The Flight to Freedom’s final chapter

We pause to remember a North Korean fighter pilot today, No Kum-sok.

Born in 1932 as Okamura Kyoshi in the Japanese-occupied Hermit Kingdom, he was the son of a baseball player. The teen considered becoming a kamikaze during the latter stages of WWII but was dissuaded from it and nonetheless later became an aviator for the Korean People’s Air Force.

Training in Manchuria under his new, more Korean name, he would complete no less than 100 combat sorties in the Korea War. Just after the truce was announced, and with his father dead and his mother in the West, he decided it was time to pull stumps for the South.

At the stick of his advanced MiG-15bis, he would famously streak from Sunan outside of Pyongyang to Kimpo Air Base in South Korea on 21 September 1953, a flight of just 17 minutes, and become probably the highest-profile defector of the day.

After being debriefed by the CIA, he was given $100K as authorized by Operation Moolah, although he was not aware of the reward for defectors who brought their MiGs over.

1.2 million of these pamphlets were dropped on North Korea in 1953. Operation Moolah promised a $100,000 reward to the first North Korean pilot to deliver a Soviet MiG-15 to UN forces, or just $50K for either a pilot or aircraft. The pamphlet carried the photo of LT Franciszek Jarecki, who had flown his Lim2 (license version of MiG 15bis) from Poland to political asylum in Denmark in March 1953.

No’s MiG, repainted in USAF markings and insignia, the under guard and awaiting flight testing at Okinawa. Note the M3 grease gun at the ready. (USAF image)

Taking the name Kenneth H. Rowe, he emigrated to the U.S.– where his mother had already escaped to– and, picking up several engineering degrees and a Korean-American bride, worked in the American aviation community and then as a professor at Embry-Riddle. Mr. Rowe, late of the DPRKAF, passed in Florida over the weekend, aged 90.

As for his MiG, following a career as a test aircraft in USAF custody, it was sent to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, where No visited it before his death. It has been restored to its original #2057 livery. 

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