Peter W. Merlin
(extracted from "Area
51 - Dreamland - Fifty Years of Secret Flight Testing in Nevada" by Peter W.
May 2005 marks the 50th anniversary of
flight test activities at Groom Lake, Nevada, best known to the
public as DREAMLAND or Area 51.
For half a century this remote
desert outpost has served as a breeding ground for aircraft on the
cutting edge of technology. It served as an important national asset
during the Cold War and numerous conflicts throughout the globe.
Dreamland continues to support the
war-fighter and keep America on the cutting edge of aerospace
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) established the Groom Lake
test facility during Project AQUATONE, through which the Lockheed
U-2 spy plane was developed. Capable of flying at high altitude
while carrying sophisticated cameras and sensors, the U-2 was
equipped with a single jet engine and long, tapered straight wings.
For security reasons, CIA officials did
not believe that the new airplane should be flown at Edwards Air
Force Base, California. At the request of U-2 designer Clarence L.
"Kelly" Johnson of the Lockheed Advanced Development Projects
division (better known as the Skunk Works), project pilot Tony LeVier was dispatched to scout locations around the southwestern
United States for a more remote test site.
Richard M. Bissell Jr., director of the AQUATONE program, reviewed
dozens of potential test sites with his Air Force liaison, Col.
Osmond J. "Ozzie" Ritland. None seemed to meet the program's
stringent security requirements. Ritland, however, recalled "a
little X-shaped field" in southern Nevada that he had flown over
many times during his involvement with the nuclear weapons test
program. The airstrip, called Nellis Auxiliary Field No.1, was
located just off the eastern side of Groom Dry Lake, about 100 miles
north of Las Vegas. It was also just outside the Atomic Energy
Commission's (AEC) nuclear proving ground at Yucca Flat.
In April 1955, LeVier, Johnson, Bissell, and Ritland flew to Nevada
on a two-day survey of the most promising lakebeds. After examining
Groom Lake, it was obvious that this would be an ideal location for
the test site, with its excellent flying weather and unparalleled
The abandoned airfield that Ritland remembered was
overgrown and unusable, but the lakebed was excellent.
described the playa as,
"a perfect natural landing field... as smooth
as a billiard table without anything being done to it."
Kelly Johnson originally opposed the choice of Groom Lake because it
was farther from Burbank than he would have liked, and because of
its proximity to the Nevada Proving Ground (later renamed Nevada
Test Site). Johnson was understandably concerned about conducting a
flight test program adjacent to an active nuclear test site. In
fact, Groom Lake lay directly in the primary downwind path of
radioactive fallout from atomic blasts.
Groom Lake was actually Johnson's second choice for the test
location. He had already designed a base around his primary lakebed,
dubbed Site I, which would have been a small, temporary camp with
only the most rudimentary accommodations. Johnson estimated
construction costs for such a facility at $200,000 to $225,000.
Base requirements soon changed, however,
calling for a permanent facility nearly 300% larger than Johnson's
original design. Johnson estimated construction of a larger facility
at Site I would cost $450,000. His estimate for building the same
facility at Site II (Groom Lake) was $832,000. Johnson ultimately
accepted Ritland's recommendation, largely because AEC restrictions
would help shield the operation from public view.
Bissell secured a presidential action
adding the Groom Lake area to the AEC proving ground. Ritland wrote
three memos to Air Force Headquarters, the AEC, and the Air Force
Training Command that administered the gunnery range. Assistant Air
Force Secretary for Research and Development Trevor Gardner signed
the memos, this ensuring that range activities would not impinge on
the new test site.
Security for project AQUATONE was now
During the last week of April 1955, Johnson met with CIA officials
in Washington, D.C. and discussed progress on the base and the
AQUATONE program. His proposal to name the base "Paradise Ranch" was
accepted. It was an ironic choice that, he later admitted was "a
dirty trick to lure workers to the program." The AQUATONE,
officially designated U-2 became known as "The Angel from Paradise
Ranch." The base itself was usually just called "The Ranch" by those
who worked there.
On 4 May 1955, LeVier, Kammerer, and Johnson returned to Groom Lake
in Lockheed's Bonanza. Using a compass and surveying equipment, they
defined a 5,000-foot, north-south runway on the southwest corner of
the lakebed and designated a site for the camp.
