The original and still the best! If you can visit only one site of the Top Secret Government, this is the one. Most of what you have heard about this place is false, most of what you haven’t heard is true, and no one wants to talk about the things that aren’t entirely true but aren’t entirely false either. No matter how much you’ve read about this place, nothing prepares you for the impact it makes when you visit in person. Even if you consider yourself a levelheaded skeptic, you will probably have a few moments where you wonder if you haven’t stepped into a parallel universe. And you might get to catch a brief glimpse of a top-secret aircraft undergoing tests!
If you come here wanting to see UFOs, then you will see UFOs. If you come here wanting to see secret aircraft being tested, then you’ll see them. Area 51 will reflect your expectations of it like a mirror.
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Perhaps no place is both so well known and so secret. Yes, you can drive or hike right up to its borders. And, yes, you will almost certainly be arrested and fined if you step across the border. No one who really knows what’s going on inside its boundaries will talk about such things. But it’s clear something extraordinary is still going on there based on the sonic booms, low-flying jets, and bewildering display of lights over it most nights.
Area 51 was born because the CIA needed a place to test its new U-2 spy plane, and the area around Edwards Air Force Base (see entry in CALIFORNIA section) had become too populated for tests of truly top-secret aircraft. The need was for a new site with a large, hard dry lake bed that could be used for take-offs and landings. In early 1955, several isolated lakebeds in the West were evaluated. Groom Lake, adjacent to the Nevada Test Site, met the CIA’s requirements. It also had the advantage of being adjacent to the Nevada Test Site; the CIA figured that fear of radioactive fallout would help keep adjacent areas lightly populated and discourage people from attempting to enter the area. In a matter of weeks, aircraft hangars, housing units, support buildings, tracking and navigation aids, and a paved runway had been added and the U-2 was able to take its maiden test flight out of Groom Lake on August 4, 1955. Training of U-2 pilots began the next year at Groom Lake.
Originally, the facility at Groom Lake was known as “Paradise Ranch,” a name that was a bitter commentary on the lack of amenities there. A 1960 map of the Nellis Range Complex showing its section placed the Groom Lake facility within “Area 51” on the map. While the facility was a closely guarded secret throughout the 1960s, military and civilian pilots knew something was going on there because its airspace was off-limits to all military and civilian traffic; military pilots training at Nellis or Tonopah quickly discovered that accidentally slipping only a few hundred feet inside the restricted airspace brought disciplinary action. The Groom Lake area became known as “Dreamland” among military pilots because that was the radio call sign used by its air traffic control.
Paradise Ranch/Dreamland/Area 51 still remains the premier test facility for highly advanced aircraft and other aerial weapons systems. The U-2 was only the first in a long line of remarkable aircraft tested at Area 51, including the SR-71 spy plane and the F-117 Stealth fighter. It is widely assumed that new secret aircraft, such as the next generation of Stealth aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are currently being tested there. In addition, there is much speculation and some evidence that other advanced weapons systems, such as directed energy weapons, are also being tested inside Area 51.