A dusty unmarked road leads to the front gate of Area 51, a top-secret military base in Nevada’s barren desert. It’s surrounded by a chain-link fence and intimidating trespassing signs.
Located at Groom Lake, the base has become infamous for its speculated connection to alien conspiracies. But what exactly goes on inside the facility?
As far as secret military bases go, few are more notorious than Area 51. The rumored facility is home to aliens, underground tunnel systems and nuclear facilities, according to many conspiracy theories. It’s also a place where the government tests out new aircraft, including the SR-71 Blackbird and the Stealth Fighter. But is there any truth to these rumors? To find out, I spoke to Annie Jacobsen, author of the book Area 51: An Uncensored History of America’s Top Secret Military Base.
Jacobsen’s research, as well as interviews with people who have worked at the base and other official sources, helped me understand what really goes on behind those imposing chain-link fences, boom gates and intimidating trespassing signs. What I found, however, is not the “Forbidden Planet” or even a secret lunar landing movie set, but instead a fascinating and highly active military base.
The story of Area 51 begins with the CIA choosing Nevada’s Groom Lake in 1955 as the ideal spot to test its new U-2 spy plane, which could fly at up to 90,000 feet and spy on Soviet and Cuban targets. The name used to identify the site was Watertown Strip, named after the CIA director’s hometown of Watertown, New York, but it soon shortened to Paradise Ranch, which also became Red Square and Dreamland (taken from a tower call sign).
In addition to developing its own surveillance and attack planes, the base served as a test center for the nuclear weapons used in the Cold War and in US missile tests. It also hosted foreign jets, sometimes acquired from defector pilots. This allowed the Air Force to see what the latest technology other countries were using and use it to stay ahead of the Soviets in the arms race, says Jacobsen.
The public’s attention was drawn to เอเรีย 51 in the ’80s when the Air Force began buying up 89,000 acres of land near the site and evicting residents who refused to sell their property. It really exploded at the end of that decade when an interview with a man who claimed to be a former employee of the facility, Bob Lazar, was broadcast on local television in Las Vegas. He said that the base, which is also home to Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas and Los Alamos National Lab in New Mexico, was divided into sectors, one of which was underground and connected to Area 51 by miles of tunnels.
The US military base known as Area 51 has a reputation for being a hotbed of conspiracy theories. There have been multiple sightings of mysterious lights in the sky and rumors about everything from communicating with aliens for some sinister motive to reverse-engineering their spacecraft. But it’s the secrecy surrounding the facility that really has people’s imagination running wild.
The base has been featured in movies, video games and TV shows like “The X-Files.” In fact, it was the site of the show’s season six episode entitled “Dreamland,” which aired back in 1998. The plot centers on Mulder and Scully witnessing a craft flying above Groom Lake. But there’s a lot more to the story than just a bunch of speculative alien sightings.
For decades the Air Force has defended the need for secrecy to ensure its testing and development is done with the utmost security and privacy. The unknowable nature of what takes place in the hangars is what makes it such a fertile ground for speculation. The rumors about aliens and secret experiments that never get confirmed are what keep people coming back for more.
One of the biggest mysteries about Area 51 is where the name came from. It isn’t because the government keeps a stash of alien autopsies there, but rather because of a naming convention. The term “Area 51” is a code name used by the Central Intelligence Agency. The agency uses these cryptonyms to refer to agents and highly classified operations that they don’t want to get out in the public.
Despite the rumors, Area 51 is an active military base with a lot of things going on at any given time. It is a massive facility that’s protected by some of the heaviest security on Earth and has been for decades.
The base has its own police department and has a boom gate, armed guards and intimidating trespassing signs that make it a no-go for anyone who’s not a cleared personnel who’s been granted access to the site. And the Air Force has warned that if someone does storm the facility they will be subject to serious consequences.
There are a lot of myths and hypotheses swirling around Area 51. Some believe that it’s home to aliens, underground tunnel systems, and nuclear facilities. Others claim that the lunar landing was filmed there. No matter what your beliefs are, there is no denying that the area is shrouded in secrecy.
That secrecy is what has fueled so many conspiracy theories about the military base, including claims that it’s holding alien technology and secret extraterrestrial experiments. Area 51 is also famous for being the birthplace of overhead espionage, as it’s where the CIA built its first U-2 spy plane in the 1950s. It has since been used as a test ground for all kinds of high-flying reconnaissance planes.
But it was the Area 51’s association with UFOs that really took off. In 1947, a flying saucer panic led to public reports and inquiries about mysterious aircraft. This eventually landed Roswell, New Mexico on the map and gave rise to Project Blue Book—the Air Force’s official inquiry into UFO sightings.
The fact that the Air Force had a top-secret facility in the middle of the Nevada desert only added to the mystery. Groom Lake was remote and unassuming, which made it the perfect location for a top-secret aviation program. Plus, there were no towns or cities nearby, so the US wouldn’t be able to easily spot aircraft taking off or landing at the site.
Even today, the military still has to maintain an aura of secrecy. The area is patrolled by helicopters, and there are cameras positioned everywhere. In addition, there is a fence with a boom gate and intimidating trespassing signs. And, of course, it’s a desert, so cell phone service and GPS probably won’t work.
Despite this, some people have been able to get close to the front and back gates of the base. Those who are interested in making the trek should be prepared to camp in the desert, and they should bring plenty of water and food. They should also bring weather gear, as the area can be quite cold at night. Finally, trespassers are likely to be spotted by security personnel, and they may be subject to fines or even arrest.
With no official information available on Area 51, the secrecy surrounding it has made it fertile ground for conspiracy theories. One of the most well-known is the belief that aliens are being held at the base. Another theory is that the military is using the facility to develop exotic propulsion systems, weather manipulation and even energy weapons. Others believe there are underground facilities at Groom Lake and a transcontinental underground railroad system that isn’t visible on satellite imagery. Still others claim that the airstrip at Area 51 mysteriously appears and disappears when water is sprayed on its camouflaged asphalt. Then there are those who think the secretive base is home to a fleet of alien spacecraft that have been reverse-engineered and are in storage for future use.
Because of its proximity to the border with China and Russia, Area 51 is considered a strategic asset. It has been home to the U-2 spy plane and other cutting-edge aircraft, and it is also believed to be the origin of many drones. It is thought that the base is used for both military and commercial purposes, with a large portion of its work involving intelligence gathering.
When the Cold War was at its height, President Dwight Eisenhower realized America wasn’t fully aware of what Russia was up to. The US already had a blueprint for a leading-edge surveillance plane and needed a top-secret site to build it. The middle-of-nowhere Nevada spot was chosen and given the codename Paradise Ranch, but a later CIA document reveals its actual map designation as Area 51.
Although work on the U-2 stopped at the end of the 1950s, the Air Force continued to test other top-secret planes at the facility. Some of these include the SR-71 Blackbird and the F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter. Declassified documents also reference Project HAVE DOUGHNUT, a 1970s attempt to evaluate covertly obtained Soviet MiG-17 fighter jets.
The secrecy surrounding Area 51 has led to a number of conspiracy theories, such as the moon landing never happening and the existence of UFOs. These rumors have also found their way into pop culture, including the popular television series “The X-Files.” The 1998 season six episode of the show, titled “Dreamland,” featured an alien spacecraft that supposedly flew from Area 51.