After flying more than 100 combat missions against F-86 Sabres, Ken Rowe survived the Korean War to deliver an intact MiG-15 fighter to the United States Air Force. Ken Rowe was 17 years old when he entered the North Korean Naval Academy. At that time he was known as No Kum-Sok, the son of an anti-communist father and a mother with a strong Catholic faith. Kum-Sok was born on 10 January, 1932 in Sinhung, near Hamhung, Korea. As World War II came to a close in Japanese occupied Korea, he was attending school with a childhood dream of going to the United States and becoming an American citizen. The Red Army’s occupation of North Korea at the end of the war put those dreams in jeopardy.
When the Korean War broke out in June 1950, Kum-Sok was one of 80 North Korean Naval Academy cadets who passed a rigorous physical examination and were transferred to the North Korean Air Force. The cadets were being trained by the Soviet Air Force in Manchuria to become the first of North Korea’s jet fighter pilots. Ken soloed in the Yak-18, a light, basic trainer, followed by the Yak-11, an all metal aircraft. At the age of 19, No Kum-Sok became the youngest fighter pilot in North Korea. His squadron was the first North Korean MiG-15 unit thrown into aerial combat from Uiju Airfield in early November 1951. Rowe quickly became a 4-ship element leader.
On 27 July, 1953 an armistice stopped hostilities in the Korean War. Rowe was happy to be alive but had one unfinished mission- to escape from North Korea. On 21 September, 1953, Rowe took off and turned his jet south toward Kimpo airbase. He quickly passed over the demilitarized zone, noted F-86s in the air over what should be Kimpo, and then heard the tower back at Sunan calling for his location repeatedly. Rowe never responded and landed his plane at Kimpo. Rowe opened his canopy, dropped to the ground, and began his childhood dream of freedom in the West. Soon Rowe was on Okinawa, where he assisted US test pilots flight testing the MiG-15 and told of his experiences with the North Korean and Soviet Air Forces.
He worked for USAF Intelligence before coming to the United States in May, 1954. The MiG-15 Rowe flew to Kimpo that day is now on display at the USAF Museum in Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. Ken Rowe became a United States citizen, earned an engineering degree, and worked for several corporations including DuPont, Boeing, General Dynamics, General Motors, General Electric, Lockheed, Grumman, and Westinghouse. Rowe was a professor of engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University for 17 years and retired in 2000. His Catholic upbringing led him to his future wife, Clara. She worked at the Catholic Relief Organization office on the 65th floor of the Empire State building. Ken Rowe has documented his life and details of his daring escape from North Korea in the book A MiG-15 to Freedom, published in 1996.