When it comes to mysterious locations around the world, there is one location that draws quite a lot of attention, particularly by those who believe in extraterrestrial life forms. Area 51 is located 83 miles north-northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada and each year crowds of people flock to the area to see what they can see in the sparse Nevada desert. While the actual area of Area 51 lies in a restricted location, visitors to the area often find themselves dropping in to the local diner and gathering spot for lovers of all things extraterrestrial – the Little A’Le’Inn. Inside the Inn alien lovers gather to share their encounters of a close kind and tell of just how close they got to Area 51 before they were caught by the patrolling security guards that monitor the perimeter to ensure that there is no breach of security. Why is security such a big deal in Area 51? The answer to that depends upon who you ask.
What Is Area 51?
Area 51 is a military base located in southern Nevada at 37°14′06″N, 115°48′40″W. Owned by the United States government and operated by the United States air force this military base located at the elevation of 4,462 feet is a detachment of Edwards Air Force Base located in California in the Antelope Valley. The center of Area 51 features a large airfield and the intended purpose for the base is to test and develop experimental weapons and aircraft for use by the United States military. The location of Area 51 puts it inside the Nevada Test and Training Range and it is referred to by military personnel as the Air Force Flight Test Center – Detachment 3.
The Nevada Test Site
It is important to note at this point that Area 51 shares its border with a portion of the Nevada Test Site which offers it additional protection from those who would spy upon any activity within the military base. The Nevada Test Site is now referred to as the Nevada National Security Site and is a 1,360 square mile section of Nevada that is reserved by the United States Department of Energy for testing. The NTS was developed in 1951 and was done so for the testing of nuclear weapons. In total 928 nuclear tests have been performed by the United States Department of Energy and of those 739 were conducted at the NTS.
Synonyms for Area 51
While most of the public recognizes the area as Area 51, there are actually a number of names by which the military base is known. Although everyone recognizes what is being referred to when the name “Area 51” is mentioned, other names include: Paradise Ranch, Dreamland, Groom Lake (Groom Lake is located just northeast of Area 51,) Home Base, Watertown Strip and Homey Airport. When referring specifically to the airspace around Area 51 that is restricted, military personnel often use the term R-4808N or in less formal settings: “the container” and “the box.”
Why is Area 51 Such a Big Deal?
The biggest factor that makes Area 51 such a subject of intrigue for many is the secrecy that surrounds the base. Anyone with military experience – or not for that matter – can understand why military weapons and aircraft testing and development need to be kept a secret by the United States government; however, many people construe this secrecy to mean that there is something strange and extraterrestrial going on at the base. It is certainly understandable why such developments need to be kept under lock and key; however, what sparks much intrigue for many is the fact that the government tends not to acknowledge the base and refuse to address its existence. Again this could be understandable to some, but for others it just adds more fuel to the fire that there is something unearthly going on at the base.
Why Are So Many Conspiracy Theories?
For those who believe that there is something peculiar happening over at Area 51, rumors of extraterrestrial activity abound. The government enforces these rumors by refusing to address any matters concerning the military base; however, as a matter of national security one could expect no different from them. It isn’t so much the denials of government officials or the avoidance of addressing the area directly or even the armed guards who patrol the perimeter of the military base, but it is the mysterious lights that often appear in the sky over Area 51 that attract the most conspiracy theorists. For those who do not buy in to conspiracy theories there is little question that these strange lights are related to the fact that Area 51 is a testing ground for weapons technology as well as aircraft development. As new technologies are created they are bound to differ from anything we have ever seen before and as these things are tested they are going to attract attention from anyone within viewing distance. Lights cast in the sky could easily be the result of a new stealth aircraft – ask the conspiracy theorists though and they will tell you that those lights are no aircraft of human creation, that they are instead, extraterrestrial beings.
What Exactly Has Area 51 Been Used For?
While the questions about alien activity remain, Area 51 has had many uses in military history aside from the development of new aircraft and weapons systems.
