Everyone knows that the United States has mind-reading aliens from outer space along with their crashed flying saucer-shaped spacecraft from New Mexico. And everyone knows that only Will Smith is cool enough to outmaneuver them with his McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet (actually a naval aircraft - so the wrong choice of a fighter jet for the 1996 movie Independence Day).
But joking aside, what do we know about this highly secretive United States Air Force Base? Why are the CIA and the Air Force so secretive about this base? If one could visit the site, what would they find?
Area 51: The Facts We Know
- Operator: United States Air Force
- Location: Within The Nevada Test And Training Range (83 Miles North-Northwest Of Las Vagas)
- Date Acquired: 1955
- Size Of The Land: 2.9 Million Acres
While myth, legend, conspiracy theories abound, the airforce base is highly secretive. There have been a number of highly classified projects carried out here - that we now know of (likely plus more that we don't know about). The purpose of the base is officially to provide an open training range. No one believes that is the full story. It is generally thought to be a site supporting the development and testing of experimental aircraft and other weapons systems.
As is often the case, secrecy drives speculation - the upshot being these conspiracies ended up with Will Smith punching an alien out cold. Area 51 has always been a central part of the UFO folklore and a favorite of the X-Files.
In 2013, the CIA finally acknowledged the existence of a base having been compelled to after the Freedom of Information Act request filed back in 2005. This accompanied declassification of various documents about the base.
State Route 375
To reach area 51 one follows State Route 375. One could say that the route has fallen victim to the "if you can't beat 'em, you may as well join 'em" saying. In 1996, due to numerous people reporting UFO sightings and alien X-Files-like activity, the state officially re-designated the route as the "Extraterrestial Highway." Today one can find various alien-themed businesses making a living in the small town of Rachel on the highway just out of Area 51.
Here are some of the things we know about the base. It is illegal to fly over Area 51, but there are satellite images of the base. The base has 2.3 mile long runways. The base is located next to The Nevada Test Site (where nukes were tested from the 1950s to the 1990s), and the Nevada Test and Training Range. Both of these sites are restricted military zones.
- Fun Fact: According To The US Government What Crashed In Roswell, New Mexico In 1947 Was A Weather Balloon
It was built for real-life secretive projects. Including the spy plane and stealth plane the U-2 and the SR-71 Blackbird. These are not the only "black projects" to be developed and researched at the site. A black project is a project not officially recognized with secret funding.
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- Fun Fact: In 2013 President Obama Became The First US President To Speak About Area 51 Publicly
What Is Happening There Today
Apart from the little green men (or gray men - movies are a little inconsistent on color), according to the BBC, it is believed that the base continues to be used for developing cutting-edge aircraft. It is believed that around 1,500 people work at the site with many of them commuting on charter flights from Sin City (Las Vegas).
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It is also probable that some of the most advanced espionage programs in the world are based there - according to a report by Annie Jacobsen in the above-linked BBC article. She told the BBC, "Area 51 is a test and training facility. The research began with the U-2 spy plane in the 1950s and has now moved on to drones."
Things We Don't Know
We don't know why it's called "Area 51" and more importantly we don't know for sure anything about the research currently being conducted inside the base. Imagination, speculation, and conjecture are often more exciting and compelling than the truth. We can be sure there are no aliens or a Thor's Hammer at the base, but still, it would be interesting to know what is there.
Critics have been right that the base is much more than the Air Force claimed for so long - up to 2013. It is likely it's just a standard highly classified Air Force research and espionage center. But are there operational aircraft there that the Air Force still hasn't revealed? This we just don't know.