|An appointment had been arranged to the USAF Academy when the preflight physical revealed 20/40 vision, disqualifying Jeff from flight training. He decided to enter King College, Bristol, Tennessee, while pursuing civil flight training. During the summer after his freshman year, Jeff soloed at age 18 and, over the next several years, went on to obtain most of the tickets associated with professional flying, including Commercial, Instrument, Multi-engine, Certified Flight Instructor ratings and an unrestricted High Performance Piston Engine Letter of Authorization to fly all types of World War II aircraft. He had logged over 5,000 hours of flying time as a pilot in over 215 different types of aircraft. He also became a life guard, a certified scuba diver, obtained his Water Safety Instructor rating with the Red Cross and worked as a lighting technician making motion pictures and television shows at MGM Studios, California.||
While at King College Jeff majored in English and history, in the process
writing 72 original research papers. During the summers of 1967 and 1968
he was awarded research grants from the National Air & Space Museum
(NASM), Smithsonian Institution, to research and write books about the
Messerschmitt 163 Komet, F6F Hellcat, P-38 Lightning and several other
aircraft in the museum collection. Such was the quality of these books
that S. Paul Johnston, then Director of NASM, assigned titles from NASM
to Jeff and encouraged him to publish his work on the open market.
Jeff flying Jack Erickson's P-38L at the Tillamook
Naval Air Station Museum, west of Portland, Oregon.
|After publishing his first several magazine articles and writing his first book, KOMET: THE MESSERSCHMITT 163, Jeff set his sights on getting into military aviation through a different route. By 1973 he had clearance to fly with the military services as a writer whose experience as a pilot would give the personal in-the-cockpit slant so lacking in shallow "zoom and boom" reporting. Within the next several years he managed to fly in most of the current military types, often with an instructor pilot who allowed him to fly the missions, and to deploy overseas in the cockpit with the units involved. By the late 1970s Jeff had logged extensive flying time with the USAF, USN and USMC. In 1976 he was given his call sign, "Fighter Writer," while flying several missions in the F-4E Phantom II with the 4th Tactical Fighter Wing.|
During the early 1970s Jeff determined he would also become qualified to fly the historic fighters and bombers of the past to add depth to his historical research...and simply because he enjoyed flying aircraft of all kinds. After extensive time in the Stearman PT-17, including a low-level aerobatic act stint, he bought a share in an SNJ (AT-6) Texan and obtained his Certified Flight Instructor rating in the back seat. He then moved on to the P-51 Mustang, Hawker Sea Fury, Supermarine Spitfire, F4U Corsair, P-38 Lightning, P-40 Warhawk, P-47 Thunderbolt, B-17 Flying Fortress, B-25 Mitchell, Mitsubishi A6M Zero and a host of other World War II types. The earliest aircraft he flew was the actual 1915 Nieuport 10 which was Charles Nungesser's personal aircraft, in addition to most of the significant World War I fighters, including the Fokker Triplane and Fokker D VII. He helped ferry a B-17 Flying Fortress back to the U.S. from England across the North Atlantic. He became a major influence in the vintage aviation movement, particularly in the location, restoration and flying of ex-military aircraft, and he served as Editor of WARBIRDS Magazine for the EAA Warbirds of America from 1980 to 1992.
He also served as historical consultant for a number of organizations and people, including artist Keith Ferris, who assigned Jeff the task of researching his 25'x75' B-17 mural in the National Air & Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution. He continued to appear on national television each year in prime time documentaries dealing with military aviation. In addition, he served as an on screen correspondent for ABC's WIDE WORLD OF FLYING video series, flying a series of warbirds with cameras aboard. He was the writer/on screen host for the Speedvision Cable Networks ongoing video series ROARING GLORY in which Jeff took the viewers with him as he flew such aircraft as the P-40, P-51, B-17, P-47, B-25, P-38 and F4U.
He wrote SMITHSONIAN FRONTIERS OF FLIGHT as the companion volume to the Discovery Channels thirteen-part aviation history video series of the same name, created by the producers of WINGS. He served as technical advisor, script writer and concept creator of the Arts & Entertainment Networks FIRST FLIGHTS, hosted by Neil Armstrong. He was a script consultant, historian, pilot and on-screen expert for WINGS on the Discovery Channel, AVIATION WEEK & SPACE TECHNOLOGY Magazines AIRPOWER SHOWDOWN video series, PBS NOVAs Top Guns Over Moscow and Speedvision Cable Networks PLANES OF FAME series.
His magazine articles and books have received worldwide attention, resulting in invitations to fly with numerous foreign air forces and to lecture across the U.S. and overseas at war colleges and military establishments. This extensive list includes Argentina, England, France, Chile, Morocco, Norway, Canada, Indonesia, the former Yugoslavia, Singapore, the Slovak Republic, Russia, Ukraine and South Africa. He also participated in actual combat operations to gather first-hand information on tactics and weapons effectiveness and had flown such foreign aircraft as the MiG-21, MiG-29, Su-25, Su-27 and Mirage III.
|He lectured at the Institute for Defense Analysis, several Pentagon offices, the Center for Naval Analysis, the Close Air Support Study Group, Lockheed Martin Aircraft, Marine Amphibious Warfare School, Technology Service Corporation, National Air & Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution and military bases across the country. For the past several years he taught graduate-level courses on the history of military aviation for American Military University.||
Flight of two...Jeff in Charles Osborn's P-47D with Bill Dodds flying wing in Dick Hanson's P-40E
He was a member of several professional and aviation organizations, including the Eighth Air Force Historical Society, Experimental Aircraft Association, Warbirds of America, Confederate Air Force, Mid Atlantic Air Museum and National Warplane Museum. At last count Jeff had written 64 books and over 1000 magazine articles. He has been listed in WHO'S WHO IN AMERICA, WHO'S WHO IN THE SOUTH AND SOUTHWEST, MEN OF ACHIEVEMENT, NOTABLE AMERICANS and DICTIONARY OF INTERNATIONAL BIOGRAPHY.
Jeff Ethell was killed on June 6, 1997, while flying a P-38 in Tillamook,
Oregon. His father, Ervin Ethell, died in August, 2003, near his home in Myrtle Beach. Jeff is survived by his wife, Bettie Need, his
children, Jennie Chancey, David Ethell, and Julie Flournoy and 14 grandchildren.
Sky Borne Things: A Pilot's Psalm