Widely regarded as the research center for aliens and UFOs in popular culture and conspiracy theories, Area 51 is a mystery. Despite the theories, there’s little published evidence to prove Area 51 has extraterrestrial ties. What we know to be true (declassified documents have proven it) is Area 51’s role as a development and testing zone for some of America’s most famous spy planes including the U-2, A-12 OXCART, and F-117. Come find out more and delve into Area 51’s secrets with these 25 Demystifying Facts About Area 51 The Government Probably Doesn’t Want You To Know.
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How Area 51 got its name
Area 51’s name came from its map designation when it was added as the fifty-first area of the Atomic Energy Commission’s Nevada Proving Ground (where they tested atomic bombs).
Spilling the beans on Area 51's existence
The U.S. government first acknowledged Area 51’s existence in documents released to George Washington University’s National Security Archive in response to their public records request in 2005. Documents released in 2002 removed all mention of the name Area 51.
Need to know basis
Even the U.S. President is on a “need to know basis” and doesn’t know everything that happens on the site.
President Barack Obama is the first U.S. President to have commented on Area 51 – he made joking comments about the base during an award ceremony on December 8, 2013.
Secretly acquired Soviet fighter jets
Area 51 boasted a number of secretly-acquired Soviet MiG fighter jets from which engineers designed planes to counteract the fighters’ strengths. The codename for the first project was HAVE DOUGHNUT.
Near Area 51 is Nevada’s State Route 375 (SR-375). State officials nicknamed the road “Extraterrestrial Highway” in 1996 due to the high number of reported UFO and alien sightings.
Area 51's most recent spy plane
The RQ-170 Sentinel, also known as the Beast of Kandahar, is a stealth drone said to be developed at Area 51. It was rumoured to be a major factor in intelligence gathering and ultimately in finding Osama Bin Laden.
Fake lunar landing
Some conspiracy theorists believe the lunar landing was staged at Area 51 since astronauts tested lunar rovers and life support systems at the atomic testing grounds next door.
In 1995, then-President Bill Clinton signed an executive order protecting Area 51 from any legislation or investigation (largely thought to be in response to environmental concerns at the site) in the aims of national security.
A long commute
To keep locals from suspecting something strange happening at Area 51, most of the base’s staff were flown in daily from Las Vegas 90 miles (145 km) away.
An un-hackable system
One of the biggest reasons so little information about Area 51 has been leaked is that it was never (or most areas of it were never) connected to the internet. Thus, outside hackers can’t get into its system.
Are there aliens at Area 51?
During a guest appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Bill Clinton announced that Area 51 develops stealth technology – but there are no aliens.
The first major U.S. spy plane
President Dwight D. Eisenhower first put Area 51 under control of the CIA to develop the U-2 spy plane which played a paramount role in U.S. spy operations over the Soviet Union.
Worried about Russian spying, the U.S. military used a CORONA reconnaissance satellite to photograph Area 51 from space. The picture was analysed to determine how much information the Soviets could infer about the facility if they photographed it with Sputnik 13.
Area 51's former employees
There’s an association for former Area 51 employees (many from Lockheed) named Roadrunners Internationale. Members meet up to discuss their work experiences, but with most information still classified, there’s little they can actually chat about.
Area 51's original purpose
The area chosen for Area 51 was formerly a gunnery range for Army Air Corps pilots during World War II.
Change of command
The fate of Area 51 was up in the air in the mid-1970s as the CIA no longer needed the area to test its aerial reconnaissance programs. Ultimately, since the Air Force still needed the area to develop stealth aircraft and break-down the Russian MiG fighter jets, control of Area 51 was transferred from the CIA to Air Force in 1977.
The photograph that sparked 1,000 memos
Astronauts on the U.S.’s orbiting Skylab inadvertently snapped a picture of Area 51. NASA and the intelligence community debated back and forth about the impact to national security if the image was released publicly. Ultimately, the photo was put in a collection of Skylab pictures and nobody noticed.
Area 51's nicknames
Area 51 is also known as Groom Lake (a dried up lake bed turned salt flat next to the base) and Paradise Ranch (the name Lockheed’s Kelly Johnson gave it to make the idea of working in such a remote location more attractive to workers).
Poetic inspiration from Edgar Allan Poe
Area 51’s more common nickname – Dreamland – likely came from the Edgar Allan Poe poem of the same name. It warns “the traveler, traveling through it, may not-dare not openly view it; Never its mysteries are exposed, to the weak human eye unclosed.”
Area 51's name today
Today, Area 51 is known as the “Air Force Flight Test Center, Detachment 3” or, abbreviated, AFFTC Det. 3.
Yet another secret spy plane
The A-12 OXCART was a CIA spy plane developed by Lockheed Corporation (the predecessor to Lockheed Martin) and primarily flown out of Area 51. Flying at speeds up to 2,200 mph (3,500 kph), it took the A-12 plane 186 miles (300 km) to make a U-turn.
Fuel used in the A-12 OXCART could withstand temperatures so high not even a lit match would ignite it. Such powerful fuel meant the plane could fly from New York City to Los Angeles in just over an hour. It required so much space to land that a 1.6 mile (2.6 km) runway was created at Area 51.
Great Britain's Area 51
Since Great Britain doesn’t have as much free and open space as the U.S., it’s believed the Brits and Americans have been working together on stealth technology since at least the 1980’s.
The Soviets gave away secrets
By not classifying the work of Russian theoretical physicist and electrical engineer Pytor Ufimtsev, the Soviet Union unwittingly gave the U.S. an advantage when American scientists at Area 51 found the “Rosetta Stone breakthrough for stealth technology” in Ufimtsev’s work.