History

Area 51: Secrets, saucers and silliness?

For Area 51, the line between reality and folklore is blurred, leading to a cloud of mystery that hovers over the secretive military base.
Jessica Evans Avatar
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Guard Gate at Area 51 (Groom Lake, Dreamland) near Rachel, Nevada (Photo by Barry King/WireImage)

When it comes to Area 51, the line between reality and folklore is often blurred, leading to a cloud of mystery that hovers over this secretive military base. By delving into the specifics, we salute the men and women who may or may not be reverse-engineering flying saucers as we speak.

Coordinates and topography

Area 51 is situated in southern Nevada, within the boundaries of the Nevada Test and Training Range. Specifically, its GPS coordinates are approximately 37.2350° N, 115.8111° W. The facility encompasses Groom Lake, a dry salt flat that has provided an ideal location for an expansive runway. The mountainous terrain around the lake helps to obscure the base from public view, making it a perfect spot for classified operations. It’s so secretive not even Google Maps dares to sneak a peek without permission.

Architectural blueprint

One of the key Area 51 facts often overlooked is the facility’s layout. It features a single, extraordinarily long runway—measuring up to 12,000 feet—that can accommodate all types of aircraft. The complex also has a range of hangars, control towers, and administrative buildings. Some reports also suggest an extensive underground facility, though these remain unconfirmed due to the classified nature of the base. We can neither confirm nor deny the presence of a subterranean lair suitable for a Bond villain/cutting-edge research.

U-2 to OXCART

Established in 1955, the initial purpose of Area 51 was to serve as a testing ground for the U-2 spy plane. The U-2 program was pivotal during the Cold War for reconnaissance missions over the Soviet Union. Subsequent projects included testing the A-12 OXCART, a precursor to the SR-71 Blackbird, another aircraft legendary for its speed and stealth capabilities. These airplanes provided vital intelligence throughout the Cold War and other military conflicts. And let’s not forget its unsung role as the playground for aviation nerds and engineers who make rocket scientists look like amateurs.

Modern-say significance

While past achievements offer a historical view, Area 51 continues to be instrumental in modern military research and development. Some believe the current focus may include advanced drone technology, stealth tech enhancements, and possibly even directed-energy weapons. The secrecy ensures that the United States has the strategic upper hand, a fact that strengthens national security and our military prowess globally. Because nothing says ‘America is on the job’ like classified tech so advanced it might as well be from another galaxy.

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Photo DigitalGlobe via Getty Images via Getty Images.

When social media paves the way

While Area 51 has always been shrouded in secrecy, the public’s fascination with the facility has often nudged the government to acknowledge its existence and role, albeit in a limited manner. For instance, Area 51 was officially recognized by the CIA only in 2013, following a Freedom of Information Act request. This was a milestone in government transparency, showing that public interest could indeed influence policy and information release. Or at least make them admit they have a super-secret desert base, which is kind of a win, right?

In 2019, the viral “Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All of Us” Facebook event attracted over 2 million RSVPs. In turn, this compelled the Air Force to issue a stern warning against any attempt to breach the facility. But, of course, that did nothing to deter the folks who thought – for sure – there were aliens at Area 51. Interestingly, this led to an official gathering called “Alienstock.” If you’re not in the know, Alienstock is a music festival celebrating the aura of mystery around Area 51. Naturally, fest-goers can’t get close, so they celebrate from afar since it’s as close as you’ll get to Area 51 without donning a camo suit and dodging security patrols.

Aliens? For real?

No discussion of Area 51 facts can be complete without addressing the pervasive rumors of extraterrestrial involvement. These theories gained traction in the late 1980s. That’s when a man named Bob Lazar claimed to have worked on reverse-engineering alien spacecraft at a site near Area 51. Cool story, bro. While these claims have been widely discredited, they fueled a cultural fascination with the possibility of alien activities. However, no concrete evidence has ever been presented to substantiate these extraterrestrial claims. But hey, who doesn’t love a good conspiracy theory with their morning coffee?

Skunk Works

Skunk Works, Lockheed Martin’s advanced development program, has been extensively involved in many projects at Area 51. It’s a symbiotic relationship between the military and private sector that exemplifies the ingenuity and innovation of American engineering. Skunk Works collabs showcase America’s tech genius. With code names this cool, it’s like James Bond meets Tony Stark.

Project OXCART unveiled the A-12 reconnaissance aircraft, setting the stage for the iconic SR-71 Blackbird. The level of secrecy surrounding the project was so high that even the initial pilots didn’t know what they would fly. Meanwhile, Skunk Works birthed the F-117 Nighthawk, the world’s first operational stealth aircraft. Conducted primarily at Area 51, this project epitomized the clandestine nature of these groundbreaking initiatives.

Skunk Works founder Clarence “Kelly” Johnson laid the foundation with his visionary engineering, establishing 14 rules that continue to serve as an industry standard for rapid, secretive project development. His successor, Ben Rich, further propelled the unit’s achievements, playing a pivotal role in the development of stealth technology. The talent pool at Area 51 and Skunk Works, cultivated in a crucible of pressure and secrecy, continues to produce technologies that keep America safe. And possibly, just maybe, a secret stash of lightsabers. Just saying.

Secure against aliens and humans

Area 51 takes security to legendary heights. It layers advanced monitoring systems over typical military protocols. The site uses advanced camouflage, like nets and hangars that blend into the landscape. Motion sensors in the desert can tell humans from animals. Techniques for dodging satellite surveillance are classified but effective.

The airspace above Area 51, known as R-4808N or “The Box,” forbids unauthorized entry, enforced by military interception. Radar systems jam unwanted communications, blocking civilian tech. Security contractors, known as Cammo Dudes, patrol the area with M16s and can detain trespassers. Every worker swears a lifetime secrecy oath … which means they could tell you what’s going on, but then they’d have to make you disappear—into a desk job filing paperwork for eternity.

The facts that make us proud

Separating Area 51 facts from the myriad of myths and rumors reveals a facility of monumental importance to American military history and current defense capabilities. So, while the conspiracy theories about Area 51 might tickle your imagination, the facts make it legendary. Whether you’re into technological marvels or hope to confirm your suspicions about E.T., Area 51 keeps us proud and intrigued. And for the record, if there are aliens, they know better than to mess with American military might.