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Old 06-21-2004, 12:34 PM   #1 (permalink)
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The new Area 51

A clever diversion? Or the real deal? Article is seven years old, anyone have any newer info?


Subject: Area 51 - Tracking down its new location


Area 6413

"The New Area 51 Top Secret Eyes only"
By Jim Wilson, Science/Technology Editor

Popular Mechanics June, 1997

A cloud of brown dust snakes behind me as I speed down the
desolate desert road. A dozen miles ago, I passed the solitary steel
mailbox that marks the turnoff for Area 51. For a place that isn't
supposed to exist, it's odd that the "secret" air base occupies whole
chapters of aviation history. It was here, in 1955, that the U-2
spyplane first took wing. In the years that followed, its successors,
the A-12 and SR-70 and later the stealthy R-117A fighter and B-2
bomber, danced across the same blue-steel Nevada sky.
Rumors persist of even more amazing aircraft. Secret hangers
supposedly conceal the mythical Aurora, a methane-burning replacement
for the high-flying SR-71 spyplane. And-if you believe that X-files
and J. Edgar Hoover's dress collection exist-there are even crashed
UFOs that engineers patched up and somehow learned how to fly. I'm
not searching for hypersonic aircraft or E.T.'s flying machine. My
mission is less lofty. I'm trying to avoid getting arrested.
When POPULAR MECHANICS correspondent Abe Dane traveled these
roads to research our January 1995 cover story, "Flying Saucers Are
Real." Camouflaged guards driving white Jeep Cherokees dogged his
every turn. Tourists who accidentally strayed down the road I am now
driving on were arrested by these "cammo dudes" and heavily fined. To
cover the cost of a similar encounter, I've packed an envelope with
$2,000 in $50 bills in the trunk, along with my sleeping bag and extra
bottled water.
On my flight to Las Vegas, which is about 100 miles to the
south, I read up on Area 51 lore. That may have been a mistake.
Imagining what might be "out there" paints ordinary desert scenes in a
sinister hue. Instead of dismissing a buzzard-packed carcass as road
kill, I find myself wondering why aliens would travel hundreds of
light-years to practice laser surgery on a cow. Driving along in this
Area 51 state of mind, I'm prepared for almost anything-except for
what I see next. The road has just vanished, as completely as if it
never existed.
I brake the car, stepped out, check my map and compass, and
then (sorry, Avis) climb on the trunk for a better view. A 360 degree
scan quickly solves the mystery. There has been a washout. The
missing road reappears about 100 yards ahead. Tracing its line toward
the horizon, I see what I've come to find -the back door to Area 51.
There is no guard post. A cattle gate, the sort you can buy at
Kmart, seals the road, but the two heavily tarnished brass locks that
secure the gate's chain are no blue-light special. They are strictly
military-issue, Rusting strands of waist-high barb wire hang just
beyond the gateposts. I had expected something taller, electrified.
The warning signs flanking the gate aren't very threatening either.
One warns "no trespassing." Its weather-beaten companion cautions me
that the Air Force drops real bombs on the other side of the fence.
My attention returns to the locks. The tarnish extends inward toward
the tumblers, suggesting they haven't seen a key in a while. Perhaps
no one comes out here anymore?
To test the theory, I flash the car's headlights and lean on
its horn. After 15 minutes of wearing down the battery, I quit.
Disappointed, I balance my camera on the roof of the car, set the
shutter-release timer and blast of a few crooked snapshots to show the
boss my trip to Las Vegas hasn't been all buffet and blackjack.

