiG pilots also had to face the advanced F-86F after January 1953. The Soviets were busy replenishing the lost MiGs rather than rotating the pilots for combat training. They realized that the air war was lost as soon as the Manchurian Sanctuary was lifted. Their morale was low and everybody wanted the war to be stopped.  

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This official Hanoi photo depicts a Russian pilot meeting with his North Vietnamese Air Force comrades. It is undated, probably postwar, and just added to show the partnership between the Russian and Vietnamese pilots. 

Much of what Lieutenant No says about the foreign pilots was proven after the fall of the Soviet Union when their archives became available for study. Ralph Wetterhawn discussed the Russian participation in an article entitled "The Russians of MiG Alley" in Retired Officer of August 2000.

The author says that in October 1950 Stalin decided to involve his air force in the Korean War. The 28th, 50th and 151st fighter aviation divisions (FAD) were assembled in Manchuria in the airbase at Mukden (now Shenyang). Until December 1951 when the Chinese fighters joined the fight, it was exclusively Russians that fought the air battles over Korea. The Russians archives claim that the North Korean air operations did not start until early 1952. According to Russian records, their pilots flew 63,229 sorties compared to just 22,300 sorties by the Chinese and North Korean pilots. The Soviets rotated 12 fighter divisions in and out of combat during the war.

When I spoke to Lieutenant No about the Russian article he pointed out a number of mistakes that had either crept into their archives or simply been written in error:

MiG-15 Fighter Aviation Divisions were assembled in Shenyang in October 1950, but only one, consisting of 2 squadrons, was actually deployed at Dandong Airbase in October 1950. No Chinese, North Korean or any other non-Russians flew MiG-15s in 1950.

In March 1951, the 324th FAD, commanded by Ivan Kozhedub, the top ace of the USSR, replaced the first MiG-15 FAD at Dandong. The 324th FAD came to Manchuria for the specific purpose of training the first N. Korean MiG pilots. I was one of them, so I vividly remember them. However, they unexpectedly received combat orders and turned us over to another FAD for training. When the Chinese advance was halted at the 37th Parallel by the US 8th Army, the Chinese needed better air support for supply lines to the front. Kozhedub's FAD was the most experienced MiG unit, from the Moscow Defense District. Another experienced MiG unit, the 303rd FAD, commanded by Kumanichkin, was deployed at Datungo, about 25 miles west of Dandong. The 324th and 303rd FADs had successfully stopped the daylight air raid of B-29s in N. Korea and loosely controlled "MiG Alley."

The Chinese MiGs entered the war in September 1951 from Dandong Airbase. My squadron flew the first North Korean MiGs to enter the war from Uiju Airbase, just south of the Yalu River in North Korea on 7 November 1951. The Russians would not know when the North Korean MiGs entered the war since they were not stationed in N. Korea.

Both the 303rd and 324th rotated back to Russia in February 1952. They were the most successful MiG pilots in Korea. They enjoyed a guaranteed Manchurian Sanctuary and never had to face more than two squadrons of mostly F-86As flown by 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing out of Kimpo Airbase. Young and inexperienced Russian MiG pilots replaced them, coupled with the loss of Manchurian Sanctuary in April 1952, caused heavy losses. The Americans then introduced the F-86E and later F-86F models. There were virtually no rotation other than replenishment of lost pilots the rest of the war.

The following June, “Mister” No Kum-Sok entered the University of Delaware as a freshman student. He westernized his name to Kenneth Rowe and enrolled in UD’s College of Engineering. He earned bachelor’s degrees in both mechanical and electrical engineering and became an aeronautical engineer. He was employed by Boeing, Westinghouse, General Electric and a number of other companies. His friend, University of Delaware history Professor John A. Munroe asked Delaware Senator J. Allen Frear to introduce a special bill to declare Kenneth Rowe a U.S. citizen. He did so and it was signed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

“Professor Rowe” later co-authored a book with J. Roger Osterholm. The title of the book is A MiG-15 to Freedom: Memoir of a Wartime North Korean Defector Who First Delivered the Secret Fighter to the Americans in 1953, McFarland & Co., Jefferson, NC, 1996.

