Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Area 51

Area 51 is a nickname for a military base that is located in the southern portion of Nevada in the western United States (83 miles north-northwest of downtown Las Vegas). Situated at its center, on the southern shore of Groom Lake, is a large secretive military airfield. The base's primary purpose is to support development and testing of experimental aircraft and weapons systems.
The base lies within the
United States Air Force's vast Nevada Test and Training Range. Although the facilities at the range are managed by the 99th Air Base Wing at Nellis Air Force Base, the Groom facility appears to be run as an adjunct of the Air Force Flight Test Center (AFFTC) at Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert, around 186 miles (300 km) southwest of Groom, and as such the base is known as Air Force Flight Test Center (Detachment 3).
Other names used for the facility include Dreamland, Paradise Ranch, Home Base, Watertown Strip, Groom Lake, and most recently Homey Airport. The area is part of the Nellis
Military Operations Area, and the restricted airspace around the field is referred to as (R-4808N), known by the military pilots in the area as "The Box."
Thaircraft, and the Emigrant Valley's mountain ranges and the NTS perimeter protected the test site from prying eyes and outside interference.
Lockheed constructed a makeshift base at the location, then known as Site II or "The Ranch", consisting of little more than a few shelters, workshops and trailer homes in which to house its small team. In only three months a 5000-foot runway was constructedand was servicable by July 1955. The Ranch received its first U-2 delivery on July 24, 1955 from Burbank on a
C-124 Globemaster II cargo plane, accompanied by Lockheed technicians on a Douglas DC-3. The first U-2 lifted off from at Groom on August 4, 1955. A U-2 fleet under the control of the CIA began overflights of Soviet territory by mid-1956.
During this period, the NTS continued to perform a series of atmospheric nuclear explosions. U-2 operations throughout 1957 were frequently disrupted by the
Plumbbob series of atomic tests, which detonated over two-dozen devices at the NTS. The Plumbbob-Hood explosion on July 5 scattered fallout across Groom and forced a temporary evacuation.e intense secrecy surrounding the base, the very existence of which the U.S. government barely acknowledges, has led it to become the frequent subject of
conspiracy theories and a central component to unidentified flying object (UFO) folklore
Groom Lake is not a conventional airbase, as frontline units are not normally deployed there. It instead appears to be used during the development, testing, and training phases for new aircraft. Once these aircraft have been approved by the United States Air Force or other agencies such as the CIA, operation of that aircraft is generally conducted from a normal air force base.
Soviet spy satellites obtained photographs of the Groom Lake area during the height of the Cold War, and later civilian satellites produced detailed images of the base and its surroundings. These images support only modest conclusions about the base, depicting a nondescript base, long airstrip, hangars and the

