September 21, 2010
On this day in 1953, 21-year-old North Korean pilot No Kum-Sok astonished the American flyers at Kimpo Air Base in South Korea by landing in the middle of their runway and surrendering—thus becoming the first MiG pilot to defect to the West.
In his fascinating 1996 book, A MiG-15 to Freedom, No (who changed his name to Kenneth Rowe and ended up working in the U.S. aerospace industry), recalls his first meeting with Chuck Yeager, who had been whisked from Wright Field to Okinawa to see the famed Russian fighter firsthand.
Yeager motioned to me and said to [Wright pilot Tom] Collins, “Ask him if he knows who I am.” Collins responded, “You ask him.” Then Yeager told Andy, my interpreter, to tell me that he was Major Chuck Yeager, the first man to fly faster than the speed of sound. Andy was confused, his mind preoccupied with control switches, gauges, and emergency maneuvers, and he was unable to convey the message to me. Andy had no idea who these pilots were anyway, and he probably thought Chuck Yeager was telling an unimportant joke.
Yeager noticed from my facial expression that his question had not been conveyed. So he tried again, saying to Andy, “Tell him that I was the first man to fly faster than Mach 1.” Andy garbled the translation again, so I thought he was trying to say that Yeager was the famous scientist. I immediately said, “Ah, Dr. Mach!” Yeager gave an embarrassed grin and made a motion as if stroking a beard from his chin, saying that he was not Dr. Mach, who was very old and had a beard. Actually Ernst Mach had been dead for 37 years. Captain Collins witnessed the amusing confusion and said that was one of the few times he had ever seen Chuck Yeager at a loss for words.
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