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While many of our ancestors arrived in this nation by ship – the only practical means of mass transit at the time, the subject of this blog chose a different but no less dangerous path to freedom. In his case, timing made the difference between life and death.
Kenneth H. Rowe (No Kum-Sok) was born in Sinhung, Korea on January 10, 1932. When Rowe was twelve years old, Korea was a part of the Japanese Empire and both Japanese culture and companies dominated the peninsula. Though Korean traditions and culture were officially shunned, Rowe’s father worked for a Japanese corporation and made a relatively good living, providing Ken with both material and social advantages. By his teen years, Ken could speak both Korean and Japanese fluently. In 1944 the Japanese military began sending its pilots on suicide missions against the American navy in the Pacific and requested Korean volunteers. Although Rowe was only twelve, he asked his father if he could volunteer to serve as a kamikaze pilot. The father was able to discourage Rowe, and conveyed an attitude that the United States would ultimately win the war. This aroused a curiosity in Ken about the United States and its people.
While Rowe began to express pro-American sentiments to his classmates, he had to be careful about them since the Soviets occupied Korea north of the 38th parallel after World War II and installed a Communist regime. After several years of dictatorship under Kim ll Sung, Ken became convinced he had to leave North Korea but ironically decided being an ardent Communist would give him the means to do so. Rowe’s zeal caught the attention of the North Korean military and he soon trained to become a fighter pilot.
Ken began flying combat missions in Soviet-built Mig-15 jet fighters in 1951. Although he flew nearly a hundred missions during the course of the war, he sought to avoid dogfights with USAF jet fighters, which enjoyed both qualitative and quantitative advantages. In September 1953, two months after the end of the Korean War Rowe (No) saw his chance. Rowe’s squadron was on a training mission from Sunan Air Base, just outside of the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. With near perfect flying weather, Rowe was able to veer away from from his unit and set a course for the 38th parallel into South Korea. He knew the odds were against him to land safely at an American air base, but after a fifteen minute flight Rowe landed safely at Kimpo Air Base, just outside the South Korean capital of Soul. He later discovered the USAF radar was shutdown for maintenance work that morning, though he barely missed a collision with an American jet fighter landing on the same runway from the opposite direction.
Rowe (No) spent the next six months on Okinawa as a consultant to both the USAF and CIA on the capabilities of the Mig-15, as well as providing insight about North Korean air combat strategies. Ken arrived in the United States in 1954, working as a paid contractor to a number of US intelligence agencies. During that time, he often traveled by rail between Washington DC and New York, passing through Newark, Delaware – home of the University of Delaware School of Engineering. Intent on pursuing his education, Rowe enrolled in the UD engineering program, earning degrees in both mechanical and electrical engineering. He was well situated upon graduation, with the $100,000 reward received for defecting with the Mig (of which Rowe was unaware) invested for him and yielding a high rate of return.
When Rowe sought assistance from his CIA handlers in securing a green card to work in the US, they refused. He could only get temporary visas as a result of an agreement between the CIA and the government of South Korea, who wanted him to join their air force upon graduation. From a close relationship with a history professor at UD, Ken was introduced to a Senator from Delaware, who introduced a bill granting him citizenship. The bill was eventually signed by President Eisenhower. The CIA was instructed not to interfere if Rowe sought permanent immigration status on his own.
In 1957 Ken was reunited with his mother, who had been living in South Korea. Though he wasn’t fluent in English, he quickly adapted to life in the United States. Rowe pursued a varied and successful career in aeronautical engineering, working for a number of key aviation firms such as Grumman, General Dynamics, Lockheed and Boeing, as well as General Electric, DuPont and Westinghouse. After leaving the corporate world, Rowe served as an aeronautical engineering professor at Embry-Riddle University, making him a true hero of aviation – both inside and outside of the cockpit.
This blog is the fifth of a series about the heroes of aviation.
Aircraft designers and artists share a common trait – the ability to think out of the box and incorporate new concepts into their works . While the artist strives to create a pleasing appearance out of their work, whether art or sculpture, the aircraft designer must first meet a set of performance criteria in order to produce a successful aircraft, the artistic form being of secondary importance. During the course of this blog we’ll trace the career of an engineer who designed a number of aircraft achieving both impressive performance and appearance.
