This Week’s Book Review – SAC Time

Looking for a good read? Here is a recommendation. I have an unusual approach to reviewing books. I review books I feel merit a review. Each review is an opportunity to recommend a book. If I do not think a book is worth reading, I find another book to review. You do not have to agree with everything every author has written (I do not), but the fiction I review is entertaining (and often thought-provoking) and the non-fiction contain ideas worth reading.

Book Review

A Navigator’s Account of SAC

By MARK LARDAS
August 9, 2020
SAC Time: A Navigator in the Strategic Air Command,” by Thomas E. Alexander, Texas A&M University Press, 2020, 122 pages, $27.00 (Hardcover)

Between 1946 and 1992 the Strategic Air Command was the United States’s main shield against Soviet aggression. Its bombers flew constantly, fueling aloft to reach any point in the world.

“SAC Time: A Navigator in the Strategic Air Command,” by Thomas E. Alexander, is the memoir of a man who spent three years in the Strategic Air Command and thirteen years in the Air National Guard.

Alexander served the Strategic Air Command as a junior officer.  He was a navigator, not a pilot. Rated a bombardier, navigator, and radar bombardier, he did not crew SAC’s jet glamorous bombers. He navigated KC-97 Stratotankers, a piston-engine aircraft that refueled other aircraft. The book may be the more interesting because of this perspective.

His role was vital yet unappreciated. Flying in tankers was as dangerous as missions flown by bomber crews. Air-to-air refueling was in its infancy. The KC-97 had to fly almost at its top speed as the jet bombers slowed nearly to stall speed during the delicate refueling operation. Flights were long, requiring precision navigation, and frequently over water or Arctic terrain. Along with bomber crews, tanker crews lived in the “mole holes,” underground quarters next to the runway allowing aircraft to be instantly manned during alerts.

Alexander describes all this. He describes growing up in his early teens in a small Kansas town during World War II, his youthful attraction to flying, his ROTC years in college during the late 1940s, and navigation training at Ellington Air Force Base in Houston in the early 1950s.

He also describes separating from SAC, due to pressure from his spouse, and how his love of aviation led him to join the Air National Guard in Chicago. As a reservist, he navigated C-97s, the transport version of the tanker, rising to become his state ANG’s navigation instructor.

Activated during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, his aircraft was sent to the Pacific to shuttle part of Wake Island’s Marine garrison to Florida as part of a possible Cuban invasion force. The aircraft developed engine problems returning from Wake to Hawaii. Alexander spent the rest of the crisis in Hawaii, returning, deeply tanned, to a Chicago winter after it ended.

“SAC Time” a slim book (just over 100 pages) may be all the more fascinating for its brevity. Alexander’s writing recaptures the spirit of bygone years, a time both more hopeful and more fear-filled than today.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.
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6 thoughts on “This Week’s Book Review – SAC Time”

  1. Thank you! It is amazing how things have changed so much. Navigators were an important part of the flight crew but are sadly forgotten now.

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  2. Interesting topic.  And there is much to be said for short books!

    Just wondering why you choose to put these reviews here and not on the Reading List Group, Mark?  In the dark days of the coming winter when the denizens of Ratburger page through the Reading List Group to get ideas for what to read next, reviews posted here in months gone by may get overlooked.

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  3. Gavin Longmuir:
    Interesting topic.  And there is much to be said for short books!

    Just wondering why you choose to put these reviews here and not on the Reading List Group, Mark?  In the dark days of the coming winter when the denizens of Ratburger page through the Reading List Group to get ideas for what to read next, reviews posted here in months gone by may get overlooked.

    Seawriter’s reviews predate the Reading List. They even predate the site. He is good about tagging his posts so people can find the old ones easily.

    https://www.ratburger.org/index.php/tag/book-review/

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  4. Failsafe versus Dr. Strangelove.  Failsafe is not realistic for portraying US real time policy as self-effacing and competent.  Democracy is a criminal idiot only restrained by equitable law and honest ballot boxes – both now effusively eliminated.  “Bombs Away” LeMay was a giant of a man.  He’d do it.

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  5. Gavin Longmuir:
    Just wondering why you choose to put these reviews here and not on the Reading List Group, Mark?

    I intended the Reading List group for people to note books they’ve read, often with just a citation and a few words, if any, of comments, as opposed to full reviews like this one which merit posts on the main site.  Due to the way WordPress indexing works, it is much easier to find main site posts like this one than posts in groups.

    I’d recommend that if you’re writing a review of a book which invites comments, make it a main post.  If you just want to note a book you’ve read which others might be interested in reading, note it on the Reading List group.  There’s no reason you can post it in both places.

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  6. John W:  “If you just want to note a book you’ve read which others might be interested in reading, note it on the Reading List group.

    Time is limited, and there are more books around than any of us could read in a lifetime.  One of the great values I find in sites with book reviews (eg Amazon) is deciding what books NOT to read.  At least 2/3 of the books I hear about drop off my “To Read” list after seeing other people’s reviews.  That time-saving discrimination relies on reviewers providing some information about what they found interesting about the book, or — just as welcome — what they did not like about it.

    The style of reviews on your fourmilab reading list is very helpful.

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