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Ken Rowe

AP photo by David Tucker
Daytona Beach News-Journal

During his time in the United States, Ken Rowe worked for Boeing, General Dynamics, General Motors, General Electric, Lockheed, Grumman and Westinghouse. He taught engineering at the University of North Dakota and most recently at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach.

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Ken Rowe visited the Birmingham, Alabama, Southern Museum of Flight in October 2007 as part of the dedication of a Korean War exhibition that depicted his flight to freedom in a MiG-15.

Both Ken Rowe and Col. Bruce Hinton (the first F-86 pilot to down a MiG on Dec. 17, 1950) were invited to the "Planes of Fame Air Museum" in Los Angeles on Memorial Day, 2003, for the filming of a TV documentary. Rowe recently joined the Central Florida East Coast Chapter of the Korean War Veterans Association. He became an honorary member of both the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing Association and the 11th, 12th, 6166th Tactical Recon Squadrons Association. Those units all fought in the Korean War. He is an Honorary Cobra of the 39th Fighter Interceptor Squadron and the Aviation Museum of Kentucky awarded him with the title of "Kentucky Colonel." He is certainly the only North Korean fighter pilot to be a member of such American military organizations.

The United States cancelled the offer for any further fighter jets. The MiG-15 was tested against our Sabre Jet, and the results given to our fighter pilots all along the Iron Curtain.

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Censored Official USAF Photo without aircraft number and Uncensored Photo taken by Basil Clark

In every official United States Air Force photograph the number of the North Korean MiG-15 fighter has been blocked out. I assume this was for security purposes, although the North Koreans, Chinese and Russians certainly knew which aircraft had defected. The aircraft number must have been covered for security purposes, but it is hard to fathom who they were keeping the data secure from. The picture at the right was taken by a Royal Australian Air Force photographer Basil Clark immediately after Lieutenant No landed his MiG-15. It has not been censored. The plane number 2057 is clearly visible. Clark says:

I arrived at Kimpo airbase September 1952 and returned home late December 1953. I was assigned to Fighter Interceptor Squadron 77 and based with the American 5th Air Force. We were right next to the U.S. 67th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing.

I was on our squadron flight line about 200 yards from my Photo section. Someone suddenly yelled, "There's a bloody MiG." When I looked in the direction of the flight line I saw two F86 Sabre Jets that had just landed rolling down the strip heading north and the MiG on the ground heading south.

I immediately raced to my section and grabbed my Roliflex, tucked it under my parker and got as close as I could to the MiG-15 at the end of the runway. The Air Police were confiscating cameras from everyone that they saw near the aircraft. I was able to take some photographs of the plane and get back to the photo shop safely. Apparently, only four other people took pictures of the MiG on the ground. I was very lucky to be at the right place at the right time to take such a historic photograph.

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Sergeant Thomas M. Feltman, Jr.

U.S.A.F. Sergeant Thomas M. Feltman, Jr. of the 4th Air Police Squadron was stationed at Kimpo Air Field as the North Korean MiG-15 landed. He was one of the Air Policemen confiscating cameras. He told me:

I was partnered with Corporal Snider that morning. We left Operations and proceeded to the flight line within about 30-40 yards of the runway. We parked facing the runway so we could see both right and left and that gave us a clear view of any aircraft landing or taking off. There were no F-86's or anything else in the air that morning.

Radar Hill behind Kimpo went on scheduled maintenance from 0915 until 0930 a.m. on that day. After a while I happened to notice a jet approaching the runway with wheels down that looked like an F-86 preparing to land. I mentioned to Snider that at least we had a little action. I watched the jet touchdown and seconds later it went roaring by us and I saw a big red star on the fuselage. Snider and I immediately took off after the MiG. We were on a road adjacent to the runway. By the time we caught up the MiG had exited the runway and the pilot had shut down the engine. I saw him from a short distance away standing up in the cockpit with two or three people around the aircraft. By the time we pulled up there were about six to ten people there and I immediately jumped out of the jeep and began to secure the area. I turned my back on the pilot since I needed to keep the area safe. I remember confiscating several cameras (later returned to the individuals) and by that time the North Korean pilot was already in a jeep heading away. We stayed and secured things until tow vehicles showed up and then we left and returned to our post.

