Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
- 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, and simply Groom Lake. It is also famed as the subject of many UFO conspiracy theories. In 1996 a USAF spokesperson referred to Area 51 as "The Nellis Air Force Range Test Complex" at a press conference regarding UFO files that were declassified.
Area 51 is a section of land (satellite image) of approximately 60 sq. mi. / 155 km² in Lincoln County, Nevada, USA. It is part of the vast (4687 sq. mi. / 12139 km²) Nellis Range Complex (NRC). 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 (1), a dry alkali lake bed roughly three miles (5 km) in diameter.
A large air base exists on the southwest corner of the lake () 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.
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, Groom Lake Road (a wide, well-conditioned dirt road) runs through a pass in the Jumbled Hills. Groom Lake Road was formerly the track leading to mines in the Groom basin, but has been improved since their closure. Its winding course takes it past a security checkpoint, but the restricted area around the base extends further east than this (visitors foolhardy enough to 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") Groom Lake Road descends eastward to the floor of the Tikaboo Valley, passing the dirt-road entrances to several small ranches, before joining with State Highway 375 south of Rachel.
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 reportedly analysed and used for training purposes.
Most of the base's workforce appears to commute from McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, where a number of white with red trim but otherwise unmarked Boeing 737 aircraft shuttle up to a thousand people back and forth each day, and have the callsign "JANET" - said to be an acronym for "Joint Air Network for Employee Transportation" or, "Just Another Non-Existent Terminal" (e.g., "JANET 6"). A chartered bus (reportedly with whited-out windows) 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).
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. They depict a nondescript base, airstrip, hangars, etc., but nothing that supports some of the wilder claims about underground facilities. Later commercial satellite images show the base has grown, but remains superficially unexceptional.
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 to operate the troublesome test aircraft from, 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 to billet its small team in. 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.
Blackbird (OXCART / A-10 / A-11 / 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 A-12 Blackbird prototype flew at Groom in 1962, the main runway had been lengthened to 8500 ft (2600 m) and the base boasted a complement 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"). Groom saw the first flight of all major Blackbird variants: A-10, A-11, A-12, RS-71 (renamed SR-71 by USAF Chief of Staff Curtis LeMay and not by a presidential error as popularly believed), the abortive YF-12A strike-fighter variant, and the disastrous D-21 Blackbird-based drone project.
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, and finally to Holloman Air Force Base.
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 complement 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 D-21 Tagboard drone, a small stealthy VTOL troop-transport aircraft, a stealthy cruise missile, and the hypothetical Aurora hypersonic spyplane.
The Air Force maintains its policy of refusing to confirm or deny all rumors about Groom Lake and activities there.
The Government's position on Area 51
The U.S. Government does not explicitly acknowledge the existence of the Groom Lake facility, nor does it deny it. 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. Should they accidentally stray into the exclusionary "box" surrounding Groom's airspace, even military pilots training in the NAFR are reportedly grilled extensively by military intelligence agents.
The base does not appear on US 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. Although officially declassified, images of the area taken by the US Corona spy satellite in the 1960s have been lost or destroyed (Corona image) and later USGS Terra satellite images (which were publicly available) were removed from webservers (including Microsoft's "Terraserver") in 2004 (Terraserver image). In April 2005, Google added satellite images to the Beta version of their Google Maps. In press releases they stated the images may be 6 months to a year old. You can clearly see Groom Lake and Area 51 on it’s Southwest side. You are able to zoom in a bit but completely zooming in generates the message “We’re sorry, but we don’t have imagery at this zoom level for this region.” In Non-US images, including high-resolution photographs from Russian satellites and the commercial IKONOS system are, however, easily available (and abound on the Internet).
In response to recent environmental and employee lawsuits (including a class-action lawsuit brought by employees of the base for toxic waste exposure), a Presidential Determination is issued annually, exempting the Air Force's Operating Location Near Groom Lake, Nevada from environmental disclosure laws (2002 determination, 2003 determination). This (albeit tacitly) constitutes the only formal recognition the US Government has ever given that Groom Lake is more than simply another part of the Nellis complex.
Nevada's state government, recognising the folklore surrounding the base might afford the otherwise neglected area some tourism potential, officially renamed the section of Nevada Highway 375 near Rachel "The Extraterrestrial Highway", and posted fancifully-illustrated signs along its length.
Interlopers discovered on (or, some say, near) the restricted area are generally detained by armed private security guards (reportedly employees of defence contractor EG&G) and are then handed over to the Lincoln County sheriff. Modest fines (of around $600) seem to be the norm, although some visitors and journalists report receiving follow-up visits from FBI agents.
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. Some Lincoln County residents have complained that the base is an unfair burden on the county, providing few local jobs (as most employees appear to live in or near Las Vegas) and imposing an iniquitous burden of land-sequestration and law-enforcement costs.
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:
- 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. Bob Lazar claimed to have been involved in such activities.
- meetings or joint undertakings with extra-terrestrials.
- the development of exotic energy weapons (for SDI applications or otherwise) or means of weather control.
- activities related to a supposed shadowy world government.
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 culture
The base features in episodes of the television series Futurama, The X-Files, Taken, Seven Days, and Stargate SG-1, the movies Groom Lake and Independence Day, and in the computer games Area 51, Deus Ex, Tomb Raider III, Perfect Dark, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (called Area 69), Half-life (Half-Life takes place in a fictional reopened Black Mesa Rocket Test Facility obviously modeled after Area 51) and Twisted Metal 3 . It also features in many of Dale Brown's novels.
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 to visitors, together with aerospace and "alien" themed merchandising. The visitor numbers are swelled yearly with aviation enthusiasts hoping to catch a glimpse of the Red Flag exercises. A small museum sells maps, photographs, badges, and other Area 51 material, and a local inn proudly displays a time capsule received from the production crew of Independence Day.
There is a popular series of books by Robert Doherty about a series of events after Area 51 makes contact with an extraterrestrial race.
- Area 51 - Altered Dimensions
- Federation of American Scientists Area 51 resources
- Nellis AFB
- Topographic Map of the Emigrant Valley / Groom area
- Area 51 timeline
- Photographs of the "Area 51" base
- Photographs of the "Extraterrestrial Highway"
- Local Website about activities on and around Area 51
- Entry of the Rotten Library about Area 51 WARNING: The Rotten Library is part of Rotten.com and is not suitable for younger audiences or those easily offended.
- IMDB Reference: Hanger 18, 1980
- Google Maps satellite image
- Rich, Ben; Janos, Leo. (1996) Skunk Works. Little, Brown & Company, ISBN 0316743003
- Darlington, David. (1998) Dreamland Chronicles. Henry Holt & Company, ISBN 0805060405
The contents of this article is licensed from www.wikipedia.org under the GNU Free Documentation License. Click here to see the transparent copy and copyright details