Every weekday morning, at least 500 people arrive at the guarded terminal owned by EG&G on the northwest side of McCarran Airport in Las Vegas, Nevada. Here they board one of a small fleet of unmarked Boeing 737-200s. Using three digit numbers prefixed by the word "Janet" as their callsigns, the 737s fly off North every half hour.
Their destination is Groom Lake, also known as Area 51, an installation so secret, its existence is denied by the government agencies and contractors that have connections there. By late 1955, the facility had been completed for flight testing of Lockheed's U-2 spyplane. Since that time, Groom Lake has undergone vast expansion, catering to the needs of testing the most advanced aircraft projects in the world. Forty-four years after it was created, Groom Lake has hosted flight testing of the aforementioned Lockheed U-2, the SR-71 Blackbird, the F-117 stealth fighter, Northrop's B-2 stealth bomber, the mysterious Aurora Project, and possibly even alien spacecraft.
Tony LeVier, Lockheed's test pilot assigned to test-fly the U-2 spyplane, claims the credit for recognizing Groom Dry Lake as a suitable test site. The CIA gave U-2 designer Kelly Johnson the task of choosing and building a secure test site. In March 1955, Johnson sent LeVier and Skunk Works foreman Dorsey Kammerer to visit potential test sites in the deserts of southern California, Nevada, and Arizona. After two weeks, LeVier presented Johnson with his impressions, and Johnson chose Groom Lake.
The Groom Lake facility has been known by many names since its construction. Kelly Johnson named the place "Paradise Ranch". When his flight test team arrived in July 1955, they simply called it "The Ranch". In fact, the secret base was formally named Watertown Strip, after the town in upstate New York where CIA director Allen Dulles was born. In June 1958, it was officially designated Area 51 by the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). The adjacent AEC proving grounds became known as the Nevada Test Site and divided into such numbered areas. The base is now known worldwide as "Area 51" (thanks to numerous mentions in Hollywood shows and movies), though officially this designation was dropped in the 1970s.
By 1970, the USAF Systems Command took over the operation of Groom Lake. At this time, the U-2 and A-12/SR-71 spyplanes had both been tested and in service on reconnaissance missions. Unmanned high-speed drones were also being tested, including the Model 147 Lightning Bug, Model 154 Firefly, and D-21 Tagboard. In 1967, the United States acquired its first Soviet MiG-21 and the US efforts to acquire Soviet weapons technology expanded.
In 1975, the Red Flag series of realistic air warfare exercises started at Nellis AFB, using large portions of the ranges surrounding Groom Lake. The box of airspace surrounding Groom Lake was strictly off-limits to Red Flag aircrews. It became known as "Red Square" at this time, but later acquired the semi-official title of "Dreamland" as a series of new exotic aerospace projects evolved in the late 1970s. These included the Have Blue and Tacit Blue stealth technology demonstrators. The testing of these aircraft brought extreme security measures at Groom Lake.
The Groom Lake base was considerably expanded in the 1980s. The main runway (14/32) was extended to the south, and then a huge northernly extension built out onto Groom Dry Lake, today having a length of 27,000 feet. A smaller parallel runway was built in the early 1990s. Semi-recessed "scoot and hide" shelters were built on the main taxiway so that secret aircraft could be more easily hidden from spying satellites overhead. New radars, satellite telemetry and other communications facilities were installed, and extra warehouse and assembly areas constructed. The base housing area was completely rebuilt, accomodating up to 2,000 people, and an extensive recreational facility provided. Today, Groom Lake seems to be administered by Detachment 3 of the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards AFB.
Perimeter securtiy was also increased. Until 1984, it was easy to view the base from Bald Mountain and other hills in the Groom Range to the north of the lakebed. The USAF then extended the Nellis range military reservation to cut off the view...or so they thought! Two hillsides to the south of the Groom Range still offered a view of the base from 12 miles away. White Sides Peak and Freedom Ridge, these points were annexed by authorities in 1995.