My visit seems to confirm what circumstantial evidence first
suggested more than a year ago. Area 51 has shut down. Not that
anyone should b surprised. After all, the base became America's
worst-kept secret the moment talkshow host Larry King announced its
presence to his national audience during a special on UFOs. Of
course, UFO and aviation buffs knew this all along. The name "Area
51" and a description of its mission as the proving ground for
Lockheed's U-2 reconnaissance aircraft appeared for a fleeting moment
on a blackboard used as a prop in an aircraft promotional film.
The equally fleeting moment of fame that King's television
exposure created for the nearby town of Rachel has also faded. Today,
the locals who lunch at the Little Ale' Inn after collecting their
mail from the line of postboxes that mark the center of this town of
double-wide trailers don't see too many strangers. The unusual aerial
phenomena that once lured tourists have become so rare that the Nevada
state legislature has tried to help boost business by naming the
adjacent stretch of Route 375 "The Extraterrestrial Highway."
As I finish my Alien Burger with Extrusions (melted cheese)
and Appendages (french fries), Chuck Clark, Author of the Area 51 & S4
Handbook, tells me he thinks the airfield's last secret plane, the
Auror, left a year ago. Bob Lazar - whose picture hangs behind me on
a paneled wall filled with autographed photos of other UFO notables
and several movie stars - claims the government moved the crashed
flying saucer he worked on at the S4 site to a more secret location.
Even Glenn Campbell - founder of the Area 51 Research Center and guide
to PM correspondent Dane during his trip - has left for Las Vegas.
* Though it may seem cynical to some folks, we think the most
convincing evidence that top-secret testing has stopped at Area 51
comes from the Air Force itself. After years of denying the existence
of an airfield at the northern end of its Nellis Range, a base
spokesman in Nevada and a Department of Defense (DOD) official in
Washington, D.C., both tell PM that "training and testing activities
take place at the Groom Dry Lake Bed." DOD even agreed to consider -
but at press time had still not acted upon - our request to visit the
What's happening - or more accurately, not happening - at Area
51? Lest we mislead anyone into thinking a talk-show host forced the
government to abandon a perfectly good secret test site, we should
point out that even before King's production crew arrived in Rachel,
the Air Force had several good reasons to leave
High on this list is the Open Skies Treaty. The pace was
first proposed by President Dwight Eisenhower during a meeting with
Nikita Khrushchev in Geneva, and it was finally signed into law in
1992. It allows the 27 signatory nations - including former Soviet
bloc countries - fly their most sophisticated spyplanes over one
another's most sensitive military bases.
The reason the Air Force couldn't simply burrow into the
surrounding mountains to hide their most secret aircraft is an equally
compelling reason for it to leave. Three years ago, a group of former
workers who had become seriously ill after working at Area 51 asked
the government to conduct an investigation to see if they had been
exposed to toxic substances. DOD lawyers convinced a judge to
information had to remain secret. But Area 51's next-door neighbor,
the Department of Energy (DOE) felt differently about such secrets.
It had begun to make public previously classified data documenting the
effects of Atomic Energy Commission (ABC) nuclear-bomb testing at the
Yucca Flats test site. This data showed that long-lived radioactive
residues from nearby nuclear bomb tests regularly rained down on Area
However, even if there had been no spies above and radiation
below to worry about, the Air Force would have likely begun packing
anyway. Like the U-2 spyplane that created the need for Area 15, the
base itself had become obsolete. The next generation of
ultrahigh-performance military aircraft would need a different type of
proving ground. We believe we know where the Air Force will build
this new base - the new Area 51, or, as it is officially names Area