On 18 May 1955, Seth R. Woodruff Jr., manager of the AEC Las Vegas
Field Office, announced that he had,
"instructed the Reynolds
Electrical and Engineering Co., Inc. [REECo] to begin preliminary
work on a small, satellite Nevada Test Site installation."
that work was already underway at the location,
"a few miles
northeast of Yucca Flat and within the Las Vegas Bombing and Gunnery
Woodruff said that the installation
would include "a runway, dormitories, and a few other buildings for
housing equipment." The facility was described as "essentially
temporary." The press release was distributed to 18 media outlets in
Nevada and Utah including a dozen newspapers, four radio stations,
and two television stations.
This, in effect, constituted Area 51's
LeVier and fellow Lockheed test pilot Bob Matye spent nearly a month
removing surface debris from the playa. Levier also drew up a
proposal to mark four three-mile-long runways on the lakebed at a
cost of $450.00. Johnson, however, refused to approve the expense,
citing a lack of funds. Drilling resulted in discovery of a limited
water supply, but trouble with the well soon developed.
Top priorities for the test site
included hangars, a road, offices, living accommodations, and
various support facilities. Since Lockheed did not have a license to
build on the nuclear proving ground, they gave their drawings to a
contractor who did: Silas Mason Construction Company. The Lockheed
group hid their identity behind the fictional company name "CLJ",
using Johnson's initials.
The fledgling base consisted of a single, paved 5,000-foot runway,
three hangars, a control tower, and rudimentary accommodations for
test personnel. The base's few amenities included a movie theatre
and volleyball court. Additionally, there was a mess hall, several
water wells, and fuel storage tanks. CIA, Air Force, and Lockheed
personnel began arriving in July 1955 and Richard Newton of the CIA
was assigned as base commander.
The test site soon acquired a new
name: Watertown. According to some accounts, the site was named
after CIA director Allen Dulles' birthplace in Watertown, New York.
It is still listed as a member of Alamo Township in Lincoln County.
The first U-2 was transported, disassembled, to Watertown in an Air
Force C-124 cargo plane. It had no serial number and was designated
Article 341. Tony LeVier made the unofficial first flight in the U-2
during a taxi test on 29 July. He piloted the first planned test
flight on 4 August.
After completing Phase I (contractor) testing LeVier was replaced by
Lockheed test pilots Bob Matye and Ray Goudey who expanded the
airplane's altitude envelope to its operational limits. By November
1955, the test group also included Robert Sieker and Robert
On 17 November 1955, tragedy struck the AQUATONE project. An Air
Force C-54M (44-9068) transporting personnel to the secret base
crashed near the top of Mt. Charleston, about 20 miles west of Las
Vegas. Nine civilians and five military personnel were killed. There
were no survivors. After the accident, Lockheed assumed
responsibility for transporting personnel to Watertown. A
company-owned C-47 was used to ferry pilots, technicians, and
special visitors to the test site.
By the beginning of 1956, four U-2 aircraft had been delivered to
the Groom Lake test site. By the end of March the fleet consisted of
nine aircraft, and six CIA pilots were undergoing flight training at
the site. Four experienced instructor pilots trained three classes
in ground school, followed by landing practice in a T-33 and,
eventually, solo flights in the U-2. The second class underwent
training at Groom between May and August 1956. It included Francis
Gary Powers, who would later win dubious fame after being shot down
and captured while flying a U-2 over the Soviet Union. The third
training class was conducted in late 1956.
Several U-2 airplanes were lost in accidents including the
prototype. Two CIA pilots were killed and one escaped without
injury. Lockheed test pilot Robert Sieker perished in Article 341.
Nuclear weapons testing at nearby Yucca Flat affected test and
training activities at Watertown. During the first two years of the
Watertown operation, the atomic proving ground had been quiet as all
full-scale testing was taking place at Bikini and Eniwetok atolls in
the Pacific Ocean. That changed in the summer of 1957 with Operation Plumbbob.
Because Groom Lake was downwind of the proving ground, Watertown
personnel were required to evacuate the base prior to each
detonation. The AEC, in turn, tried to ensure that expected fallout
from any given shot would be limited so as to permit re-entry of
personnel within three to four weeks. Evacuation plans included
notification procedures, adequate security for classified areas,
means to inform evacuees when they might return, and radiation
monitoring. If a nuclear test was postponed, which occurred
frequently, Watertown personnel were required to evacuate prior to
each new shot date.
