エリア51のしくみ

2019-07-16
エリア51はこのような警告標識に囲まれています。iStockphoto / Thinkstock

何十年もの間、ラスベガスの北約100マイル(161 km)に位置する米軍施設は、地球上で最悪の秘密の1つでした。エリア51は、分類された軍事偵察機のプロトタイプの詳細をまとめるUFO陰謀理論家や航空愛好家に一般的に知られているように、米国政府が長い間認めることさえ拒否した場所です。

しかし、2013年8月、エリア51のシュラウドは、少なくとも少しはやっと持ち上がりました。非営利シンクタンクであるワシントンDCに本拠を置く国家安全保障アーカイブの研究者であるジェフリーT.リチェルソンは、1950年代と1960年代のU-2およびOXCART監視航空機の開発と使用に関する機密解除された文書を入手しました。文書はエリア51を繰り返し参照し、CIA、米空軍、防衛産業の請負業者であるロッキードが遠隔地にあるためにテストエリアとしてどのように選択されたかを詳しく説明しました。彼らはその正確な場所を確認する地図さえ含んでいました[出典:国家安全保障アーカイブ]。

しかし、その遅れた開示は、エリア51の周りで長い間渦巻いていた噂を鎮めるのにあまり効果がありませんでした。インターネット掲示板、深夜のコールインAMラジオ番組、テレビや映画のサイエンスフィクションのファンタジーの暗い世界では、それは長いです政府の研究者が捕獲したエイリアンの宇宙船を逆設計し、地球外生命体のクローンを作成しようとし、1969年に偽の月面着陸を撮影した場所であると想定されていました[出典:]。ご想像のとおり、政府はそのいずれも確認していません。

「エリア51はなぞなぞです」と、著者のアニー・ジェイコブセンは2011年の秘密のインスタレーションに関するに書いてます。「そこで何が起こっているのかを理解している人はごくわずかであり、何百万人もの人々が知りたがっています。」

この記事では、エリア51について知られていることと疑わしいことを見て、できる限りつなぎ合わせようとします。彼らが古典的なテレビ番組「X-ファイル」で言っていたように、真実はそこにあることを忘れないでください。

内容
  1. エリア51はどこにありますか?
  2. エリア51のセキュリティと機密性
  3. エリア51への行き方
  4. エリア51航空機
  5. エリア51プロジェクト
  6. エリア51とエイリアン
  7. エリア51でのリバースエンジニアリング
  8. エリア51でプロットが厚くなる
  9. エリア51でUFOを見る
  10. エリア51での論争
  11. エリア51の清掃
  12. エリア51の影に住む
  13. エリア51の簡単な歴史
  14. エリア51でのイベントのタイムライン

エリア51はどこにありますか?

エリア51の衛星写真

エリア51の座標は、北緯37度14分、西経115度48分です。あなたはグーグルアースを使用してそれの素晴らしい眺めを得ることができます。「FlyTo」フィールドに「Area51」と入力するだけで、マップが残りの作業を行います。

何十年もの間、基地はほとんどすべての人から隠されたままでした。この地域の衛星画像は、政府のデータベースから定期的に削除されていました。1973年、スカイラブの宇宙飛行士がうっかり飛行場を撮影しました。しかし、機密解除された文書によると、CIAはなんとか写真を検閲し、それが一般に見られないようにしました[出典:]。

しかし2000年に、ソビエト軌道探査機によって撮影された写真が米国科学者連盟(FAS)によって取得され、公開されました。 FAS Webサイトの写真のコレクションは、新しい建物や新しい滑走路の建設など、1960年代後半からの施設の成長を示しています[出典:米国科学者連盟]。それ以来、そして特にGoogle Earthの登場以来、ことわざの猫はほとんど袋から出されています。

グルームレイクと呼ばれる乾燥した湖のベッドがベースに隣接しています。西にはネバダ核実験場(NTS)があります。最寄りの町は、基地の北25マイル(40 km)にあるネバダ州レイチェルです。基地自体は、それが置かれている90,000エーカー(36,000ヘクタール)以上のほんの一部しか占めていません。格納庫、警備小屋、いくつかのレーダーアンテナ、いくつかの住宅施設、食堂、オフィス、滑走路、避難所で構成されています。シェルターは「すくい上げて隠す」建物であり、衛星が頭上を通過するときに航空機がすばやくカバーの下を移動できるように設計されています。表面に見えるのは実際の施設のほんの一部に過ぎないと主張する人もいます。彼らは、表面の建物が迷路のような地下基地の上にあると信じています。

