* Area 51: the World's most secret air base

A scientific, very respectful and well-thought reply to the popular question "Do you believe in UFOs?"  This book evolved as a reply to one of the most frequent questions that I used to hear from the public when I was working in an astronomical observatory: "Do you believe in UFOs?". That seems an odd question to ask to scientists, but after researching conscientiously for about a full year, I discovered, to my surprise, that mainstream Science has a few things to say about the topic.  This book is not about conspiracy theory, "NASA is hiding the truth", or much less, that flying saucers have already landed on the lawn of the White House. Rather, it is a book about what is the most rational reply that a scientist, or in my case, a science writer, can offer when people insist on asking that question.  As one advances through the chapters, explores the following rationale: Is there life in the Universe? The answer is yes: us. Are there civilizations capable of spaceflight? The answer is again yes: us. Can we expand those two questions? Can we answer also: "them" and "them"?  All illustrations are also available at naturapop.com


In 1989, a person contacted a reporter from Las Vegas claiming he feared for his life. He hinted he had seen people waiting in a car near his home, or following his movements, because he had worked for the U. S. government in a top secret project in the Nevada desert, and by now he knew too much. He suggested the project in question had to do nothing more and nothing less than with extraterrestrials.

The complainant was regarded as a specialist in advanced propulsion systems, who had obtained ​​two Master's degrees in Magnetohydrodynamics, one at Caltech and one at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and years before he had worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where the Atomic Bomb was created, where he met Edward Teller, father of the hydrogen thermonuclear bomb.

But his drama would have started years later when, living in Las Vegas and being unemployed, contacted Teller again and asked the famous scientist if this could help him get a job. The complainant let transpire that weeks after the request, a company named EG & G called him for an interview. He implied he was offered a job in the desert north of Las Vegas, in what is known as the Nellis Air Force complex, a territory the size of Belgium famous because for decades had served as a testing ground for atomic bombs, and Red Flag exercises, in which planes of the U.S. Air Force simulate aerial combat.


According to the complainant, he was hired and, with a credential to handle top secret issues, he went to the Las Vegas McCarran International Airport, where he boarded a plane that shortly thereafter was landing in one of several bases within Nellis. He recalled that at getting off the plane he was taken to a bus, which then rode him along a dirt road for several miles to a mountainside. There, according to this person, a secret entrance to underground facilities appeared.

According to him, he was taken to a room where they would explain him the nature of the work. Once there, a folder would have been handed to him, and for a while he was left alone, to study its contents. And here the story becomes unbelievable: in that folder it would be briefly told the story of how the U.S. government would had come into contact with intelligent beings from another star system, and currently would have, in that very same base, several alien ships to study.

All this experience would had left the complainant very disturbed. But he slowly got used to the idea. During the following weeks he would repeat several times the journey to the secret base, where he would have effectively seen several of the saucer-shaped craft, of different models and sizes. His story contained the revelation that although in all the time he spent there he never saw alien beings, he sensed they were close.

This person purportedly was assigned the job of studying, always escorted by guards armed with machine guns, components of the propulsion system of the ships. He affirmed that within weeks he was able to understand and explain to his superiors the miracle that made them so fast as to travel through interstellar space. This amazing part of the recounting apparently ended at some point when they thanked him for his services and was told a "see you later".

Many researchers have tried to corroborate his testimony. And thus came up the real past of this alleged whistleblower, including that he had never gone to the universities cited but was an electronics technician; that he had worked for Fairchild in California and was sent to Los Alamos by the contractor but without access to secret programs; that then he owned a photo lab that went broke; and also that he have had trouble with the law in more than one occasion, and had even been convicted of pandering.

All this without mentioning that his "technical explanations" have no feet or head.

His fantastic story would have been one more among a pile of stories related to UFOs if not for one detail: five years after this first radio interview the magazine Popular Science published on its cover a photograph obtained years before by a Soviet satellite, which clearly shows that in the place indicated by the complainant, a dry lake bed called Groom Lake, yes there is indeed a large airport ignored in current maps since long ago. That piece of desert used to be listed on old government maps simply as Area 51, and today has become a place of pilgrimage for all kinds of fanatics.


Sketchy official information about an apparently precarious and innocent airfield at Groom Lake had been given during the 50s, 60s, and 70s, but afterwards a decided official effort has been made to push the whole place under the shadows of the World of Black Projects. The United States government continued to keep its mouth shut, but in the mid 90's was forced to open it just only once by an unexpected setback: some base workers initiated a lawsuit because they had been poisoned by strange chemicals.  But the demand was cut because the government argued that what was happening at Groom Lake was secret of state and making it public will put the "national security" at risk.

The secret begins still at Las Vegas: in the McCarran International Airport there is a private terminal, visible from luxury hotels such as Luxor and Tropicana, where several unmarked 737 aircraft load and unload discrete passengers. The registration tail numbers are civilians, but records indicate that the owner is the Air Force. By counting the cars left in the parking lot and the number of flights it is estimated than more than 1000 people are transported every morning, returning in the afternoon. By listening to aeronautical radio frequencies it was learned that the control tower in Las Vegas identifies these flights with the codename JANET, and usually they depart heading Nellis.