All personnel at the base were required to wear radiation badges to
measure their exposure to fallout. AEC Radiological Safety (Rad-Safe)
officers briefed Watertown personnel on nuclear testing activities
and radiation safety, and presented a film called Atomic Tests In
Nevada. They also made arrangements for radiation monitors to visit
the airbase whenever fallout was anticipated in the Watertown area.
Project 57, the first shot of the new series, took place on
Watertown's doorstep. On 24 April 1957, the AEC conducted a safety
experiment with an XW-25 warhead just five miles northwest of Groom
Lake in Area 13. Only the bottom detonator of the device was fired,
simulating an accident not involving a nuclear detonation. The test
was designed to disperse a known quantity of plutonium over a
defined area to develop effective monitoring and decontamination
Following several delays, full-scale nuclear detonations began on 28
May. Shot BOLTZMANN, a 12-kiloton blast, was fired from a 500-foot
tower on northern Yucca Flat. After more delays, two minor blasts,
FRANKLIN and LASSEN, were fired during the first week of June. These
tests came near the intended end of Watertown's existence as an
The base had always been considered a temporary facility. As U-2
testing began to wind down and CIA pilot classes finished their
training, Watertown became a virtual ghost town. By mid-June 1957,
the U-2 test operation had moved to Edwards and operational U-2
aircraft were assigned to the 4028th Strategic Reconnaissance
Squadron at Laughlin, Texas.
On 18 June 1957, a test code-named WILSON deposited fallout on
Watertown. The AEC measured radiation exposure inside the evacuated
buildings and vehicles at the base to study the effectiveness of
various materials in shielding against fallout. In effect, Watertown
served as a laboratory to determine the shielding qualities of
typical building materials that might be found in any American town.
WILSON was followed by the 37-kiloton PRISCILLA shot at Frenchman
Flat on 24 June.
HOOD, the sixth nuclear shot of Plumbbob, was truly spectacular. It
also caused substantial damage to the Groom Lake airbase. The device
was lofted by balloon to a height of 1,500 feet over Yucca Flat,
about 14 miles southwest of Watertown. On 5 July 1957, HOOD exploded
with a yield of 74 kilotons. It was the most powerful airburst ever
detonated within the continental United States. HOOD's shockwave
shattered windows on two buildings at Watertown, and broke a
ventilator panel on one of the dormitories. A maintenance building
on the west side of the base and the supply warehouse west of the
hangars suffered serious damage as their metal roll-up doors
Despite the end of U-2 operations and the near constant rain of
fallout, security at the Watertown facility remained tight. On 28
July 1957, a civilian pilot was detained after making an emergency
landing at Watertown airstrip. Edward K. Current Jr., an employee of
Douglas Aircraft Company, had been on a cross-country training
flight when he became lost, ran low on fuel, and decided to land at
Groom Lake. He was held overnight and questioned before being
On 20 June 1958, 38,400 acres of land encompassing the Watertown
base was officially withdrawn from public access under Public Land
Order 1662. This rectangular addition to the Nevada Test Site was
designated Area 51. Shortly after this, the National Aeronautics and
Space Administration (NASA) secured permission to designate
Groom Lake as a contingency landing site for the X-15 rocket plane.
It was, however, never needed for this purpose.
For two years following the departure of
the U-2 fleet from Watertown, the base was fairly quiet.
New Lease on
Dramatic changes came to Area 51 with the advent of Project OXCART,
through which Lockheed's proposed successor to the U-2 was
developed. The OXCART aircraft was a sleek, powerful looking
aircraft with a long tapered forward fuselage with blended chines. A
rounded delta wing supported two turbo-ramjet engines capable of
boosting the aircraft to Mach 3.2 at altitudes in excess of 90,000
Twin, inwardly canted tails and a
sawtooth internal structure in the wing edges contributed to a low
overall RCS. The airframe was constructed mostly of titanium, with
asbestos-fiberglass and phenyl silane composites in the leading and
trailing edges, chines, and tails for RCS reduction. The final
designation for the OXCART aircraft was A-12, with the "A" standing
The Skunk Works team in Burbank built a full-scale mock-up of the
A-12 during the spring of 1959 for RCS tests to be performed by
Edgerton, Germeshausen & Grier (EG&G) of Las Vegas. On 10 September,
EG&G agreed to move its radar test facility from Indian Springs,
Nevada, to Groom Lake for security reasons. A special pylon was
constructed on a paved loop road on the west side of the lakebed.