地下施設には最大40のレベルがあり、地下鉄道を介してロスアラモス、ホワイトサンズ、ロサンゼルスの他の場所に接続されていると主張する人もいます。懐疑論者は、そのような大規模な建設プロジェクトには莫大な労働力が必要になるとすぐに指摘します。どこかに行かなければならない大量の土の除去であり、大量のコンクリートやその他の建設資材が必要になるでしょう。おそらく、あなたが見るものはあなたが得るものです。

しかし、政府はエリア51で何をしているのかを隠すために多大な努力を払っているので、一般の人々は誰も確かなことを本当に知りません。

エリア51のセキュリティと機密性

エリア51施設の地図

基地へのアクセスが制限されていると言うのは控えめな表現です。基地とその活動は高度に分類されています。遠隔地は、核兵器がテストされるネバダ核実験場(以前はネバダ核実験場(NTS))に近接しているのと同様に、活動を比喩的にレーダーの下に保つのに役立ちます。アクセスするには、最高のセキュリティクリアランスと、最高レベルの軍事または諜報機関からの招待が必要です[出典:Jacobsen ]。

政府はエリア51内で何が起こっているのか誰にも見られないようにするために多くの問題を抱えています。何年もの間、地図製作者は施設を置き去りにしました。施設への表示はありませんでした。今日でも、エリア51は数千エーカーの空の砂漠の風景と空軍に囲まれています基地を詮索好きな目から隠すために、土地を公用から撤退させました。何年もの間、オブザーバーはホワイトサイドピークやフリーダムリッジのような高い見晴らしの良い場所にハイキングすることができましたが、それらの地域も同様に押収されました。今日、何かを見るには、施設から26マイル(42 km)のところにあるティカブーピークを激しくハイキングする必要があります。そこから、滑走路のライトが点滅し、実験用航空機が離陸するのを少し垣間見ることができます。その後、ライトが再び消えてエリア51が暗闇に突入します[出典:Jacobsen ]。

エリア51で働くすべての人は、軍人であろうと民間人であろうと、すべてを秘密にすることに同意する宣誓書に署名する必要があります。敷地内の建物には窓がなく、基地での自分の職務に関係のないものを見ることができません。いくつかの報告によると、異なるチームが同時に同様のプロジェクトに取り組んでいますが、その監督者は各チームが他のチームのプロジェクトを知らないようにしています。秘密の航空機をテストするとき、当局は、テスト飛行が終了し、航空機が格納庫に戻るまで、関係のないすべての従業員に内部に留まるように命じました。

エリア51への行き方

悪名高い「カモ男」

エリア51へのほとんどの通勤者は、マークのないボーイング737または727で移動します。飛行機はラスベガスのマッカラン国際空港のターミナルから出発します。防衛産業の請負業者EG&Gがターミナルを所有しています。各飛行機は、空港の管制塔へのコールサインとして「ジャネット」という単語の後に3桁の数字を使用しています。

エリア51の上の空域は、R-4808Nとして知られており、基地自体から発信されていないすべての商用および軍事飛行に制限されています(もちろん、ジャネット通勤者を除く)。エリア51は、カリフォルニアのエドワーズ空軍基地またはネバダ州のネリス空軍基地のパイロットがエリア51の空域を飛行することを禁じられているにもかかわらず、その一部であると考えられています。実際、R-4808Nを取り巻く緩衝地帯の1つに飛ぶパイロットは、かなり寛大ですが、指揮官からの罰に直面していると報告されています。パイロットが緩衝地帯を飛行するときはいつでも、訓練演習はすぐに終了し、パイロットは基地に戻るように命じられます。故意にR-4808Nに飛ぶことははるかに深刻な犯罪であり、その結果、パイロットは軍法会議、不名誉除隊、および刑務所での時間に直面する可能性があります。

軍はエリア51を軍事作戦エリア(MOA)として分類しています。エリア51の境界はフェンスで囲まれていませんが、オレンジ色のポールと警告サインでマークされています。標識は、写真撮影は許可されておらず、宿泊施設への不法侵入は罰金につながることを示しています。標識はまた、セキュリティが不法侵入を主張する人々に致命的な力を使用することを許可されていることを警告しています。エリア51の敷地内を歩き回った結果、不幸な真実の探求者が何人死亡したかについて、陰謀論者の間で噂が広まっていますが、ほとんどの人は、侵入者はそれほど暴力的ではないと考えています。

