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EAA AirVenture Oshkosh RSS FeedA Resurrection for the “Wright brother” of South Korea
By Kristy Hemp
Photo courtesy of Won Bok Lee
Photo courtesy of Won Bok Lee

He’s the Wright brother of South Korea some might say; or you could say he’s the Paul P. of the Korean peninsula.

Won Bok Lee, or “one-buck Lee” as he light-heartedly enunciates, designed and built the first homebuilt aircraft in South Korea—in 1953, just as EAA was making its debut.

Lee, 84, hails from Seoul, South Korea, volunteers as an EAA Technical Counselor (#3318), a Flight Advisor, and carries EAA membership card 198904. He founded the EAA chapter 930 in Seoul and was chapter president until 2002; and he’s been volunteering at Oshkosh for 28 years.

A conflict diamond
Lee built his aircraft under the challenges of combat conditions—during the heat of the Korean War; and out of need.

“I built that airplane because we were short of trainers,” explained Lee.

“This was an impressive feat because they didn’t have a technical language at the time,” explained Lee’s long-time friend Jim Davis, who served as a young air force controller during the conflict.

“They had to call a carburetor a carburetor.”

“At the beginning of the conflict, we had no airplanes to use for in the war,” Lee accounted. “The U.S. didn’t sell aircraft to South Korea, so we went to Canada.”

Eventually, the United States supplied L-4s and L-16s, the military versions of the Piper Cub and Aeronca.

“That’s all we had. No planes with weapons, no warbird,” said Lee.

“That was the situation when the war broke out. We started receiving F-51s or P-51s as well, but we were not ready to go to war with the 51s. We had never had that airplane before.”

“I was in charge of the South Korean air force mechanic training school. I had supplies from U.S. aircraft and bunch of spare parts,” said Lee.

Resources: the mother of an invention
Lee combined steel tubing, sheet metal, and other parts from aircraft that the United States was supplying to South Korea at the time.

“I decided I would design with what we had,” he said.

“I wanted a very unique aircraft that was far better than any other, that could maintain a low speed, but great cruising speed,” said Lee.

“At that time Piper Cub didn’t have flap, but I made a slotted flap just like a Fowler so you could have 60 degrees of flap.”

Lee added a lower window in back of the aircraft that was used to dump cargo and as a visual aid.

“I also tried to make it a nose-wheel type. At that time there wasn’t a nose wheel available, so I used two tail wheels,” Lee explained.

This design allowed the aircraft to land on very uneven terrain. Lee also designed his aircraft so that he could convert it to a seaplane.

The plane did fly, and was primarily used for observation flights and to haul people.

MIA: One one-of-a-kind homebuilt
Lee built his aircraft in just four months, and, on April 4, 1954, Mr. Rhee Seung Man, the first South Korean president, ordered a ceremony to name the airplane. Rhee named it Resurrection because he was a devout Christian.

“He was so happy to have an airplane like this,” said Lee.

Shortly after the ceremony, Lee came to United States as a technical trainer, and, in 1955, he returned to South Korea.

“When I came back to my home station, the airplane was gone. Nobody knew where it went,” explained Lee. “I was very much disappointed.
“I tried very hard to locate the airplane, but I gave up.

“There was a rumor that the aircraft was taken back to the United States because all the components I used were U.S. made. I asked my American friends, but no one knew.”

The resurrection of Resurrection
Fast forward to 2003. The United States was celebrating the 100-year anniversary of the first controlled powered flight. “A reporter for the Jung Ang daily newspaper came to visit me at my house,” said Lee.

“He asked why I wasn’t celebrating. I said that we are not inventors of aircraft, but we built the first homebuilt in South Korea in 1953.”

The reporter ran with the story in the newspaper with the headline: “Do you know where this plane is?”

“A retired high school administrator found the article. He happened to find my information and called me,” Lee explained.

“He said, ‘Oh, I put that airplane in the basement of my high school in 1964’. I called my people and we went to get it,” Lee continues. “It was very dark.

“I used my flashlight to see the plane, and I saw that my writing of the word ‘Resurrection’ was there.”

The South Korean air force was very happy to find the airplane, and negotiated with the gentleman to bring it back. They are in the process of restoring the homebuilt, and want to have it flying in late 2011.

“A team was organized and they asked me to be a counselor,” said Lee. “They wanted to restore it exactly the same way I built it.

“We plan to fly it at the 2011 Gyeongnam-Sacheon Aerospace Expo.”

The expo takes place every year in October in Sacheon, South Korea (http://festival.aerospace.go.kr).

The government designated Lee’s Resurrection a National Cultural Property, #411, on October 1, 2008. “Lee won’t tell you this but he’s considered an international treasure,” said his friend Davis.

Oshkosh: The land of dreams
Lee has been coming to Oshkosh almost every year since 1983. “I heard about Oshkosh from my friend, and, at the time, I was instructing and manufacturing aircraft at the Korea Advance Institute of Science and Technology,” Lee explained. “They wanted me to teach the students how to build experimental aircraft. I recommended the EAA and to find the best kit planes to practice,” Lee continued.

“We ordered a lot of kits including a Zenair 300, a Drifter, a gyrocopter, and more. In 1983, we took 10 students and two professors to Canada to practice riveting.

“We spent a couple of weeks practicing, and then we came to Oshkosh to see the convention.”

Today, Lee is still teaching homebuilding techniques. While at AirVenture, he teaches attendees how to build wing spars at the Wood Workshop.

What does Lee have his eye on at this year’s AirVenture? “Now I am looking at electric aircraft. I am a pilot and mechanic. I go to Oshkosh because it’s the best in the world.

“This is the land of dreams!” exclaimed Lee.

FUTURE AIRVENTURE DATES: 2014: July 28-Aug. 3; 2015: July 20-26; 2016: July 25-31; 2017: July 24-30
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