The A-12 mock-up was moved from Burbank
to the test site on a specially designed trailer truck. By 18
November, the model was in place. It took 18 months of testing and
adjustment before the A-12 achieved a satisfactory RCS.
Naturally, a secret location was needed for testing the triple-sonic
A-12. Ten U.S. Air Force bases programmed for closure were
considered, but none provided adequate security, and annual
operating costs were prohibitive for most. Groom Lake was selected
although it lacked personnel accommodations, fuel storage, and an
Lockheed planners estimated cost
requirements for monthly fuel consumption, hangars, maintenance
facilities, housing, and runway specifications. The CIA then
produced a plan for construction and engineering. A CIA cover story
stated that the facilities were being prepared for radar studies to
be conducted by an engineering firm with USAF support. Construction
at the site, referred to as Project 51, was performed by Reynolds
Electrical and Engineering Company (REECo).
Base construction began on 1 September 1960 and continued on a
double-shift schedule until 1 June 1964. Workers were ferried in
from Burbank and Las Vegas on C-54 aircraft. Since the existing
5,000-foot runway was incapable of supporting the weight of the
A-12, a new airstrip (runway 14/32) was constructed between 7
September and 15 November 1960.
The A-12 required a runway at least
8,500 feet long. About 25,000 cubic yards of concrete were poured to
make the airstrip. A 10,000-foot asphalt extension, for emergency
use, cut diagonally across the southwest corner of the lakebed. An
Archimedes curve approximately two miles across was marked on the
dry lake so that an A-12 pilot approaching the end of the overrun
could abort to the playa instead of plunging the aircraft into the
sagebrush. Area 51 pilots called it "The Hook." For crosswind
landings two unpaved airstrips (runways 9/27 and 03/21) were marked
on the dry lakebed.
Kelly Johnson had been reluctant to construct a standard Air Force
runway, with expansion joints every 25-feet, because he feared the
joints would set up undesirable vibrations in the OXCART aircraft.
At his suggestion, the 150-foot-wide runway was constructed in
segments, each made up of six 25-foot-wide longitudinal sections.
The sections were 150 feet long and staggered. This layout put most
of the expansion joints parallel to the direction of aircraft roll,
and reduced the frequency of the joints.
Essential facilities were completed by August 1961. Three surplus
U.S. Navy hangars were obtained, dismantled, and erected on the
base's north side. They were designated as Hangar 4, 5, and 6. A
fourth, Hangar 7, was built new. More than 130 U.S. Navy surplus
Babbitt duplex housing units were transported to the base and made
ready for occupancy. The original U-2 hangars were converted to
maintenance and machine shops. Facilities in the main cantonment
area included workshops and buildings for storage and
administration, a commissary, control tower, fire station, and
It was determined that 500,000 gallons of JP-7 fuel would be needed
monthly to support the OXCART program. By early 1962 a fuel farm,
including seven tanks 1,320,000-gallon capacity was complete. Older
buildings were repaired, and additional facilities were constructed
as necessary. A reservoir pond, surrounded by trees, served as a
recreational area one mile north of the base. Other recreational
facilities included a gymnasium, movie theatre, and a baseball
On 15 November 1961, USAF Col. Robert J. Holbury was named commander of the secret base, with the CIA's
Werner Weiss as his deputy.
The base was still a CIA facility, and
would remain so for another 18 years.
OXCART and the
Support aircraft began arriving in the spring of 1962. These
included eight McDonnell F-101B/F Voodoos for training and chase, a
Lockheed C-130 Hercules for cargo transport, U-8A for administrative
use, Cessna 180 for liaison use, and Kaman HH-43 helicopter for
search and rescue. A Lockheed F-104A/G (56-0801) was supplied as a
chase plane during the OXCART flight test period.
In January 1962, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) expanded
the restricted airspace in the vicinity of Groom Lake. The lakebed
became the center of a 600-square-mile addition to restricted area
R-4808N. Restricted continuously at all altitudes, the airspace
occupies the center of the Nellis Air Force Range.
