Vietnamese Immigrant in South Korea Selected to Pilot T-50 Fighter Jet

Four individuals, including an immigrant from Vietnam to Korea, have been chosen as "national pilots" to represent the public. They have won the incredible opportunity to take flight in a T-50 fighter jet at the Seoul air show this week.

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Lee Ho-jeong, 41, a Vietnamese-born marriage migrant who moved to the Republic of Korea (RoK) in 2001, is one of the four people chosen as this year’s national pilots, according to the RoK Air Force, The Korea Times reported.

Lee had always wanted to become a professional pilot since childhood, but could not pursue her dream due to financial difficulties. But she did not entirely give up her dream.

Lee, a mother of two children who also works as a banker and a Vietnamese language tutor, managed to obtain a pilot’s license for light aircraft. Upon being selected as a national pilot, Lee said she wanted to motivate other marriage migrants to achieve their goals, according to the Air Force.

Vietnamese Immigrant in Korea Chosen to Fly T-50 Fighter Jet
Lee Ho-jeong. Photo courtesy of Korean Air Force

Others selected are Kim Jong-seop, 49, the older brother of late Air Force Maj. Kim Jong-soo who died on active duty in 2005, and Kim Eui-hyeon, a neurosurgeon at Severance Hospital in Seoul.

Yoo Dong-hyun, a 26-year-old college student who set a Guinness World Record in 2018 as the youngest finisher of the 4 Deserts Ultramarathon has also been selected as a national pilot.

Every two years, The Air Force appoints four national pilots, who are granted the opportunity to fly in an active military aircraft.

Korean nationals aged above 17 can file an application. Candidates who progress past the in-depth interview stage must undergo an intensive flight training course before the final selection.

This year, the national pilots will fly in the T-50 fighter jet during the Seoul International Aerospace and Defense Exhibition (ADEX) currently being held at Seoul Air Base.

The T-50 Golden Eagle is a light supersonic trainer jet, that was developed by a South Korean aircraft company called Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) in cooperation with US-based Lockheed Martin.

The experience flights guided by Air Force pilots will take place on Saturday, during which they will fly above the mountainous Gangwon province to the east coast.

After completing the one-hour flight, they will return to Seoul Air Base where they will be presented with commemorative red scarves, as symbolically worn by RoK Air Force pilots.

According to the Air Force, 2,678 people filed applications for this year’s national pilot program, marking the highest competition rate since its launch in 2007.

So far, 37 people from a range of backgrounds and age groups ― including students, office workers, police officers, nurses and teachers ― have been appointed as national pilots.

Vietnamese Immigrant in Korea Chosen to Fly T-50 Fighter Jet
The T-50 trainer jet is a supersonic advanced trainer jet and multirole light fighter, developed by Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) and supported by Lockheed Martin, and one of the world’s few supersonic trainers. Source: MilitaryToday

According to 2022 data, there are more than 200,000 Vietnamese people studying, working, working, and living in Korea, including more than 60,000 Korean-Vietnamese families.

Korean – Vietnamese families have made many contributions to exchanging and connecting the cultures and people of the two countries.

The Vietnamese community in the RoK always has a spirit of solidarity, has many activities to connect and support each other, especially activities to preserve Vietnamese cultural identity and promote cultural and artistic values, traditional arts, and cuisine to the Korean community.

Hannah Nguyen