Later, I noticed that the MiG-15 was being towed into a large hangar nearby. Snider and I entered the hangar, and the doors were shut. Funny, but I remember walking around the MiG and noticing that the metal covering on the fuselage was not all the same texture or shiny color. It looked to me as if they must have run out of one type of metal and changed to another.

Although it has been stated that an F-86 was landing, I saw no Sabre-jets in the air when that MiG landed. Of course, I was busy chasing the MiG so if an F-86 landed I would have probably missed it. However, within 15 minutes (or less) there were F-86's coming out of revetments and making a beeline for the runway. I stood there and counted 15 jets in one bunch taking off, one after another. I guess they were expecting trouble. I saw those F-86's turn at the end of the taxiway at such speed that I couldn't believe they could go that fast and turn without flipping over or their wheels collapsing.

A short while later 5th Air Force headquarters in Japan declared that our F-86's had intercepted the MiG and escorted it to Kimpo. That was just propaganda. The morning was absolutely quiet and there wasn’t an American fighter in the air. The plane landed at 0921 on 21 September 1953, nine minutes before the radar site was to go back online.

It is difficult to believe, but there have been a number of arguments about what exactly happened that day. Several authors have given their own version of the event, and many are quite different from what Ken Rowe recalls, and he was flying the MiG-15. Wil Husted, the Air Traffic Controller on duty at the Kimpo Air Base Control Tower remembers the morning well. His version is slightly different than that of Sergeant Feltman. Some of his comments are:

The air was full of aircraft that morning. After the truce was signed, Kimpo, and every other base in South Korea went on an intensive training program. Everything flyable seemed to begin taking-off around 0800 or thereabout, and flying would continue throughout the day until around 1700 or so. When Ken arrived in the vicinity the first flights out that morning were returning for refueling and whatever. Some had already landed and others were in the traffic pattern from initial approach to touchdown. With two wings and an Australian squadron, there were plenty of planes in the air that morning.

My recollection of events is that one or more of the six people in the tower that morning noticed an airplane landing against traffic. We were landing aircraft to the north on Runway 35 at the time. An instant or two later we all recognized the plane as a MiG-15. I think that Ken was still airborne because I recall him jigging his plane to the left to avoid an F-86 already committed to landing. That F-86 blew one or more tires attempting to stop before a collision occurred.

Those of us in the tower never saw Ken's flares since we were all watching aircraft landing at the south end of the runway. I wish that I had seen the flares though. Had we seen them we might have been able to warn those landing that an aircraft with an emergency was landing straight-in from the north. When we first spotted Ken, no one saw a MiG-15, just a plane landing upstream. A few seconds later we did realize that it was a MiG-15. First things first, I guess.

We did have an emergency procedure for landing aircraft with emergencies from opposite directions. This was mainly for the period before the truce was signed in order to safely handle damaged aircraft, guys low on fuel, etc. The runway was 150 feet wide and had enough clearance. Ken's landing was the only time I saw this in practice, albeit unintended!

After Ken landed we watched the MiG-15 as it passed below the tower and into the hangar. I was impressed by the armored cars in attendance. Some of the guards walking alongside the aircraft carried M1 Garand rifles. We were mostly armed with M2 carbines so it was clear this was a special event. The airfield was closed because of the mob crossing the south end. Planes low on fuel were advised to fly to K-13 or K-55.

Jim Sutton of 39th Fighter Interceptor Squadron was flying over Kimpo Air Base as the MiG-15 landed. He was practicing instrument flying and never saw the flares. He told Ken Rowe:

I had intended to make an instrument landing at Kimpo, but was told that the Ground Control Approach was down.

I was not in a position to see your flares. I didn't know that was a signal not to fire at you.  I must have missed that briefing. Ha!

I flew back to K-13 (Suwon Air Base) after flying over to take a look as my mission was over. I told my squadron that a MiG landed at K-14 and some of them jumped in jeeps to go take a look.  

