Jeff Ethell

It’s hard to think of a definition of the word “hero” that doesn’t fit Jeff Ethell. The guy single-handedly dug back into the history of World War II and found the color photographs that had been taken of aircraft, many of which were taken by Americans using American Kodachrome film, which means that the colors are as true and vibrant today as when they were shot. I have a couple of his books, and they are worth the trouble to find them. The ones pictured below are WWII War Eagles: Global Air War in Original Color by Jeffrey L. Ethell and Warren M. Bodie, Air Command by Jeffrey Ethell, and one “non-Ethell” book: U.S. Navy Air Combat 1939-1946 by Robert Lawson and Barrett Tillman.

What makes these books special is the Kodachrome photography. I don’t know how they rate as history, and I don’t care. I get a ton of history out of every photo.

Ethell met an untimely end in a P-38 crash. His photograph collection is on-line at but that site seems to be down for me right now.

Anyway, I thought I’d post a few images from the books.

The world of the real– tail painting, 8th Air Force style!
What color were those inter-war U.S. Army planes? Well I know what color ONE of them was!
What color was wartime “olive drab” and what color was “neutral gray?” Hmmmm. I wonder……
Why is this man smiling?
Neutrality Gray. Thankyouverymuch.
Dark Earth. Middle Stone. Azure Blue. Pilot’s uniform. Blimey, Guv’nor, a bloke could paint a Spitfire from this ‘un!


These are lousy images shot with my cheap digital camera of the open books. The actual images are amazing in their clarity, detail and depth.

I cannot, for the life of me, imagine why we model builders do not celebrate this amazing discovery with more collective enthusiasm. It’s a mystery. Kodachrome retains its true color over time, and these images are a pretty good representation of how the original looked.

Anybody who says that photos like these shouldn’t be used as a reference for painting models is either selling a book or has gone insane. Or both (this isn’t unheard-of, unfortunately). No one in their right mind would deny that this collection of color images is as good as we are likely to get. All the references in the world, including silly listings of paint chemistry and written orders from the Headquarters of Colonel Blimp– are rendered invalid by a single Kodachrome image.

This is one reason why I try to avoid certain forums. Saying that images like these are “not reliable” is nutty. I don’t know why, but when somebody acts like an expert and throws bizarre ideas like that around, I get annoyed.

6 Replies to “Jeff Ethell”

  1. I am dying to know who the target is with this. The suspense is killing me here…link? 😉

    Even from looking at the photos, I can see from my enamel collection of (White Ensign) ColourCoats that the boys there did pretty damn good. Every one of the colours pretty much matches up to what I am seeing on screen. Their Azure blue used to be way off, but the new one they put out is spot on. As is the new Humbrol Azure blue…I haven’t seen any other paint manufacturer get that elusive shade correct apart from those two companies.

    I am not sure how many olive drabs there are floating about in aircraft land. I know there was one used on US aircraft given to the british that also had sea grey and light grey on it, and I am well versed in the myriad different ‘olive drabs’ that float about on ww2 armour (of both British and US make, both of which having different olive drabs, and then the differences in even individual machines…). The photo you provide of the light aircraft in its olive drab is very similar to colours used on some armoured units as well, and is in fact an excellent match for Revell Nato Olive, which is one of my many go to Olive drabs.

    I envy you having these great books. I myself use photos all the time, so don’t have any qualms in trying out different schemes. Though I have to say that 8th army guy with his B17…obviously fake! No way he airbrushed that…funny to see he has as much trouble as I do with yellows though 😉

    1. Once I get over being sore I’ll stop picking on the experts. I’ve been muzzled by forum admins for so long there’s a little residual frustration coming out here. I’m already mellowing!

  2. On a serious note, what photos would you NOT trust? recoloured black & whites? I remember seeing quite a number of ww1 recolours and wondering just how accurate they are.

    1. I think that the dress proved that sometimes a color photo can show exactly wrong information, to some people. I’ve seen some photo interpretation done on forums that absolutely floored me–because they seemed wrong to me. But I was one of the “white and gold” people (on the dress) and so I was wrong there. It still looks like white and gold to me, but in order to see “blue and black” I have to consciously filter out all the background information. People who “just see” blue and black–do they never see, and take into account, the back ground of a photo? I don’t know.

      1. Well, I can confirm that I looked at the photo before reading the page and I saw (and still see) black and blue. We should try this out with other photos.

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