The fabled military base known as Area 51 sits in the Nevada desert surrounded by chain-link fences, boom gates and intimidating trespassing signs. The only way to work at the site is to be a US citizen with a security clearance.
Engineers working on the U-2 spy plane chose Groom Lake as the perfect place to test their creation. But they needed a secure location, and one that was a secret.
What is Area 51?
There’s no denying that the remote facility is real, but what is going on beyond those tightly watched fences is still a mystery to most. For decades, it has been the subject of speculation and wild conspiracy theories about aliens, crashed spaceships, and secret experiments that could change the world forever.
In 2013 the government officially acknowledged the existence of เอเรีย 51, and while it’s true that there are some top-secret activities there, there’s also a lot that goes on to advance America’s military for today and tomorrow. In addition to testing aircraft like the U-2 Dragon Lady (that infamously flies at speeds much faster than any other spy plane in history) and the SR-71 Blackbird, Homey Airport is home to the test flight of other cutting-edge platforms, including the B-2 Spirit bomber, the F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter, and even the Bird of Prey (from the X-Men movies).
For those who are curious about what’s going on inside those fences, there is an official tour that can be arranged by request. However, the facility is not open to the general public, and anyone who wishes to work there must have an extensive security clearance.
A recent prank on social media, however, gave people all over the country a chance to get a glimpse at what’s happening behind those closed doors. In 2019, 20-year-old Matty Roberts created a tongue-in-cheek Facebook event titled “Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop Us.” He didn’t think more than a few dozen people would take him seriously, but by the time the event was set to take place in September, over 2.5 million users had signed up to join him.
The Air Force quickly shut down the event after more than a few thousand bold souls showed up in the Nevada desert with their Roswell-inspired onesies and inflatable aliens to camp out on the outskirts of the base. Though no one actually made it to the actual base, those who attended were able to get close enough to see the specialized security vehicles that protect the facility.
The Air Force’s strict security is no joke, and it’s not surprising that the facility is surrounded by some of the most heavily guarded land anywhere in the world. But for those who are willing to set aside the baseless rumors about aliens and UFOs, there is a very important reason why this location is so secure.
What is the History of Area 51?
In a secluded corner of Nevada’s dry desert, surrounded by a dusty unmarked road, chain link fence, boom gate and intimidating trespassing signs sits America’s most-mythicized military base. It’s a place that has inspired conspiracy theorists, who believe it’s where the government keeps secret aliens and flying saucers. But, as it turns out, there’s far more to Area 51 than meets the eye.
The history of the facility began in 1955 when the CIA decided to develop its new U-2 spy plane, which could fly higher than other planes and take high-resolution photographs of targets around the world. The team was looking for a remote location where they could test the plane without attracting unwanted attention. They found that the Groom Lake area was perfect.
Over the years, the CIA and Air Force have used Area 51 (officially known as Paradise Ranch) to test various surveillance and attack aircrafts, including the U-2, the OXCART, the Lockheed A-12 and the stealthy F-117 Nighthawk. It was even the home of a project that reverse-engineered a Soviet-built MiG-21 fighter jet that a defector pilot brought in.
What’s important to note here is that, despite the many conspiracy theories, the actual work being done at Area 51 is still classified as Top Secret. That’s true for many military bases, national laboratories and government scientific research centers across the country.
Benjamin Radford is an American folklorist, author and skeptic. He’s written more than 20 books on the subjects of mythology, folklore, magic and supernatural beliefs, and is a regular contributor to the Skeptical Inquirer. His newest book, Mysterious New Mexico: Miracles, Monsters and Other Unexplained Wonders, comes out this summer.
He’s also the author of Scientific Paranormal Investigation: How to Solve Unexplained Mysteries, Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction and Folklore, and The Secrets of Area 51. He lives in New Mexico and is the deputy editor of Skeptical Inquirer. His website is BenRadford.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. You can also listen to him on the podcast, Mystery Case Files. It’s on iTunes and Google Play.
What is the Future of Area 51?
Although a lot of speculation swirls around Area 51, the truth is that no one knows exactly what goes on there. But the facility is still off-limits to civilian and regular military air traffic, and it’s surrounded by armed guards. The 68 years of government secrecy surrounding the secretive base has only amplified rumors, conspiracy theories and suspicions that something out-of-this-world is happening at Groom Lake. Countless theories have ranged from communicating with aliens to storing and testing extraterrestrial spacecraft and even killing aliens at the facility.
Area 51 was originally developed for the U-2 spy plane during the Cold War in the early 1950s, when America worried about Soviet advances and wanted to keep its technological advantage. The team that designed the aircraft spied on Nevada’s Groom Lake from the air and discovered it had everything they needed to test their early prototypes.
The mythology surrounding the facility grew in 1989 when a man named Robert Lazar claimed that he worked at the base and had seen both flying saucers and alien bodies. While he was ultimately exposed as a fraud, his claim sparked a wave of out-of-this-world conspiracy theories that still persist today.
Today, the facility is primarily used for flight tests of the latest weapons systems, including the F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter and the SR-71 Blackbird. It’s also where the US Navy develops technologies for submarine controls and other undersea applications, such as sonar.
While it may not rattle the conspiracy theorists, these projects are no laughing matter for the real workers at the site. In January 2019, a suspect was shot dead by security personnel after approaching officers with a cylindrical object that they believed to be a weapon.
As a result, those who work at the facility have no choice but to remain quiet about their work. But some have started to lift the veil on what’s really going on inside. Thornton “T.D.” Barnes, who once worked at the facility and is the head of Road Runners, has done more than anyone to lift the veil on what’s actually happening in the Nevada desert. He’s a former Central Intelligence Agency radar specialist who came out into the open more than a decade ago to discuss his work at the base.
Why is Area 51 so Secret?
As the name suggests, Area 51 is extremely secret. Its activities are kept hidden from the public by warning signs, electronic surveillance and armed guards who enforce the no trespassing rules. It is also illegal to fly over it. The 2.9 million acres it occupies are next to two other restricted military areas, including the Nevada Test and Training Range where nuclear weapons were tested from the 1950s until the 1990s.
The US government officially acknowledged Area 51 in 2013, when the National Security Archive at George Washington University released a heavily redacted version of a CIA document chronicling the history of the U-2 spy plane. This made it clear that the base was used for testing aerial espionage aircraft, including the U-2, which could reach altitudes far higher than other planes of its time. It is thought that tests of this aircraft, and later other military air vehicles such as the Lockheed A-12, the SR-71 Blackbird and the F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter, account for many reported UFO sightings.
However, even after the CIA’s acknowledgement of Area 51, conspiracy theories about aliens and their technology continued to circulate around the site. Some theorists believe that the UFOs seen in the skies over Nevada are actually reverse-engineered prototypes of Alien spacecraft. Others believe that Area 51 is the location of a secret underground facility where extraterrestrial bodies are preserved and studied for their biological properties.
In the early years of the Cold War, both the United States and Soviet Union sought any new technological developments that might give one nation an advantage over the other. As a result, many projects at Area 51 were considered highly classified at the time, including the development of the U-2 spy plane and other experimental aircraft.
In the decades that followed, some of those projects were declassified, but many other activities still remained classified. As the war dragged on, it became increasingly important to the United States that the country keep a tight lid on its research and development programs. Consequently, many of the activities carried out at Area 51, particularly those related to aliens and UFOs, stayed secret.