Area 51

The United States Air Force facility commonly known as Area 51 is a highly classified remote detachment of Edwards Air Force Base, within the Nevada Test and Training Range. According to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the correct names for the facility are Homey Airport (ICAO: KXTA) and Groom Lake, though the name Area 51 was used in a CIA document from the Vietnam War. Other names used for the facility include Dreamland, and nicknames Paradise Ranch, Home Base and Watertown. The special use airspace around the field is referred to as Restricted Area 4808 North (R-4808N).

The base’s current primary purpose is publicly unknown; however, based on historical evidence, it most likely supports the development and testing of experimental aircraft and weapons systems (black projects).

The intense secrecy surrounding the base has made it the frequent subject of conspiracy theories and a central component to unidentified flying object (UFO) folklore.
Although the base has never been declared a secret base, all research and occurrences in Area 51 are Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information (TS/SCI).
In July 2013, following a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed in 2005, the CIA publicly acknowledged the existence of the base for the first time, declassifying documents detailing the history and purpose of Area 51.

Area 51 is located in the southern portion of Nevada in the western United States, 83 miles (134 km) north-northwest of Las Vegas. Situated at its center, on the southern shore of Groom Lake, is a large military airfield. The site was acquired by the United States Air Force in 1955, primarily for the flight testing of the Lockheed U-2 aircraft. The area around Area 51, including the small town of Rachel on the “Extraterrestrial Highway”, is a popular tourist destination.


 

Geography

The original rectangular base of 6 by 10 miles (9.7 by 16.1 km) is now part of the so-called “Groom box”, a rectangular area measuring 23 by 25 miles (37 by 40 km), of restricted airspace.
The area is connected to the internal Nevada Test Site (NTS) road network, with paved roads leading south to Mercury and west to Yucca Flat.
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. After leaving the restricted area, Groom Lake Road descends eastward to the floor of the Tikaboo Valley, passing the dirt-road entrances to several small ranches, before converging with State Route 375, the “Extraterrestrial Highway”, south of Rachel.

Area 51 shares a border with the Yucca Flat region of the Nevada Test Site, the location of 739 of the 928 nuclear tests conducted by the United States Department of Energy at NTS.
The Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository is 44 miles (71 km) southwest of Groom Lake.

Groom Lake
Groom Lake is a salt flat in Nevada used for runways of the Nellis Bombing Range Test Site airport (KXTA) on the north of the Area 51 USAF military installation.
The lake at 4,409 ft (1,344 m) elevation is approximately 3.7 miles (6.0 km) from north to south and 3 miles (4.8 km) from east to west at its widest point. Located within the namesake Groom Lake Valley portion of the Tonopah Basin, the lake is 25 mi (40 km) south of Rachel, Nevada.


 

UFO and other conspiracy theories

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 theories. Some of the activities mentioned in such theories at Area 51 include:

  • 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.
  • Meetings or joint undertakings with extraterrestrials.
  • The development of exotic energy weapons for the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) or other weapons programs.
  • The development of means of weather control.
  • The development of time travel and teleportation technology.
  • The development of unusual and exotic propulsion systems related to the Aurora Program.
  • Activities related to a supposed shadowy one world government or the Majestic 12 organization.

Many of the hypotheses concern underground facilities at Groom or at Papoose Lake (also known as “S-4 location”), 8.5 miles (13.7 km) south, 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. Publicly available satellite imagery, however, reveals clearly visible landing strips at Groom Dry Lake, but not at Papoose Lake.

In the mid-1950s, civilian aircraft flew under 20,000 feet while military aircraft flew under 40,000 feet. Once the U-2 began flying at above 60,000 feet, an unexpected side effect was an increasing number of UFO sighting reports. Sightings occurred most often during early evenings hours, when airline pilots flying west saw the U-2’s silver wings reflect the setting sun, giving the aircraft a “fiery” appearance. Many sighting reports came to the Air Force’s Project Blue Book, which investigated UFO sightings, through air-traffic controllers and letters to the government.

