P-38 Lightning by Jeffrey L. Ethell

The Book

There are well-detailed, large fold-outs by the Illustrator, Rikyu Watanabe, and brief but interesting text by Jeffrey Ethell about the P-38 Lightning.

The Author

Jeffrey Ethell (1947–1997), who learned to fly before he could drive a car, was an American aviation author and pilot who wrote extensively on aviation and military matters. He held both commercial pilot and flight instructor certificates. 

Ethell was killed when the restored P-38 Lightning he was flying crashed at Tillamook, Oregon, while preparing for an airshow to honor his father, Ervin, who reported 10,000 hours of flight experience, of which approximately 3,000 hours of flight experience was in the P-38–15th Air Force, 14th Fighter Group, 48th Fighter Squadron, North Africa.

Jeffrey Ethell published a series of technical studies of WWII-era aircraft and authored 60 books and over 1,000 magazine articles. He logged over 4,800 hours in more than 210 different types of aircraft, including most of the World War II warbirds.

While still in college in Tennessee in the 1960s, Ethell was awarded research grants from the National Air & Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution. He was a popular guest lecturer. He was featured in the PBS Nova documentary about the military aircraft of the former Soviet Union, and was an expert commentator on many documentaries.

The Illustrator

Rikyu Watanabe, dean of aircraft illustrators, was born in 1927 in Osaka, Japan. In 1943 he volunteered for the Japanese Army Flight Cadet School. When the war ended in 1945, he was at an army air force base in China. Returning to Japan, he studied painting, graduating from Bunka Gakuin University in 1950. One of the world’s leading illustrators, since 1966 he has specialized in aircraft illustration, producing some of the finest aircraft illustrations every made.

My Thoughts

The West Des Moines library used to have a copy of this handsome book, but the last time–years ago–when I wanted to check it out again, it was missing. I figured someone added it to their own library.

I was thankful when you started finding places to buy used books on the Internet, and I eventually was able to score a copy of this book.

It includes the history of the design of the aircraft by Lockheed, wonderful diagrams and photos, plus foldouts of several known P-38s plus diagrams.

EthellP-38 (2)

I especially wanted it because it features a large foldout of a P-38L, which was the model of plane Danny Wilson flew and was lost in, February 19, 1945, Schwanberg, Austria.






  1. I use Thriftbooks for acquiring many books (sure helps being on a social security budget). This will be put on the old wish list for sure.

  2. Hmm! I will have to check it out! My two favorite WWII planes were the P-38 and the P-51! I did a report on both back in Elementary School. That was some time ago! 😎

  3. I’ve read this book. While I was at MPI school and didn’t have a life, I hit the base library often. It was a great book.

    The P-38 is one of my favorite fighters, and I’ve got a model of one still in the box. One day, I might be able to sit down and build it. And speaking of, are there any full pictures of Danny Wilson’s plane? It might be fun to paint it up like it.

    • I wish there were! He didn’t have a camera so relied on others for photos. I sure wish I’d been able to find out who his crew chief was! I corresponded with his best friend, Harry Wold, for several years. Bucket list: See (and HEAR) a P-38 in flight. The closest one still flying is owned by Fagen Fighters, Granite Falls, MN.

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