The prototype A-12 (60-6924) made its unofficial first flight on 25
April 1962 with Louis W. Schalk at the controls. He flew the
aircraft less than two miles at an altitude of about 20 feet. The
following day, Schalk made a 40-minute flight. An official "first
flight" on 30 April was witnessed by a number of dignitaries
including Richard Bissell (even though he had resigned from the CIA
in February) and FAA chief Najeeb Halaby.
OXCART pilot Jack Weeks nicknamed the A-12 Cygnus after the
constellation of the swan. Initially, all 15 A-12 aircraft were
based at Groom Lake and operated by the 1129th Special Activities
Squadron Roadrunners, commanded by Col. Hugh "Slip" Slater. A-12
test aircraft (60-6924, 60-6925, 60-6928), and the TA-12 trainer
(60-6927) were housed in hangars at the north end of the flightline.
Operational aircraft were kept in Hangars 9 through 16 at the
southern end of the base. Security was paramount. Even the existence
of the A-12 was a closely guarded secret.
With the assistance of the CIA, the U.S. Air Force entered into an
agreement with Lockheed to build three prototypes of an interceptor
version of the A-12 under project KEDLOCK. Known as the AF-12 (later
changed to YF-12A), the design included a second crew position,
air-to-air missiles, and fire-control radar in the nose. The first
YF-12A (60-6934) made its maiden flight on 7 August 1963 with James
Eastham at the controls.
After President Lyndon B. Johnson
announced the existence of the aircraft in March 1964, the YF-12A
test was program moved to Edwards.
Construction of the Area 51 facility was completed in 1965. The site
population had grown to 1,835, and contractors were working three
shifts a day. Lockheed-owned Constellation and C-47 aircraft made
several flights a day ferrying personnel from Burbank and Las Vegas
to Groom Lake. Hughes and Honeywell had facilities on site, and
Pratt & Whitney operated an engine test stand. Perkin-Elmer set up a
special building in which to work on the equipment bays in the nose
of the A-12.
During the course of the OXCART program, Kelly Johnson developed an
unmanned reconnaissance drone that could be launched from a modified
version of the A-12. Codenamed TAGBOARD, the drone was a
ramjet-powered vehicle capable of reaching 90,000 feet at Mach 3.3.
Two OXCART-type aircraft (60-6940 and 60-6941) were purpose-built to
launch TAGBOARD. Each was equipped with a rear seat for a Launch
Systems Operator (LSO), and a dorsal launch pylon.
The TAGBOARD was designated D-21 and the
launch aircraft were given the unusual designation M-21. The first
D-21 was launched 5 March 1966.
Unfortunately, the second M-21 was lost during the fourth TAGBOARD
launch, when the drone collided with the launch aircraft. Pilot Bill
Park ejected safely and was rescued 150 miles off Point Mugu,
California. His LSO Ray Torick ejected but drowned before he could
be rescued. The tragic loss of an aircraft and crewmember ended the
use of OXCART as a launch aircraft, but it did not spell the end of
In 1967, the D-21 received a new lease on life. Under the SENIOR
BOWL program, the drone was reconfigured for launch from a B-52 and
redesignated D-21B. It was reconfigured for launch from inboard wing
pylons and propelled to ramjet-ignition speed by a rocket booster.
Two B-52H aircraft (60-0036 and 61-0021) from the 4200th Support
Squadron at Beale Air Force Base, California, were sent to Groom
Lake for the test program.
The unofficial first flight occurred on
28 September 1967, when a D-21B was accidentally dropped due to a
mechanical failure. The first actual launch attempt took place 6
November. Flight-testing continued through July 1969. The program
was terminated in 1971 after only four operational flights.
At some point during the late 1960s, Area 51 gained a new nickname:
DREAMLAND. This purportedly was derived from DREAM-LAND, a poem by
Edgar Allan Poe. It describes lakes that "endlessly outspread" with
waters "lone and dead." More to the point, Poe admonishes that "the
traveler, traveling through it, may not-dare not openly view it;
Never its mysteries are exposed, to the weak human eye unclosed."
Coincidence or not, it is certainly an apt description of Area 51.
