The United States Air Force facility commonly known as Area 51 is a 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 (ICAO: KXTA) and Groom Lake, though the name Area 51 was used in a CIA document from the Vietnam War. Other names used for the facility include Dreamland, and nicknames Paradise Ranch, Home Base and Watertown. The special use airspace around the field is referred to as a Restricted Area 4808 North.
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 testing of the Lockheed U-2 aircraft. The area around Area 51, including the small town of Rachel on the aptly named “Extraterrestrial Highway“, is a popular tourist destination.
The origin of the Area 51 name is unclear. The most accepted comes from a grid numbering system of the area by the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC); while Area 51 isn’t part of this system, it is adjacent to Area 15. Another explanation is that 51 was used because it was unlikely that the AEC would use the number.
World War II
The airfield on the Groom Lake site began service in 1942 as Indian Springs Air Force Auxiliary Field, and consisted of two dirt 5000 feet runways aligned NE/SW, NW/SE . The airfield may have been used for bombing and artillery practice; bomb craters are still visible in the vicinity.
Project OXCART established in August 1959 for “antiradar studies, aerodynamic structural tests, and engineering designs [and] all later work on the” Lockheed A-12included testing at Groom Lake, which before improvements for OXCART had inadequate facilities: buildings for only 150 people, a 5,000 ft (1,500 m) asphalt runway, and limited fuel, hangar, and shop space. Selected for its seclusion and climate, Groom Lake had received a new official name “Area 51” when A-12 test facility construction began in September 1960, including a new 8,500 ft (2,600 m) runway to replace the existing runway (completed by 15 November 1960 with “expansion joints parallel to the direction of aircraft roll” to limit vibration.)
Foreign technology evaluation
During the Cold War, one of the missions carried out by the United States was the test and evaluation of captured Soviet fighter aircraft. Beginning in the late 1960s, and for several decades, Area 51 played host to an assortment of Soviet-built aircraft. Under the HAVE DOUGHNUT, HAVE DRILL and HAVE FERRY programs, the first MiGs flown in the United States were used to evaluate the aircraft in performance, technical, and operational capabilities, pitting the types against U.S. fighters.
This was not a new mission, as testing of foreign technology by the USAF began during World War II. After the war, testing of acquired foreign technology was performed by the Air Technical Intelligence Center (ATIC, which became very influential during the Korean War), under the direct command of the Air Materiel Control Department. In 1961 ATIC became the Foreign Technology Division (FTD), and was reassigned to Air Force Systems Command. ATIC personnel were sent anywhere where foreign aircraft could be found.
Security and operations
The area surrounding the lake is permanently off-limits both to civilian and normal military air traffic. Security clearances are checked regularly; cameras and weaponry are not allowed. Even military pilots training in the NAFR risk disciplinary action if they stray into the exclusionary “box” surrounding Groom’s airspace. Surveillance is supplemented using buried motion sensors. Area 51 is a common destination for Janet, the de facto name of a small fleet of passenger aircraft operated on behalf of the United States Air Force to transport military personnel, primarily from McCarran International Airport.
Collected And Prepared By Roxtar Amir