The online magazine Historic Wings adds:

The control tower at Kimpo was already in action. The pilots in the two ready F-86s on the ramp called in that a MiG had just landed. The tower scrambled everything they had. Within minutes, the entire 4th Fighter Wing was airborne, as was the 77th RAAF Squadron of Australian Meteors. The squadrons took off one after another and established an extensive combat air patrol to defend the skies around the base. Shortly thereafter, other squadrons and wings from other bases were scrambled as well. There would be no opportunity given to the Soviets or North Koreans to attack and destroy the MiG on the ground at Kimpo.

Curiously, although Operation Moolah might be considered a failure since no enemy pilot with knowledge of the reward offer flew his fighter aircraft to the allies, there was official thought of a second attempt to lure an enemy MiG pilot to defect. This time, the offer would be made to North Vietnamese pilots.

Operation FAST BUCK was proposed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) in November 1966. It was to be patterned after Operation MOOLAH. The plan had several goals:

  1. To secure aircraft, particularly the MiG 21 and the "Hook" helicopter.
  2. To acquire pilots for intelligence exploitation.
  3. To cause North Vietnam to evaluate the loyalty of its pilots.
  4. To reduce the radius of operations an number of sorties by the North Vietnamese Air Force.
  5. To psychologically exploit enemy pilots in Vietnam its allies.

The planned leaflets would use moderate disinformation in order not to alert the enemy to the priority of U. S. requirements. The leaflets were to emphasize pilot defection rather than the desire to capture an intact front-line enemy fighter to test and study. This might result in the U.S. paying for an older low performance aircraft. However, subsequent offers could then be modified to stipulate MiG-21's. The recommendation was $100,000, plus a $50,000 bonus, for the first pilot to defect. The second and all afterwards would receive $25,000. There would be a reward of $25,000 to pilots who defected by parachuting at sea and who were rescued by U. S. forces.

The Commander in Chief, Pacific (CINCPAC), considered the plan to be feasible and suggested the offer be a combined United States - Government of South Vietnam undertaking, to include other free world countries if they so desired.

Thailand was expected to agree to the program. Uncomplicated and coordinated In-flight and landing procedures were recommended. All available media was to be employed to disseminate the information overtly and covertly. As there was no further mention of this proposed operation it would appear that it was never approved.

A similar plan was in use just three years later. The PSYOP/POLWAR Newsletter, Volume IV, No. 10, 31 October 1969 says:

The Government of Vietnam's newest reward program was announced in a communiqué issued on 3 October 1969 by the General Political Warfare Department of the RVNAF Joint General Staff. As of this date, the Republic of Vietnam will generously reward North Vietnamese pilots, skippers, or crewmembers returning to the Just National Cause with an enemy aircraft, ship, tank, or with certain other weapons. The ralliers will be rewarded with 100 to 1000 taels of gold, depending on the value of the equipment they bring. The Republic of Vietnam and the RVNAF will warmly welcome the ralliers, provide them with security and protection and facilities necessary for their livelihood in Free Vietnam.

At the time, 100 taels were worth approximately $11,000. 

In conclusion, what were the results of Operation Moolah? It caused confusion among the enemies of the United Nations, led to mass destruction of their aircraft, valuable information on enemy tactics and weapons, and one young man who chose freedom. A first class propaganda campaign with a one hundred percent return of the highest order.The perfect operation! 

What did the man who thought it all up think about the operation? Hymoff told me, "I got to thumb my nose at the CIA. I was able to tell them to get out of the business and leave it to amateurs who know what it is all about." He was a very happy man.

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Red Chinese pilot who defected to Taiwan

A Red Chinese pilot who defected to Taiwan with a MiG inspired another leaflet shown above with the text:

Chinese Communist Navy Brothers: Take Liu Cheg-sze as a model. We welcome you to come over to our side.

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North Korean Pilot Defection Leaflet

All during the Cold War the United States and Republic of Korea sent leaflets into the North under operation “Focus Truth.” The theme of leaflet 5-8 is “North Korean Pilot Defection.” The front of the leaflet shows the faces of a North Korean aircrew over a mass of Korean people with the caption “Defected pilots and enthusiastic welcomers.” The text is: 

DO YOU KNOW THIS FACT? 