The project checked U-2 and later OXCART flight records to eliminate the majority of UFO reports it received during the late 1950s and 1960s, although it could not reveal to the letter writers the truth behind what they saw.:72–73 Similarly, veterans of experimental projects such as OXCART and NERVA at Area 51 agree that their work (including 2,850 OXCART test flights alone) inadvertently prompted many of the UFO sightings and other rumours:

The shape of OXCART was unprecedented, with its wide, disk-like fuselage designed to carry vast quantities of fuel. Commercial pilots cruising over Nevada at dusk would look up and see the bottom of OXCART whiz by at 2,000-plus mph. The aircraft’s titanium body, moving as fast as a bullet, would reflect the sun’s rays in a way that could make anyone think, UFO.

They believe that the rumours helped maintain secrecy over Area 51’s actual operations. While the veterans deny the existence of a vast underground railroad system, many of Area 51’s operations did (and presumably still do) occur underground.

Several people have claimed knowledge of events supporting Area 51 conspiracy theories. These have included Bob Lazar, who claimed in 1989 that he had worked at Area 51’s “Sector Four (S-4)”, said to be located underground inside the Papoose Range near Papoose Lake. Lazar has stated he was contracted to work with alien spacecraft that the U.S. government had in its possession.

Similarly, the 1996 documentary Dreamland directed by Bruce Burgess included an interview with a 71-year-old mechanical engineer who claimed to be a former employee at Area 51 during the 1950s. His claims included that he had worked on a “flying disc simulator” which had been based on a disc originating from a crashed extraterrestrial craft and was used to train US Pilots. He also claimed to have worked with an extraterrestrial being named “J-Rod” and described as a “telepathic translator”.

In 2004, Dan Burisch (pseudonym of Dan Crain) claimed to have worked on cloning alien viruses at Area 51, also alongside the alien named “J-Rod”. Burisch’s scholarly credentials are the subject of much debate, as he was apparently working as a Las Vegas parole officer in 1989 while also earning a PhD at State University of New York (SUNY).


 

In Popular Culture

Novels, films, television programs, and other fictional portrayals of Area 51 describe it—or a fictional counterpart—as a haven for extraterrestrials, time travel, and sinister conspiracies, often linking it with the Roswell UFO incident.

  • In the 1996 action film Independence Day, the United States military uses alien technology captured at Roswell to attack the invading alien fleet from Area 51. In the 2016 sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence, that 20 years after the events of the first film, Area 51 has become the Space Defense Headquarters for Earth Space Defense (ESD).
  • The “Hangar 51” government warehouse of the Indiana Jones films stores, among other exotic items, the Ark of the Covenant and an alien corpse from Roswell.
  • In the television series Stargate SG-1, Area 51 serves as a storage, research and development, building, and testing facility for advanced weapon systems and aircraft/spacecraft designed using alien technology discovered after the Stargate was activated. The laboratories were also engaged in advanced medical research. The series states that, prior to the Stargate’s activation, rumors of alien technology or individuals existing at Area 51 were unfounded.
  • The television series Seven Days takes place inside Area 51, with the base containing a covert NSA time travel operation using alien technology recovered from Roswell.
  • The 2004 video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas has a secret military installation named “Area 69” in the game and some in-game missions are connected to it.
  • The 2005 video game Area 51 is set in the base, and mentions the Roswell and moon landing hoax conspiracy theories.
  • Bob Mayer’s Area 51 novel series (originally written under his pen name, Robert Doherty) is set on the base, and Operation Highjump is said to have been a cover for an expedition to excavate flying saucers buried under Antarctica’s ice shelf by long-ago extraterrestrial visitors.
  • The final mission of the 2000 video game Deus Ex is set in Area 51. In the game’s story, powerful surveillance systems that monitor global communication networks are hosted at Area 51, and the player’s actions there dictate the course of the future.
  • The Las Vegas 51s are a AAA minor league professional baseball team.
  • Episode 7 of season 6 of the TV series Archer (“Nellis”) is set in Area 51, where Pam and Krieger encounter extraterrestrials.
  • The second episode of Sonic X features Area 99, which is a secret military base.
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