Several A-12 airplanes were deployed from Area 51 to Kadena, Japan,
for Operation Black Shield reconnaissance flights over Southeast
Asia in 1967. One of the airplanes was lost during a training
mission and the pilot presumed killed. Four A-12s had been lost in
accidents at or near Area 51, but only one of these was fatal. The
surviving airframes were retired in June 1968 and placed in storage
at a Lockheed facility in Palmdale.
The A-12 remained unknown to the public
for 12 more years while the YF-12A and later SR-71 became some of
the most famous airplanes in the world.
Beginning in the late 1960s, and for several decades, DREAMLAND
played host to a motley assortment of Soviet-built aircraft. The
first such program, in 1968, involved technical and tactical
evaluations of a MiG-21F-13 that the Israeli Defense Forces had
acquired from an Iraqi defector. Called HAVE DOUGHNUT, the project
was a joint effort of the U.S. Air Force Systems Command, Tactical
Air Command, and the U.S. Navy's Air Test and Evaluation Squadron
The MiG-21 was flown against nearly all
U.S. combat aircraft types, allowing Air Force and Navy pilots to
develop improved tactics for combating Eastern bloc aircraft.
A similar evaluation program in 1969, called HAVE DRILL/HAVE FERRY,
involved two Syrian MiG-17F fighters. As in the earlier program, a
small group of Air Force and Navy pilots conducted mock dogfights
with the MiG-17. Selected instructors from the Navy's Top Gun school
at NAS Miramar, California, were chosen to fly against the MiGs for
Testing of foreign technology aircraft continued and expanded
throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Additional MiG-17, MiG-21, MiG-23,
Su-7B, Su-22 and other aircraft underwent intensive evaluations. The
6513th Test Squadron Red Hats from the Air Force Flight Test Center
(AFFTC) at Edwards conducted technical evaluation sorties. The
4477th Test and Evaluation Squadron Red Eagles, headquartered at
Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, performed tactical evaluations. In
April 1984 Lt. Gen. Robert M. Bond, Vice Commander of Air Force
Systems Command, lost his life in the crash of a MiG-23 during an
Area 51 also hosted another foreign materiel evaluation program
called HAVE GLIB. This involved testing Soviet tracking and missile
control radar systems. A complex of actual and replica Soviet-type
threat systems began to grow around "Slater Lake" (the pond, which
had been named after the former Roadrunners commander), a mile
northwest of the main base. They were arranged to simulate a
Soviet-style air defense complex.
The Air Force began funding improvements to Area 51 in 1977 under
project SCORE EVENT. In 1979, the CIA transferred control of the
test site to the AFFTC at Edwards.
It was now a remote operating location
of the Center, and was designated Detachment 3, AFFTC. Sam Mitchell,
the last CIA commander of Area 51, relinquished command to Lt. Col.
Larry D. McClain.
In November 1977, a C-5 arrived at Groom Lake carrying the Lockheed
HAVE BLUE prototype. HAVE BLUE was the first airplane designed to be
virtually invisible to radar. The single-seat jet looked like a
faceted arrowhead with two inwardly canted tail fins. Its boxy,
angular fuselage and wings contributed to its low RCS. It was
eventually covered with radar absorbent material (RAM).
Such shaping and material treatments
rendered the airplane "low observable" or "stealthy."
The first HAVE BLUE vehicle, Article 1001, was flown to demonstrate
handling characteristics. The second was scheduled to carry out
tests of the low observable (L.O.) characteristics. After arriving
at the test site, Article 1001 underwent a few weeks of flight
control, engine, and taxi tests. Every time HAVE BLUE was rolled out
of its hangar, uncleared personnel at the base were sequestered to
prevent them from seeing the aircraft.
HAVE BLUE first flew on 1 December 1977 with Lockheed test pilot
Bill Park at the controls. Skunkworks chief Ben Rich, his
predecessor "Kelly" Johnson, and Ken Perko of the Advanced Research
Projects Agency were on hand to witness the event. The flight was
also monitored by the White House Situation Room and Tactical Air
Command Headquarters at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia. Article
1001 completed 36 flights before being lost in a non-fatal accident.
Article 1002, the low observables technology demonstrator, made its
first flight on 20 July 1978 piloted by Lt. Col. Norman "Ken" Dyson.
It made 52 flights against sophisticated U.S. and Soviet
ground-based radars, and the E-3 Airborne Warning And Control System
(AWACS). Article 1002 was lost on 11 July 1979 due to an engine
At the time of the accident only one
final test flight had been scheduled for the HAVE BLUE program.