Un Yong Lee, the former Commander of the 858th Air Unit, an In Sun Lee, the navigator of the same air unit who defected to the free south with the YAK-18 Regiment, 2nd Fighter Division who defected with a MiG-15to the Republic of Korea on August 3, 1960, were awarded a considerable sum of “reward money,” finished college courses and were promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and Major respectively. Today they are enjoying a happy home life and pilot duty.   

The back of the leaflet shows a MiG and the various flight paths, distances, and hours required to defect to the south: 

Pilots who defect with MiG-type aircraft to South Korea will:

 1. Receive “reward money” amounting to 10 million won of Korean currency.

 2. Be admitted to college, and be able to go abroad for overseas study according to the defector’s desires. 

3. Be provided with a modern house.

4. Be provided with a marriage expense, and

5. Be promoted to one higher rank and can serve as a Republic of Korea Air Force Officer.

Other pilots followed the example of Lieutenant No. We mention just a few:

In June 1955, Lee Un-yong and Lee Eun-seong, Air Force officers and friends flew a Yak-18 across the border and landed at the then-major airport at Yeouido Island in Seoul. Chong Nak-hyok, an Air Force lieutenant flew his MiG-15 to the South in 1960. In 1970, Air Force Major Pak Sun-kuk was ordered to return a recently repaired MiG-15 from a repair workshop, but instead flew it to the South, crash-landing in Gangwon Province, South Korea. In 1983, Air Force Captain Lee Ung-pyong used a training exercise to defect and landed his MiG-19 at a South Korean airfield. Air Force Captain Lee Chul-su defected to South Korea on 23 May 1996 by flying across the border in an aging MiG-19 fighter.

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Ken Rowe with Elgin AFB test pilot T. P. Hollor in front of MiG-15UTI

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Ken Rowe and Dave Sutton discuss MiG tactics just before their flight
Photo courtesy of Dave Sutton of Red Star Aviation )

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Ken Rowe with Dave Sutton Taxiing
(Photo courtesy of Dave Sutton of Red Star Aviation )

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Ken Rowe and Dave Sutton after a successful flight
(Photo courtesy of Dave Sutton of Red Star Aviation )

Ken Rowe now resides in South Daytona, Florida. He still has a yen for flight. During the Classic Jet Aircraft Association annual convention at Elgin Air Force Base, in February 2004, he planned to fly once again in a Mig-15. The aircraft was an ex-Polish navy MiG-15UTI. "UTI" is Russian for trainer and indicates a two seat version of the famous fighter jet. Unfortunately, Rain and overcast allowed only a short hop around the airfield, but about three weeks later Ken and Dave Sutton of Red Star Aviation did a full flight of about an hour out of Deland airport in Daytona Beach Florida.

Maj. Gen. Raymond E. Mason Jr. writing under the pseudonym Allan Reed Millett devoted one entire chapter to Lt. No’s story (Chapter 11, “The MiG Pilot”) in his book Their War for Korea: American, Asian, and European Combatants and Civilians, 1945-1953, Brassey's Inc., Dulles VA, 2002:

No Kum-sok has told his story to many audiences since 1953, and he tells it well, consistent in the facts, clear about his state of mind, and unapologetic about his treason. He clearly regrets that his defection cost the lives of at least five people implicated by their association with him. One of them was his best friend, Lieutenant Kun Soo-sung, who knew of his plan to defect and did not inform on him. Another may have been his uncle, You Ki-un, an officer who once vouched for No’s dedication to Communism. Another was a battlefield (aviation) vice commander, who had also vouched for his loyalty. The others were in No’s chain of command, and No regards their execution as a normal risk in Communist military forces.

Kum-sok flew more than 100 combat missions as part of the standard twenty-four aircraft formation employed by the North Koreans. He experienced every limitation of the MiG-15: no radar, heavy stick, primitive avionics, substandard workmanship, high fuel consumption, a horizontal stabilizer on the tail that blocked his rear vision, no G-suit, and poor gun sights. His comrades perished all around him; killed in combat or air accidents, suicides, and even three executions for bad attitudes.

