Passion for flying has Harvard student soaringA good-looking young man climbs into an F-4 Phantom at Chunggu airbase in North Chungcheong province on a cold January afternoon. Soon the engine revs up and the jet takes off, its wings glistening in the sky.
The young man’s name is Lee Won-ik, which means “best wing.” He piloted the French combat jet Rafale at the Paris International Air Show while in his third year at Korea University. He also took the reins of a Korean Air Force F-16 fighter jet last year. Despite outward appearances, he is not an air force pilot, though he is most definitely a combat jet enthusiast.
Because of eyesight problems, he was forced to abandon his dream of entering an air force academy, but it never stopped him from pursuing an aviator’s life. Based on his knowledge of aircraft, he stayed involved in the field.
With the English that he acquired by reading combat jet stories as a young boy, he obtained a perfect score on his TOEIC exam and worked as a reporter at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
To fulfill his dreams of becoming a player in the international aviation industry, he is currently pursuing a master’s in public policy at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
As a first-time student of liberal arts, he was presented with a $100,000 scholarship from the Samsung Lee Kun Hee Scholarship Foundation.
Q. What is the purpose of your flight?
A. My idol has always been the combat jet pilot. That’s why I am trying to do something helpful for them. I believe the F-4 Phantom is one of Boeing’s greatest masterpieces, but it is nearing extinction.
The world’s only remaining F-4 Phantom is in Korea, so I thought we could generate a good news story combining the superiority of our air force pilots with the historic significance of the Phantom.
I wrote a letter to Air International the world-famous British aviation magazine, and called Korea’s Ministry of National Defense for their cooperation. Six weeks later, I got their approval. A story on our air force pilots and an aircraft with the taegukgi emblem on it will be featured in the March edition of Air International.
What motivated you to go to Harvard?
When I went to the Paris International Air Show, I was in awe watching the exhibition flights of the world’s best combat jets and the display of aircraft from Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon. Deeply interested in the arena of high technology, I asked the spokesmen from each respective company what I must do to work for them. They recommended the Kennedy School of Government.
What is it like at Harvard?
I realized I was a small fish in a big pond. I thought I was living an extraordinary life when I was in Korea, but soon realized that my classmates have more social experience and greater knowledge.
How are your social life and studies going?
Out of 50 people in class, I’m the only pure Korean, if you don’t count two Korean Americans. The students are from all backgrounds, including a top government officer in the Defense Ministry, a reporter for the New York Times and the president of a Nigerian relief agency.
I only get five hours of sleep a night because we have to read three or four books a week. I got to go out only twice last semester.
The last task that is left for me to master is international law. I believe in myself.
by Lee Man-hoon