In October 1978, Lockheed conducted the first test of its stealth
cruise missile, code named SENIOR PROM. Six prototypes were built.
They somewhat resembled a subscale, unmanned version of the HAVE
BLUE, but with outwardly-canted tails, narrow wings, and a single
jet intake located where the cockpit would have been. The
demonstrator models were launched from a DC-130. Thirteen test
flights were made, and all six vehicles recovered. The recovery
method involved deploying a ballistic parachute and inflating a
ventral landing bag.
Although the SENIOR PROM tests were successful,
the contract for production of a stealthy Advanced Cruise Missile
(ACM) went to the less expensive General Dynamics AGM-129A. SENIOR
PROM was cancelled in 1981.
On 17 January 1981 the Lockheed test team at Groom Lake accepted
delivery of the first SENIOR TREND Full Scale Development (FSD)
prototype, Ship 780, designated YF-117A. Like the HAVE BLUE, it too
resembled a faceted arrowhead, except that the tails were canted
outward in a "V" shape. Ship 780 first flew on 18 June 1981 with
Lockheed test pilot Hal Farley at the controls.
By early 1982, four more YF-117A airplanes were operating out of the
southern end of the base, known as the "Southend" or "Baja Groom
Lake." After finding a large scorpion in their offices, the test
team adopted it as their mascot and dubbed themselves the "Baja
As the Baja Scorpions tested the FSD airframes, production F-117A
aircraft were shipped to DREAMLAND for acceptance testing. Following
functional check flights and L.O. verification, the operational
airplanes were deployed to the 4450th Tactical Group at Tonopah Test
Range, in the northwest corner of the Nellis Range.
While HAVE BLUE and SENIOR TREND were being put through their paces
in Nevada, the Air Force, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency,
and Northrop Aircraft Corporation teamed up to develop a new
aircraft. Code-named TACIT BLUE, it was originally designed as a
technology demonstrator for a low-observable surveillance aircraft
with a low-probability-of-intercept radar, and other sensors, that
could operate close to the front line of battle with a high degree
Although plans for a stealthy
surveillance aircraft were abandoned, TACIT BLUE provided important
data that aided in the development of several other weapons systems.
These included the B-2 advanced technology bomber, the AGM-137
Tri-Service Standoff Attack Missile (TSSAM), and the PAVE MOVER
program (which led to the development of the E-8 Joint-STARS
aircraft). TACIT BLUE was the first aircraft to demonstrate a low
RCS using curved surfaces.
Only one complete TACIT BLUE prototype was constructed. A second,
partially completed, shell was built as a back up. The aircraft
featured a curved upper surface with a flush dorsal intake. Twin
turbofan engines gave it a cruising speed of about 260 miles per
hour. TACIT BLUE sported tapered straight wings and two square fins
in a widely spaced V-tail configuration. Flat, squared "platypus
bills" on the nose and tail gave it a nearly rectangular plan-form.
From the side, TACIT BLUE resembled a
whale, complete with a blowhole. In fact, the TACIT BLUE team
members nicknamed it "The Whale," and referred to themselves as
The nearly complete TACIT BLUE aircraft was trucked to the test site
in several large crates for final assembly in Hangar 8. Northrop
test pilot Richard G. Thomas, made the first flight of TACIT BLUE on
5 February 1982. TACIT BLUE made a total of 135 sorties, flown by a
team of one contractor and four Air Force pilots. Thomas made 70 of
the flights, including the 100th sortie on 27 April 1984. The final
flight took place on 14 February 1985. Following a highly successful
test program, the one-of-a-kind aircraft was stored in the Area 51 "boneyard."
In April 1996, it was declassified and
delivered to the U.S. Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio for permanent
Because Groom Lake's site population had grown substantially, the
C-54 aircraft had become inadequate to transport all the personnel.
The Air Force contracted EG&G Special Projects, McCarran Operations,
in Las Vegas to transport commuters to DREAMLAND in a fleet of six
Boeing 737-200s. These flights, using the call sign JANET, carried
personnel and freight daily from Las Vegas, Palmdale, and Burbank to
Groom Lake, and later Tonopah Test Range.