軍隊にいないように見える男性のペアが周囲をパトロールします。これらの警備員は、WackenhutやEG&Gなどの企業から雇われた民間人である可能性があります。オブザーバーは彼らを「カモフラージュ」と呼んでいます。なぜなら彼らはしばしば砂漠のカモフラージュを着ているからです。。カモの男は通常、四輪駆動車で走り回り、エリア51の境界近くにいる人を監視します。おそらく、彼らの指示は、可能であれば侵入者との接触を避け、単に観察者と抑止力の両方として機能することです。誰かが疑わしいと思われる場合、カモの男は彼に対処するために地元の保安官を呼びます。たまに、彼らは侵入者と対峙し、映画やその他の記録装置を押収し、侵入者を脅迫したとされています。時々、ヘリコプターは追加のサポートを提供します。ヘリコプターのパイロットが、侵入者の上に非常に低くホバリングして嫌がらせをするなど、違法な戦術を使用することがあるという噂があります。

その他のセキュリティ対策には、基地の周囲に設置されたセンサーが含まれます。これらのセンサーは動きを検出し、動物と人間の違いさえ識別できると信じている人もいます。エリア51は事実上野生生物保護区であるため、通りすがりの動物が簡単につまずくことができない警告装置を作成することが重要でした。オブザーバーが保持している理論の1つは、センサーが通過する生物の香りを検出できるというものです(センサーはアンモニアの痕跡を検出します)。それはまだ立証されていませんが、エリア51の周りにセンサーが埋​​まっていることは確かです。チャッククラークという名前のレイチェル居住者がいくつかのセンサーを発見し、ある時点でFBIは彼を信号装置に干渉したと非難し、次のいずれかに命令しました。不足しているセンサーを返品するか、罰金を支払います。クラークはそれを取ることを否定したが、彼の調査をやめることに同意した[出典:ブレイバーマン]。

次のセクションでは、エリア51でテストされた航空機のいくつかを調べるときに、すべての機密性とセキュリティ対策が必要な理由を見ていきます。

エリア51航空機

U-2スパイプレーンプロジェクトは、エリア51が1950年代に最初に設立された理由です。

空軍によると、施設の目的は次のとおりです。「米軍の有効性と米国の安全に不可欠な作戦のための技術とシステムの訓練のテスト」。何年もの間、そこで行われた秘密の研究とテストの努力は見えないようにされていました。1950年代と1960年代からのU-2プログラムに関する文書の2013年の機密解除は、公式の秘密の幕の最初の亀裂でした。

しかし、政府の努力にもかかわらず、エリア51の活動を完全に秘密にすることは困難でした。エリア51で知られているプロジェクトのいくつかを次に示します。

  • U-2スパイ機:ロッキードはCIAと協力して、高高度で飛行し、他の国をスパイできる機を開発しました。U-2は、高度70,000フィート(21,000メートル)で飛行でき、数年間の偵察任務に効果的でした。しかし、CIAとロッキードは、ソビエト連邦のミサイル技術が急速に追いついてきたため、すぐにもっと高度な航空機が必要になることに気づきました。
  • In 1960, the USSR shot down a U-2, confirming this concern. Engineers designed a plane -- called the Suntan -- to be a successor to the U-2. It could fly at speeds up to Mach 2.5 (almost 2,000 miles or 3,200 kilometers per hour). The Suntan used liquid hydrogen for fuel, which was its ultimate downfall. Engineers decided that it would be too expensive to create a fuel infrastructure to support the Suntan's flights, and the government canceled the project.
  • The A-12 OXCART: In the early 1960s, this surveillance aircraft prototype featured a wide, disc-like fuselage made of shiny titanium. A 2009 Los Angeles Times article speculated that the aircraft's appearance and speeds of close to Mach 3 (2,300 miles or 3,700 kilometers per hour) led commercial pilots who encountered it to assume that it was an alien spacecraft.
The SR-71 Blackbird
  • The SR-71 Blackbird: This aircraftevolved from the A-12, and became the actual successor to the U-2.These planes could fly at speeds up to Mach 3 and at altitudes of 90,000 feet (27,400 meters).
Tacit Blue, aka "Shamu"
  • Tacit Blue and Have Blue: These two planes were the first successful attempts at creating stealth aircraft. Tacit Blue had an odd, whale-like shape, inspiring onlookers to call it "Shamu." It was designed to fly low over battle operations as a reconnaissance vehicle. Have Blue was a prototype for the F117-A stealth fighter. Have Blue first arrived at Area 51 in 1977. The stealth fighter remained a secret until the Air Force officially unveiled it to the public in 1990.
  • The Bird of Prey: A single-seat, gull-wing, experimental aircraft with a radar-evading shape developed from 1992 to 1999, the Bird of Prey pioneered the use of 3-D virtual reality design and assembly processes, and utilized a large, single-piece composite structure. Only one of the aircraft actually was built. In 2002, Boeing, the Bird of Prey's builder, disclosed its existence, because most of its innovations already had become defense industry standards [source: Cole].

