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Area 51 is a top-secret US airbase involving UFOs.
Area 51 is a remote tract of land in the southwestern portion of Lincoln County in southern Nevada. Area 51 is located at the southern edge of a large dry salt flat called Groom Lake. Area 51 lies within the Nevada Test and Training Range and is owned by the United States Department of Defense and the United States Air Force. Area 51 contains an airfield whose primary purpose is believed to be the operation and analysis of enemy aircraft and weapons systems, and secret development and testing of new military aircraft. Area 51 is the frequent subject of UFO conspiracy theories. Area 51 is also known (officially) as Air Force Flight Test Center, Detachment 3. Area 51 is also called Dreamland, Watertown Strip, Paradise Ranch, The Box, Groom Lake, Neverland.
Geography of Area 51.
Area 51 shares a border with the Yucca Flats region of the Nevada Test Site (NTS), the location of many of the US 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 but 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, the wide and well-maintained Groom Lake Road runs through a pass in the Jumbled Hills. The road formerly led to mines in the Groom basin, but has been improved since their closure. Its winding course runs past a security checkpoint, but the restricted area around the base extends further east. (Unauthorized visitors who 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" under the terms of the 1950 McCarran Internal Security Act) Groom Lake Road descends eastward to the floor of the Tikaboo Valley, passing the dirt-road entrances to several small ranches, before converging with Nevada State Route 375, the "Extraterrestrial Highway", south of Rachel.
Area 51: Operations at Groom Lake.
Groom Lake is not a conventional airbase, as frontline units are not normally deployed there. It instead appears to be used during the development, testing, and training phases for new aircraft. Once these aircraft have been approved by the United States Air Force, operation of that aircraft is generally conducted as that of a normal air force base. Groom is reported, however, to be the permanent home for a small number of Soviet-designed aircraft (obtained by various means), which are reportedly analyzed 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. The photos depict a nondescript base, airstrip, hangars and the like, but nothing that supports some of the wilder claims about underground facilities. Commercial satellite images show that the base has since grown but remained ostensibly unexceptional.
Area 51: Senior Year/U-2 program.
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 Skunk Works team as the ideal location to test the forthcoming U-2 spy plane. The lakebed made an ideal strip from which they could operate the troublesome test aircraft, 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, consisting of little more than a few shelters, workshops and trailer homes in which to billet its small team. The first U-2 flew at Groom in August 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 a series of atmospheric nuclear explosions. U-2 operations throughout 1957 were frequently disrupted by the Plumbbob series of atomic tests, which detonated over two dozen devices at the NTS. The Plumbbob-Hood explosion on July 5 scattered fallout across Groom and forced a temporary evacuation.
As the U-2's primary mission was to fly over the Soviet Union, it operated largely from airbases near the Soviet border, including Incirlik in Turkey and Peshawar in Pakistan, and in BodÝ, Norway.
Blackbird programs at Area 51.
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, a later variant of that which became the famed USAF 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 8500ft. (2600m), and the base boasted a complement of over 1000 personnel. It had fueling tanks, a control tower and baseball diamond. Security was 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 could be subject to "lethal force"). Groom saw the first flight of all major Blackbird variants: A-12, SR-71, its abortive YF-12 interceptor variant, and the D-21 Blackbird-based drone project.
Have Blue/Senior Trend/F-117 program flown at Area 51.
The first Have Blue prototype stealth fighter (a smaller cousin of the F-117 Nighthawk commonly seen and reported as a "UFO") 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 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, the still highly classified active-service F-117 operations moved to the nearby Tonopah Test Range, and finally to Holloman Air Force Base.
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 call signs (e.g., "JANET 6"), said to be an acronym for "Joint Air Network for Employee Transportation" or (perhaps jokingly) "Just Another Non-Existent Terminal". EG&G advertises in the Las Vegas press for experienced airline pilots, requiring applicants to be eligible for government security clearance and that successful applicants can expect to always stay overnight at Las Vegas. These aircraft, painted white with red trim (the livery of now defunct Western Airlines), include six Boeing 737/T-43As and several smaller turboprops. Their tail numbers are registered to the U.S. Air Force. 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 tracking the number of departures and cars in the private EG&G parking lot at McCarran estimate several thousand JANET commuters each day. These shuttle flights were previously operated by Key Air, which had flown 22,000 passenger trips on 300 flights from Nellis Air Force Base to Tonopah Test Range per month from 1982 until early 1991.