Clearly marked but not actually fenced, the entire boundary of the base is patrolled by an anonymous security force equipped with high-tech surveillance gear. Remote electronic sensors detect movement along known dirt tracks and roads leading towards the installation. It has been thought for quite a while now that the surveillance equipment is so advanced that certain sensory equipment has the ability to smell a person coming near the boundary, and distinguish him/her from other animals nearby. The ground patrols, often called "Cammo Dudes", are assisted by FLIR-equipped Sikorsky MH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters.
Since the Tacit Blue flights ended in 1985, only two further black projects which were presumably test-flown from the secret base, have since been officially acknowledged. These were both stealth air-launched missiles: the Lockheed Advanced Cruise Missile (ACM), cancelled in 1992, and the Northrop Tri-Service Stand-Off Attack Missile, cancelled in 1994. So what activities are taking place at Groom Lake?
In 1989, a man named Bob Lazar appeared on a Las Vegas television station and claimed that he had been employed at Area 51 for the purpose of "reverse engineering" alien flying saucers. He alledged that nine of these disc-shaped craft were flown from a highly secure facility named "S-4" at Papoose Lake, 10 miles southwest of Groom Lake.
Lazar's story has been widely criticized and a more credible link to disc-shaped objects is that they are testbeds for anti-gravity propulsion systems, being tested at Groom Lake. Such technology would represent an unprecedented leap worthy of the most extreme secrecy. So would an operational hypersonic spyplane with another new propulsion system, such as Pulse Detonation Wave Engines or hydrogen-powered scramjets.
There is much circumstantial evidence to link Groom Lake with (at the very least) experimental high-Mach vehicles. It has even been claimed that a new mother/daughter combination like the A-12/D-21 has been flown, known as the Super Valkyrie. Evidence from base-watchers and elsewhere also suggests other top-secret, Special Accesss Programs that have been conducted at Groom Lake in recent years:
• High Altitude Stealth Reconnaissance: Large subsonic long-endurance vehicle jointly developed by Lockheed and Boeing to replace the SR-71's ability to overfly denied territory at will. Based on the Skunk Works failed bid for the Advanced Tactical Bomber (ATB) - the B-2, it was cancelled in 1992 after at least 0 million had been spent, and replaced by the Tier 3 Minus UAV (Lockheed's Darkstar).
• Covert Assault Transport: Probably a delta configuration with advanced V/STOL capabilities but with very low noise as well as radar signature. Probably cancelled in 1993 in favor of further Bell/Boeing V-22 Osprey development.
• Stealth Helicopter: Different designs with emphasis on low blade and transmission noise, also exploring new technology to reduce blade and efflux signature. (Sikorsky's new attack helicopter, the successor to the Apache - the Comanche, incorporates stealth technology, but this is being tested elsewhere.)
• Cloaking Technology: Cloaking technology in the form of electrochromatic panels mounted to aircraft has been revealed as being tested at the Area 51 installation.
Recently, a new theory which is of a very good basis has risen which gives an idea as to the glowing objects seen above the Groom Lake installation. Researcher Tom Mahood has mentioned his theory that the objects moving at incredible speeds with sudden directional changes, emitting an unusual glow, could in fact be the result of experimental proton beam systems.
Timeline for Area 51
Area 51 Timeline
Under orders from Kelly Johnson Lockheed test pilot Tony LeVier searches for a remote area where the U2 can be tested. Finding Groom Lake he returns with Kelly Johnson and a CIA representative to investigate further. Johnson decided that the runway would be placed to the south of Groom Lake and work begins under the direction of Lockheed Skunk Works.
At a cost of 0,000, "The Ranch" is completed. "The Ranch" consisted of 3 hangers, runway, mess hall, control tower as well as many mobile homes.
July 24 1955:
The first U2 prototype is shipped via C-124 transport plane from the Lockheed Skunk Works to Groom Lake.
August 4 1955:
The first flight of the U2 took part at Groom Lake.
August 19 1955:
President Eisenhower signs the Executive Order 10633 restricting airspace over Groom Lake.
November 17 1955:
A C-54 transport plane crashes into Mt. Charleston en route to Groom Lake resulting in the death of the 9 civilian workers and 5 military.
6 Pilots from SAC start training in the U2 at Groom Lake.
April 4 1957:
A U2 equipped with radar spoofing equipment crashes during testing near Groom lake, killing the pilot.
