/ Published April 06, 2015
Holloman Air Force Base (AFB), New Mexico, is a deserving subject for Arcadia Publishing's Images of America series. It features plenty of vintage photographs with explanatory captions and enough text to put everything into context. In Holloman Air Force Base, author Joseph Page does just that, inspired by his experience there. Chapters include "The Premodern Era, 1500-1942," "Alamogordo Army Airfield, 1942-1947," " 'We Develop Missiles, Not Air!,' 1948-1970," "TAC to the Future, 1970-1990," and "Nighthawk Nesting Ground, 1990-2000." The author also provides a decent bibliography for readers who want to dig deeper into Holloman's past.
I view the third chapter, "We Develop Missiles, Not Air!," as the most important in the book because it considers the accomplishments and built environment (buildings and structures) of Holloman AFB. As a training base during World War II, Holloman (then Alamogordo Army Airfield) was one of many, as was the case when it served as a Tactical Air Command fighter base. Because Holloman's uniqueness lies in its legacy of missile and space work, I was disappointed that its "glory days" occupy slightly less than half of the book. Coverage of test programs is thorough, including photos of the legendary high-speed test track and highlighting one of Lt Col John P. Stapp's rocket-sled rides. Capt Joseph W. Kittinger II is shown in several photographs of his research balloon. Some subjects, such as Phyllis the baby chimpanzee and the Project Moby Dick balloons, receive multiple pages of photographs; unfortunately, many of Holloman's blockhouses, test stands, and other unique features are absent. The author presents an image of a sign pointing to the Able 51 launch site (p. 50) but not one of the site itself. Similarly, the book offers a photo of the JB-2 Loon (p. 32) but omits the fascinating launch ramp. In general, I found Holloman Air Force Base a bit heavy on human-interest photos and shy on those of significant structures.
Minor editorial glitches occur throughout. We read that at the end of the 1990s, Holloman was "home of the world's only stealth aircraft" (p. 8), which may come as a surprise to those who crewed B-2 stealth bombers at Whiteman AFB, Missouri, during that time. In the midst of the Cold War story, and without explanation, a photo depicts the gentleman who initiated construction on the base in 1942 (p. 81). The author offers a photograph of a rocket sled at rest on the test track, attached cables coiled across the track itself; the caption describes the sled "hurtl[ing] along the track" (p. 95).
Furthermore, we read that "the diminishing of the tactical missile test mission at Holloman in the late 1960s was driven by political reasons--missiles were increasing in range and sophistication, requiring larger developmental testing areas" (p. 99). Those reasons sound technical and geographical, not political. These hiccups, however, should not deter a reader from enjoying the book but suggest caution in quoting it as a reference source. Toward the end, a few photographs stray from Holloman AFB to undisclosed locations in the Middle East (pp. 109 and 111) and to Burbank, California (p. 112). At this point, the focus drifts a bit from the base itself to details of its assigned units.
For Airmen unfamiliar with missile development during the Cold War, Holloman Air Force Base provides an introductory taste that may whet their appetite to learn more. On the one hand, readers interested in the built environment of the base may be a bit disappointed in the photos selected. On the other hand, those from the Alamogordo area--or readers whose relatives served at the base--may appreciate the mix that Page has chosen.
Scott D. Murdock
Buckley AFB, Colorado
"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."