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Area 51 is a military base, and a remote detachment of Edwards Air Force Base. It is located in the southern portion of Nevada in the western United States, 83 miles (133 km) north-northwest of downtown Las Vegas. Situated at its center, on the southern shore of Groom Lake, is a large military airfield. The base's primary purpose is to support development and testing of experimental aircraft and weapons systems.
Satellite image of Area 51 shows dry Groom Lake just northeast of the site
The base lies within the United States Air Force's vast Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR), formerly called the Nellis Air Force Range (NAFR). Although the facilities at the range are managed by the 99th Air Base Wing at Nellis Air Force Base, the Groom facility appears to be run as an adjunct of the Air Force Flight Test Center (AFFTC) at Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert, around 186 miles (300 km) southwest of Groom, and as such the base is known as Air Force Flight Test Center (Detachment 3).
Though the name Area 51 is used in official CIA documentation, other names used for the facility include Dreamland, Paradise Ranch, Home Base, Watertown Strip, Groom Lake, and most recently Homey Airport. The area is part of the Nellis Military Operations Area, and the restricted airspace around the field is referred to as (R-4808N), known by the military pilots in the area as "The Box" or "the Container".
The facility is not a conventional airbase, as frontline operational units are not normally deployed there. It instead appears to be used for highly classified military/defense Special Access Programs (SAP), which are unacknowledged publicly by the government, military personnel, and defense contractors. Its mission may be to support the development, testing, and training phases for new aircraft weapons systems or research projects.
Once these projects have been approved by the United States Air Force or other agencies such as the CIA, and are ready to be announced to the public, operations of the aircraft are then moved to a normal air force base. The intense secrecy surrounding the base, the very existence of which the U.S. government did not even acknowledge until 14 July 2003, has made it the frequent subject of conspiracy theories and a central component to unidentified flying object (UFO) folklore.
Area 51 shares a border with the Yucca Flats region of the Nevada Test Site (NTS), the location of many of the U.S. Department of Energy's nuclear weapons tests. The Yucca Mountain nuclear storage facility is approximately 40 miles (64km) southwest of Groom Lake. The designation "Area 51" is somewhat contentious, appearing on older maps of the NTS and not newer ones, but the same naming scheme is used for other parts of the Nevada Test Site.
The area is connected to the internal NTS road network, with paved roads leading both to Mercury to the Northwest and West to Yucca Flats. Leading northeast from the lake, Groom Lake Road (a wide, well-conditioned dirt road) runs through a pass in the Jumbled Hills. Groom Lake Road was formerly the track leading to mines in the Groom basin, but has been improved since their closure. Its winding course takes it past a security checkpoint, but the restricted area around the base extends further east than this (visitors foolhardy enough to travel west on Groom Lake Road are usually observed first by guards located on the hills surrounding the pass, still several miles from the checkpoint). After leaving the restricted area (marked by numerous warning signs stating that "photography is prohibited" and that "use of deadly force is authorized") Groom Lake Road descends eastward to the floor of the Tikaboo Valley, passing the dirt-road entrances to several small ranches, before joining with State Highway 375 south of Rachel.
Operations at Groom Lake
Groom Lake is not a conventional airbase, and front-line units are not normally deployed there. It appears, rather, to be used during the development, test and training phases for new aircraft. Once those aircraft have been accepted by the USAF, operation of that aircraft is generally shifted to a normal airforce base. Groom is reported, however, to be the permanent home for a small number of aircraft of Soviet design (obtained by various means). These are reportedly analysed and used for training purposes. Soviet spy satellites obtained photographs of the Groom Lake area during the height of the Cold War, but these support only modest conclusions about the base. They depict a nondescript base, airstrip, hangars, etc., but nothing that supports some of the wilder claims about underground facilities. Later commercial satellite images show the base has grown, but remains superficially unexceptional.
Groom Lake was used for bombing and artillery practice during World War II, but was then abandoned until 1955, when it was selected by Lockheed's skunkworks team as the ideal location to test the forthcoming U-2 spyplane. The lakebed made for an ideal strip to operate the troublesome test aircraft from, and the Emigrant Valley's mountain ranges and the NTS perimeter protected the secret plane from curious eyes. Lockheed constructed a makeshift base at Groom, little more than a few shelters and workshops and a small constellation of trailerhomes to billet its small team in. The first U-2 flew at Groom in August of 1955, and U-2s under the control of the CIA began overflights of Soviet territory by mid-1956.