June 20 1958:
Public Land Order 1662 is enacted by Roger Ernst resulting in 60 square miles being withdrawn for use "by the Atomic Energy Commission in connection with the Nevada Test Site".
A fuel scale mockup of an A-12 is shipped to Groom Lake for radar signature testing.
A major expansion of the Groom Lake facility begins in order to accommodate the A-12 (OXCART) program. This construction would not be completed until mid 1964.
September 7 1960:
Work begins on lengthening and strengthening the existing runway which was 5,000' to 8,500'. The work was completed by November.
Colonel Robert J. Holbury is named commander of the Groom Lake base.
The fuel tank farm is completed with a capacity of 1,320,000 gallons.
January 15 1962:
The restricted airspace over Groom Lake is expanded due to a request from the Air Force citing an immediate and urgent need due to a classified project.
February 26 1962:
The first A-12 Blackbird arrives at Groom Lake for testing.
April 26 1962:
First flight of the A-12.
The first 5 CIA pilots arrive.
July 20 1963:
During testing an A-12 reaches Mach 3.
August 7 1963:
The first flight of the YF-12A.
July 9 1964:
An A-12 crashed while on the final approach to Groom Lake. The pilot managed to eject at an altitude of 500'.
The OXCART construction was completed and the base population has reached 1,835.
February 27 1965:
First test of the D-21 drone launched from an A-12.
December 28 1965:
An A-12 cashed immediately after takeoff. The pilot ejected and survived.
March 5 1966:
First free flight test of the D-21 near Point Mugu launched from an A-12.
July 30 1966:
A D-21 launched from an A-12 over Point Mugu hit the A-12 destroying it. Both pilots ejected but one drowned before being rescued.
The Defence Intelligence Agency acquired a MIG 21 which was shipped to Groom Lake for testing.
January 5 1967:
An A-12 ran out of fuel while 70 miles east of Groom Lake and crashed. The pilot was killed.
January 10 1967:
It is decided to phase out the A-12 in favor of the SR-71. The phase out was set to be complete by 1968.
June 21 1968:
The last flight of the A-12 s from Groom Lake to Palmdale. The entire fleet was put in secret storage.
August 28 1968:
The US Geological Survey takes an aerial photo of the Groom Lake base as part of a routine high altitude survey. This photo was available until 1994 when the government withdrew it.
November 16 1977:
" Have Blue" the F-117A Stealth fighter prototype was shipped to Groom Lake.
December 1 1977:
First flight of the "Have Blue".
May 4 1978:
The first "Have Blue" crashed after its landing gear was damaged.
July 20 1978:
The first flight of the second "Have Blue" prototype.
July 11 1979:
The second "Have Blue" prototype crashed 35 miles NW of Groom Lake due to an engine fire.
June 18 1981:
First flight of the production F-117A stealth fighter.
First flight of "Tactic Blue".
The existence of the A-12 was declassified.
April 20 1982:
The first production model of the F-117A crashed during tests.
October 15 1982:
Beginning of tests with second F-117A production model.
The first Stealth fighter squadron begins moving from Groom Lake to new facilities at the Tonopah Test Range.
First flight of HALSOL, which was a solar powered high altitude UAV. These tests ran for 2 months.
The Air Force takes another 89,000 acres north and west of Groom Lake.
April 26 1984:
General Robert Bond was killed when the MIG 23 he was traveling on crashed into Little Skul Mountain.
"Tactic Blue" program ends.
Congress authorizes the Air Force's land seizure.
July 17 1988:
A photo of Groom Lake was taken by a Soviet spy satellite which are destined for publication in a number of publications.
Robert Lazar's first interview on KLAS-TV in Las Vegas. He stated that he worked at Papoose Lake, southwest of Groom Lake to reverse engineer captured extraterrestrial craft.
October 18 1993:
The Air Force files a notice in the Federal Register seeking to take another 3972 acres from public use in order to hamper views of Area 51 from Freedom Ridge and Whitesides Peak.
April 10 1995:
Freedom Ridge and Whitesides Peak are closed to the public.
It was reported that the Bechtel Corporation begun work to lengthen the second runway by 5,000'.