Jeff Ethell's Biography

Jeff was born at March AFB, California on 29 September 1947, the son of a career USAF fighter pilot, Ervin C. Ethell. By the time his father was assigned to the Pentagon Jeff was 12 years old and committed to following in his Dad's footsteps. During this period, through regular trips to the Air Force Headquarters Aero Club at MCAS Quantico, Jeff's father taught him to fly in the Ryan Navion and the USAF Beech T-34 Mentor.
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. 
Jeff on his way to work in Wallace Sanders' P-51D
(Robert Flint)
During his early high school years in Arlington, VA, Jeff committed his life to Jesus Christ, sensing a strong call to share the life-changing reality of this personal relationship with others. At King this calling was solidified and Jeff went on to attend Union (Richmond) and Westminster (Philadelphia) Theological Seminaries for postgraduate work in counseling before being ordained a Baptist minister. For six years Jeff and his wife, Bettie, devoted themselves to Christian counseling with drug addicts, broken families and troubled youth while running a live-in center for young women in Richmond, VA. The arrival of three children, Jennie, David and Julie, and a strong call to working within the market place, led Jeff to devote full time to writing and flying. The Ethells also home schooled their three children for 13 years, graduating each from high school with honors and college scholarships. David and Jennie graduated from King College summa cum laude with 3.9 scholastic grade point averages while Julie designed two of Jeff's books.

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.
(Budd Davisson) 
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. 
He continued to fly extensively with the services, including tours with the USN Test Pilot School, a four-month stint with the Air National Guard and Reserves for a book and a series of deployments aboard USN aircraft carriers flying in every current Navy aircraft during actual carrier operations. Through hundreds of hours of simulated combat flying he learned the basics of successful military aviation, resulting in his specialty of analyzing the wartime arena, both past and present. His insight into weapons effectiveness and what actually works in combat led to several books which have made his name synonymous with hard-hitting, truthful analysis. The better known examples are TARGET BERLIN, ONE DAY IN A LONG WAR, F-15 EAGLE and AIR WAR SOUTH ATLANTIC. The latter was the only book written from both sides of the Falklands War after Jeff interviewed and flew with the pilots of all units in Britain and Argentina who faced each other. Having access to combat records from each side, he reassessed the claims and significantly altered the lessons being taught by war colleges around the world. During Operation Desert Storm in 1991 he served as the daily on-screen aviation expert for WNBC in New York. During the five-year period celebrating the 50th anniversary of World War II, he wrote over 15 aviation history books featuring his rare collection of original wartime color slides.

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 Network’s 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 Channel’s 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 Network’s 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 Magazine’s AIRPOWER SHOWDOWN video series, PBS NOVA’s Top Guns Over Moscow and Speedvision Cable Network’s 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
(Robert Flint) 
Jeff continued to expand his horizons and his goals. He was awarded an honorary Doctor of Literature degree from King College in 1986, and he received numerous awards for his hard-hitting analysis, including the Society of Experimental Test Pilots Salmon Award for Most Outstanding Technical Paper, 1985-1986. In 1994 he was inducted as an honorary member into the Order of Daedalians, the very select organization of professional military pilots. There are only 15 such slots available at any one time, each reserved for an individual who has substantially furthered the goals and spirit of military aviation. In 1995 he was made an honorary member of the American Fighter Aces Association, those fighter pilots who have scored five or more victories in combat. The coveted awards brought Jeff full circle from his early thwarted desire to become a fighter pilot.

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. 

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