During this period, the NTS continued to perform series of atmospheric nuclear explosions. U-2 operations throughout 1957 were frequently disrupted by the Plumbbob series of atomic test, which exploded two dozen devices at the NTS. The Plumbbob-Hood explosion scattered fallout across Groom and forced its (temporary) evacuation. As U-2's primary mission was to overfly the Soviet Union, it operated largely from airbases near the Soviet border, including Incirlik in Turkey and Peshawar in Pakistan.
Blackbird (OXCART / A-10 / A-11 / A-12 / SR-71)
Even before U-2 development was complete, Lockheed began work on its successor, the CIA's OXCART project, a Mach-3 high altitude reconnaissance aircraft later known as the SR-71 Blackbird. The blackbird's flight characteristics and maintenance requirements forced a massive expansion of facilities and runways at Groom Lake. By the time the first A-12 Blackbird prototype flew at Groom in 1962, the main runway had been lengthened to 8500 ft (2600 m) and the base boasted a complement of over 1000 personnel. It had fueling tanks, a control tower, and a baseball diamond. Security was also greatly enhanced, the small civilian mine in the Groom basin was closed, and the area surrounding the valley was made an exclusive military preserve (where interlopers were subject to "lethal force"). Groom saw the first flight of all major Blackbird variants: A-10, A-11, A-12, RS-71 (renamed SR-71 by USAF Chief of Staff Curtis LeMay and not by a presidential error as popularly believed), the abortive YF-12A strike-fighter variant, and the disastrous D-21 Blackbird-based drone project.
Have Blue / F-117 program
The first Have Blue prototype stealth fighter (a smaller cousin of the F-117) first flew at Groom in late 1977. Testing of a series of ultra-secret prototypes continued there until mid-1981, when testing transitioned to the initial production of F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighters. In addition to flight testing, Groom performed radar profiling, F-117 weapons testing, and was the location for training of the first group of frontline USAF F-117 pilots. Subsequently active-service F-117 operations (still highly classified) moved to the nearby Tonopah Test Range, and finally to Holloman Air Force Base.
Since the F-117 became operational in 1983, operations at Groom Lake have continued unabated. The base and its associated runway system have been expanded, and daily flights bringing civilian commuters from Las Vegas continue. Some commentators, after examining recent satellite photos of the base, estimate it to have a live-in complement of over 1000 people, with a similar number commuting from Las Vegas. In 1995 the federal government expanded the exclusionary area around the base to include nearby mountains that had hitherto afforded the only decent overlook of the base. Rumored aircraft that have supposedly been tested at Groom include the D-21 Tagboard drone, a small stealthy VTOL troop-transport aircraft, a stealthy cruise missile, and the hypothetical Aurora hypersonic spyplane.
Area 51 Commuters
Defense contractor EG&G maintains a private terminal at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. A number of unmarked aircraft operate daily shuttle services from McCarran to sites operated by EG&G in the extensive federally-controlled lands in southern Nevada. These aircraft reportedly use JANET radio callsigns (e.g. "JANET 6"), said to be an acronym for "Joint Air Network for Employee Transportation" or, (perhaps as a joke) "Just Another Non-Existent Terminal". EG&G advertises in the Las Vegas press for experienced airline pilots, saying applicants must be eligible for government security clearance and that successful applicants can expect to always overnight at Las Vegas. These aircraft, painted white with a red trim, include Boeing 737s and several smaller executive jets. Their tail numbers are registered to several unexceptional civil aircraft leasing corporations. They are reported to shuttle to Groom, Tonopah Test Range, to other locations in the NAFR and NTS, and reportedly to Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake. Observers counting departures and cars in the private EG&G parking lot at McCarran estimate several thousand people commute on JANET each day.
A chartered bus (reportedly with whited-out windows) runs a commuter service along Groom Lake Road, catering to a small number of employees living in several small desert communities beyond the NTS boundary (although it is not clear whether these workers are employed at Groom or at other facilities in the NTS).
The Government's position on Area 51
The U.S. Government does not explicitly acknowledge the existence of the Groom Lake facility, nor does it deny it. Unlike much of the Nellis range, the area surrounding the lake is permanently off-limits both to civilian and normal military air traffic. The area is protected by radar stations, buried movement sensors, and uninvited guests are met by helicopters and armed guards. Should they accidentally stray into the exclusionary "box" surrounding Groom's airspace, even military pilots training in the NAFR are reportedly grilled extensively by military intelligence agents.
