The secretive Area 51 military base has long been a focal point of conspiracy theories. It even figured into the 1998 season six episode of The X-Files, in which Mulder and Scully saw a UFO there.
The actual base, called Homey Airport or KXTA-KXTQ by locals, is guarded by a chain-link fence, boom gate and intimidating trespassing signs. But curious civilians can drive up to the front gate, with careful planning.
Although the US government only officially acknowledged Area 51 in 2013 (and it is still a secret), conspiracy theories continue to swirl around the mysterious base. But what exactly does it do? And how does it keep its activities so secret?
While the exact location of the base isn’t public knowledge, the CIA has been known to use cover stories to conceal the work being done. For example, the CIA history of the U-2 spy plane notes that engineers working on this aircraft needed to be isolated from prying eyes, so the engineer at Lockheed Martin chose a remote and barren desert site and gave it an enticing name. He called it Paradise Ranch, which was later shortened to the Ranch.
Besides testing the U-2, the Ranch has also been used to test other top-secret military aircraft such as the A-12 and the F-117 stealth fighter. The base has even hosted foreign aircraft, including a 1968 loan from Israel of a defected Soviet MiG-21, to allow the US military to see what its rivals were developing.
The Ranch is kept out of public view by armed guards, electronic surveillance and a no-fly zone, all of which make it impossible for the general public to visit or see what goes on inside. Nevertheless, rumors of alien activity and secret government experiments continue to circulate.
Despite the secrecy, it’s not impossible to get a job at the Ranch. Many former employees have reported that living in or near Las Vegas is a plus when applying for employment, and some have claimed that if you can pass the extremely difficult background check, it’s not too hard to land a gig. However, if you do get hired and have to travel to the remote site regularly, security clearance is rigorous and a number of things can flag your application.
The infamous US Air Force base in Nevada has become the center of conspiracy theories, including those claiming aliens have been captured there. But what exactly goes on inside the facility? To find out, I talked to Annie Jacobsen, the author of เอเรีย 51: An Uncensored History of America’s Top Secret Military Base.
Jacobsen says that in 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower became worried about the Soviet Union’s military advances. To keep America ahead of the game, he tasked a group of experts with developing a cutting-edge surveillance plane. The team began looking for a site to test the U-2, and on an aerial scouting mission, they flew over Groom Lake. The remote location was ideal for testing the U-2’s high altitude capabilities. To make it sound more appealing to his workers, engineer Kelly Johnson gave the site a nickname—and Area 51 was born.
The site went on to host other top-secret military aircraft, including the A-12 and SR-71 Blackbird. The latter was a supersonic spy plane that could reach speeds of Mach 3.2—or about 2,200 mph—at 90,000 feet in the air. It was eventually retired in 1967, but the A-12’s success is largely responsible for making the military base associated with UFOs.
Today, Area 51 is located 83 miles north-northwest of Las Vegas on the edge of the normally dry Groom Lake. It’s part of the Nevada Test and Training Range, which also houses Nellis Air Force Base. The facility is guarded by the armed forces and kept off-limits to the public, except for military personnel and those wishing to visit Rachel, Nevada—also known as “Extraterrestrial Highway.” And for those curious about working at Area 51: It’s only open to US citizens who meet certain criteria.
Bird of Prey
The Bird of Prey (formally the Boeing YF-118G) is a one-of-a-kind aircraft that looks like it came straight out of a science fiction movie. It is on display in the National Museum of the United States Air Force and was developed at the Area 51 base. The secret craft was used to test advanced stealth technologies and it made 38 flights between 1996 and 1999.
While the Area 51 facility is best known as a clandestine site for UFOs, declassified documents show that it has also played a significant role in developing secret aircraft projects. Some of these include the OXCART and the F-117.
During its testing, the Bird of Prey was flown by three pilots: Rudy Haug of McDonnell Douglas/Boeing, Lt. Col. Doug Benjamin of the USAF, and Joseph W. Felock of Boeing. These pilots had to overcome a number of challenges caused by the airplane’s design and flying qualities. For example, the Bird of Prey had a low thrust-to-weight ratio and a reference lifting area of just 366 square feet, which made it difficult to lift its wings.