Clarence Leonard “Kelly” Johnson was born in Ishpeming, Michigan on February 27, 1910. Johnson decided to pursue a career in aeronautical engineering at the age of 12, largely as a result of reading a series of Tom Swift novels. A few months later, he designed his own small plane, which he named the Merlin 1 Battle Plane. After seeing a Curtiss Jenny in flight during a local exhibition, he became interested in flying aircraft as well as designing them. During his high school years, Kelly moved to Flint, where his father had a construction business. He also worked part time in the motor test section of Buick, gaining a practical knowledge of engineering. By the time he completed high school, Kelly had saved about $300 to defray the costs of flight school. When Johnson approached the flight instructor, he persuaded him to use the money to further his education.
While Johnson was surprised at the instructor’s response, he respected him, and after holding a number of odd jobs, graduated from the University Of Michigan in 1932, receiving a Bachelor of Science in Aeronautical Engineering. After gaining a number of teaching fellowships, as well as serving as a consultant to the university, he received a Master of Science in Aeronautical Engineering the following year. Johnson’s first assignment at Lockheed in 1933 was to design tools from which to build aircraft . However, it wasn’t long before he was involved in the design of Lockheed’s first line aircraft of the era, such as the Model 10 Electra flown by Amelia Earhart. Johnson would later design the military version of the Electra, the Hudson Lockheed, for the British from a set of sketches he made from his hotel room. By 1938 Kelly was serving as an assistant to Lockheed’s chief engineer, Hall Hibbard. In 1937 the Air Corps contracted with Lockheed to produce an aircraft capable of speeds in excess of 400 mph., with nearly double the range and firepower of existing fighter aircraft. Within a year, Hibbard and Johnson designed a twin-boomed plane, a radical departure from current practice, with armament of four fifty caliber machine guns with a 20 mm. cannon in the nose, with a larger internal fuel capacity augmented by detachable drop tanks underneath the inner wing panels. The aircraft was test flown in 1939 and entered service in 1941 as the P-38 Lightning. The P-38 proved to be a versatile plane, performing a variety of missions ranging from ground attack to the night fighter role.
In 1943 Hibbard and Johnson were presented with a new challenge. Both Germany and Britain were developing fighter aircraft driven by jet propulsion, while the USAAF program efforts lagged. Another reason for a practical jet fighter was the receipt of intelligence reports in early 1943 about a German jet fighter undergoing advanced testing, the ME-262. Fearful the new German fighter would soon become operational, Lockheed was awarded the contract and Johnson promised the design would be completed within six months. Hibbard and Johnson decided to build the new jet fighter around the existing British De Haviland Goblin engine, already in use in the Gloster Meteor. Within a mere 143 days, the new jet fighter, the P-80 Shooting Star, had completed its first test flight and production began two months later. While too late to see action in World War II, the P-80 saw extensive action in Korea, in both the ground attack and aerial combat roles. Variants of the P-80/F-80 were in use until 1997.
Due to a perceived Soviet bomber threat, the CIA issued a requirement in late 1953 for an aircraft capable of scanning large segments of Soviet territory from an extremely high altitude. During the last year of the Korean War, several Convair B-36 bombers flew over Manchuria, taking pictures of Mig bases from a relatively high altitude. The large bomb bay area, long wings, and a high altitude dash capability from it’s four jet engines made the B-36 a good camera platform for its time. The proposed aircraft would not be as big, but would have long, glider like wings, coupled with a lightweight fuselage powered by a single jet engine mounted in the fuselage. The contract was awarded to Lockheed the following year and Kelly Johnson went to work. The initial specifications called for an aircraft capable of operating at an altitude of 70,000 ft. with a range of 1,700 miles. Johnson shortened the fuselage of an experimental F-104 Starfighter with long, slender wings. The design was powered by the J73 General Electric jet engine and emphasized weight saving, discarding features such as a landing gear and ejection seats. It took off from a special cart and belly landed when returning. The aircraft, designated Utility Two or U-2 , could cruise at an altitude of 73,000 ft. with a range of 1,600 miles. By 1955 the U-2 was in production and CIA operators were flying it over the world’s trouble spots the following year. These flights over the Soviet Union ended in May 1960 with Francis Gary Powers U-2 shot down by a Soviet SA-2 missile. However, the U-2 continued to serve in other areas, providing valuable intelligence during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, the aircraft remaining in service for over 50 yrs.