Area 51 Projects

The MiG-21 is one of several Soviet aircraft allegedly tested at Area 51.

There are other, murkier rumors about secret aircraft that may or may not have been tested at Area 51.

  • TR-3A Black Manta: This is a rumored project that secret aircraft buffs have been talking about for decades, though nobody seems to really know what it is, or even it if actually exists. In 1993, a newsletter publisher named Steve Douglass published a purported image of the mysterious speculative aircraft, captured and enhanced from video that he shot near White Sands, N.M. [source: Patton]. The Federation of American Scientists Web site describes it as a "subsonic stealthy reconnaissance aircraft" but little other information has emerged [source: Pike].
  • Aurora: Back in 1985, the code name Aurora accidentally was leaked in an unclassified budget document, which depicted it as a ramjet-powered reconnaissance and strike aircraft capable of flying at least Mach 5 and deploying anywhere in the world in a matter of hours. Engineer and aircraft-recognition expert Chris Gibson reportedly observed a formation of U.S. military aircraft over the North Sea in 1989 that included an unidentified delta-shaped plane. It fit the profile described in unclassified studies of high-supersonic aircraft [source: Sweetman]. It's unclear what happened to the Aurora program.
  • Brilliant Buzzard or Mothership: Yet another rumored project at Area 51. This large jet would carry a smaller vehicle, perhaps an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). The smaller vehicle is designed to launch from the larger jet while in midair.
  • Blackstar: In 2006, the industry publication Aviation Week & Space Technology reported that the U.S. military had funded the development and testing of a small orbital space plane in the 1990s. The two-seater Blackstar vehicle possibly made more than one orbital mission, before being quietly put into mothballs for budgetary or operational reasons [source: Oberg].

What new projects could be underway at Area 51 today? Apart from the continued focus on UAV technology, secret project theorists suggest a few possibilities. One is a transport aircraft with stealth technology designed to move troops in and out of conflict areas without being detected. Many see a need for a vehicle with effective and stealthy vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) capabilities. (The V-22 Osprey has this capability, but critics say the vehicle is not effective at meeting military objectives.) Another likely research project is a stealth helicopter. Though some people say stealth helicopters already exist and are in use, they haven't been revealed to the public.

Some theorists see a need for a stealth plane that is designed specifically to neutralize ground targets. To date, most stealth aircraft are either surveillance vehicles or designed for air-to-air combat. There is also a need for aircraft that can rapidly deploy to any location worldwide in as short a time as possible. Projects like the rumored Aurora plane and other hypersonic vehicles fall into this category. Other rumored research projects range from cloaking technology to proton beams to antigravity devices.

Of course, these projects are only the tip of the rumored iceberg. Area 51 is arguably better known for its connection with aliens and UFOs than with any of these aircraft.

Red Square

In April 1984, U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Robert M. Bond died in a jet plane crash near Area 51. Though the Air Force described his plane as a modified test aircraft, the Associated Press reported that it actually was a Soviet MiG-23 [source: Macy]. Former military pilot Allan Palmer told the Huffington Post in 2013 that while flying in the area in the mid-1970s, he encountered other MiGs, which seemed to have been reengineered and were emblazoned with U.S. stars and bars instead of Soviet insignias [source: Spiegel]. It's unclear whether the U.S. obtained the aircraft from the Soviets or captured them somehow, but they seem to have been used for training exercises and war gaming. The use of Soviet aircraft in Area 51's airspace inspired its nickname of the Red Square.

Area 51 and Aliens

Some believe that an alien spacecraft crashed in Roswell, N.M ., and that the government shipped the wreckage and a body to Area 51 for examination and study. Others claim the facility has underground levels and tunnels connecting it to other secret sites, and that it contains warehouses full of alien technology and even living alien specimens.

A few go even further, theorizing that the aliens are actually the ones running the show and their goal is to create a human-alien hybrid (the aliens seem to have lost the ability to reproduce on their own). Stories cast the aliens in roles ranging from benevolent visitors to evil overlords who subsist on a paste made from ground-up human bits. Air Force representatives have publicly denied that aliens have anything at all to do with Area 51, but that seems to have only strengthened conspiracy theorists' wilder suggestions.

On June 24, 1947, Kenneth Arnold reported sighting nine objects, flying in a V formation, while piloting his private plane over Washington state. He said the objects flew like a saucer would if you skipped it across the water, and the term "flying saucer " was born [source: History].

