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Beale Air Force Base during the Cold War, Images of America

Beale Air Force Base during the Cold War, Images of America, by James B. Quest. Arcadia Publishing, 2014, 128 pp.

James Quest's Beale Air Force Base during the Cold War, part of Arcadia Publishing's Images of America series, combines plenty of vintage photographs with a minimum of text to explain their significance. The author does an adequate, though unbalanced, job of capturing the Cold War sights and flavor of Beale AFB, located in California. The introduction relates the Army's use of the base during World War II as Camp Beale and the early Air Force's utilization of it as a bombing and gunnery range after the war.

Chapter 1, "SCARWAF," discusses the Special Category Army Reassigned with the Air Force units there, with photos of these Army engineering forces honing their skills as they developed the base. Focused on the building of the flight line, chapter 2 offers some delightful photographs of the runways and control tower under construction. Chapters 1 and 2 depart somewhat from the book's title insofar as the SCARWAF was a renamed program that started during World War II and ended in the mid 1950s; it was not created for the Cold War. The building of flight lines occurred before, during, and after that era.

Chapter 3, "Titan I Missile Sites," examines Beale's brief tenure as host to intercontinental ballistic missiles and briefly introduces the Titan I and the three local missile sites. The chapter includes a nice selection of photographs of the locations under construction and those in use. Also well documented is a major explosion at one of the sites.

Chapter 4, "KC-135 Stratotanker," and chapter 5, "B-52 Stratofortress," concentrate on the Strategic Air Command tanker and bomber forces, respectively, and their basing at Beale, concisely summarizing the units involved. They include numerous photographs of the KC-135Q (specially adapted to refuel the SR-71 aircraft) but only one photo of the KC-135A. Quest also offers images of two of the three models of B-52 aircraft (E and G) stationed at Beale, omitting the B-52D. Aircraft buffs will be pleased that in most cases, he provides aircraft serial numbers in the captions. Readers will also find photos of the AGM-28 Hound Dog missiles and support facilities as well as a brief discussion of the filming of the movie A Gathering of Eagles at Beale, including mention of the swimming pool and roller skating rink donated to the base by Universal Pictures. In "Scramble!," the sixth chapter, the author addresses the matter of bomber and tanker crews pulling alert duty.

Photographs depict the "mole hole" alert facility and crews responding to their aircraft. Chapter 7, "Vietnam War," covers the deployment of assigned B-52 and KC-135 aircraft, along with their personnel, to Southeast Asia. In a nice touch, Quest includes photos and information about the crew members involved in two B-52 aircraft losses and discusses their fates. Chapters 8 and 9, "SR-71 Blackbird/Habu," and "U-2 Dragon Lady," respectively, highlight these unique aircraft, which served at Beale. Readers learn about aircraft operations and the purpose-built SR-71 hangars but do not see those for the U-2. Quest offers a photograph of a chase car--a fascinating detail of the U-2 program--and includes, without explanation, images of T-38 trainer aircraft.

In "Desert Shield and Desert Storm," the subject of chapter 10, the author examines the base's contributions to those operations. Arguably, a dozen pages of photographs taken in Southwest Asia are out of place here but may be appreciated by Beale veterans of that era. Chapter 11, "The End of an Era," closes out the book with photographs of KC-135Q aircraft departing Beale for the final time. Oddly, one of the captions for a 1994 photo of a KC-135Q observes, "That final symbol of Strategic Air Command at Beale AFB slowly climbed into the heavens" (p. 127) even though the U-2 continued to serve at Beale for many years.

Minor flaws include a photograph taken at "Alicia Airport (present-day Yuba County Airport)" rather than at Beale (p. 10). On page 61, wheel chocks are referred to as wheel "chalks." Moreover, a KC-10 is misidentified as a KC-135Q (p. 119). More seriously, the book fails to mention two Cold War facilities: the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) Direction Center (DC-18) and the PAVE PAWS (phased array warning system) radar complex, both of which proved significant to our defense during the Cold War and remain hard-to-miss landmarks on Beale. The SAGE Direction Center was operational as such only from 1959 to 1963, but the building survives and has been used for several purposes since that time. The PAVE PAWS complex, employed only during the last decade of the Cold War, continues to operate. This reviewer would have preferred less emphasis on chapters 1, 2, 10, and 11 in favor of including these systems in the book. As it stands, parts of the text have only marginal Cold War interest.

I do not recommend Beale Air Force Base during the Cold War for the Air Force audience at large. Students of the Cold War who are familiar with the base will find good supplemental information here on the missile and aircraft missions. Readers new to Cold War history, however, will discover that this book presents a limited view of the base's role during that time.

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."

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