The First North Korean Pilot To Defect WITH His MiG-15

It was September 1953, the war in Korea had ended almost two months previously, the ceasefire had been signed and adhered to by both sides. That day No Kum-Sok decided he did not want to fight for the North Koreans any more and so he took off in his MiG-15 and headed for the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).

Flying at over 600 miles per hour it took only 17 minutes to cross the heavily fortified border and land at Kimpo Air Base. He was not chased by North Korean Fighters, nor was he shot at by South Korean Forces. The massive US radar near the air base was temporary shut down for maintenance so by the time he reached the landing zone nobody had reacted yet.

Being unfamiliar with procedures on Kimpo he came in from the wrong side and thus landed from the wrong side, almost flying into an American F-86 Sabre which was coming in to land from the other side.

No Kum-Sok.


Captain Dave William, the American pilot, veered out of the way and gave full power as he nearly avoided the plane that was coming right at him and reported over the radio “It’s a damned MiG!”. Undaunted, No-Kum Sok proceeded to taxi to a free spot in between two parked F-86 fighters, climbed out of the cockpit and tore up a picture of Kim Il Sung he was carrying with him.

As it turned out, had he flown in from the correct side of the air base he would have been spotted by another circling F-86, and probably shot down.

The Cheque awarded to No Kum-Sok, now residing in the US Air Force Museum.

To his amazement, Nu Kum-Sok was awarded $100,000 for being the first North Korean to defect with his airplane! He claimed he never heard about this reward, being trained and stationed during the war in Chinese Manchuria to avoid being bombed by the Americans.

The airplane was taken to Okinawa where it was given USAF markings and was flown by no less than test pilot Chuck Yeager.

DAYTON, Ohio -- MiG-15 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)
No’s MiG-15 on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

No Kum-Sok eventually moved to the USA where he met his mother who had fled North-Korea during the war. He still lives there with his wife, two sons and a daughter. This cannot be said for his best friend and four other pilots and commanders who were executed because of his defection.

His only relatives in North Korea, an uncle and his family, have vanished without a trace.

After several attempts to return the Mig-15 to North Korea the Americans gave up and put it on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

Joris Nieuwint

Joris Nieuwint is a battlefield guide for the Operation Market Garden area. His primary focus is on the Allied operations from September 17th, 1944 onwards. Having lived in the Market Garden area for 25 years, he has been studying the events for nearly as long. He has a deep understanding of the history and a passion for sharing the stories of the men who are no longer with us.