Now known as Ken Rowe, his best friends are the American pilots he flew against in the thin, cold air of MiG Alley.

When I asked him about these deaths, he replied:

Yes, five MiG-15 veteran combat pilots were executed by firing squad after I escaped, including Kun Soo-Sung, my best friend. Kun Soo-Sung's execution was positively confirmed by a North Korean pilot who defected to South Korea in 1955. The defector told me the news in 1970. I cannot positively identify the other four MiG-15 pilots executed. I suspect they were Captain Han Hak-Soo who was slated to be the First Battalion’s Commander, Captain Oh Hiung-Choon the Battalion Political officer, Captain Kim Jung-Sup my Battalion Vice-Commander, and Major Park Chang-Kun my sponsor for Communist Party membership. Other possibilities are Major Chae Sang-Tae the Regiment Commander and General Kim Hi-Kiung the Commander of the First Air Division.

He looked back at the war and said:

By the end of the Korean War, the Reds had lost more than 800 MiGs – 400 Russian, 300 Chinese, and 100 North Korean – almost a one hundred percent turnover. Thank God, I personally survived nearly 100 combat sorties in which I encountered enemy planes unscathed, but without any Sabre-jets to my credit. I flew about 300 combat sorties in all before the cease-fire.

Author’s Comment

I originally wrote this article several years before I found a copy of Ken Rowe’s biography, A MiG-15 to Freedom. After reading it I made a few minor additions to the story in those areas where I thought the book said something that I had not read or heard in earlier interviews with the pilot. It occurs to me that there are three very interesting points in the book that are worth considering.

1. The offer of $100,000 to a defecting pilot was made by Gen. Mark Clark, Commander in Chief, the US Far East Command. However, no money had been budgeted. As a result, the USAF had no funds to give Ken Rowe, and at one point asked him (at least in public) to state that he rejected the reward. When the Far East Command learned of the scheme for Ken to reject the money they were outraged. Instead, a phony check of $100,000 was issued. Ken was depicted depositing the check in the American Express Bank on Okinawa and the photograph was published on the front page of the Stars and Stripes newspaper. This eliminated the possibility of the press condemnation for reneging on the promised Moolah reward. Ken received the actual reward money eight months later in Washington, D.C. He was eventually put on the Federal payroll as a GS9 employee, but unlike some defectors who were wined and dined and treated like royalty, he was billed for his travel expenses, food and upkeep. You might call him the “working man's” defector.

2. When we think of fighter pilots we think of young men raring to mix it up in a dogfight and ready to engage at a moment’s notice. Ken Rowe tells us that during the first 16 months of the air war when the Manchurian Sanctuary was strictly observed by the USAF, a typical MiG-15 formation of 24 planes would fly above 45,000 feet to avoid F-86 attacks. The Sabres flew at about 30,000 feet where they were most efficient. On many occasions they saw each other but did not engage. Should the Sabres climb to dogfight; the MiGs often turned and flew back to their Manchurian sanctuary. On at least one occasion when a large flight of MiGs dove on a Sabre, it simply turned back toward the south at a speed so high that the MiGs could no catch it. The Sabre could go supersonic and the MiGs could not. One gets the impression from reading the book that there were many sorties, but few actual air battles.

3. The third comment tells us that as in Vietnam a decade later, the Korean air war was not fought as well as it might have been. From April 1952 to July 1953 the F-86s flew into the Chinese airspace at will.  Most of the MiG-15s were shot down during this period while landing, taking off, and at low level dogfights. The Sabres waited in ambush at the Manchurian airfields for returning MiGs. What is most interesting is that US aircraft would fire on MiGs taking off and landing in Manchuria, but would not fire on planes on the ground. The “rules of engagement” that decreed that a fighter pilot would pass over a dozen MiGs parked on the ground to fire at a single aircraft in a landing pattern is just too ridiculous to consider. I understand the concept that one does not shoot at “China,” but apparently it was acceptable to shoot at an aircraft 10 feet above Chinese soil. It is also interesting to note that just as the Russians and Chinese lied about taking no part in the Korean air war, on one occasion Ken Rowe was asked by a USAF spokesman to lie and state that he never saw any American aircraft in the skies over Manchuria. There was a secret war going on and nobody wanted to talk about it.

