Area 51. The name is nearly synonymous with UFOs and ETs. But just how did this supposedly “secret” base come into the public consciousness as “ground zero” for alien activities?
While often featured prominently in science fiction TV shows and movies, Area 51 is a very real place, complete with signs that indicate that trespassers will be shot. What really goes on there and what are they hiding, and how did Area 51 gain its mysterious reputation?
One thing we do know for sure is that “Area 51” is a military testing facility. Like many “government secrets,” it had its origins during the cold war. During that time, the US government was very interested in keeping an eye on the movements of the then USSR and its military.
The US Navy and Air Force flew low-level reconnaissance missions over the Soviet Union-controlled territory, but those reconnaissance planes were always at the risk of being detected and shot down as they flew at lower altitudes.
To overcome this issue, the US Air Force proposed the development of an aircraft that could fly at 60,000 feet or higher – which should make it safe from the USSR’s MiG-17, which could only reach 45,000 feet, and from Soviet radar, which the US believed could not track aircraft above 65,000 feet.
The result was the U-2 program, which aimed to develop advanced, high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft. In 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower gave his permission for the U-2 program to go ahead. The first task was to find a suitable and secret location to test the new espionage aircraft. Officials chose the Groom Lake desert region in Lincoln County, Nevada, for the development of the new testing facility.
This desolated region had previously been used as a World War II aerial gunnery range for Army Air Corps pilots. Around 70 miles to the northwest was the Tonopah Test Range, another top-secret area used for missile testing, and it was also close to the Nevada Test Site, where nuclear weapons tests were conducted – again, of course, in top secret. Together, the area was known as the Nevada Test and Training Range, and it covered an area not that much smaller than the state of Connecticut.
Annie Jacobson, author of the book Area 51: An Uncensored History of America’s Top Secret Military Base, said in her book, “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.”
The testing facility had a map designation of Area 51, and that is what it became known as. The facility is now spread across 2.9 million acres of land. In the early days, lead engineer Kelly Johnson named the base Paradise Ranch to make the facility sound more attractive to the newly hired employees.
It was the early testing and development of the U-2 spy plane that helped cement Area 51 in UFO lore. To meet the needs of the military, and the CIA, for high altitude reconnaissance missions, defense company Lockheed Martin developed the U-2 aircraft, which had a flight ceiling of around 70,000 ft.
These aircraft were built under the CIA’s classified program “Project Aquatone.” Flight tests for the new aircraft began on August 1, 1955, and soon after this, multiple news reports of UFO sightings around Groom Lake started pouring in. Most of these sightings were made by commercial pilots who had no idea it was even possible for a plane to fly above 40,000 feet.
Also, since the flight tests were part of a classified reconnaissance mission, Air Force authorities could not utter a word about advanced U-2 aircraft to give an explanation for the “UFO” sightings. Instead, every time a reporter asked the officials about UFO sightings around Area 51, they described the incidents as “natural phenomena” or high altitude weather balloon experiments. However, instead of diverting the media attention, such explanations lead to an increased interest by the general public in the activities taking place in Area 51.
Another reason why people have come to believe that Area 51 is hiding alien UFOs is that the facility is located near both a nuclear weapon testing site and a top-secret training range for new weapons and aircraft. As a result, there are frequent sightings in the area of craft such as high-tech drones, stealth bombers, and many other kinds of never-before-seen flying craft. These have been frequently mistaken as UFOs by the general public.
Even once the existence of the U-2 and later once top-secret aircraft like the SR-71 Blackbird and the F-117 Stealth Fighter were all revealed to the public, rumors about “alien bodies” and “downed UFOs” still persisted about Area 51.
The Alien Connection
While the development of the U-2 spy plane offers a logical explanation for the secrecy surrounding Area 51, its connection to aliens and UFOs predates the cold war. In fact, some say it stretched back to the Roswell incident and that parts from the crashed UFO and “alien bodies” were taken there for study. In fact, rather than the fact that the U-2 and the F-117 were being developed and tested there, quelling the UFO rumors for believers, it only served to reinforce them as they believe that those high-tech aircraft could only be developed with the help of alien and reverse engineering alien technology.
These beliefs were lent credence by a so-called “Area 51 engineer” named Bob Lazar. In a 1989 interview, Lazar said that he worked on alien spaceships and saw extraterrestrial beings at a location inside the base called S-4. He also said that the original purpose of the US government behind building this military facility was to study aliens and UFOs secretly.
However, the Area 51 authorities rejected his claims, including what he said about his employment status at the facility. Lazar had also said in the interview that he studied at MIT and Cal Tech, but there are no records of him studying at those institutions. His 1986 bankruptcy records mentioned that he used to work as a photographic processor.
The alien technology-related claims made by Lazar made many Area 51 employees furious. In an interview with Popular Mechanics, Peter Merlin, a researcher at the base, said, “this is Earth technology. You got folks claiming it’s extraterrestrial when it’s really good old American know-how.”
It has not been confirmed that everything Lazar said about Area 51 was a lie, but his 1989 interview has undoubtedly made the secret facility a center point of all the ET discussions. Later Hollywood movies like Independence Day, 51 Nevada, Alien Domicile, and shows like The X-files also played an important role in popularizing Area 51 as an alien research station.
Although the alien and UFO stories surrounding Area 51 sound exciting, the true feats achieved by engineers and scientists working at the site are just as incredible. This large aircraft testing facility has been home to our most advanced flying machines like the U-2, SR-71 Blackbird, F117, etc.
Moreover, to this day, many classified and important developments are still taking place there, which could one day prove to be more exciting than some alien myth.