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Alameda Naval Air Station — a book review

13 December 2010

Images of America: Alameda Naval Air Station — a book review

Images of America: Alameda Naval Air Station, William T. Larkins and the Alameda Naval Air Museum, 2010, ISBN 978-0-7385-8040-1, 127 pp.

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This book has only just been published but was 56 years in the making. Bill Larkins is a photographer as only few can be and most aspire as has an international reputation for excellent aviation photographs and is the recipient of the esteemed Admiral Radford award — an honor given for conspicuous performance in the area of naval history and literature in the United States.

This book has too many images to count at over 200 but this is no simple picture book and the photos are not randomly presented. Instead, these images are grouped into chapter according to subject and the captions are detailed descriptions of the subject as well as the context of the photograph. Most of the photographs were taken by the author and most of these are prime quality black and whites while the others easily meet journalistic standards as that was their original purpose.

What photographs they are! As a photographer in the U.S. Navy, Larkins had the access and the equipment to make not only great photos but from unusual perspectives. There is the shot on page 87, an oblique aerial view of the unique island structure of the USS Enterprise. Unusual subject matter is present, as well, such as the photo on the same page showing a group of A-4 Skyhawks arranged on display but there is what appears to be an external fuel tank lying atop the starboard wing of the lead aircraft.

I learned much from this book, pleasantly and sometimes unexpectedly. Although I’ve read of the name of cargo version of the B-36 and the Bristol Brabazon and the Spruce Goose as the largest piston powered aircraft of the day  I learned of another such aircraft from this book — the Lockheed Constitution. It was the largest land based transport aircraft of the day and another of the several aircraft that had more than one passenger deck.

Given the importance of the Alameda NAS almost all of the U.S. Navy’s inventory of aircraft was stationed or flew through the field, and Larkins seems to not to have missed so much as a single aircraft type. The Navy’s ships are also addressed — a photograph on page 95 shows four of them simultaneously in port, for example. A short and incomplete list of aircraft in the book’s photographs are: a wheeled Vought Kingfisher, Douglas Skyraiders, Martin Mars, Consolidated Fleetster, PAA flying boats (both Sikorsky and Martin), Curtiss Seagull, Curtiss Seahawk, Douglas Seahawk, LTV Corsair II and Lockheed Neptune.

Also, another present for me was the photo of the Aichi Sieran*  (愛知県 晴嵐) on page 21. Service and social life on base is also insightfully illustrated. Naturally, the field existed before and after the years of service to the U.S. Navy as the Alameda NAS. Photos abound in this dimension as well. The field does not exist as an aviation field any longer but is undergoing development. Larkins, too, covers this aspect of the field’s history with his photos illustrating a new winery building (formerly a hangar), environmental recovery challenges and the Alameda Naval Air Museum**.

Alameda field has, perhaps, its most sentimental aspect to aviation history as the site Pan American Airways first chose for its romantic and famous China Clipper. Larkins has well captioned photos of these times as well as an historical marker on the grounds — the caption tells its location and is on page 120.

* For photos of this aircraft in its restored condition please see the post entitled, The mission that never was to be and the Aichi 愛知県 M6A1-K 晴嵐 Seiran, which posted on 14 October 2009. Type “Seiran” into the search window and select ENTER to get the link.

** See the post on my visit to this museum in, Alameda Naval Air Museum — you have got to see it!, which published on 25 April 2010. Type “Alameda” into the search window and select ENTER to get the link.

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