The base does not appear on public US government maps; the USGS topological map for the area only shows the long-disused Groom Mine, and the civil aviation chart for Nevada shows a large restricted area, but defines it as part of the Nellis restricted airspace. Similarly the National Atlas page showing federal lands in Nevada doesn't distinguish between the Groom block and other parts of the Nellis range. Although officially declassified, the original film taken by US Corona spy satellite in the 1960s have been altered prior to declassification; in answer to freedom of information queries, the government responds that these exposures (which map to Groom and the entire NAFR) appear to have been destroyed (Corona image). Terra satellite images (which were publicly available) were removed from webservers (including Microsoft's "Terraserver") in 2004 ( Terraserver image), and from the monochrome 1m resolution USGS datadump made publically available. NASA Landsat 7 images are still available (these are used in the NASA World Wind program and are displayed by Google Maps). In Non-US images, including high-resolution photographs from Russian satellites and the commercial IKONOS system are also easily available (and abound on the Internet).
In response to environmental and employee lawsuits (including a class-action lawsuit brought by employees of the base for toxic waste exposure), a Presidential Determination is issued annually, exempting the Air Force's Operating Location Near Groom Lake, Nevada from environmental disclosure laws (2002 determination, 2003 determination). This (albeit tacitly) constitutes the only formal recognition the US Government has ever given that Groom Lake is more than simply another part of the Nellis complex.Nevada's state government, recognising the folklore surrounding the base might afford the otherwise neglected area some tourism potential, officially renamed the section of Nevada Highway 375 near Rachel "The Extraterrestrial Highway", and posted fancifully-illustrated signs along its length.Interlopers discovered on (or, some say, near) the restricted area are generally detained by armed private security guards (reportedly employees of defence contractor EG&G) and are then handed over to the Lincoln County sheriff.
Modest fines (of around $600) seem to be the norm, although some visitors and journalists report receiving follow-up visits from FBI agents.Although federal property within the base is exempt from state and local taxes, facilities owned by private contractors are not. One researcher has reported that the base only declares a taxable value of $2 million to the Lincoln County tax assessor, who is unable to enter the area to perform an assessment. Some Lincoln County residents have complained that the base is an unfair burden on the county, providing few local jobs (as most employees appear to live in or near Las Vegas) an iniquitous burden of land-sequestration and law-enforcement costs.
UFO and conspiracy theories concerning Area 51
The storage, examination, and reverse-engineering of crashed alien spacecraft (including material supposedly recovered at Roswell), the study of their occupants (living and dead), and the manufacture of aircraft based on alien technology. Bob Lazar claimed to have been involved in such activities.meetings or joint undertakings with extra-terrestrials.the development of exotic energy weapons (for SDI applications or otherwise) or means of weather control.activities related to a supposed shadowy world government.Some claim an extensive underground facility has been constructed at Groom Lake (or nearby Papoose Lake) in which to conduct these activities.
Some claim an extensive underground facility has been constructed at Groom Lake (or nearby Papoose Lake) in which to conduct these activities.
"Area 51" is a part of an off-limits military base near Groom Dry Lake in Nevada. UFOers are sure it is used to hide aliens from us. The state of Nevada recently designated a barren 98-mile stretch of Route 375, which runs near Area 51, as the Extraterrestrial Highway. Such a move is no doubt proof of a government attempt to throw us off the track and think there is not a cover-up when there is one. This is a cover-up of the cover-up, typical of government agencies when dealing with sensitive information regarding UFOs and aliens.
Since you can be shot if you try to trespass on the military base where Area 51 is located, UFO tourists must view the sacred ground from a distant vantage point. Many do this, hoping for a glimpse of a UFO landing. Apparently, our government has a treaty with the aliens that allows them to fly into this area at will, as long as we can experiment on them and try to duplicate their aircraft. You don't really think that any human could have come up with the idea of the Stealth Bomber, do you?
Skeptics don't doubt that something secret is going on in area 51. And what is going on may be more sinister than building secret aircraft or developing new weapons. "Sixty Minutes" did a segment where Leslie Stahl suggested that area 51 might be an illegal dumping ground for toxic substances. If so, Area 51 might turn out to be hazardous to your health in more ways than one. Several former workers at Area 51 and widows of former workers have filed lawsuits against the government for injuries or death resulting from illegal hazardous waste practices. So far the government has been protected from such suits because of "national security." In fact, the government does not even acknowledge the existence of the base known as Area 51. Such denials, of course, do little more than provide more ammo for those who claim there is a government conspiracy to cover up just about anything it's ever been involved in.
