James Patterson-Hamilton PB $28
If you remember the cold war and had any connection with England you may recall the British contributions to the cold war ‘nuclear deterrent’.
The Vulcan bombers were a prominent symbol of Britain’s military power and in alliance with the US and other NATO allies they were in the frontline against the march of communism for 25 years.
Under the Radar tells the story of the pilots and crew of a Vulcan squadron, starting in the 60s and moving in stages through to the current day. The beginning reads much like a non-fiction account of ‘war games’ with the Americans with whom the Brits ‘fought’ in testing situations to measure each others capabilities, to prepare for the ‘real thing’, should it ever happen. Descriptions of the unpleasant conditions for the crew on the flight deck, send a chill, even long after the ‘Cold’ war. It wasn’t made easy for the airmen to do a good job and the safety of the Western World depended in part on their performance..
Evading the fighters scrambled to intercept them, the British aircraft target Washington and New York, reducing them to ‘virtual’ smoking ruins, with the help of new technology and old skills. The crews return home to Wearsby aerodrome – to their friends, ground crew, girl-friends and wives. NO female aircrew in the 60s! Housing was communal for the single men and drab in the married quarters. Life for the women was tedious, constantly fighting the other ‘love’ in their men’s lives. The author gives us a flavour of their lives through the eyes of Amos McKenna wh, in common with most of the personnel, is stressed with training, tests, danger and his personal life. His wife, Jo, like all the other airforce women, strives to be recognised and create a life apart from timetables, aviation fuel smells and boyish pranks.
Add to this mix drunken parties, sexuality, infidelity and spies and it’s easy to think we’re lucky the ‘deterrent’ remained just that – never to be tested in real battle.
Amos starts the book as a top gun Squadron Leader and finishes as a retired senior civil aircraft pilot but with his life moulded and changed completely by a life in the air.
Under the Radar is an intriguing account, based on some real events, of the beauty and danger of Airforce flying in the second half of the 20th century.