For more than three decades, locals and visitors have reported sightings of strange aircraft flying around a remote, wind-swept part of Nevada. The military’s explanation for these sightings has been that they were top-secret spy plane prototypes.
This week’s e-book posting features more than 60 declassified documents relating to Area 51 and its development. Some of the highlights include a 1961 memo (Document 1) that raises security concerns for Groom Lake and its environs.
What is Area 51?
There’s not much to see at the entrance to America’s top secret military base, located in the middle of the Nevada desert. A chain-link fence and a boom gate surrounds Area 51, which is only accessible via a dusty road from the small town of Rachel. Visitors are kept at a distance by surveillance cameras and intimidating “No Trespassing” signs. The area is also surrounded by restricted military airspace and is home to some of the world’s longest runways.
Despite its remote location and mysterious, off-limits nature, there is more to เอเรีย 51 than meets the eye. The facility has a long history of serving as the birthplace of aerial espionage for the CIA. Its runways have hosted the U-2 spy plane and other advanced aircraft, including some of the first stealth fighters like the Bird of Prey. It has also been used to test captured Soviet equipment and other top-secret weapons.
Even though no aliens have ever been spotted on the base, its secretive and mysterious nature has given it a mythological status in popular culture. It’s been featured in numerous movies and video games, as well as countless conspiracy theories. The infamous base has even made its way into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, appearing in two episodes of “Agents of Shield” and being mentioned by Spider-Man antagonist J. Jonah Jameson’s publication The Daily Bugle.
Although there is no official public information about how to get a job at Area 51, one of the primary qualifications seems to be that you must be a United States citizen. Non-citizens are not allowed to work in the facilities and have no access to the facility’s sensitive research or testing. Other qualifications include having a high school diploma, military service or active duty status, and passing a background check and security clearance.
Of course, just because you have the right credentials doesn’t mean that getting a job at the base is easy. You’ll still have to pass an extensive security screening, and you’ll be required to sign a non-disclosure agreement. If you want to be a part of the team that operates this mysterious military base, then it’s important to start working on your credentials now.
Why is Area 51 so secret?
In the middle of a barren desert there is an unmarked road that leads to America’s most secret military base. It’s protected by little more than a chain link fence, a boom gate and intimidating trespassing signs. But even with these barriers, the base is watched closely. Locals claim the base knows every jackrabbit and desert tortoise that hops past the fence. The base also has cameras that watch every car and truck that drives along the road. And then there are the drones.
The mystery surrounding Area 51 has fueled conspiracy theories about UFOs and aliens. It’s also spawned a whole genre of movies and TV shows. But if you’re willing to ignore the hype, what Area 51 actually is reveals decades of development around secret aerial technologies.
According to author Laura Jacobsen, who has written a new book on the subject, the secrets of Area 51 began in the 1950s with the U-2 spy plane. After World War II, the Soviet Union lowered its Iron Curtain and the United States was concerned about the Kremlin’s capability to launch a surprise attack.
So the Air Force developed a number of new surveillance aircraft, including the U-2 and its successors, the OXCART and F-117. Jacobsen writes that the Air Force also worked on stealth technology at Area 51, which eventually led to the A-12 and the Bird of Prey.
Declassified documents have shown that, while the U-2 operations at Groom Lake halted in the late 1950s, other top-secret aircraft projects continued there. These included the “Have Drill” and “Have FERRY” attempts to study covertly obtained Soviet MiG fighters.
These activities and the lingering mystery of what’s beyond those fences have kept people interested in Area 51 for decades. And in the modern era of social media, that interest can turn into viral events. In September 2018, Matty Roberts, a college student and anime enthusiast from Bakersfield, California created an event on Facebook that quickly grew to more than a million people. The event stated that participants would meet in Rachel, Nevada (the closest town to Area 51) on 20 September to storm the base and find evidence of aliens.
What is the history of Area 51?
In the decades since it was first developed in the Cold War, Area 51 has become the subject of countless conspiracy theories. Its remote location, top-secret research, and the fact that it’s kept secret from most of the world have given rise to myths of aliens and alien technology being tested at the base.
Its infamous reputation was further cemented when it became the setting for the 1996 blockbuster movie Independence Day, but its real history is far less exciting. In reality, what has happened at the so-called Groom Lake facility is a series of CIA and Air Force development projects that have created some of the most advanced aircraft in history.
The CIA began using Area 51 (formerly known as Paradise Ranch) to develop the U-2 spy plane in 1955, but didn’t officially start calling it that until 1958. The facility was also used to test other aircraft, including the high-altitude U-2s, the supersonic Lockheed A-12s, and the SR-71 Blackbird, which helped us win the Vietnam War.
As these projects were carried out, a number of unidentified flying objects (UFOs) were reported around Area 51. The sightings usually coincided with flights of the classified aircraft. Some of the reports even match up with the dates and times of experiments that were being conducted at the time.
Although the CIA acknowledged Area 51’s existence in 2013, the military and government still refuse to comment on what goes on there. But it’s believed that the base continues to be used to develop cutting-edge aircraft, and that about 1,500 people work there, most of whom commute to Groom Lake on charter flights from Las Vegas. In addition to planes, the facility has also tested a variety of drones and weapon systems. It’s been rumored that the most recent project at the facility is to reverse-engineer a Soviet MiG-21-F13, a fighter aircraft that a defector pilot brought back to the United States. That project could eventually result in a new type of stealth fighter jet. But, of course, that’s all just speculation. For now, the only thing we can say for sure is that nobody from the public has been allowed to visit the site.
What is the purpose of Area 51?
While the government doesn’t discuss what goes on at Area 51, there are plenty of educated guesses. This includes espionage work, developing new aircraft and testing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). Some of the most advanced military equipment in the world is developed at the base. This includes the SR-71 Blackbird, the U-2 spy plane and the F-117 stealth fighter.
The earliest activities at the site were likely related to the development of the U-2, the first supersonic reconnaissance aircraft. The Cold War was in full swing and America was concerned about the Soviet Union’s capabilities and intentions. The U-2 required a remote and isolated location to test its high-altitude capabilities.
Engineers at Lockheed were also working on a secret project that would eventually become the SR-71 Blackbird. This required a large runway, which was not available at the time the U-2 was being built. The engineering team selected the Groom Lake area because of its remoteness and lack of infrastructure. In 1955, the facility was called Paradise Ranch, a name that was changed to Area 51 in 1958, according to documents obtained by the National Security Archive through the Freedom of Information Act and declassified in 2013.
It’s not unreasonable to assume that, as U-2 flights increased during the 1950s and 1960s, locals started reporting sightings of strange objects in the sky. Some of these sightings have matched up with the dates and times of aircraft tests at the facility.
Other than U-2 testing, the Air Force hasn’t revealed what other aircraft are tested at Area 51. But there are plenty of educated guesses, including improved stealth technology, electronic warfare systems and directed energy weapons.
The US government and the military don’t want people to get too close to Area 51. The base is protected by warning signs, electronic surveillance and armed guards. It’s also illegal to fly over the restricted airspace around it. Those who have tried to sneak a peek have found themselves being tracked and intimidated by camo-clad soldiers.
The only way to see what’s going on at the top-secret facilities is to go there yourself. But be warned: It’s not for the faint of heart or the easily frightened.