Area 51

A satellite photo of secret sites in southern Nevada.

Somewhere in the remote Nevada desert is a chunk of land some six miles wide north to south and ten miles east to west. On that land is located a paradox: A secret base that everyone knows about.

Area 51 is a parcel of land in the Nellis Range Complex located about 30 miles south of the town of Rachel, Nevada. In Area 51, near the dry bed of Groom Lake, is a test facility for military aircraft. It is a base was so secret that even though it had been there over forty years it wasn't until 1994 that the government confirmed that it existed.

At the border of Area 51 are no trespassing signs that warn that the "use of deadly force is authorized." On the public land outside the boundaries electronic sensors in the ground detect foot and vehicle traffic. Unmarked Blackhawk helicopters that cruise the perimeter, searching for intruders, are ready to summon unidentified, armed patrols to greet unwelcome visitors.

When curious spectators found a ridge that let them observe the base from a distance of 12 miles the government quickly moved to withdraw the hill from public use. Now the closest public observation point to Groom Lake is now Tikaboo Peak (7908') some 25 miles away to the east. Even the sky there is made secure by the "Dreamland" restricted airspace zone that extends outside the borders of Area 51 and up to space. The zone is in effect twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week and not even the military pilots that use the rest of the huge Nellis range dare to breach it.

In de-classified intelligence satellite photos frames that might have shown Area 51 from the air, have been replaced by the message "Frames edited from orginal negative" (above).

Why all this security? The Groom Lake, and the surrounding facilities, have all been host to air tests for the most secret of military aircraft. Back in the 1950's the U-2 spy plane was flight tested there. More recently the F-117A Stealth Fighter flew from Groom Lake's immense six mile long runway.

Typical of the type of advanced aircraft put through it's paces at Groom Lake was the famous SR-71 "BlackBird." In the early 60's it became obvious that the U-2 spy plane, despite it ability to fly at ultra high altitudes, was vulnerable to attack while doing recon over enemy territory. One, flown by Gray Powers, was shot down over the USSR, and later one was brought down over Cuba.

The military decided that they needed a spy plane that could not only fly high and fast, but was packed with advanced electronics to fool enemy missile radar. The SR-71 was designed totally in secret. With a top speed of over Mach 3 (three times the speed of sound, more than 2,200 miles an hour) it was, and remains, the fastest aircraft ever built. It went into service in the mid-sixties and was only recently retired. During that entire time no SR-71 was ever caught and shot down. Some speculate that the "Black Bird's" successor is in test at Groom Lake right now.

Over that last decade Area 51 has also come to be associated with UFO's. There were stories that a flying saucer, that allegedly crashed at Roswell, New Mexico, had been brought to the Nellis Complex and was under study. This tale as further bolstered by the story of Bob Lazer.

In 1986 a gentleman named Bob Lazer went to the press. He claimed that he was a former government physicist and had been assigned to work in a secret underground base, designated "S4", that was about 15 miles south of Groom Lake at a place called Papoose Lake. (This is just north of Yucca and Frenchman Lakes where above and below ground nuclear testing took place since the 1940s). According to Lazer the base consisted of a series of hangers containing nine alien flying saucers that the government was trying to understand and reproduce.

Most dismissed Lazer when the educational background he described for himself did not checkout. Still, the incident helped cement the idea of UFO's and Area 51 in the public's mind. (For the hobby minded you can purchase a model of the flying saucers, built to Lazer's specifications, that is marketed by the Testor Corporation.)

Quite a few UFOs have been reported being seen near Area 51. Though many locals suspect the sightings are the result of seeing disc shaped conventional aircraft, a cottage industry has grown up outside the boundaries based on the mystique of UFO's and aliens. You can get a burger at the "Little A'Le'Inn" (pronounced "Little Alien"), a cafe located in the town of Rachel. Even the legislature of Nevada, in a fit of whimsy, has gotten into the act, renaming route 375, which runs along the eastern edge of the Nellis Complex, "The Extra-terrestrial Highway."

Recent reports indicate that the base at Area 51 may have be phased out in favor of a location in the White Sands Testing Range in Utah. The new location, officially designated Area 6413, is at a higher elevation. There is speculation that this extra height may increase the maxium payload of a space plane the Airforce is rumored to be testing. The craft is a military version of NASA's X-33.

A SR-71 "Black Bird," owned by NASA, in flight. (NASA)

Copyright Lee Krystek 1996-2007. All Rights Reserved.


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