Area 51 (Groom Lake, Nevada)
Area 51 is the popular name of a secret military facility at Groom Lake, Nevada, approximately 90 miles north of Las Vegas. The 6-by-10 mile rectangular air base lies within the Switzerland-sized boundaries of Nellis Air Force Base, and has served as a testing ground for "black budget" (top-secret) military prototype aircraft since the mid-1950s. Area 51 is also a well-known folk symbol of an assumed government conspiracy to cover up information on UFOs and extraterrestrial life.
The United States government has never publicly discussed the existence or purpose of the Groom Lake base, but historical accounts chronicle the site's long history as a preliminary testing ground for the U.S. military's most secret aircraft. The U-2 Spy plane, A-12 and SR-71 Blackbird supersonic reconnaissance jets, and F-117A and B-2 Stealth fighters were all tested at the site before production, as was a reverse-engineered version of a Vietnam War-era Russian MIG-21. Development and testing of secret military aircraft and Unmanned Arial Vehicles (UAVs) likely continues at Area 51 today.
The secrecy surrounding Groom Lake has piqued public interest since 1955, when the Central Intelligence Agency and Lockheed Skunk Works chose the remote desert area as a testing ground for the U-2. President Eisenhower signed Executive Order 10633 to restrict a rectangle of airspace over the base that year, and the Department of the Interior withdrew a 60-square-mile rectangle of land beneath the airspace from public use in 1958. Today, the so-called "Groom box" includes a 22-by-20 nautical mile rectangle of restricted airspace, the original 60 square mile base, and a large area of surrounding land with enforced public entry and viewing restrictions.
The present popular fascination with Area 51 bloomed in 1989 when KLAS-TV in Las Vegas broadcast a series of interviews with Robert Lazar, a self-proclaimed aerospace engineer who maintained that he had been hired to help reverse-engineer an alien spacecraft at the Papoose Lake facility near Groom Lake. Lazar asserted that the United States government had recovered a downed extraterrestrial spacecraft and stored it in an underground bunker at Area 51. Lazar's bizarre story elicited support from the community of UFO and alien conspiracy theorists based in Roswell, New Mexico, and ignited public curiosity. The April 1994 issue of Popular Science magazine carried a satellite image of Groom Lake on its cover and featured an in-depth article on the military history of the facility. Since then, Area 51 has become a science-fiction staple. The site played a role in several episodes of the FOX television's popular series "The X-Files" and was featured in the 1996 movie "Independence Day." Though the United States military often collaborates with the entertainment industry, it has never sanctioned a project involving Area 51.
█ FURTHER READING:
Rich, Ben and Leo Janos. Skunk Works. New York: Bantam, 1994.
Area 51 Research Center. "Area 51: Military Facility, Social Phenomenon and State of Mind." Glenn Campbell. January, 2000. < http://www.ufomind.com/area51/ > (December 5, 2002).
Airmen, Magazine of the United States Air Force . "Flights, Camera, Action!" June, 1997. < http://www.af.mil/news/airman/0697/index.html > (December 5, 2002).