A bus 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 bus drives down Groom Lake Road and stops at Crystal Springs, Ash Springs, and Alamo, and parks in front of the Alamo court house overnight.
Runways at Area 51.
Paved: 14L-32R, 14R 32L, 03R-21L, 03L-21R
The sand runways are only used in the event of very high crosswinds or an emergency.
The government's position on Area 51.
In 1997 the U.S. Government declassified the existence of Area 51. Unlike much of the Nellis range, the area surrounding the lake is permanently off-limits both to civilians and normal military air traffic. The area is protected by radar stations, and unauthorized personnel are quickly expelled. Even military pilots training in the NAFR are reportedly interrogated extensively by military intelligence agents when they accidentally stray into the exclusionary "box" surrounding Groom's airspace.
Perimeter security is provided by uniformed private security guards working for EG&G's security subcontractor Wackenhut, who patrol in desert camouflage Jeep Cherokee and Hum-Vee vehicles, and more recently, champagne-colored Ford F-150 pickups and gray Chevy 2500 4X4 pickups. Although the guards are armed with M16s, no violent encounters with Area 51 observers have been reported; instead, the guards generally follow visitors near the perimeter and radio for the Lincoln County sheriff. Deadly force is authorized if violators who attempt to breach the secured area fail to heed warnings to halt. Fines of around $600 seem to be the normal course of action, although some visitors and journalists report receiving follow-up visits from FBI agents. Some observers have been detained on public land for pointing camera equipment at the base. Surveillance is supplemented using buried motion sensors and by HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters.
The base does not appear on public U.S. 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 does not distinguish between the Groom block and other parts of the Nellis range. Although officially declassified, the original film taken by U.S. Corona spy satellite in the 1960s has 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. Terra satellite images (which were publicly available) were removed from webservers (including Microsoft's "Terraserver") in 2004, and from the monochrome 1 m resolution USGS datadump made publicly available. NASA Landsat 7 images are still available (these are used in the NASA World Wind). Non-U.S. images, including high-resolution photographs from Russian satellites and the commercial IKONOS system, are also easily available (and abound on the Internet). Perhaps the best, most detailed images widely available to the public exist on Google Earth, which shows in considerable detail the runway marking, base facilities, planes, and vehicles.
Nevada's state government, recognizing the folklore surrounding the base might afford the otherwise neglected area some tourism potential, officially renamed the section of Nevada State Route 375 near Rachel "The Extraterrestrial Highway", and posted fancifully illustrated signs along its length.
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.
Environmental lawsuit at Area 51.
In 1994, five unnamed civilian contractors and the widows of contractors Walter Kasza and Robert Frost sued the USAF and the Environmental Protection Agency. Their suit, in which they were represented by George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, alleged they had been present when large quantities of unknown chemicals had been burned in open pits and trenches at Groom. Biopsies taken from the complainants were analyzed by Rutgers University biochemists, who found high levels of dioxin, dibenzofuran, and trichloroethylene in their body fat. The complainants alleged they had sustained skin, liver, and respiratory injuries due to their work at Groom, and that this had contributed to the deaths of Frost and Kasza. The suit sought compensation for the injuries they had sustained, claiming the USAF had illegally handled toxic materials, and that the EPA had failed in its duty to enforce the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (which governs handling of dangerous materials). They also sought detailed information about the chemicals to which they were allegedly exposed, hoping this would facilitate the medical treatment of survivors. Congressman Lee H. Hamilton, former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told 60 Minutes reporter Leslie Stahl "The Air Force is classifying all information about Area 51 in order to protect themselves from a lawsuit."