At the edge of the territory of Nellis lies the town of Rachel, the closest one to Groom Lake. It does not even have one hundred inhabitants. Some time in the past it was a mining town, but nowadays their residents live from sheep ranching. Yet Rachel has become a tourist place, where there have been UFO conventions and even at a time there was a "Center for the Study of Area 51". Today there is an inn for visitors, appropriately named "Little A'Le'Inn," a wordplay that includes the word "inn" but can also sound "Little Alien". Leaving Rachel through the paved road, which bears the official name of "Extraterrestrial Highway", one can come upon some intersection with some dirt road in a place called "The Black Mailbox", for the color of an old mailbox of some local ranch. (An excellent amateur guide is "Dreamland Resort" http://www.dreamlandresort.com). Here is where enthusiasts gather with their cameras, binoculars and even telescopes. Going up to a nearby peak it was possible to have a distant view of the secret base; that was before the government quickly reacted expropriating the mountain. Still, fans are able to see activity in the skies.

And they have reported all sorts of strange visions: purportedly, several types of unmanned aircraft; cruise missiles invisible to radar; a hypersonic spy plane called "Aurora"; a black blimp invisible to radar; a space plane called "Blackstar"; strange ray guns that ionize the air; Soviet aircraft obtained by "various means"; etc..

Are there little green men (or to update the folk culture, gray) at Groom Lake? She or he who tried to find out by following the dirt road has bumped into, long before any fence, several posters that warn the tourist not to continue or it will happen to her or him all sorts of terrible things: fines, years in prison and even the evocative words "USE OF DEADLY FORCE AUTHORIZED".

Looking with a little more attention to the barren hills surrounding this road, one can realize at the distance mysterious off-road vehicles; if equipped with binoculars the tourist can verify that in these vehicles there are other binoculars pointed back in her or his direction. If the tourist takes too many pictures, the local sheriff might appear on the road, out of the blue, and take her or him to a police station to be fined. It has been reported that a Blackhawk helicopter interrupted the passage of visitors, shooing them. One detail that may seem taken from a James Bond movie, but that is real, is that half-hidden on the edge of the dirt road leading to Groom Lake there are tripods, masts, cables in the sand and other alleged detectors.


Thanks to the efforts of organizations such as "Citizens Against UFO secrecy" and the Federation of American Scientists, through the years it was hardly won the release of various official documents, that even though severely edited, helped to demystify a little this unique air base.

The area, and the rest of the vast territory of Nellis, was used during the Second World War as an artillery practice range. In the 50's it adquired a super-secret and restricted-access trait when test of atomic bombs began to be done there.

At that time, the CIA was developing a high-altitude spy plane for missions over the Soviet Union. This was a very sensitive issue, because flying into foreign airspace without permission is at least a violation of international law. The aircraft in question would be later known as U2. The manufacturer responsible for the project, Lockheed, needed to test it, but they had to find the most secret possible place to do that. The perfect place was one of the many makeshift airstrips in the territory of Nellis, in this case at Groom Lake, which became a secret territory within a secret territory.

After the U2 era, it came the time of its successor, the supersonic SR-71, in the 60's. The place was so good for this activity that at the end of the 70's and early 80's the plane invisible to radar F-117 was being tested here. 

What happened after the person of 1989 began to make much noise is a mystery. Some speculate that the secret programs were transferred to other parts of the United States, and Area 51 remains with its now folkloric classification of super secret only to mislead. But all that can be affirmed for sure is that no saucer-shaped aircraft has ever been photographed flying above Groom Lake.

A. L.

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Originally published in ABC Color, on 19 November 2006. A slightly retouched version of this article, joined to many other related articles from this website making a compilation titled "Do you believe in UFOs?", is available for sale in electronic book format at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00GF0REFI. Photograph: A gallery of the masterpiece of the great aeronautical engineer Clarence "Kelly" Johnson, the Lockheed A-12 and derivatives, which later would evolve into the SR-71, on the ramp of the airport of Area 51, Groom Lake, Nevada, in or around 1964. In a similar but closer picture it is confirmed that the roundels and other markings are United States Air Force's, despite all the planes but two being civilians. The registration numbers were erased, apparently with a black marker applied directly on the photographic paper. Still, it is possible to try to infer which aircraft are involved: the first, at right, has in its nose an augmented pitot probe for test flights, so it would be the first A-12 prototype, article 121, USAF serial number 60-6924, first flight on 26 April 1962 in Groom Lake, à la Hughes H-4 Hercules (better known as "Spruce Goose", despite the protests of its creator and pilot, the great Howard Hughes) in 1947 on the waters of Long Beach, or if not at least would be the second prototype of the A-12, article 122, serial number 60-6925. The second plane of the photo is the sole A-12 two-seater trainer, article 124, serial number 60-6927, known as "Titanium Goose", first flight on 7 January 1963. It is now on display at the California Science Center in Los Angeles, United States. The last two, at the back, are longer and have a different nose, so they would be two of the three YF-12A built for the USAF to intercept Soviet strategic bombers, USAF serial numbers 60-6934 and / or USAF 60-6935 and / or USAF 60-6936 (two of these three possible). These two would actually be military machines. The first flight of the YF-12 took place on 7 August 1963. When on 29 February 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson publicly acknowledged the YF-12 project, calling it A-11 to mislead the enemy and without mentioning the CIA's civilian A-12s, two of those military interceptor machines were immediately transferred to Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert, California, to keep the press away from Groom Lake and its precious secret toys. Therefore this picture, which was kept secret for decades, would have been taken in Area 51 between these two latter dates. In fact, author Thomas McIninch (a pseudonym?) credits it precisely to the latter year. Photo credit: U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, published initially in a restricted way by McIninch, Thomas P., "The Oxcart Story: record of a Pioneering achievement" in "Studies in Intelligence. Journal of the American Intelligence Professional", Volume 15, Issue 1, pp. 1-34 (Winter of 1971), Figure 2, page 18. Approved for release in 1994, CIA Historical Review Program, 2 July 1996.