The test program also highlighted the importance of good project management practices. For example, the project was successful because team members were able to substitute for each other when needed. In addition, the program stressed the importance of getting top-notch people involved from the beginning.
The YF-118G was one of the first examples of the new technology that would become a hallmark of Area 51’s missions. These advancements included new ways to make aircraft less observable to the eye and radar. This helped to reduce their signature on the radar screen, which in turn reduced their ability to detect and track targets on the ground. In the future, these techniques would be used in more sophisticated aircraft such as the SR-71 Blackbird and the F-117.
The secretive US Air Force base known as Area 51 has sparked decades of conspiracy theories about alien autopsies and mysterious craft. It has also become a hub of military technology testing, including the development of the SR-71 Blackbird and the F-117 Stealth Fighter. It’s no wonder that the government is so obsessed with keeping these facilities closed to the public. But what exactly is going on inside the bases?
Getting into Area 51 is not impossible, but you have to do it legally. You’ll need a permit and you’ll have to meet strict security criteria. You can’t work there unless you’re a U.S. citizen, and even then, it’s only for certain jobs. There are a few ways to get a permit, and most of them require extensive background checks and a high level of trust.
The most famous aircraft at Area 51 is the U-2, a spy plane that could reach high altitudes to take pictures of enemy targets. The U-2 became a symbol of the Cold War, and its flights are responsible for many reports of UFOs. But it’s not just the U-2 that’s associated with Area 51 — the test site was used to develop other aircraft, including the Archangel-12 and the SR-71 Blackbird.
Today, the Area 51 complex is called Groom Lake and Homey Airport, but it’s still referred to as Area 51 by locals and in online publications. It is part of the Nevada National Security Site and it is protected by armed guards. Civilians are not allowed to enter the base, but it is possible for people to drive to the front or back gates of the facility. The website Dreamland Resort provides a lot of information about how to find the base, but you’ll need a good plan and plenty of patience. You’ll need a vehicle with lots of fuel, water, and food, and you should bring your own GPS or printouts of maps.
When Northrop’s Tacit Blue first took to the sky in the early 1980s, it proved that radar-eluding aircraft could do more than just elude detection—they could also gather crucial battlefield intelligence. As it silently infiltrated enemy territory and conducted high-altitude reconnaissance, Tacit Blue set a new standard for military aviation.
Developed in 1976, Tacit Blue (also known as BSAX or the Battlefield Surveillance Aircraft-Experimental) was a prototype designed to demonstrate emerging stealth technology. As with many progressive government projects at the time, it was shrouded in tight security and impenetrable secrecy.
In order to follow the two requirements, engineers sought to build an aircraft with a low “all-aspect” radar signature—meaning it would be hard to detect from any direction, at any angle or under any conditions. They also wanted it to carry sophisticated sensors that allowed it to continuously monitor enemy forces and send the information back to a command center without revealing its own location.
The final design was a sleek, twin-engine, single-seat aircraft with a chined body, blunt nose that lacked a true cone and a tapered, V-tailed wing. It was powered by a pair of Garret ATF3-6 high-bypass turbofan engines that produced 5,440 lbs of thrust. The streamlined fuselage featured an internal air intake that fed the engines through a single opening in its spine.
Unlike Joint STARS, Tacit Blue did not have any onboard weapons and was intended to be used only for surveillance. The side-looking radar mounted on the aircraft was a Hughes model optimized for ground surveillance, providing Tacit Blue with the ability to spot enemy troops operating deep behind the battlefield.
Throughout the course of its 135 test flights, the Whale was a reliable performer that did not suffer any significant accidents or mishaps. However, it soon became apparent that it was not going to be a viable production platform. Ultimately, it was displaced by larger and more capable aircraft such as the Lockheed F-117, which had much greater endurance, was air refuelable, and offered more comprehensive sensor capabilities.