In July 1947, an airborne object crashed on a ranch near Roswell. The Roswell Army Air Field issued a press release from Gen. William "Butch" Blanchard, stating it had recovered the remains of an unidentified flying object or UFO. The Army quickly retracted the statement, saying it was not a flying disc at all but a weather balloon . But the original statement had already run in several papers [source: History, The Roswell Files]. The incident was largely forgotten until the 1970s when nuclear physicist Stanton T. Friedman wrote a book arguing that the crash was a result of extraterrestrial activity.

In the 1990s, declassified documents said that the object recovered at Roswell was actually a balloon created for a surveillance program called Project Mogul. The weather balloon story was a cover for this secret project [source: McAndrew]. Of course, UFO believers say that the spy balloon story is also a cover, and that the Army really did recover an alien craft.

How Did Area 51 Get Its Name?

The most popular theory is that it came from the old Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), the post-World War II agency that operated the Nevada Test Site (NTS). That's where nuclear weapons were detonated in the days before treaties banned such tests. The NTS is mapped as a grid of squares from 1 to 30. Area 51 isn't part of the grid, but it borders a section called Area 15. Some say the number was flipped, or that 51 was chosen because the NTS wasn't likely to expand its grid that far. Though some recently declassified documents actually refer to the base as Area 51, government officials still refer to the facility as an operating location near Groom Lake when responding to public queries [source: CBS News].

Reverse Engineering at Area 51

Artist's conception of an alien.

In 1989, a man named Robert Lazar shocked the world when he went on television claiming to have been part of a military operation that worked on alien technology. Lazar said that the government possessed at least nine alien spacecraft at a base called S-4, which is not far from Groom Lake. The facility even had posters showing a UFO levitating several feet above the ground with the caption "They're Here!" This was the first time an "insider" had "blown the whistle."

Lazar said EG&G hired him to help reverse engineer the technology in the alien craft for use in U.S. military vehicles and power production. He'd discovered a rusty, heavy substance he called "Element 115 " that powered the alien spacecraft.

Lazar's statements inspired an explosion of interest in UFOs and Area 51. But skeptics investigated as many of Lazar's statements as they could, and most appeared to be false. For example, Lazar said he held master's degrees from CalTech and MIT, but there's no evidence he ever attended either university. Lazar replied that the government was actively trying to erase his existence to discredit him. Also, both the Air Force and the Los Alamos National Laboratories denied he had ever worked for them. In 2013, a writer tried to contact him for the upcoming 25th anniversary of his allegations and was told, "Mr. Lazar no longer involves himself in matters related to the topic of UFOs" [source: Rojas].

One popular claim among Lazar's believers is that much of our current technology is the result of using reverse engineering on alien spacecraft. Everything from radios to superconductors falls into this category. They argue that people on their own couldn't possibly have developed these technologies so rapidly without an alien model. Some claim that pilots at Area 51 are using alien technology against aliens themselves, shooting them down so that other military crews can scavenge the parts.

The Plot Thickens at Area 51

Some of the souvenirs available for sale at the Little A'Le'Inn gift shop in Rachel, Nev.

Not all conspiracy theories concerning Area 51 involve little green (or gray) men. Some revolve around a shadowy organization (or group of organizations) dedicated to bringing about the New World Order. UFOs and reverse-engineering stories are just tactics these organizations use to distract the public from their real goal -- world domination.

One claim common to Lazar's statements and other UFO enthusiasts' theories is a secret organization known as MJ-12, sometimes called Majestic or Majic 12. This group originally included a dozen extremely powerful individuals like President Harry S. Truman, the heads of organizations like the CIA and powerful businessmen. Documents reported to be from this group have surfaced, mostly as discoveries of UFOlogist William L. Moore, including papers bearing presidential signatures. Skeptics scrutinized these documents and uncovered many signs that they are fakes, including signatures that appeared to be copied from other official documents and pasted onto the MJ-12 papers [sources: UFO Casebook, FBI]. Conspiracy theorists denounce the skeptics as either being fooled or actually employed by the government.

Other theorists say the MJ-12 documents are fakes, but official fakes made by the government to throw people offtrack. Most believers fall into one of several groups, and often each group will accuse the others of actively promoting disinformation to hide the truth.

The most extreme theories about aliens at Area 51 state that not only are aliens here on Earth, they're running the show. Apparently, the U.S. government has agreed to allow aliens to abduct people at will, experiment on these helpless citizens and even grind them up into a paste that is later smeared onto the aliens as a source of nutrition.

Other theorists say that the aliens are here to use humans to create a hybrid creature, since the aliens themselves are no longer able to reproduce on their own. Some offer hope with reports of shootouts between government forces and aliens, resulting in the return of the government to power.