In the 1960s, Johnson designed the successor to the U-2, the SR-71, The SR-71 was a twin jet, twin tail, delta-winged reconnaissance aircraft, capable of sustained mach 3 speeds with a service ceiling in excess of 85,000 ft. with a range of 2,900 miles. From the technology standpoint, the SR-71 or Blackbird, was a totally new design made largely of titanium, which was ironically imported from the Soviet Union at the time. The SR-71 was in service for over 30 yrs. and set a number of world speed and altitude records – many of them still standing. Kelly Johnson was instrumental in the design of some 40 aircraft during his forty plus years at Lockheed, designing a number of great planes at pivotal times in our nation’s history – making him a true hero of aviation.
This blog is the fourth in a series about the heroes of aviation.
The recent discovery of an aluminum panel on Nikumaroro atoll in the South Pacific has renewed interest in the search for the Lockheed Electra flown by the aviatrix Amelia Earhart. During this blog, we will follow the development of the Electra, as well as its civil and military roles.
In spite of the Great Depression, the early 1930s was a time of expanded air traffic, in both the passenger and cargo categories. Lockheed developed the Electra to compete with the Boeing 247 and Douglas DC 2. The Electra was the first all metal plane built by Lockheed and complied with a 1934 federal requirement that all aircraft carrying mail had to be powered by more than one engine, due to a series of crashes with single engine planes. It was also Lockheed’s first major move toward becoming a key manufacturer of transport aircraft. The Electra was a cantilever low-wing monoplane of all-metal construction, with retractable tailwheel landing gear and a tail unit incorporating twin fins and rudders. The prototype was first flown in 1934, with the Model 10 entering service later that year. By the late 1930s the Electra was flown by eight major airlines, resulting in a production run of 148 aircraft.
However, it began to decline in both the cargo and passenger roles by the beginning of World War II, due to the introduction of larger aircraft types such as the Boeing Stratoliner. The Electra was relatively easy to fly and could be modified for a variety of tasks. A modified Electra was used to conduct wing de-icing tests with a system that utilized hot gasses from the engine exhausts. Sidney Cotton, an Australian executive who used an Electra Model 12 for business trips, modified the plane to carry cameras, taking clandestine photographs of German and Italian military installations over a three month period just before the beginning of World War II. Perhaps the two most famous flights of the Electra were that of Amelia Earhart, in her attempted around the world flight in 1937 and British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s 1938 meeting in Munich with Adolf Hitler.
While civil interest in the Electra began to decline, the military potential of the plane increased. Lockheed, in an effort to promote foreign sales, sent cutaway drawings of the plane in 1937 to various publications, displaying the aircraft as both a civilian airliner and a converted military bomber. The following year, the British purchased a modified version of the Lockheed Model 14 Super Electra airliner to supplement its Avro Anson maritime patrol aircraft, the Lockheed planes designated as the Hudson Mk I. The aircraft quickly entered production with 78 aircraft available to the RAF by the start of the war in September 1939. The RAF received an additional 410 planes via the Lend Lease program. The Hudson was originally armed with two fixed Browning machine guns in the nose along with two .30 cal. machine guns in a dorsal turret. As the war progressed, the Hudson’s armament increased with the addition of two waist guns and a single ventral gun.
Operationally, the Hudson achieved a number of firsts. It was the first aircraft deployed from the British Isles to shoot down an enemy aircraft in October 1939. A Hudson was the first US plane to sink a German U boat (U 656) and the first Canadian aircraft to do the same (U 754), both in 1942. In 1941, an attack by an RAF Hudson based in Iceland forced U 570 to surface, causing the submarine’s crew to display a white flag and surrender – the aircraft being the first to capture a warship. In the Pacific, the Hudson was equally effective, with an RAAF Hudson being the first to make an attack on the Japanese Troopship Awazisan Maru off the Malayian coast, an hour before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Saburo Sakai and other Japanese aces have praised both the durability and maneuverability of the Hudson in protracted aerial combat.
While outclassed by larger bombers later in the war, the Hudson was available at a time when it was most needed. Although difficult to take off and land, it was easy to fly. It was a versatile aircraft, performing a variety of missions ranging from antisubmarine patrols to transporting agents behind enemy lines, as well as a trainer aircraft for bomber pilots. The Hudson was noted by its pilots for exceptional agility for a twin-engine plane. Perhaps the most enduring tribute to the Hudson was it spawned the development of two other successful Lockheed aircraft, the Ventura and the P-38 Lightning.