Area 51 is in a desert region sparsely populated with poisonous, spiny reptiles, insects, plant life, and for a short evolutionary period, the U-2 Dragon Ladies and the A-12 Archangels of THE ROADRUNNERS.
Prompted by the Cold War era that began immediately after World War II, the CIA was given the task of developing strategic means of determining the military strength of its enemies. Kelly Johnson, an aircraft design and engineering genius running a special design team within the Lockheed Aircraft Company called the "Skunk Works" was asked to design the U-2 to gather intelligence on Soviet bomber and inter-continental ballistic missile bases in the Soviet Union.
Seeking a place to test the U-2 in secret far from the prying eyes of would-be spies and the public, Johnson settled on Area 51, a remote site in the uninhabitable Nevada desert that had served the military as a remote place to test weapons for quite some time. Nellis Air Force Base, a few miles north of Las Vegas, and the AEC's (Atomic Energy Commission) Nevada Test Site (NTS) composed over 1,300 square miles used to set off hundreds of atomic explosions during the early days of the Cold War. Tony LeVier, the pilot assigned by Johnson to find a suitable location, found several remote spots, but chose Groom Lake because of the mountainous perimeter it furnished a dry lake bed that would provide the ultimate runway. Located within Area 51 of the Nevada Test Site, the base came to be known simply as "Area 51".
Nuclear tests from the 50's into the 60's caused several evacuations from Area 51. A bomb with the code-name HOOD, part of the 1957 Operation Plumbob, caused substantial damage at Watertown, the code-name for Area 51. Construction was completed by July 1955, and on the 24th the first U-2 prototype arrived from the Lockheed Skunk Works Headquarters in Burbank, California by a C-124 transport plane. On August 4 the U-2 made its first flight.
Recognizing the success of testing the U-2 at Area 51, the CIA and the Air Force decided to test all new top-secret military aircraft at Groom Lake. Under the leadership of Werner Weiss, grade GS-15 in the CIA, Colonels Holbury and Slip Slater, USAF increased the size of the facility to accommodate the new Oxcart/A-12 program by lengthening the runway from 5000 feet to 8500 feet and the restricted airspace grew to 20 X 22 nautical miles. Surplus World War II Navy barracks were moved to the site to furnish billeting for CIA operations. In early 1962 the first A-12 (CIA code-name for the A-12 plane: Article) was shipped to Groom Lake. The five specially trained CIA pilots (CIA code-name: Drivers) arrived soon thereafter. On April 26, 1962, the first A-12 Archangel, the most revolutionary plane ever, took to the skies. By the end of 1964 there had been 1,160 flights, totaling 1,616 hours. Eleven aircraft were then available, four of them reserved for testing and seven assigned to the 1129 Special Activities Squadron Detachment.
The OXCART Program lasted just over ten years, from its inception in 1957 through first flights in 1962 to termination in 1968. This CIA program was highly compartmentalized while at Groom Lake, the players consisting of CIA personnel (the customer), the Air Force 1129th Special Activities Squadron (support), and various CIA contractors for special project operations. The main objective of creating a reconnaissance aircraft of unprecedented speed, range, and altitude capability had been triumphantly achieved. Lockheed produced 15 OXCARTS, three YF-12A's and 31 SR-71's. The 49 supersonic aircraft had completed more than 7,300 flights, with 17,000 hours in the air. Over 2,400 hours had been above Mach 3. Five OXCART were lost in accidents; two pilots were killed, and two had narrow escapes. In addition, two F-101 chase planes were lost with their Air Force pilots during OXCART testing phase.
In a ceremony at Groom Lake on 26 June 1968, Vice Admiral Rufus L. Taylor, Deputy Director of Central Intelligence, presented the CIA Intelligence Star for valor to pilots Kenneth S. Collins, Ronald L. Layton, Francis J. Murray, Dennis B. Sullivan, and Mele Vojvodich for participation in the BLACK SHIELD operation. The posthumous award to pilot Jack W. Weeks was accepted by his widow. The United States Air Force Legion of Merit was presented to Colonel Slater and his Deputy, Colonel Maynard N. Amundson. The Air Force Outstanding Unit Award was presented to the members of the OXCART Detachment (1129th Special Activities Squadron, Detachment 1) and the USAF supporting units.