The U-2 Program at Groom Lake
During the time of World War II the Groom Lake area was utilized for both artillery and bombing practice and it was this that set the base up for the U-2 project. After being used for practice during the time of WWII the area was abandoned until 1955 and it was in 1955 that Lockheed decided to use the area as a test facility for the U-2 spy plane. The area was selected by Lockheed because it was not only secluded but the lake bed also offered the perfect airstrip on which to test the aircraft as they perfected it. The river bed was not the only geographic feature that made the Groom Lake location perfect for U-2 development, however, the mountains of the Emigrant Valley as well as the Nevada Test Site perimeter that had been set up provided for plenty of protection of any activity and testing that took place in the area. Lockheed began to build out the area to suit their testing needs and by 1955 they had set up a base that consisted of a 5,000 foot runway and a number of shelters, homes and workshops to house the workers assigned to the area. The base built by Lockheed was particularly sparse but it served its purpose and the same month that the base saw the completion of its runway it saw delivery of its first U-2. One month after the delivery of its first U-2, the makeshift base saw its first U-2 take flight. While U-2 plane fleets were dispatched to Soviet territory just a year later, U-2 development continued but was frequently interrupted by the activities at the NTS.
The OXCART Project
While workers at the base were still working on the U2, Lockheed began to develop a reconnaissance aircraft that would later become the SR-71 Blackbird. The Mach-3 aircraft was a part of the CIA OXCART project and is what forced the expansion of the Groom Lake facilities that were built to handle the U-2 project. The length of the new aircraft demanded a much longer runway, as well as additional facilities to house and maintain the aircraft. In 1962 the airspace around Lake Groom was closed and a number of new aircraft were shipped in to the area. The first OXCART made its appearance in 1962 and took flight just two months later.
The F-117 Program
In 1977 the Lockheed Have Blue stealth fighter prototype was finalized and took flight. A number of other similar prototypes were also developed for the next four years until the testing of the Have Blue transformed in to the production of the F-117 stealth planes. The F-117 planes themselves weren’t the only element that was tested at the Lake Groom area but the weapons that were used in these stealth fighters were also tested. During this time the Lake Groom base was also used as the training base for the first class of frontline pilots who were assigned to the F-117 stealth fighters. While the Area 51 location served as the home base for everything F-117 at the time, F-117 operations would eventually move first to the Tonopah Test Range Airport and then to the Holloman Air Force Base.
Later Expansion of the Base
In 1983 when the F-117 took flight Groom Lake continued to serve as a testing facility for aircraft technology for the United States. In the following years the base was further expanded including expansion of the runway to allow for programs of larger proportions. Currently the Area 51 air force base now has seven runways for testing of aircraft, although it is believed that the largest of the seven runways is now closed. In 1995 the United States government also expanded the restricted area around the base to ensure that there was no visual access to the base itself. Prior to this expansion activities of the base could be viewed from nearby mountaintops; however, the expansion of the protected area included this zone and ensured full privacy for activities at the military base. The expansion of the protected area created a 3,972 acre area of protected land to which access to the general public was prohibited.
Prohibitive Access to the area
Expansion of the protected area around Area 51 is not the only step that has been taken to ensure the security of the air force base. The entire perimeter of the base is patrolled by subcontracted security guards. The security guards are most commonly armed with M16s and patrol the perimeter in a variety of vehicles including SUV’s, Humvees and pickup trucks. Security guards for the Area 51 perimeter have not been noted to use excessive force with any civilians in the area; however, they are fully permitted to do so if a civilian attempts to pass in to the protected area and does not heed warnings against doing so. In fact, should civilians attempt to pass in to the restricted area after ignoring warnings not to do so, patrolling guards are permitted to use deadly force in order to protect the security of the base. Most commonly though, civilians who are interested in seeing what is going on at Area 51 come close to the perimeter at which point they find themselves being followed by a security guard who contacts the Lincoln County Sherriff to take action. The most common punishment for coming too close to Area 51 when not permitted to do so, is a fine which seems to average at around $600; however, those carrying cameras or those who appear to be reporting on the area sometimes receive visits from agents of the FBI following payment of their fine. Cameras are also confiscated on most occasions to prevent sharing of any protected information about the area that could fall in to the wrong hands. Many people believe that they can get away with getting a little closer to the base as long as patrolling officers are not close by, but the base is also surrounded by buried motion detectors which alert security to trespassers who are stepping too close to the perimeter.