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Ken Rowe Honored as Eagle 

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General Charles Cleveland (Retired) welcomes new "Eagle",
Ken Rowe at the Montgomery Alabama's Chapter's Annual Gathering of Eagles

The students of the Air Command and Staff College of the Air University nominate a select group of pilots each year that they honor as “Eagles.” The class of 2008 consisted of 496 cadets, mostly Air Force majors who earned the title of Master of Military Operational Art and Science. They selected fourteen such Eagles from 45 finalists who were invited to Maxwell Air Force Base for the “Gathering of Eagles.” From 3 to 7 June, Ken Rowe was so honored. Artist Jay Ashurst painted the portrait of Ken above, as he looked upon his landing at Kimpo Air base in 1953.

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Kimpo Air Force Base diorama

In March 2010, the Southern Museum of Flight in Birmingham, AL, presented a “Korean War Jets” exhibit that highlighted the defection of Lt. No Kum Sok as well as the historic events that transpired following the defection.  The unique diorama display of Kimpo Air Force Base in South Korea features two of the primary fighter jets that became adversaries during the Korean War era, the F-86 Sabre and the MiG-15. The exhibit features a genuine F-86 and MIG-15.  The life-sized mannequins are produced by the Dorfman Company.  They have hair and glass eyes.  The airbase scene was produced from a photo shot a week before the defection.

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Ken Rowe at the Opening Ceremony

Ken told the story of his escape to freedom at the Southern Museum of Flight opening ceremony. He gave a few details that I had not heard before. For instance, he taxied the MiG-15 to the alert pad where F-86s were on alert with pilots sitting in the planes, then parked the plane next to an F-86 and jumped out of the cockpit and shook hands with the American fighter pilots.  He worried as he braked the aircraft because his tires had no tread and were nearly flat. He said that no American aircraft would be sent on a mission with tires without treads. Once he came to a stop he immediately jumped out of the aircraft and shouted “motor car, motor car, motor car.” He wanted someone to bring a motor car and take him out of this crowd and to the base headquarters, so that he could talk to a Korean.  He was rather impatient since nobody did anything about him standing there. He said that Middle and High Schools in North Korea had required students to take English every semester, but eliminated the English instruction and replaced it with the Russian language in 1948.Ken had been a top student in English classes, but had forgotten the language. The use of English and Japanese were strictly forbidden in the North Korean Military. 

Ken continues to be a popular speaker at military ceremonies and was invited to speak at the United States Air Force Test Pilot School graduation ceremony at Edwards AFB, Mojave Desert, CA, in December 2011.

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Ken Rowe’s old Wingman makes good
O Kuk-ryol photographed in the late 1980s

I am exaggerating since O Kuk-ryol was not exactly Ken’s wingman, but he was a buddy and fellow pilot in the 60th Fighter Interceptor Squadron where they both flew MiG-15s. On 20 February 2009 North Korean leader Kim Jong-il appointed his loyal aide to vice-chairman of the National Defense Commission; a post second only to Kim. O, a former air force commander and currently general of the Korean People's Army, was a kingmaker who helped Kim win military support after he was selected as North Korean leader in the early 1980s. His father was a member of North Korean founder Kim Il-sung's anti-Japanese guerrilla unit. Young O was educated in Russia and considered to be an excellent tactician.

Ken remembers Lieutenant O Kuk-ryol well and considers him a close friend. Due to his political and family connections, the lieutenant was exempt from combat missions.  Once Ken escaped by flying his MiG-15 to South Korea, O was forced to denounce him as the worst traitor of North Korea. Ken understands that O Kuk-ryol needed to denounce him or it would have been his own neck in the noose.

Readers with questions or comments on the above article are encouraged to contact the author at sgmbert@hotmail.com.