About the time the tourist trade slumped in Rachel, Nevada,
residents in the Four Corners area of Utah, Colorado, Arizona and new
Mexico started seeing strange lights in the sky. What interested PM
about these sighting was their proximity to Falcon Air Force Base.
The small base in southern Colorado is the headquarters for the Air
Force Space Command (AFSPC) and its Space Warfare Center (SWC). More
importantly, the base had just become the home for the SWC's 576th
Flight Test Squadron, the unit most likely to test the prototypes for
the next generation of breakthrough aircraft.
I booked a flight, rented a Jeep and spent two days cruising
the mountains between Salinda and Colorado Springs. I didn't see
strange lights or find a secret air base, but I did find the path that
would eventually lead to the new Area 51.
The first break came when I learned the types of missions the
Air Force expected its next-generation aircraft to fly. As the result
of a series of once classified projects named Science Dawn, Science
Realm and Have Region, engineers at the Air Force's Phillips
Laboratory at Kirtland AFB, in New Mexico, concluded it would be
possible to build a plane that could fly to a trouble spot anywhere on
the globe within 40 minutes, for a bargain price of between 1 million
to $2 million a mission.
Discovering how these planes would achieve this level of
performance would tell us the type of faciltiy that would be needed
for their initial testing. An important clue came in a remark Gen.
Joseph W. Ashy, the recently retired commander of AFSPC, had made
while being interviewed by "Aviation Week % Space Technology", which
has such an uncanny reputation for predicting future aircraft
developments that it is often called Aviation Leak. Ashy said: "We
will have a very short runway out there and we will have a reusable
space plane." By itself, the comment might not have seemed helpful.
But we already knew another important fact about the future aircraft's
performance from the Have Region technical studies, which had by now
been declassified. Engineers had calculated that engines capable of
producing the thrust needed to reach the speeds and altitudes for
fast-response global missions would be so powerful they could lift a
plan of the ground vertically.
Considered together, these two pieces of information spelled
bad news for our search. A plane that could land on a short runway
after talking off vertically could be hidden just about anywhere. If
the Air Force hadn't needed money to build this extraordinary
aircraft, we might have never found the new Area 51.
The winged wonders tested at the Groom Dry Lake Bed, the
original Area 51, were bought with money funneled through secret
"black budget" accounts created by the nation's intelligence agencies.
But since the 1970s, these organizations had better tools in the form
of spy satellites. In the 1980's, the capabilities of these orbiting
eyes improved even more. The Air Force officers assigned to NASA
space shuttle missions had completely mastered the art of on-orbit
satellite refueling. This meant the National Reconnaissance Office
could steer a spy satellite just about anywhere it was interested in
looking. The Air Force's next-generation plane might gather the
information a bit faster, but for the type of strategic surveillance
information the intelligence community needed, its existing,
well-proven assets worked just fine. And with hundreds of billions of
dollars of new F-22s and Joint Strike Fighter aircraft already on its
must-have list, the Air Force would likely find it impossible to get
Congress to publicly finance yet another high-performance aircraft.
To get its new plane, the Air Force would have to get creative.
On February 28, 1997, a pen stroke solved the Air Force's
money problem. It also pointed us in the direction of the new Area
51. The event was unremarkable. Gen. Howell M. Estes 3rd,
commander-in-chief of AFSPC, and NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin
signed an agreement to share "redundant assets."
The most important of these redundant assets was now under
construction at Lockheed Martin Skunk Works, the Palmdale, California,
incubator that previously hatched the mysterious birds that disturbed
the quiet of the desert near Rachel. The Air Force's breakthrough
aircraft would be one of the public already knew as NASA's X-33.
Skunk works engineers had designed it, as a half-scale flying testbed
for the space plane that would become the 21st century's space
shuttle. (See Tech Update, page 24, Sept. `96" Measuring 68 ft.
Long, the lifting-body-shaped craft was a direct descendant of the
ultrahighperformance Have Region aircraft. It could take off
vertically, fly faster than Mach 15, soar to 50-mile altitudes and
then land on an ordinary runway.
By the time it was announced, this assets sharing agreement
between the Air Force and NASA was already old news to aerospace
industry insiders. Three days earlier, Maj. Ken Verderame, a deputy
manager at Phillips, had explained precisely how the X-33 could be
turned into a weapon. Speaking at a NASA-sponsored technical
conference in Huntsville, Alabama, he pointed out that Skunk Works
designers nestled a 5 x 10 ft. Payload bay between the X-33's
liquid-oxygen and fuel tanks. It wouldn't be used on the NASA
missions, but engineers at Phillips were already hard at work on a
modular "pop-up" satellite and weapons launcher that could fit inside
