○ Summary

The beginning of the Republic of Korea Air Force traces back to the 'Independence Movement' in Korea and abroad that was carried out to retrieve the sovereignty lost from the Japanese colonial rule during the 1910~1920s. The attempts Ahn Chang-ho made to purchase aircraft during the Korean Provisional Government in Shanghai(KPGiS) period and the foundation of Korean flight school(Willows) in California were actual steps toward the 'aviation freedom'. The pilot training was entrusted to both the Korean flight school and the Chinese/Soviet flight schools.

Some Korean pilots in the 1920s were appointed as pilot officers by the KPGiS, and took an active part in Chinese Air Units. In the 1930s, Korean pilots joined the Sino-Japanese War with the Chinese pilots in an act of independence against Japan. Between 1944 and 1945, the KPGiS formed the 'Air Force Planning Committee' and prepared the establishment of 'Korean Independence Wing' in order to establish our own Air Force. Furthermore, they put together a joint operation with the U.S. named 'Domestic Advance Operation', but it was foundered due to Japanese surrender. On August 18th, 1945, the unsatisfied Independence Army with 'JungJinDae(정진대)‘ at the head, flew from Xian in China to Yeouido airport in Korea with C-47 and confronted the Japanese remnants.

Airmen from abroad returned home and formed a civilian organization that actively disseminated the airman ship after the liberation of 1945. However, as private organizations were unfit to carry out military operations, they founded 'Korean Air Construction Association' and proposed the establishment of Korean air units to the United States Army Military Government in Korea(USAMGIK) and the Department of Internal Security, which was the former body of the Ministry of National Defense. On March 1948, plans for the 'Light Flight Unit' was approved, and on May 5th the first Air Unit was established under the Department of Internal Security.

○ Air pioneers

The Great Air Pioneers
Ahn Chang-Ho, Kim Koo, Roh Baek-Rin

3 pioneers who emphasized the importance of aviation in 1920

- Dosan Ahn Chang-Ho

The Great Air Pioneer, Dosan Ahn Chang-Ho(1878.11.9.~1938.3.10.)
Trigger the Independence Movement with aviation!
“Aircraft would be the catalyst to touch the hearts of the Korean people so as to trigger the upcoming eruption of the volcano of resistance at home.”
(Dosan Diary, 1920. 2. 17.)

Ahn Chang-Ho, as the Director of Transportation of the KPGiS, pushed ahead with purchasing aircraft to establish a clandestine communication network between the KPGiS and resistance groups in Korea and to spur the independence movement among the Korean people. The great ambition was confronted with difficulty because of persistent obstruction from Japan and financial difficulties. Consequently as the second best plan, the KPGiS had to seek a diplomatic effort to train Korean pilots by dispatching them to the related Chinese institution for commissioned flight training.

- Baekbeom Kim Koo

Baekbeom Kim Koo, who laid the corner stone of ROKAF (1876.8.29.∼1949.6.26.)
Kim Koo laid a cornerstone of the ROKAF with 『Ordinance of Air Force planning Committee』 and 『Organization and Operations of Korea Independence Army Flight Wing』, which were concrete plans to organize an air force of the provisional government. (KPGiS official report, 78th issue/Ministry of Military Affairs operation report, Collected Materials of KPGiS 9, Baekbeom Diary)

The Korean leader was well aware of the importance of air power in the conduct of the independence war. Therefore, Kim Koo cooperated with the CNP government in order to establish our own air force. The KPGiS, under Kim’s leadership, encouraged young Korean students, including Kim Shin, Kim Koo’s own only son, to go through the professional military education at the Republic of China Central School. These brave young men encouraged Premier Kim to prepare the 'Domestic Advance Operation‘ in 1945.

- Gaewon Roh Baek-Rin

The Founder of Willows, Gaewon Roh Beak-Rin (1875.1.10.∼1926.1.22.)
″The future of the war lies in the hands of those that dominate the Air.″

Photograph taken in Feb 5, 1920 to commemorate General Roh Baek-Rin's visit to the Redwood Flying School. From the far left: Jang Byeong-Hun, Oh Rim-Ha, Lee Yeong-Seon, Roh Baek-Rin, Lee Cho, Lee Yong-Geun, Han Jang-Ho.

Having already had a keen understanding of the Air Power in 1920, General Roh Baek-Rin, Chancellor of Military Affairs(today’s Minister of National Defense) of the KPGiS, was eager to seek a way to cast the aircraft in the Korean independence movement. General Roh pointed out: “Bereft of the air superiority, winning our independence war against Japan would be highly unlikely, as whoever dominates the air wins the future warfare.” He consulted with Deputy Premier Lee Dong-Hwi about a scheme to found a Korean flying school in America with the help from Korean-Americans so that Korean pilots could be committed to the battle in war against Japan as well as they would later play a pivotal role in the formation of the ROKAF.