In UFO enthusiast lore, Hangar 18 is the name of the building that houses a captured alien spacecraft and even an extraterrestrial being. The location of Hangar 18 is up for debate among believers. Some have claimed the hangar at Area 51 is Hangar 18.

Seeing UFOs at Area 51

The black mailbox (now white)

Because the airspace around and above Area 51 is used for test flights and training missions, it is quite possible (and even probable) that you'll see aircraft flying overhead. Sometimes that aircraft might be exotic, perhaps even unidentifiable to the untrained eye. Even familiar aircraft might fool you into thinking you've seen something not of this Earth.

Skeptics point out that many reported UFO sightings coincide conveniently with the scheduled daily arrival of the Janet flights to the base. Many of the formerly classified projects at Area 51 really do look to be otherworldly. UAVs in particular seem strange, as they don't require a cockpit or doors. In addition, many training exercises use bright flares to draw off missile fire or even just to distract onlookers while secret aircraft go through maneuvers.

A popular spot to watch for UFOs is the "Black Mailbox" on Nevada Highway 375 (aka Extraterrestrial Highway). The mailbox belongs to a local rancher and became famous when Robert Lazar said it was the location he'd bring people to in order to watch scheduled test flights of alien spacecraft . Today, the mailbox has been repainted white and the rancher has said many times that he doesn't believe any of the craft flying overhead are alien in origin [source: Powers].

In the next section, we'll look at some of the controversy surrounding Area 51.

Controversy at Area 51

Workers at Area 51 have had to endure difficult conditions since the earliest days of the facility. In the 1950s, when the focus of the base was testing the U-2 spy plane, the CIA had to cease operations and evacuate the facility due to nearby nuclear testing on the neighboring Nevada Test Site (NTS). Sometimes the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) would announce tests ahead of schedule to allow nearby residents time to evacuate if they felt it was necessary, but other times the tests would remain unannounced. The results from these tests could be seen from towns 100 miles (161 kilometers) away. People in Las Vegas would often organize trips to nearby peaks and picnic in view of mushroom clouds.

In 1957, one such test called HOOD was part of an overall program called Operation Plumbbob, which was designed to see if damaged nuclear bombs emitted harmful levels of radioactivity. The AEC detonated a 74-kiloton nuclear device 1,500 feet (457 meters) over Area 9 of the NTS. This was the most powerful airburst ever detonated over the continental United States [source: Department of Energy]. The AEC did not announce the test ahead of time, though they did tell Area 51 to evacuate beforehand. The resulting blast caused some minor damage at Area 51 -- mostly some broken windows and doors. Radiation was a much bigger concern, and, in fact, the soil in Area 51 has absorbed a lot of radiation over years of nuclear tests.

Cleaning Up Area 51

In 1980, the government authorized a program to remove irradiated soil from around Groom Lake. Satellite photos confirm crews removed massive amounts of dirt from the area. Surrounding cities reported increases in cancer rates and many sued the government (with varying degrees of success), claiming the tests caused them to get sick.

Another hazard at Area 51 involved the disposal of classified technology and vehicles. In the 1980s, crews at Area 51 dug large, open pits and dumped toxic materials into them. They burned the materials using jet fuel and suffered exposure to chemicals and fumes [source: Jacobs].

According to a lawsuit filed against several government officials, the workers requested safety equipment such as breathing masks, but were denied due to budgetary concerns. When they asked if they might bring their own equipment, their superiors told them that for security reasons they could not bring outside equipment into the base, except gloves. Several civilian employees became sick from the exposure -- two eventually died. Helen Frost, the widow of Area 51 employee Robert Frost, and several Groom Lake employees worked with attorney Jonathan Turley to file the lawsuit [source: Jacobs].

One interesting item from the lawsuit that has since caused a big stir in Area 51 circles is the submission of an unclassified security manual into evidence. Turley argued that the manual not only proved the base existed, it also proved the government was aware of the dangers of handling hazardous waste and acted with negligence toward the employees at Area 51. The government retroactively classified the security manual, and Judge Philip Pro didn't allow it as evidence [source: Jacobs]. Some claim the manual to be a fake, though if this is the case it raises a question -- why would the government declare a fake document to be classified information?

President Bill Clinton signed an executive order in September 1995 exempting Area 51 from disclosure of the results of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) investigations of the site. The order referred to Area 51 as "the Air Force's operating location near Groom Lake, Nevada." Judge Pro eventually dismissed the lawsuit on the grounds that investigation into the claims constituted a breach of national security. Turley argued that this set a dangerous precedent in that the government could now hide crimes through the excuse of national security [source: Jacobs]. The policy relieved the government of accountability to the people it represents.

