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Remembering Jeffrey Ethell

Jeffrey Ethell 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 aircraft.

"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.

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