Citing the State Secrets Privilege, the government petitioned trial judge U.S. District Judge Philip Pro (of the United States District Court for the District of Nevada in Las Vegas) to disallow disclosure of classified documents or examination of secret witnesses, alleging this would expose classified information and threaten national security. When Judge Pro rejected the government's argument, President Bill Clinton issued a Presidential Determination, exempting what it called, "The Air Force's Operating Location Near Groom Lake, Nevada" from environmental disclosure laws. Consequently, Pro dismissed the suit due to lack of evidence. Turley appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, on the grounds that the government was abusing its power to classify material. Secretary of the Air Force Sheila E. Widnall filed a brief which stated that disclosures of the materials present in the air and water near Groom, "Can reveal military operational capabilities or the nature and scope of classified operations." The Ninth Circuit rejected Turley's appeal, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear it, putting an end to the complainants' case.
The President continues to annually issue a determination continuing the Groom exception. This, and similarly tacit wording used in other government communications, is the only formal recognition the U.S. Government has ever given that Groom Lake is more than simply another part of the Nellis complex.
1974 Skylab photography of Area 51.
In January of 2006, aviation journalist Dwayne Day published an article in online aerospace magazine The Space Review titled "Astronauts and Area 51: the Skylab Incident." The article was based around a recently declassified memo written in 1974 to CIA director William Colby by an unknown CIA official. The memo reported that astronauts on board Skylab 4 had, as part of a larger program, inadvertently photographed a location of which the memo said "There were specific instructions not to do this. <redacted> was the only location which had such an instruction." Although the name of the location was obscured, the context led Day to believe that the subject was Groom Lake.
The memo details debate between federal agencies regarding whether the images should be classified, with Department of Defense agencies arguing that it should, and NASA and the State Department arguing against classification. The memo itself questions the legality of unclassified images to be retroactively classified.
Remarks on the memo, handwritten apparently by DCI (Director of Central Intelligence) Colby himself, read:
The declassified documents do not disclose the outcome of discussions regarding the Skylab imagery, but were not placed in the federal government's archive of satellite imagery along with the remaining Skylab 4 photographs.
UFO and other conspiracy theories concerning Area 51.
Its secretive nature and undoubted connection to classified aircraft research, together with reports of unusual phenomena, have led Area 51 to become a focus of modern UFO and conspiracy theory. Some of the unconventional activities claimed to be underway at Area 51 include:
Many of the hypotheses concern underground facilities at Groom or at nearby Papoose Lake, and include claims of a transcontinental underground railroad system, a disappearing airstrip (nicknamed the "Cheshire Airstrip", after Lewis Carroll's Cheshire cat) which briefly appears when water is sprayed onto its camouflaged asphalt, and engineering based on alien technology. In 1989, Bob Lazar claimed that he had worked at a facility at Papoose Lake (which he called S-4) on such a U.S. Government flying saucer. One major hypothesis is that Area 51 is a place which simulates the environment of the moon. In 2000-2001, Fox television broadcast a show about Apollo moon landing hoax accusations, in which it was suggested that the whole moon landing in 1969 was a hoax and was filmed in parts of Area 51.
Others, however, claim that during the mid 1990s, the most secret work previously done at Groom was quietly moved to other facilities, including Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, and that the continued secrecy around Groom is largely a successful attempt at misdirection.
In July 1996, a man named Victor came forward and said on Art Bell's Coast to Coast AM radio show that he had a videotape of an alien interrogation. He said that he copied the tape and smuggled the copy out of Area 51. The video showed the head of an alien in a dark room, possibly using telepathy to communicate with military personnel and scientists and was eventually included in a documentary entitled Area 51: The Alien Interview.
Area 51 in popular culture: Television series.
Area 51, the Groom Lake base is featured in episodes of the following television series:
Movies about Area 51. The base is featured in the following movies:
In 2004, ahead of the Area 51 video game's release, Paramount Pictures announced that they had acquired film rights for the game. In March 2007, counter-cultural comic book author Grant Morrison was hired to adapt the game as a screenplay.
Books about Area 51.