△ “Tokyo is our final target. In the Independence War, we will fly to Tokyo and lay waste on them. Never forget this objective, and forever be prepared for that day. We do not train, for everyday is our battle for independence. Fight like today is the day.”

△ “The sole purpose of Willows Flying School is to teach young men from Korea what they need to fight for independence; aeronautics” ( Willows Daily Journal , March 1, 1920.)

- Kim Jong-Rim

Sponsor of Willows Flying School, Kim Jong-Rim (1884.1.19.∼1973.1.26.)

Kim Jong-Rim crossed the Pacific in 1907. Though started out as a poor railway laborer, he incorporated a company in California in 1908 and later accumulated considerable wealth with a big rice farm. While supporting the independence movement with his wealth, Kim Jong-Rim met General Roh and decided to become a part of the airmen training plan by sponsoring for the establishment of Willows Flying School. The grim financial status of the KPGiS that was almost broke at the time elicited Kim Jong-Rim's sponsorship, but Kim Jong-Rim's patriotism was behind the such sponsorship. Kim believed that if they educated Korean pilots, then someday they would participate and contribute to win the Independence War.

△ “Our aviation project(Willows Flying School) is but a few years old, grown with support and passion, and had soldiered through countless crisis. This day, we are just a few steps away from the goal, the result we've been trying to achieve repeatedly over the years. However, unceasing problems led the project to an early halt, right on the finish line of what we've dreamed of, thus every tear in the world couldn't contain my sorrow.

“Help the Flying School Students”, The Shinhan Daily, 1921. 5. 5. (when Willows Flying School was abolished)

△ 20,000$ in founding the flying shool, and 3,000$ every month (approximate total of 50,000$)

- Gwak Rim-Dae

First Director of Willows Flying School, Gwak Rim-Dae (1885.9.9.∼1971.11.24.)

Born in Eunyeul, he was captured in the Count Terauchi Assassination Fraud, which is also known as the 105 People Incident, in 1911. Soon after he was proved innocent and was released in 1913, he crossed the Pacific to join Hungsadan, an independence group lead by An Chang-ho. In 1920, as a successor of Roh Baek-rin, he became the director of Willows Flying School. When the school was closed, he entered Kentucky Private Military Academy to learn military science. After 1929, he devoted himself to the independence movement as a member of Hungsadan.

- George Lee

First Korean U.S. Army Pilot, George Lee(1896 ∼ ?)

Born in Incheon, he moved to America with his dad and managed a farm until 1910, when he enlisted himself to learn military know-hows to use in the independence movement. Under the command of US Army Flying Corps, he was mostly on board an airship. He took part in World War I, having a record of generating 156 sorties. In 1917, he was trained in Kelly Field(San Antonio, Texas) and graduated from Mitchel Field Flying School (Long Island, NY) in 1918, becoming a certified pilot.

“George Lee, Korean in the age of 21, was a sugar cane farmer in Manteca, California, who entered the US Army Flying Corps shortly after America started participating in the war. Till the cease-fire, he made the record of 156 accident-free sorties, which was noticed and praised by his commander, who decorated Lee's finger with a ring bearing the mark of the US Army Flying Corps.” (Stockton Daily Records, 1918.12.18.)

- Han Jang-Ho

First President of the Korean Pilot Club, Han Jang-Ho (1893.5.1.∼1994.2.6.)

Han Jang-Ho was a pilot and a fighter for national independence in the U.S. during the Japanese colonial period. Impressed by the 3.1 campaign, he decided to establish a armed secret association in California called "Chungnyun Heulseuongdan(청년혈성단), which roughly translates to "Bloody Devoted Youth Group"". To become a pilot and take a part in the war of independence, he was trained at Redwood Flying School and served as an instructor of Willows Flying School. He became the first president of the first Korean pilot club "Korean Airman Gurakbu" in 1920.

○ KPGiS Korean Flying School (Willows Flying School)

KPGiS sought to organize an aviation wing with fighter pilots and engineers via 「Korean Provisional Government Organization」 and 「KPGiS Revision Policy」 in order to prepare for the war of independence. Dosan Ahn Chang-Ho tried to purchase an aircraft of our own, saying, “Aircraft would be a catalyst to touch the hearts of the Korean people as well as to trigger the upcoming eruption of the resistance at home.” KPGiS gave General Roh Baek-Rin, the Chancellor of Military Affairs, a mission of organizing an aviation wing. Combined with the help of Kim Jong-Rim and other brothers abroad, General Roh opened a flying school in California on March 1920 to train Korean pilots in a preparation for the war of independence. The Willows Flying School, together with the aerial anti-Japanese movements simultaneously taken place in China and Russia has much significance in the history of Korean Air Independence Movement and well recognized as a boastful root of the ROK Air Force today.