Where is it exactly?
The actual area cannot be found on most maps, at least not those accessible to the public. Aviation charts do mark the territory of Area 51 as being restricted airspace in order to notify pilots not to fly through the airspace; however, it is not specifically marked as being Area 51. Other maps mark the area as Groom Lake, the Groom Mine or simply “federal land” but none of these maps depict any detail about the base or the existence of specific buildings in the base. A glitch in 2007 did add the Area 51 aircraft base to the aircraft navigational systems Jeppesen database with a unique identifying code. The update referred to the location as “Homey Airport” which is why many now refer to Area 51 as “Homey Airport.” It is believed that the information in regards to the air facilities at Area 51 was released accidentally and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association made sure that all pilots were aware that “Homey Airport” should not be considered as an option for landing and that it was located in restricted airspace.
The Conspiracy Theories Surrounding the Area
While there is no physical proof that extraterrestrial studies and experimentation have been taking place in the Area 51 facilities, there are a number of conspiracy theories concerning the use of the base as a research facility on extraterrestrial life forms. Aliens are not the only subject of the many conspiracy theories focused on the area though, some of the many theories include:
- The use of the base by the government to develop a means of weather control.
- The use of the base by the government to develop time travel technology.
- The use of the base by the government to develop teleportation technology.
- The storage of and reverse engineering of alien UFO’s.
- The examination of living and dead extraterrestrials recovered from crashed UFO’s.
- Collaboration of the U.S. government with extraterrestrial beings.
- The use of the base to create and support a one world government.
- The creation of advanced energy weapons
- Genetic engineering of human – extra-terrestrial hybrids utilizing alien specimens recovered from the area.
- The creation and expansion of camouflage and chameleon technology that disappears to the human eye.
- The development of an underground railroad that runs across the continent.
Unfortunately for those who truly believe in these conspiracy theories and other ideas as to what Area 51 is being used for, these theories are dismissed by the majority of the population. While a larger proportion of the world will claim that they believe in extra-terrestrial life, a significantly smaller portion give credit to any of the conspiracy theories that have surfaced in regard to the use of Area 51. Commonly those who believe that Area 51 are classified as being abnormal, insane or just strange, yet while there is a significant lack of evidence to support their theories there is also no significant evidence to prove that these things could not be occurring either.
The Bottom Line
When it comes down to it Area 51 is an area of intrigue because it is an area that we are prohibited to enter or even approach. Like a child who is forbidden to enter a particular room in the house, there is nothing that most of us would rather do than go in to that room and take a look around. Our curiosity is simply too much to take and we find ourselves coming up with fantastical ideas and theories about what could actually be taking place in this “secret room.” Will we ever truly know what goes on behind the fences of Area 51? At some point there is bound to be an individual or group of individuals who release information about the government owned territory and while this may satisfy the curiosity for many of us it may present far more danger than our own curiosity did. We are in considerable less danger at the hands of our own imaginations than we are should the actual events that take place within Area 51 get in to the wrong hands. The restricted airspace is restricted for a reason. The fences around the perimeter are there for a reason. The limited knowledge about the area is limited for a reason. What is that reason? Well, it depends if you ask a conspiracy theorist or a non-believer, but either way for the time being it is perhaps more beneficial for us if we stop asking questions about this secluded area and realize that we are not made aware of events for a reason and it is unlikely that this reason involves extraterrestrial life forms.
A few readers here at Exploring Life’s Mysteries have asked for more official information about just what it is that happens at Area 51. The main problem with this request is that there is very limited information available about this mysterious location. The following are some official statements that have been made in regards to the presence and use of Area 51 since its creation.