Area 51 still allows the EPA to inspect the facility to ensure it meets environmental requirements. However, all reports are classified and can't be published. Many argue that without publication of the results, the facility remains unaccountable. Clinton's executive order permits the reports to remain sealed, despite the fact that the law requires all such reports be made available to the public. The president must renew the order each year, and as of 2013, that's still the case.

In the next section, we'll look at the town of Rachel, Nev., which has received more than its share of attention as the closest town to Area 51.

The Truth is Out There

Area 51 is the most well-known secret facility ever created. It's been an important setting for numerous novels, films, television shows, video games and music. But two examples stand out as being particularly important. The long-running TV show "The X-Files" and the hit movie "Independence Day" both followed UFOlogists' theories about the real purpose of the base.

Living in the Shadow of Area 51

Pat and Joe Travis, owners of the Little A'Le'Inn, posed in front of their motel in Rachel, Nev., in 1996.

You might think that living close to a place like Area 51 could make you a little strange. A visit to Rachel, Nev., might just change your suspicion to certainty. The town is populated by 54 people (according to the 2010 census), most of whom have a strong sense of independence and more than a touch of eccentricity.

According to former Rachel resident Glenn Campbell, Rachel's documented history began on March 22, 1978, at 5:45 p.m. Not many towns can narrow down their origins so precisely. Campbell points out that on that date, power companies first supplied the Sand Springs Valley with electricity. Before this momentous occasion, only a few hardy farmers and a mining company occupied the valley [source: Campbell and Grover].

In the 1970s, small numbers of people with a pioneering spirit and desire to live their lives free of interference began to settle the valley. One of those families was the Joneses, who became famous in their small community upon the birth of Rachel Jones, the first child born in the valley. The loose community felt the name Sand Springs lacked distinction and Rachel's birth marked an important event in the town's history. So they named the town Rachel. The Joneses didn't stick around much longer, and sadly, Rachel passed away from a respiratory ailment at the age of 3 [source: Campbell and Grover].

There's very little to see in Rachel, but it does feature a motel and bar called the Little A'Le'Inn (get it?), a Baptist church and a senior center and thrift store.

Rachel is home to several interesting characters, many of whom have pet theories about Area 51. A few work for the Air Force , though that's about as much information as you'll get from them. Pat and Joe Travis run the Little A'Le'Inn and have made a business out of selling T-shirts and alien-themed souvenirs. Still, most of the people in Rachel will tell you they don't think the UFOs are anything other than flares, UAVs or military aircraft on training missions.

Glenn Campbell established the Area 51 Research Center. He would often go to a lookout spot he named Freedom Ridge where he could legally view the facility from several miles away. Campbell wrote a newsletter called the Desert Rat, keeping people up-to-date on activities at the base. He campaigned against what he considered to be excessive government secrecy, arguing that the government was creating an environment of mistrust with the public. He also created a Web site that linked to dozens of news stories and timelines about the base. Although he no longer updates the site, it's still available for you to explore. Campbell has since moved on from his focus on the secret base and no longer lives in Rachel.

The residents of Rachel seem to treat interest in their community with bemused patience. To them, sonic booms in the middle of the night and bright light shows are all normal, everyday events. Just about everyone in the valley has had to replace a window cracked by a sonic boom or held a piece of airplane wreckage (Area 51's history includes several spectacular crashes).

In the next section, we'll look at a timeline for Area 51 from its founding to the present.

A Brief History of Area 51

During World War II, the Army Air Corps (precursor to our modern Air Force) built several runways in Nevada, including a pair of small runways at Groom Lake. They named the spot the Army Air Corps Gunnery School. After the 1940s, the runways were abandoned [source: Mahood].

In the early 1950s, the CIA entered a partnership with Lockheed to develop high altitude aircraft to use in surveillance missions. Clarence "Kelly" Johnson of Lockheed helmed the project. He formed a department of engineers and test pilots that eventually took on the name Skunk Works. The Skunk Works department was famous for being very secretive and nearly fanatical in the pursuit of their goals.

The CIA and Johnson both knew that secrecy was critical to their success, and so Johnson needed to find a location to develop and test secret aircraft. He wanted a location that was remote enough to avoid notice, yet still close enough to a major city so that supplying the facility would not be a monumental task. The site would need to be easily accessible by aircraft and out of the way of commercial and military flight paths. It would also need space to house a sizable force of military and civilian employees.

