Located in the United States at 37°14’14.79″N, 115°47’44.98″W is a heavily secured military installation known as AREA 51, at Groom Lake.
Prompted by the Cold War era that began immediately after World War II, the CIA was given the task of developing strategic means of determining the military strength of its enemies. Kelly Johnson, an aircraft design and engineering genius running a special design team within the Lockheed Aircraft Company called the “Skunk Works” was asked to design the U-2 to gather intelligence on Soviet bomber and inter-continental ballistic missile bases in the Soviet Union.
Seeking a place to test the U-2 in secret far from the prying eyes of would-be spies and the public, Johnson settled on Area 51, a remote site in the uninhabitable Nevada desert that had served the military as a remote place to test weapons for quite some time. Nellis Air Force Base, a few miles north of Atomic Test Las Vegas, and the AEC’s (Atomic Energy Commission) Nevada Test Site (NTS) composed over 1,300 square miles used to set off hundreds of atomic explosions during the early days of the Cold War. Tony LeVier, the pilot assigned by Johnson to find a suitable location, found several remote spots, but chose Groom Lake because of the mountainous perimeter it furnished a dry lake bed that would provide the ultimate runway. Located within Area 51 of the Nevada Test Site, the base came to be known simply as “Area 51”.
Nuclear tests from the 50’s into the 60’s caused several evacuations from Area 51. A bomb with the code-name HOOD, part of the 1957 Operation Plumbob, caused substantial damage at Watertown, the code-name for Area 51.
Construction for the base was completed by July 1955, and on the 24th the first U-2 prototype arrived from the Lockheed Skunk Works Headquarters in Burbank, California by a C-124 transport plane.
On August 4 the U-2 made its first flight.
Recognizing the success of testing the U-2 at Area 51, the CIA and the Air Force decided to test all new top-secret military aircraft at Groom Lake. Under the leadership of Werner Weiss, grade GS-15 in the CIA, Colonels Holbury and Slip Slater, USAF increased the size of the facility to accommodate the new Oxcart/A-12 program by lengthening the runway from 5000 feet to 8500 feet and then restricted airspace grew to 20 X 22 nautical miles. Surplus World War II Navy barracks were moved to the Groom Lake complex in 1960 to furnish billeting for CIA operations.
In early 1962 the first A-12 (CIA code-name for the A-12 plane: Article) was shipped to Groom Lake. The five specially trained CIA pilots (CIA code-name: Drivers) arrived soon thereafter. On April 26, 1962, the first A-12 Archangel, the most revolutionary plane ever, took to the skies. By the end of 1964 there had been 1,160 flights, totaling 1,616 hours. Eleven aircraft were then available, four of them reserved for testing and seven assigned to the 1129 Special Activities Squadron Detachment.
Pilots (Drivers) for the A-12 and YF-12 Articles of Project OXCART had to be of quite extraordinary competence, not only because of the unprecedented performance of the aircraft itself, but also because of the particular qualities needed in men who were to fly intelligence missions. Pilots had to be qualified in the latest high performance fighters, emotionally stable, and well-motivated. They were to be between 25 and 40 years of age, and the size of the A-12 cockpit prescribed that they be under six feet tall and under 175 pounds in weight.
Surviving the screening of Air Force files, psychological assessments, physical examinations and refinement of criteria, the pilots were selected to undergo intensive security and medical scrutiny by the Agency before being approached to take employment with the Agency on a highly classified project involving a very advanced aircraft. When the final screening was complete, the pilots selected from the program were William L. Skliar, Kenneth S. Collins, Walter Ray, Alonzo Walter, Mele Vojvodich, Jack W. Weeks, Ron “Jack” Layton, Dennis B. Sullivan, David P. Young, Francis Murray, and Russell Scott. In November 1961, commitments were obtained from the group and arrangements made with the Air Force to effect appropriate transfers and assignments to cover their training and to lay the basis for their transition from military to civilian status. Compensation and insurance arrangements were similar to those for the U-2 pilots.