Letter From President Clinton to House and Senate
“Presidential Determination No. 98-36 exempted the United States Air Force’s operating location near Groom Lake, Nevada, from any Federal, State, interstate, or local hazardous or solid waste laws that might require the disclosure of classified information concerning that operating location to unauthorized persons. Information concerning activities at the operating location near Groom Lake has been properly determined to be classified, and its disclosure would be harmful to national security. Continued protection of this information is, therefore, in the paramount interest of the United States.“
This statement was made in a letter written by President William J. Clinton to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate. It is important to note that seldom is Area 51 ever referred to directly as Area 51; rather it is referred to as the “location near Groom Lake, Nevada.” Could this be a method of adding more mystery to the location? It is unlikely. Instead it is more likely that the term “Area 51” is used to signify the geographical jurisdiction of the Department of Energy and other institutions refer to the area instead as the location near Groom Lake. There is also a possibility that the term “Area 51” is shrouded with such a stigma that official documents and statements avoid its use all together. This latter explanation is unlikely however, due to the fact that it has been noted that the Central Intelligence Agency uses the term Area 51 in their official documentation as well.
Official Response From Major Jeffrey A. Rammes
“Neither the Air Force nor the Department of Defense owns or operates any location known as “Area 51.” There are a variety of activities, some of which are classified, throughout what is often called the Air Force’s Nellis Range Complex. There is an operating location near Groom Dry Lake. Specific activities and operations conducted on the Nellis Range, both past and present, remain classified and cannot be discussed publicly.“
Above is an official response from a major of the United States Air Force and chief of the White House inquiry branch, Office of Legislative Liason. This typed response once again points to the fact that the area that is often referred to as “Area 51” is not generally referred to as Area 51. Nor is this area in question partaking in any activity that is able to be divulged to the general public without causing potential risk to the security of the nation.
The Government’s Official Position on Aliens
During November of 2011, the White House released the following statement:
“The U.S. government has no evidence that any life exists outside our planet, or that an extraterrestrial presence has contacted or engaged any member of the human race. In addition, there is no credible information to suggest that any evidence is being hidden from the public’s eye.“
Why is this statement significant? The statement which was released by the Obama administration is the first such statement since 1947. As the first statement to give a formal position on extraterrestrial life from the executive branch in writing, this disclosure was intended to put to rest concerns of conspiracy theorists. Ironically however, it has led to even more speculation and could the government really have expected anything else? Groups of individuals who dedicate their lives to uncovering conspiracy theories and evidence of extraterrestrial life (most significantly in Area 51) are hardly likely to accept a written statement from those they believe are covering up the conspiracy in the first place.
CIA Reports released confirming the rumors and revealing the location
In response to the a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by Jeffrey T. Richelson, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) released documents that confirm that Area 51 exists and include a map of the base’s exact location. They report that the government used Area 51 as a test site for special surveillance programs. Source: CNN.
So what do others familiar with the area have to say about Area 51 and its use? One man, Steven Aftergood, the director of the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy believes that he knows. Not only does Aftergood explain his theory for the secrecy behind Area 51 but he also explains the reason why so many believe other, more covert, activities take place there. Aftergood explains that the area that is generally believed by non-conspiracy theorists to test classified aircraft was used to flight test the U2 spy plane, the SR-71 and the F-117A stealth fighter. The secrecy that surrounds exactly what goes on in Area 51 however, combined with novel, television and movie portrayals of what could go on in Area 51 lead to a lot of speculation. Aftergood refers to Area 51 as “a concrete manifestation of official secrecy at its most intense” and explains that it “invites a mixture of paranoia and speculative fantasy that has become ingrained in popular culture.”
Why Do We Keep Digging?
If the truth is that Area 51 is shrouded in secrecy as a means to protect national security then why do we keep digging? Why seek information that is not intended to be uncovered? For many people it is human nature to be curious. When faced with a closed door and told not to open it, the majority of people when left to their own devices will open it to see what lies behind it. When faced with a closed door and told not to open it because it poses a risk to their life, there is still going to be a percentage of the population who open that door. The question is though; would these people really be satisfied if they found out what was behind that door? If they uncovered exactly what takes place at Area 51 would they be able to take that information at face value or would they continue to believe that it were just another conspiracy theory if it did not jive with their fantastic explanation?
10 Things About Area 51
Still hungry for more fun facts? This video summarizes the top 10 things you should know about Area 51.