In 1955, he traveled to Nevada with test pilot Tony LeVier, special assistant to the CIA director, Richard Bissell and Air Force liaison, Col. Osmond Ritland, to find a good place to use as a base of operations for test flights. Ritland trained at the Gunnery School and told Johnson about it. Johnson decided the location was ideal for their operations [source: Merlin].

Johnson named the area "Paradise Ranch" as a way to encourage workers to move there. Eventually it was just called "The Ranch."

Four months later, crews completed the initial construction. U-2 test flights began and President Dwight Eisenhower signed an executive order restricting the airspace over Groom Lake. The CIA, the Atomic Energy Commission and Lockheed oversaw base operations. Eventually, control of the base would pass to the Department of Energy and the Air Force.

Roswell Versus Area 51

While Area 51 and Roswell are often mentioned in the same breath, the two locations are pretty far from each other. Roswell is in New Mexico and, according to Google Maps, is 891 miles (1,433 kilometers) away from Area 51. The trip would take you more than 15 hours to get there by car, and by most reports it's not a very exciting drive.

A Time Line of Events at Area 51

The following is a time line beginning soon after Area 51's construction [sources: Mahood, Merlin, Collins, Jacobsen]:

  • 1957: The AEC distributes "Background Information on Nevada Nuclear Tests" to the press. The booklet describes a small base at Groom Lake called the Watertown Project. The booklet claimed the facility was part of a project to study weather.
  • 1961: The restricted airspace expands upward, but not outward -- it measures 5 by 9 nautical miles (9 by 17 kilometers) in size, but extends up to space and is designated R-4808N. A year later, the Department of the Air Force expands the space again, but this time the perimeter grows to 22 by 20 nautical miles. (41 by 37 kilometers). This forms the "Groom Box," or just "the Box," as it is known today. No flights, whether commercial or military, are allowed in the restricted space (except the test flights from the base itself).
  • 1962: The first A-12 arrives at Groom Lake. The first test flight takes place two months after the aircraft's arrival to the base. CIA pilots arrive at the base nearly a year later to begin flight training.
  • 1967: The first MiG 21, a Soviet aircraft, arrives at Groom Lake. Officials name the testing program of MiG aircraft "Have Doughnut." Some pilots begin to call the restricted airspace above Groom Lake "Red Square."
  • 1977: Years before the public became aware of the Stealth Fighter, the first F-117A prototype arrives at Area 51. It's called the "Have Blue."
  • 1982: The first flight of the vehicle known as "Tacit Blue" takes place at Groom Lake. Like the F-117A, Tacit Blue is a stealth vehicle.
  • 1984: The base petitions for an additional 89,000 acres of land to increase the size of restricted space around the facility. Guards forbid the public from entering this area before it is officially withdrawn, raising concern and criticism of illegality from locals and tourists. The land request is approved by Congress three years later.
  • 1988: A Soviet satellite photographs Area 51. Popular Science magazine runs the photograph, giving most U.S. citizens their first chance to glimpse the secret base.
  • 1989: Robert Frost, a civilian employee at Area 51, dies. An autopsy shows that his body contained high levels of dangerous chemicals like dioxin and dibenzofuran. His widow, Helen, and other affected workers, file a lawsuit against several government officials, in 1994. Frost claims her husband died as a result of exposure to dangerous chemicals.
  • 1989: Robert Lazar appears on television and claims to have worked on reverse engineering alien technology at a site not far from Groom Lake.
  • 1995: Area 51 acquires two locations popular with tourists and curious locals, Freedom Ridge and White Sides Peak, and closes them to the public. President Clinton signs an executive order exempting Area 51 from legislation and investigation in order to preserve national security.
  • 1996: Nevada names Route 375, formerly known as the "loneliest highway in America," the "Extraterrestrial Highway." Skeptics around the world groan in unison.
  • 2007: It appears that crews are building a new hangar, much larger than the existing hangar. One Web site claims the hangar's size to be 200 by 500 feet (61 by 152 meters) and 100 feet tall (30 meters).
  • 2009: Several former Area 51 staffers, including two former military test pilots, described their work at the site.
  • 2013: Area 51 is identified by that name for the first time in declassified CIA documents, though all operations at the facility are still kept secret. No mention is made of aliens in the documents.
  • 2017: The New York Times reported that between 2007 and 2012, the Pentagon spent $22 million annually to study UFOs at the request of Senate majority leader Harry Reid. The program ended when funding dried up.
  • 2019: Over 1 million people signed up to a joke Facebook event calling for folks to raid Area 51 and "see them aliens." The Air Force was not amused, reminding would-be raiders that "[Area 51] is an open training range for the U.S. Air Force," according to the Washington Post.

Lots More Information

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  • What is a remotely operated spy plane?

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