Area 51 is featured in several novels by Dale Brown and is the centerpiece of Robert Doherty's Area 51 novels, which take place after Area 51 scientists make contact with extraterrestrials. Apparent alien technology is stored at "Zone 91" in "Animorphs #14 - The Unknown" by K.A. Applegate. Area 52 is a four-part comic book series from Image Comics.
Computer and video games including Area 51.
The base Area 51 appears in the following computer or video games:
Music with Area 51 in the lyrics.
Area 51 has been the inspiration for a sci-fi rock musical, composed by Daniel O'Brien. It is also the name of a hard rock band. The composer Larry Barton has written a piece for jazz ensemble entitled "Area 51". The rock band Tool has two songs, "Lost Keys/Blame Hoffman" and "Rosetta Stoned", on their 2006 release "10,000 Days" that tell a story involving Area 51; a song called "Faaip De Oiad", on the "Lateralus" album, is based on a phone call by a Area 51 employee to the radio show 'Coast to Coast' with Art Bell. Another song featuring this Area 51 call was "They are not what they claim to be ..." by electronic artist The Boy Flood. It was featured on the main page of Coast to Coast AM in the listers submission section. Guitar player Yngwie Malmsteen, on his album "Alchemy" has a song called "Hangar 18, Area 51". The thrash metal band Megadeth also has a song entitled "Hangar 18" and their album Rust in Peace also depicts an alien inside a metal encasement surrounded by what appear to be government officials. Hypocrisy also explores the possibility of an alien crash landing in their song "Roswell 47" off their album Abducted. A guitar luthier by the name of Keith Ray, located in Florida, has created a line of custom guitars under the brand name Area51 Guitars. Major US rock band Pixies have at least two songs related to Area 51 - "The Happening", from the album Bossanova, and "Motorway to Roswell", from the album Trompe Le Monde.
Area 51 Role-playing games.
Area 51 has been used in several role-playing games as a plot element. In the game Conspiracy X, it is a safe facility and base of operations for the players' counter-extraterrestrial operations. On the flip side, in the Call of Cthulhu modern day conspiracy supplement Delta Green, the base is the site of laboratory facilities for studying and intercepting otherworldly beings. The alternate history roleplaying game Deadlands also features an 1880s version of the location called "Fort 51".
Other information concerning Area 51.
Area 51 is the name given to a variety of unrelated products and companies, including the development area for the phpBB forum software, one of the areas of the Geocities web hosting service, an Aprilia motor scooter, and numerous science-fiction bookstores and bulletin boards. An Area 51 / UFO theme was adopted by Laughlin/Las Vegas radio station 107.9 KVGS, which calls itself Area108  and by Sirius Satellite Radio channel "Area 33". The "Flight of Fear" rollercoasters at Kings Island and Kings Dominion are themed "Area 47".
In 1994, Version 2.0 of the ROM for the Apple Newton personal digital assistant included the latitude and longitude coordinates of Area 51 in the time zones application as an "Easter egg". This feature was removed (supposedly at the request of the CIA) by applying a software patch, but it remained possible to bypass the patch fairly easily.
The world's largest model railway in Hamburg, Germany features a fictional Area 51 model in its America section (showing aliens playing basketball with base personnel).
The tiny town of Rachel, Nevada (the nearest settlement to the base) enjoys minor celebrity status as being "the official home of Area 51". Located three hours from Las Vegas by car, Rachel receives a modest number of visitors year-round, and several small businesses offer food and lodging, as well as aerospace and "alien-themed" merchandising. Many of the tourists are aviation enthusiasts hoping to catch a glimpse of the RED FLAG exercises. A small museum sells maps, photographs, badges and other Area 51 material. A local inn, aptly named "The Little A'le'Inn" proudly displays a time capsule received from the production crew of Independence Day.
The minor league baseball team in Las Vegas, Nevada is called the Las Vegas 51s. Their logo includes the image of a "Grey" extraterrestrial.
Area 51 is the name of a skatepark in the centre of Eindhoven, The Netherlands.
In the 2001 Major League Baseball season, fans at Safeco Field, where the Seattle Mariners play their home games, began cheekily calling right field Area 51, because the team's right fielder, Ichiro Suzuki, wears that number on his jersey.
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