校 則
Our purpose is to train pilots for the Independence War.

Willows Flying School, a Korean flying institution of the KPGiS was built in a 40acre land near the city of Willows, northern California, following the March 1st Movement. The school opened with twenty four students in early March 1920 and began to teach military strategy, English and flying skills. As the number of its students increased to thirty by June, the school started the professional flying training upon introduction of two trainer aircraft together with arrival of Mr. Frank M. Bryant, an experienced American instructor pilot. The official opening ceremony was held on 5th July, 1920. (“The Opening Ceremony of Korean Flying School”, The Shinhan Daily, 1920.7.15.)

▲ The Chronological Table of Willows Flying School

Date History
1920. 1. General Roh visits San Fransisco and plans a flying school
1920. 1. U.S. Resident Korean Association's appropriates military budget (building site of 40 acres, school building rent, 3 aircraft, 1 aviation instructor, 2 military instructors)
1920. 2. 5. General Roh visits Redwood Flying School and meets 6 Koreans with aeronautic experience.
1920. 2. 19. Willows Daily Journal prints 'Koreans to have air field'
1920. 4. 13. General Roh is approved of the establishment of Korean flying school by KPGiS Deputy Premier Lee Dong-Hui in document
1920. 6. 22. Increases the trainees by 30, Recruits an American flight instructor, Briant
1920. 6. Redwood Flying School studentsHan Jang-Ho, Lee Yong-Geun, Jang Byeong-Hun enters school
1920. 7. 2. Purchases Standard J-1 Trainer with a Hall-Scott engine
1920. 7. 5. Official opening ceremony
1920. 7. 15. The founding member General Roh returns to KPGiS
1920. 8. The first president of the airman training school, Kim Jong-Rim. The first director of the Flying School, Kwak Rim-Dae
1921. 4. Korean Flying School was abolished. (Sponsor Kim Jong-Rim's rice farm suffered serious damage from a flood)
1921. 7. 20. First Aviation Officer of the Provisional Government, Park Hui-Seong, Lee Yong-Geun

Early days of the KPGIS Korean Flying School(Willows)

Standard J-1 Trainer, the same type of aircraft as the one at the KPGiS Korean Flying School(Willows)

The Military Training held in KPGiS Korean Flying School(Willows)

▲ First Aviation Officers Commissioned by the Provisional Government

- Park Hui-Seong

First Aviation Officer of the Provisional Government,Park Hui-Seong (1896.5.2.∼1937.1.15.)

When he was a student of the Yeonhui College, Park Hui-Seong was impressed by his elder brother, Park Hui-Do's suggestion to “go to America, learn how to fly, and participate in the independence war." Determined to become a pilot, 22-year-old Park crossed the Pacific in 1918. Park was one of the first twenty three Korean youngsters who entered in the Willows Flying School. Having excelled himself out of his peers, he became their hidden leader, touted as “a boy flight commander.” His outstanding flying skill put him in the spotlight of compliment from Koreans and Americans alike. Even after he was injured in an accident while testing for a airman license, he soldiered through and achieved the pilot license of International Aviation Confederation in 1921. He became the first aviation officer of KPGiS.

(KPGiS official report, 28th issue, 1921.7.20.)

△ “ Four students from the Korean Flight School, including Park Hui-Seong and Lee Yong-Geun, flew as a formation with their instructor pilot over Nodai Stadium, using planes that they have been practicing on at our corps at Willows. Crowd of thousands was congratulating with their hands up high, waving their handkerchiefs shouting "Hello Boy!" while the plane painted with a round Taegeukgi landed and Park Hui-Sung got out. Thousands of ladies and gentlemen called out for the ‘Korean boy flight commander’, touched our national flag on his plane or shook hands with him."

(“Best of Our Pilot Students, Park Hui-Sung”, The Shinhan Daily, 1921.3.31.)

- Lee Yong-Geun

First Aviation Officer of the Provisional Government,Lee Yong-Geun (1890.2.4.∼1950.8.30.)

Lee Yong-Geun, a boy from Pyeongnam Gangseo-gun, spent three years as a school teacher in Korea prior to his migration to America. Lee joined the founding members of the Korean Youth Allegiance Movement, a secret Korean resistance organization in America. He first went through the flying training at the private-owned American Redwood Flying School and later moved to the Willows Flying School, a KPGiS-sponsored Korean flying institution at Willows, California. He was the first aviation officer(2nd lieutenant) to be commissioned by KPGiS along side Park Hui-Seong. (July 18th, 1921)

△ After becoming a pilot, Lee flew back home in 1923 and lived as a farmer. “My dad worked for the USAMGIK after liberation and passed away right after the outbreak of the Korean War.” said Lee Eun-Sook, the daughter of Lee Yong-Geun

▲ Aviation Officer Commission(KPGiS official report, 28th issue)