it. Verderame went on to explain future plans for modular "pop-in"
Knowing that the Air Force had long planned in use the X-33 as
an operational aircraft made a curious piece of information we had
received months earlier fit into place. In the fall of 1996, NASA
had announced the selection of the Michael Army Airfield as a backup
runway for several X-33 missions. Given the field's location in a
desolate stretch of desert about 80 miles southwest of Salt Lake
City, the choice seemed puzzling. But now that the Air Force had
acknowledged its plans to use the X-33 as a weapons platform, it made
perfect sense. Studying a map of Utah shows that Michael AAF has the
exact same security feature that drew U-2 developers to Area 51. It
sits next to a ferocious junkyard dog.
Where the Groom Dry Lake Bed had a nuclear test site to
discourage the uninvited, Michael AAF has an equally, perhaps more,
compelling deterrent. It is in the midst of Dugway Proving Ground,
the place where the Army stores and tests nerve gas. PM learned
exactly how secure this site is when we dispatched a plane equipped
with an aerial camera to get a closer look. The pilot was warned that
if he tried to overfly the site he would be shot down. With Michael
AAF in Utah selected as the landing site for military X-33 missions,
we believed we were fast closing in on the location of the new Area
51. The next step would be to find the launch site. The flight
profiles we had been shown made it unlikely that - at least during the
prototype testing - the same base could be used for both launches and
We found the critical clue hidden in plain view. An Air Force
organization chart used in a congressional briefing identified a
launch site called WSMR, the White Sands Missile Range. During the
Huntsville technical conference, Verderame would explain its
selection. Given its elevation of about 4000 ft., anything launched
from WSMR would push through nearly a mile less atmosphere than if
launched from the Air Force's facility at Cape Canaveral. So, while a
vehicle launched from sea level could lift a 6000-pound payload, one
launched from 4000 ft. Could lift 10,000 pounds. The signs pointing
to WSMR in New Mexico as the new Area 51 seemed almost too clear.
This caused us to take a closer look at the technical
information presented at the congressional briefing and Huntsville
technical conference. We saw a problem, and it appeared to be a
showstopper. Some of the numbers didn't quite add up. The distance
between this launch site in New Mexico and Michael AAF in Utah - in
the vicinity of 700 miles - was too far a distance for the X-33 to
cover during pop-up flights required for 40-minutes-to-anywhere
There was, however, a second Whites Sands launch site - one
that wasn't mentioned in either congressional briefing or the
Huntsville technical conference. It was located about 200 miles from
Michael AAF, which fit within pop-up mission flight profiles. What's
more, portions of it were at an even higher elevation, closer to 4500
ft., which meant an even greater capacity than possible from the New
Mexico site. It is the White Sands Missile Range Utah Launch Complex.
The Utah Launch Complex - which we believe will be the new
Area 51 - is an even more desolate and forbidding stretch of real
estate than Groom Dry Lake Bed. Located south of Utah Route 70 and
east of the Green River, it is like the Groom Dry Lake Bed - beneath
unlimited-ceiling restricted airspace designated as R-6413. A
satellite reconnaissance expert who examined images of the site told
PM, "If you wanted to hide something [from satellite imagery], this
would be the perfect place to do it."
To get a closer look at the terrain, we contacted Aerial
Images, the American firm that sells satellite photos taken by former
Soviet spy satellites. The company was at first willing to sell us
higher-resolution images. But after analysts in Moscow reviewed the
close-ups we had requested, we received a call from the company saying
that the images would be unavailable for "security reasons."
We didn't need satellite images to see that the Utah site made
the perfect location for the new Area 51. The basic infrastructure
for launching the Air Force's next-generation aircraft is already in
place, as a result of the complex having been built for the rocket
testing in the early days of the military space program.
With our sighs focused on Utah, we also found recent evidence
of the Pentagon's interest in the site. Two years ago, just as
activity at the original Area 51 begin to wind down, the pentagon
began testing the local waters to gauge the public reaction to the
complex's reactivation. It floated a trial-balloon story that it
planned to reactivate the base for missile flights southward to WSMR,
in New Mexico. The opposition was swift and intense, mostly from
environmentalists and other outdoors lovers who worried about the
possibility of missiles falling on recreational areas in the vicinity
of Moab, to the south, Citing this opposition, the Pentagon announced
it would drop the project.
PM has, however, obtained copies of other government
documents, including budgets, that show $8.2 million has been
allocated to refurbish the missile assembly building and improve the
surrounding site at the Utah Launch Complex. Curiously, these funds
will be paid by DOE, the successor to the old AEC, whose nuclear
testing blanketed the old Area 51 with radioactive fallout.

