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Beale Air Force Base during the Cold War, Images of America (The Author Responds)

Beale Air Force Base during the Cold War by James B. Quest (Air and Space Power Journal, July-August 2015). Author response to review by Scott D. Murdock:

Beale Air Force Base during the Cold War is a small aviation pictorial book highlighting the aircraft and missile systems comprising Strategic Air Command's (SAC) nuclear deterrence and high-altitude intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aerospace operations at Beale AFB, California, during the Cold War. It showcases the Titan 1 missile, KC-135 tanker, B-52 bomber and AGM-28 nuclear missiles it carried, and SR-71 and U-2 spy planes. The text provides a concise history and timeline of the employment of each of these weapon systems at the base and the operational units assigned to them. This book is the first of its kind on the commercial market to take a "balanced look" at all of these systems assigned to Beale during the Cold War--not just the SR-71 and U-2 programs. The 11 chapters primarily focus on both the flight-line and missile operations at the base and the two major wartime (Vietnam / Gulf War) SAC deployments involving Beale AFB units. The book presents some rare and powerful images that had been hidden away in file drawers for years. Meticulous research and a well-written narrative combine with the images to give the reader a brief and inspiring look into SAC's aerospace operations at the base.

The following are responses to some of the comments by reviewer Scott Murdock: (1) Images of the B-25J at Alicia Airport on p. 10 and the T-38s on p. 89 are described in the book and chapter introductions, respectively. (2) Chapter 1 offers an overview of the Army's Aviation Engineer Forces SCARWAF (Special Category Army Reassigned with the Air Force) program (1947-56), which gave the Air Force its first engineer force and shows those engineers rehabilitating Beale. SCARWAF played a significant role in the early Cold War construction and rehabilitation of Air Force installations and facilities worldwide. An excellent history of this subject can be found in Leading the Way: The History of Air Force Civil Engineers, 1907-2012 by Ronald B. Hartzer, Lois E. Walker, and Rebecca Gatewood. (3) There is nothing arguable about the second major wartime deployment of SAC assets from Beale AFB in support of the Gulf War. This relevant subject is often overlooked in other publications, with the exception of The Dragon Lady Meets the Challenge: The U-2 in Desert Storm by Dr. Coy F. Cross II. (4) U-2s did not possess any SAC markings when they were reassigned to Air Combat Command on 1 October 1993 (see the tail flashes shown in chap. 10). The KC-135Qs of the 350th Aerial Refueling Squadron were the last aircraft at Beale to bear SAC markings when they departed the base on 1 July 1994. The caption is correct when read in its entirety and not selectively, as presented by the reviewer. (5) Highlighting a minor typographical error in any book review, such as the use of an incorrect word, diminishes the credibility of the review. Some minor flaws exist--seven to be exact--but they do not detract from the overall presentation. (6) The book's limitations stem from the availability of source images and the publisher's strict format constraints--factors that dictated the focus of the story line. The Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) and PAVE PAWS (phased array warning system), although Cold War facilities, clearly did not fit into the "aviation pictorial" theme of this book, as outlined above.

Today, the flight-line activity at Beale AFB is a mere glimmer of its former glory, and a new generation of Airmen has little to no idea of the dramatic history that transpired there decades before. Beale Air Force Base during the Cold War is a small and honest attempt to briefly capture that history and to honor those who served and sacrificed to create it. If this book can connect one generation of Airmen to another, then it is for an Air Force audience--minor flaws and all.

James B. Quest


"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."

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