The OXCART Program lasted just over ten years, from its inception in 1957 through first flights in 1962 to termination in 1968. This CIA program was highly compartmentalized while at Groom Lake, the players consisting of CIA personnel (the customer), the Air Force 1129th Special Activities Squadron (support), and various CIA contractors for special project operations. The main objective of creating a reconnaissance aircraft of unprecedented speed, range, and altitude capability had been triumphantly achieved. Lockheed produced 15 OXCARTS, three YF-12A’s and 31 SR-71’s. The 49 supersonic aircraft had completed more than 7,300 flights, with 17,000 hours in the air. Over 2,400 hours had been above Mach 3. Five OXCART were lost in accidents; two pilots were killed, and two had narrow escapes. In addition, two F-101 chase planes were lost with their Air Force pilots during OXCART testing phase.
In a ceremony at Groom Lake on 26 June 1968, Vice Admiral Rufus L. Taylor, Deputy Director of Central Intelligence, presented the CIA Intelligence Star for valor to pilots Kenneth S. Collins, Ronald L. Layton, Francis J. Murray, Dennis B. Sullivan, and Mele Vojvodich for participation in the CIA Awards to Oxcart A-12 Pilots BLACK SHIELD operation. The posthumous award to pilot Jack W. Weeks was accepted by his widow. The United States Air Force Legion of Merit was presented to Colonel Slater and his Deputy, Colonel Maynard N. Amundson. The Air Force Outstanding Unit Award was presented to the members of the OXCART Detachment (1129th Special Activities Squadron, Detachment 1) and the USAF supporting units.
On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins landed on the moon.
On December 25th, 1969, Christmas day, Area 51 went ‘dark’ from all conventional satellite and reconnaissance aircraft. Both the military and intelligence agencies had obtained advanced technology which can manipulate image acquisition devices – both analog and digital – at the source of the image capturing device, technology which became available shortly after the space flight in 1969.
Put specifically, it was impossible to recover reliable aerial imagery at any altitude of what was going on at ground level of Area 51.
In 1972, road access to Area 51 was closed off, permanently, and three daily flights were established by unmarked 737 planes departing McCarran Air Force base.
The “Janet terminal” is located in a fenced-off area in the northwest corner of Las Vegas McCarran Airport. It is surrounded by a large parking lot, with approximately 1740 marked parking spaces for cars and 72 spaces for motorcycles. Lately the parking lot has been about 85% full on any given workday. With an estimated 10% car-pooling and 60% of flights going to Groom, we can assume over 1000 workers commuting to Area 51.
Those flights have persisted since 1972 and continue to this day (August 26, 2015).
In the late 1980’s, a Scientist by the name of Bob Lazar went public explaining how he had worked on UFOs and alien technology at a site referred to as “S-4”, near Area 51.
He explained how he worked on anti-gravity propulsion systems of the aircraft, reverse engineering them in many cases, trying to figure out what made them it tick.
When he started to bring friends out to Groom Lake Road to watch the craft fly at night, they were eventually arrested by the Lincoln County Sheriff, and Lazar subsequently lost his clearance and his job.
Bob has a master’s degree in Electrical Engineering,
A physicist by the name of Dr. Robert Krangle, who also worked with Bob out of Los Alamos National Laboratories, came forward to confirm that he had known Lazar as a scientist at Los Alamos in the 1980s, and that he took a role with the government outside of Las Vegas, a role that he was not able to discuss.
Recent government registrations with the IRS indicate Groom Lake has recently been registered as a Federal Institution known as “Spaceport Las Vegas” listing its address as ‘1 Groom Lake Road’ in Sparks, Nevada.
It would make for a pretty awesome location for extra-terrestrial visitors to land with its proximity to Las Vegas, wouldn’t it?
Maybe Spaceport One has government competition?
Here’s an image of Area 51, as presented by Google Maps, looking no different geographically than it did when it ‘went dark’ in 1969.