Part of the public's fascination with the original Area 51 is
its rich collection of stories about crashed flying saucers, alien
bodies and unexplained lights in the sky. The relocation of Area 51
does not necessarily mean those tales will be left behind when
operations begin here in Utah, perhaps as early as 1999.
The "Air Force Times" reports that the distinctively painted
CT-43 transports, which previously flew workers between Area 51 to a
depot at the edge of McCarran Airport in Las Vegas, have begun making
flights to Utah. And not far away from the new Area 51, millionaire
Robert M. Bigelow, the prominent financier of paranormal and UFO
research, has just purchased the 480-acre Sherman ranch for the site
of the national Institute for ?Discovery Science. Its mission: to
conduct scientific studies of the crop circles, cattle mutilations and
other bump-in-the-night phenomena that the folks in these parts have
been reporting for decades. So there should be no shortage of
fascinating speculation for years to come.
It was like that when I got here....I swear.
SaltPork is offline  
Old 07-02-2004, 09:27 PM   #2 (permalink)
kurtisj's Avatar
Location: The Wick
no newer info but that article is pretty cool.
Marvin the Mountie Always Gets His Kurtisj.
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Old 07-13-2004, 03:42 AM   #3 (permalink)
CoachAlan's Avatar
Location: Las Vegas
This, in my estimation, is a clear cut example of disinformation. Clearly there are still many projects going on out at Area 51. That's not to say that there isn't some base in Utah, but simply that there's no reason to believe that Area 51 has been decomissioned. In fact, it has continued to see new construction and expansion.
"If I cannot smoke cigars in heaven, I shall not go!"
- Mark Twain
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Old 07-13-2004, 01:15 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Originally posted by CoachAlan
This, in my estimation, is a clear cut example of disinformation. Clearly there are still many projects going on out at Area 51. That's not to say that there isn't some base in Utah, but simply that there's no reason to believe that Area 51 has been decomissioned. In fact, it has continued to see new construction and expansion.
That's what I've since found out...that they're actually expanding Area 51. I don't think they necessarily have aliens there, just some really cool shit that we'll never know about. Personally, I would prefer that the government keep some secrets from us. I'm not sure that the public, in general, could handle knowing all that the gov't is doing. On the other hand, I would love to know what's going on there that has everyone's panties in a bunch.
It was like that when I got here....I swear.
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Old 07-14-2004, 06:07 PM   #5 (permalink)
Observant Ruminant
Location: Rich Wannabe Hippie Town
I remember when this came out. Afterwards, there was a lot of talk that Popular Mechanics had been "taken:" disinformation, if you will. The X-33 was cancelled by NASA, necessary work never completed, after Lockheed botched development and asked permission to overrun several hundred million dollars on a (I think) $300 million contract. They didn't get it.

It's conceivable that Lockheed and the Air Force continued work on the X-33 in secret, but why bother? Would have been easier just to have the Air Force go in with NASA to continue development, officially or unofficially. Anyway, the thing is a rocket, and not a small one. If they were doing rocket launches, even suborbital ones, out in the desert, it'd be pretty damned hard to hide. A rocket launch leaves quite a contrail.
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