At 80, the irrepressible Dean Ing, a self-taught engineer and designer, looks back on a life with 23 published books and scores of inventions

In his first book, "Soft Targets," published 32 years ago, Ashland author Dean Ing wrote about an Arab terrorist attacking New York skyscrapers from an airplane. If that's not irony enough, to celebrate the book, his publisher took him out to a lavish dinner atop the World Trade Center.

At 80, the irrepressible Ing, a self-taught engineer and designer, looks back on a life with 23 published books and scores of inventions which he refused to patent, most of them having something to do with flying and with surviving in the event something goes very wrong with civilization.

His books have been intended to impart warnings, lessons or instructions on "self-reliance" — he hates the word "survivalist" because it reeks of nuttiness — and he likes to put them in the mouths of fictional characters and plots because "people don't pay attention" if you tell them hard truths nonfictionally.

"If you've got something to say, say it in a novel," he says.

Four of his books made the New York Times best-seller list for their genre — "The Ransom of Black Stealth One," and the series "Systemic Shock," "Single Combat" and "Wild Country" — all in the 1980s.

The fact that in 1979 Ing was celebrating in an eventual "soft target" — the twin towers — didn't dawn on him directly but it's one of those disasters that was waiting to happen and should have been obvious to thinking people, he says, just as now, the top three potential catastrophes, widely ignored, would be contagion of antibiotic-resistant disease, nuclear war and global warming.

Although worry over nuclear war has died down since the fall of the Soviet Union, "it can always happen," Ing says. "Thousands of warheads are still around and people are a lot less afraid of us than they used to be — and they don't have to be Islamic. Someone sufficiently irritated with us or just plain crazy could do it."

Ing was an interceptor jet crew chief in the Air Force and became a senior research engineer for Lockheed, Aerojet and United Aircraft but objected to the system where all his inventions became the property of the corporation. He got his doctorate in communications theory at the University of Oregon, taught college for a while, then heard the call of the Rogue Valley, which, he reasoned, had to be a negligible target in the event of a nuclear attack.

Ing's office and workshop are exploding with his gadgets, inventions, flying mockups of airplane designs and, of course, books. The favorite of his inventions is his shelter pump, a bellows to bring fresh air into fallout shelters.

"It's the invention that would save the most lives," he says.

Ing also is proud of his ducted vent, to relieve the drag on his Magnum by flooding the rear bumper area with air from the road, adding 6 mph to top speed, he says. He invented the "Tote Float," a surfboard with a small engine and underwater propeller that you can cruise around a lake while standing.

In his garage sits his sleek white Magnum which he built in the early 1960s with the focus on minimal weight and wind resistance for maximum mileage and speed. Its body is titanium, balsa, carbon fiber and epoxy and weighs only 1,300 pounds — 500 pounds less than a Volkswagen Beetle of the times. The beautiful vehicle, which had a spread in Road & Track Magazine, usually is in the Ashland Fourth of July parade.

Ing's wife, Gina, is an independent fundraiser and event planner for arts organizations. Their daughters, Dana and Valerie, are, respectively, a Portland architect and classical music announcer for Jefferson Public Radio in Redding, Calif.

Ing's 1983 novel "Pulling Through" gives detailed instructions, couched in fictional plot, of how to survive nuclear devastation and is complete with a nonfiction appendix to get you on your way.

"I believe in self-reliance because if you lose everything, you can lose much of your understanding and motivation," says Ing. "You become a feather in the wind. Your kids and their kids need always to know that whatever they need in life, they may have to get it and do it for themselves."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.