On This Day: The U.S. Offers $50,000 to Communist Pilots

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On April 27, 1953, the United States offered $50,000 and political asylum to any Communist pilot who could deliver them a Soviet MiG-15 jet fighter aircraft. The first pilot to defect to the U.S. with their MiG-15 would be awarded $100,000. ($880,000 today!)

Dubbed Operation Moolah, the plan was initiated during the Korean War as an attempt to acquire and study the MiG-15 that reportedly outperformed any U.S. Air Force fighter jet. The U.S. knew little about the technical aspects and flight performance of the Soviet high-altitude interceptor. The U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff approved Operation Moolah despite President Eisenhower’s disapproval, and the U.S. Air Force allocated $250,000 for the operation.

U.S. General Mark W. Clark made the offer to Communists through a shortwave radio transmission to stations in Japan, South Korea, and China. The night before, U.S. B-29 bombers had dropped 1.2 million leaflets with the offer written in Russian, Chinese, and Korean over North Korean airbases near the border of China. The message contained detailed directions of how to deliver the plane to avoid attack and promised that the U.S. would provide Communist pilots “refuge, protection, human care and attention” for delivering a “modern, operational, combat-style jet aircraft in flyable condition to South Korea.”

Did It Work?

Not really. No pilots defected to the U.S. or landed their MiG-15 in South Korea during the Korean War, but the psychological purpose (to create suspicion of pilots within Communist regimes) of the operation may have slightly stalled Soviet planes. The Soviets grounded their MiG-15s and air force for 8 days following Operation Moolah’s radio broadcast and leaflet air drop.

The Chinese and North Korean pilots (trained and supplied with the MiG-15s by Soviets) were restricted from listening to outside radio stations, and, since their MiG-15s were stationed in Manchuria (and not the North Korean airbases along the China border), it was unlikely any of them even saw the leaflets.

Did the U.S. ever get a MiG-15?

Yes, but only after the Korean War. The Korean Armistice Agreement ended the Korean War on July 27, 1953, but later that year on September 21, a MiG-15 landed at Kimpo Air Base in South Korea. U.S. radar near the air base was temporarily shut down for maintenance, and no one even saw the MiG-15 until after it touched down on the runway.

So…. Who Got the “Moolah”?

The pilot of the MiG-15—21-year old North Korean Lieutenant No Kum-Sok. No had been completely unaware of Operation Moolah. Believing he only had a 20% chance of surviving and not being shot down, he took the risk of landing at Kimpo Air Base to escape North Korea. No learned of the $100,000 reward after he landed. He was also informed that his mother had been safely evacuated to South Korea in 1951 and was alive and well.

No helped the U.S. learn how to fly the MiG-15, and received the $100,000 reward in a trust to be dispersed slowly over the years and to fund his education in the U.S. He and his mother moved to the U.S. where he eventually became a professor of aeronautical engineering.

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