On June 6, 1997, aviation journalist Jeffrey L. Ethell was killed when the
vintage P-38 "Lightning" fighter plane he was piloting crashed near Tillamook,
Oregon. Ethell had been attending a gathering of World War II P-38 pilots. He
was forty-nine years old.
Ethell, whose nickname in the air was "Fighter Writer," was the author of
fifty-nine books and more than one thousand magazine articles, many dealing
with World War II aviation. Born the son of a fighter pilot on March Air Force
Base in Riverside, California, Ethell was prevented from joining the Air Force
because he lacked 20/20 vision. He went on, however, to log more than 5000
hours of flight time in more than 215 types of military aircraft and became an
honorary member of the American Fighter Aces Association, whose pilots have
scored five or more combat victories. Ethell was also leader in the
international "warbirds" movement, an effort to preserve aging military
"Jeff really was at the center of the warbirds movement, but it wasn't just the
machines," said Tom Crouch, Chairman of Aeronautics at the National Air and
Space Museum. "Jeff was genuinely fascinated by the people whose war that was
and, when you read Jeff's books, they're full of the little first person
nuggets that he always gathered."
"When we were in Russia shooting Top Gun Over Moscow," remembered producer
Lance Shultz, "we looked up on the bookshelves of the Flight Research Institute
and Jeff Ethell's books were there. There's no doubt that Jeff was not only
recognized here in the United States, but throughout the world as one of the
top people in his field. He'll be sadly missed."
A graduate of King college in Bristol, Tennessee, Ethell had served on the
Front Royal-Warren Airport Commission. He also had been the president of the
Home Educators of Virginia and was an ordained Baptist minister.
He is survived by his wife, Bettie, and three children.