10 Things You Never Knew About Area 51
A popular topic among science fiction enthusiasts and conspiracy theorist is Area 51. Frequently connected with the 1947 incident during which a UFO allegedly crashed near Roswell, New Mexico, it is thought to be a secret facility where the government experiments on extraterrestrials and flying saucers. While the UFO landing has been written off as a weather balloon, the military facility commonly known as Area 51 does actually exist; however, the unidentified flying objects experimented on there were of a more terrestrial nature.
Due to the rumors of alien activity at Area 51, the adjacent highway has been named “The Extraterrestrial Highway” and the towns nearby have capitalized on the rumors with a plethora of alien-themed merchandise for tourists to buy. There’s even an alien-themed hotel called Little A’Le’Inn. Over the years, the military facility has been called by many names, including “Site II” and “The Ranch.” It is unknown how or why it became known as “Area 51.” In any case, the name seems to have stuck and has even led to a nearby minor league baseball being called the 51s.
Area 51 is a United States Air Force military installation located in the Nevada desert near Groom Lake. The fact that it appears on satellite images but not on any public U.S. government maps (though it can now be found on Google Maps) has fueled the mystery surrounding it. Not only has it been associated with the 1947 Roswell incident and other alleged alien encounters, but it has also been connected to the conspiracy theory that the moon landing was a hoax. Believers of this theory believe the moon landing to have been filmed in the Nevada desert, possibly at Area 51.
For decades, the government refused to admit that Area 51 even existed and the satellite images were censored. This obvious secrecy regarding the nature of the facility left many people eager to believe the stories of men like Robert Lazar who came forward in 1989, claiming to have been employed by the government to work on extraterrestrial technology at Area 51. He even claimed to have seen photos from alien autopsies.
So, yeah, Area 51 is really big. With so much space available in the Nevada desert it's not a surprise that the government has made use of the ridiculous amount of square footage. Known as “the largest contiguous air and ground space available for peacetime military operations in the free world,” the base is about the size of Connecticut.
In 1954, two CIA staffers were sent on a recon mission to find the best space in the desert for a secret base and whoo-boy did they find a great space. Annie Jacobson, author of Area 51: An Uncensored History of America’s Top Secret Military Base explained:
They discovered the perfect fulfillment of the presidential request which was a secret base centered around a dry lakebed in the middle of Nevada that happened to be located in an already classified facility where the government was exploding nuclear weapons. There was no way that anyone was going to try to get into this facility, especially because nuclear bombs were being exploded there.
There's no driving to Area 51. Most government employees who pay a visit to this Nevada testing site go in an out via plane. In the early 1960s hangars, runways, and various air traffic facilities were installed to keep the country's spy plane program moving. At the time we were in the middle of the Cold War so secrecy was necessary, which means that a ton of theories popped up about just exactly what was happening at this base in the desert.
Today, there's a private, secret airline code named "Janet" that brings passengers in and out of the base, which makes perfect sense (who wants to drive more than 100 miles into the desert to go to work?), but it is sketchy.
With so much space allotted to the U.S. government it makes sense that there's more than aircraft construction going on out in the desert. The 38,400-acre patch of nasty terrain is used as a training site for soldiers preparing for battle in the desert. War games, sleeping under the stars, shooting at cans, it's all going on out there right under our noses.
With so many officials and military people working around the clock in Area 51 it makes sense that there's an entire working village on the base. While speaking with the Seattle Times in 2010, former Area 51 contractor James Noce explained that in the '60s the food was absolutely smashing on the base. He said:
Day or night, you could get a steak, whatever you wanted.
It's not clear if that's still the case, but we have to imagine that you can still get a good meal on the base. And if there really are aliens on the base, you can really go wild.
As you might imagine security is incredibly tight around Area 51. Aside from the fact that there are government officials patrolling the grounds there's also plenty of drone activity that provides an eye in the sky. In 2019, Annie Jacobson explained to Vox that there's no way someone could get on the premises without the government being aware of it:
I couldn’t even begin to speculate on whether or not anyone could get into Area 51 to see what’s going on because it’s fundamentally impossible. To think that the government isn’t uniquely aware of everyone who goes anywhere near that facility is naive. A group of people massing anywhere near that facility is not going to happen. Local law enforcement would step in in a preemptive manner far before that happened.
On June 25, 2013, the government finally shed some light on their operations at Area 51. Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act and a request submitted in 2005 by Jeffrey T. Richelson of the George Washington University National Security Archive, the CIA approved the declassification of documents related to the governments use of the facility in the 1950s and 1960s. According to these documents, Area 51 was used for a program known as OXCART during which the government tested U2 spy planes. Among the aircraft tested there were the SR-71 Blackbird, the Archangel-12, and the F-117 Nighthawk. The government believes it was the test flights of these aircraft which were responsible for the UFO sightings in the area.
Area 51 is still an active military installation administered by Edwards Air Force Base in southern California. However, the declassified documents only revealed what the facility was used for in the past. It is unknown what type of research is currently being conducted there. What is known is that the area is not accessible to the public and is under 24-hour surveillance. It is said to be protected by guards carrying M16s and signs warning that trespassers will be met with fines, jail time, or deadly force.