The Real Story Behind the Myth of 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 and Groom Lake, though the name Area 51 was used in a CIA document from the Vietnam War. The facility has also been referred to as Dreamland and Paradise Ranch,among other nicknames. 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). On 25 June 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.
Today, Area 51 is still very much in use. According to Google Earth, new construction and expansions are continuously happening. On most early mornings, eagle-eyed visitors can spot strange lights in the sky moving up and down. No, it’s not a UFO. It’s actually the semi-secret contract commuter airline using the call-sign “Janet” that transports workers from Las Vegas’s McCarran Airport to the base.
As for what’s happening these days in America’s most secretive military base, few know for sure. Merlin has some educated guesses, including improved stealth technology, advanced weapons, electronic warfare systems and, in particular, unmanned aerial vehicles. Chris Pocock, noted U-2 historian and author of several books about the matter, told Popular Mechanics he thinks classified aircraft, more exotic forms of radio communication, directed energy weapons, and lasers are currently under development at the base.
While the lore around Area 51 may be nothing more than imaginative fiction, that won’t stop people from gawking just beyond those chain link fences. “At the most basic level, anytime you have something secret or forbidden, it’s human nature,” says Merlin. “You want to find out what it is.”