Groom was home to elements of Gail Peck's 4477th Test & Evaluation Squadron, the "Red Eagles", who flew a number of Soviet-designed aircraft (obtained from defecting Eastern-block pilots) which were secretly analyzed and used for training purposes, flying against US and NATO pilots as part of the annual Constant Peg exercise. With the end of the cold war, the USAF (and its civilian contractor Tac-Air) have augmented this illicit fleet with a number of aircraft bought openly from Ukraine and Moldova, and operated from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
Groom Lake was used for bombing and artillery practice during World War II, but was then abandoned until April 1955, when it was selected by Lockheed's Skunk Works team as the ideal location to test the forthcoming U-2 spy plane. The lakebed made an ideal strip from which they could operate the troublesome test
Even before U-2 development was complete, Lockheed began work on its successor as part of the CIA's OXCART project, involving the A-12—a Mach-3 high altitude reconnaissance aircraft—a later variant of which became the famed USAF SR-71 Blackbird. The Blackbird's flight characteristics and maintenance requirements forced a massive expansion of facilities and runways at Groom Lake. By the time the first A-12 prototype flew at Groom in 1962, the main runway had been lengthened to 8,500 ft (2,600 m), and the base boasted a complement of over 1,000 personnel. It had fueling tanks, a control tower, and a baseball diamond. Security was greatly enhanced, the small civilian mine in the Groom basin was closed, and the area surrounding the valley was made an exclusive military preserve. Groom saw the first flight of most major Blackbird variants: A-12, the abortive YF-12 interceptor variant, and the D-21 Blackbird-based drone project. The A-12 would remain at Groom Lake until 1968. (The SR-71 first flew at Palmdale, California.)
The Lockheed Have Blue prototype stealth fighter (a smaller proof-of-concept model of the F-117 Nighthawk) first flew at Groom in December 1977. Testing of a series of ultra-secret prototypes continued there until mid-1981, when testing transitioned to the initial production of F-117 stealth fighters. In addition to flight-testing, Groom performed radar profiling, F-117 weapons testing, and was the location for training of the first group of frontline USAF F-117 pilots. Subsequently, the still highly classified active-service F-117 operations moved to the nearby Tonopah Test Range Airport, and finally to Holloman Air Force Base.
Since the F-117 became operational in 1983, operations at Groom Lake have continued.[20] The base and its associated runway system have been expanded[21][20] In 1995, the federal government expanded the exclusionary area around the base to include nearby mountains that had hitherto afforded the only decent overlook of the base, prohibiting access to 3,972 acres of land formerly administered by the Bureau of Land Management.
Commuter service is provided along Groom Lake Road by a bus, catering to a small number of employees living in several small communities beyond the NTS boundary (although it is not clear whether these workers are employed at Groom or at other facilities in the NTS). The bus travels Groom Lake Road and stops at
Crystal Springs, Ash Springs, and Alamo, and parks at the Alamo courthouse overnight
The Federal Government tacitly concedes (in various court filings and government directives) that the USAF has an "operating location" near the lake, but does not provide any further information.
Unlike much of the Nellis range, the area surrounding the lake is permanently off-limits both to civilian and normal military air traffic. Radar stations protect the area, and unauthorized personnel are quickly expelled. Even military pilots training in the NAFR risk disciplinary action if they accidentally stray into the exclusionary "box" surrounding Groom's airspace.

A montage of available USGS satellite photography showing southern Nevada. The NTS and the surrounding lands are visible; the NAFR and neighboring land has been removed
Perimeter security is provided by uniformed private security guards working for
EG&G's security subcontractor Wackenhut, who patrol in desert camouflage Jeep Cherokees and Humvees, and more recently, champagne-colored Ford F-150 pickups and gray Chevy 2500 4X4 pickups. Although the guards are armed with M16s, no violent encounters with Area 51 observers have been reported; instead, the guards generally follow visitors near the perimeter and radio for the Lincoln County Sheriff. Deadly force is authorized if violators who attempt to breach the secured area fail to heed warnings to halt. Fines of around $600 seem to be the normal course of action, although some visitors and journalists report receiving follow-up visits from FBI agents. Some observers have been detained on public land for pointing camera equipment at the base. Surveillance is supplemented using buried motion sensors and by HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters.
The base does not appear on public U.S. government maps; the USGS topographic map for the area only shows the long-disused Groom Mine. A civil aviation chart published by the
Nevada Department of Transportation shows a large restricted area, but defines it as part of the Nellis restricted airspace. The official aeronautical navigation charts for the area show Groom Lake but omit the airport facilities. Similarly the National Atlas page showing federal lands in Nevada does not distinguish between the Groom block and other parts of the Nellis range. Although officially declassified, the original film taken by U.S. Corona spy satellite in the 1960s has been altered prior to declassification; in answer to freedom of information queries, the government responds that these exposures (which map to Groom and the entire NAFR) appear to have been destroyed.[35] Terra satellite images (which were publicly available) were removed from web servers (including Microsoft's "Terraserver") in 2004,[36] and from the monochrome 1 m resolution USGS data dump made publicly available. NASA Landsat 7 images are still available (these are used in the NASA World Wind). Higher resolution (and more recent) images from other satellite imagery providers (including Russian providers and the IKONOS) are commercially available. These show, in considerable detail, the runway marking, base facilities, aircraft, and vehicles.
Nevada's state government, recognizing the folklore surrounding the base might afford the otherwise neglected area some tourism potential, officially renamed the section of State Route 375 near Area 51 "The Extraterrestrial Highway", and posted fancifully illustrated signs along its length.

A closed-circuit TV camera watches over the perimeter of Area 51
Although federal property within the base is exempt from state and local taxes, facilities owned by private contractors are not. Area 51 researcher Glenn Campbell claimed in 1994 that the base only declares a taxable value of $2 million to the Lincoln County tax assessor, who is unable to enter the area to perform an assessment

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