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Area 51

Alternate meaning: Area 51 (video game)

Area 51 is a parcel of U.S. military-controlled land in southern Nevada, apparently containing a secret aircraft testing facility. It is also known as Watertown, Dreamland, Paradise Ranch, The Farm, The Box, and The Directorate for Development Plans Area.

Table of contents
1 Geography
2 Operations at Groom Lake
3 The U.S. Government's position on Area 51
4 UFO and conspiracy theories concerning Area 51
5 Area 51 in popular (fictional) media
6 External links


Area 51 is a section of land (of approximately 60 mi² / 155 km²) in Lincoln County, Nevada, USA. It is part of the vast (4687 mi² / 12139 km²) Nellis Air Force Range (NAFR). The area consists largely of the wide Emigrant Valley, framed by the Groom and Papoose mountain ranges. Between the two ranges lies Groom Dry Lake (37°16'05" North 115°47'58" West1 ), a dry alkali lake bed roughly three miles (5 km) in diameter.

A large air base exists on the southwest corner of the lake (37° 14'N 115° 49'W) and at least one prepared runway extends several miles across the lake bed.

Area 51 shares a border with the Yucca Flats region of the Nevada Test Site (NTS), the location of many of the U.S. 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 and not newer ones, but the same naming scheme is used for other parts of the Nevada Test Site.

Operations at Groom Lake

Groom lake is not a conventional airbase, and front-line units are not normally deployed there. It appears, rather, to be used during the development, test, and training phases for new aircraft. Once those aircraft have been accepted by the USAF, operation of that aircraft is generally shifted to a normal airforce base. Groom is reported, however, to be the permanent home for a small number of aircraft of soviet design (obtained by various means). These are analysed and used for training purposes.

It is served by a special bus service which runs to and from the base daily. It also has an alleged JANET terminal at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas to ferry employees to and from the base.

Senior Trend / 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 skunkworks team as the ideal location to test the forthcoming U-2 spyplane. The lakebed made for an ideal strip from which to 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, little more than a few shelters and workshops and a small constellation of trailerhomes in which to billet its small team. The first U-2 flew at Groom in August of 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 series of atmospheric nuclear explosions. U-2 operations throughout 1957 were frequently disrupted by the Plumbbob series of atomic test, which exploded two dozen devices at the NTS. The Plumbbob-Hood explosion scattered fallout across Groom and forced its (temporary) evacuation.

As U-2's primary mission was to overfly the Soviet Union, it operated largely from airbases near the Soviet border, including Incirlik in Turkey and Peshawar in Pakistan.

Oxcart / A-12 / SR-71 program

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 later known as the 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 prototype A-12 Blackbird flew at Groom in 1962, the main runway had been lengthened to 8500 ft (2600 m) and the base boasted a compliment of over 1000 personnel. It had fueling tanks, a control tower, and a baseball diamond. Security was also 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 were subject to "lethal force").

Have Blue / F-117 program

The first "Have Blue" prototype stealth fighter (a smaller cousin of the F-117) 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 Nighthawk 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 active-service F-117 operations (still highly classified) moved to the nearby Tonopah Test Range.

Later operations

Since the F-117 became operational in 1983, operations at Groom Lake have continued unabated. The base and its associated runway system have been expanded, and daily flights bringing civilian commuters from Las Vegas continue. Some commentators, after examining recent satellite photos of the base, estimate it to have a live-in compliment of over 1000 people, with a similar number commuting from Las Vegas. In 1995 the federal government expanded the exclusionary area around the base to include nearby mountains that had hitherto afforded the only decent overlook of the base.

Rumored aircraft that have supposedly been tested at Groom include the tagboard stealthy reconnaissance drone, a small stealthy VTOL troop-transport aircraft, a stealthy cruise missile, and the hypothetical Aurora Spy Plane hypersonic spyplane.

The Air Force maintains its policy of refusing to confirm or deny all rumors about Groom Lake and activities there.

The U.S. Government's position on Area 51

The U.S. Government does not explicitly acknowledge the existence of the Groom Lake facility. The base does not appear on government maps, and shots of the area are redacted from declassified US government satellite photography. Unlike much of the Nellis range, the area surrounding the lake is permanently off-limits both to civilian and normal military air traffic. The area is protected by radar stations, buried movement sensors, and uninvited guests are met by helicopters and armed guards.

In response to recent environmental and employee lawsuits, a Presidential Determination is issued annually, exempting the Air Force's Operating Location Near Groom Lake, Nevada from environmental disclosure laws.

UFO and 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 centerpiece of modern UFO and conspiracy-theory folklore. Some of the unconventional activities claimed to be underway at Area 51 include:

Some claim an extensive underground facility has been constructed at Groom Lake (or nearby Papoose Lake) in which to conduct these activities.

Area 51 in popular (fictional) media

The base features in the movies Groom Lake and Independence Day, and in the computer games Area 51, Deus Ex, and (thinly disguised) Half-life.

Hangar 18, supposedly the site of alien experimentation at Groom, is the title of a song by rock band Megadeth.

External links