Beginning in 1979, the Air Force began actively discouraging, and at
times preventing, any public or private entry to the Groom
Mountains, north of Groom Lake. Air Force personnel claimed it was
"in the interest of public safety and national defense." This was
about the time the Air Force took control of the Groom Lake facility
from the CIA.
Not only were hunters and hikers
excluded from the mountains north of Groom Lake, but also citizens
with mining claims in the area. In 1981, the Air Force discreetly
requested that 89,600 acres of land encompassing the range be
legally withdrawn from public use. The process of approving this
request took several years. It also resulted in a battle between the
government, citizens, and various special interest groups (such as
the Sierra Club). In the end, the government won.
By March 1984, government security personnel prohibited travel and
controlled access along the Groom Lake road northeast of the
lakebed. In August, the Groom Mountains withdrawal was approved
subject to an environmental impact statement (EIS) and public
hearings. Congress officially authorized the withdrawal in 1987, and
the following year President Ronald Reagan signed legislation making
the Groom Mountains part of the Nellis Air Force Range until 2003.
None of the documentation (EIS, archeological surveys, etc.)
mentioned Area 51 or the Groom Lake test facility.
As public access became increasingly restricted, facilities in the
DREAMLAND complex increased dramatically in number and size. During
the mid-1980s new dormitories were constructed to replace the
Babbitt housing. Several large water tanks were added to supply the
base. Hangar 18 was built near the south ramp.
Four "Rubber Duck" temporary aircraft
shelters were erected near the Southend for use by TAC personnel
during F-117A acceptance tests. Many new facilities were built and,
by the end of the decade the "Rubber Duck" shelters were replaced
with metal hangars (Hangars 20 through 23). Recreational facilities
expanded to include the softball diamond and movie theatre, as well
as a swimming pool and tennis courts. The latter are located
adjacent to Sam's Place, the local saloon and recreation center.
Runway 14/32 was extended 4,600 feet further southeast of the
lakebed because the north end was subject to flooding during the
rainy season. The runway now consisted of a 13,530-foot strip of
concrete, 150 feet wide. The 10,000-foot hard asphalt extension and
lakebed abort curve remained, but fell into disuse. The cost of
maintaining the concrete runway became increasingly prohibitive.
AFFTC leadership determined that the
most cost effective solution would be to keep the southern half of
the airstrip open until a new, parallel paved strip (runway 14L/32R)
could be completed. The new concrete strip was constructed in 1991.
It does not extend out onto the lakebed, but a lead-in line to the
abort curve was marked on the lakebed. The northern half of the
original runway (14R/32L) was closed, reducing its length to about
10,000 feet. It was finally closed along its entire length. In 2001
the South Delta Taxiway was marked as runway 12/30. It is
approximately 5,420-feet-long and 150-feet-wide, with convenient
access to the Southend ramp.
A new central taxiway was constructed in
2003 to support runway 14L/32R.
The Groom Lake base received some unwanted publicity in 1994 when a
number of former workers from the site sued the government. They
claimed their health had been damaged by inhaling toxic fumes from
the burning of waste materials in open trenches near the main base.
For four months after the suit was filed, the government
determinedly denied the existence of the base itself. Finally,
however, it was forced to acknowledge that there was "an operating
location at Groom Lake," but refused to provide a legal name for it
citing "national security" concerns.
Air Force secretary Sheila Widnall declared that the facility "has
no actual operating name per se." This was partially true. Since the
Air Force had taken control of the facility in 1979 they had not
used the name "Area 51," but instead simply referred to the
operating location as DET 3, AFFTC,. Attorney Jonathan Turley tried
on behalf of the plaintiffs to get the government to provide a legal
name for the site, but was stymied at every turn.
The lawsuit forced the government to formally acknowledge the Groom
Lake facility in order to keep its secrets.
On 29 September 1995, President Bill
Clinton signed Presidential Determination No. 95-45, which stated in
"I find that it is in the paramount
interest of the United States to exempt the United States Air
Force's operating location near Groom Lake, Nevada from any
applicable requirement for the disclosure to unauthorized
persons of classified information concerning that operating
Area 51's secret nature has bred rumor and speculation among fringe
groups that believe the U.S. government is hiding captured
extraterrestrial spacecraft, or even aliens (dead or alive) at the
site. Such stories have been circulating since at least the late
1970s. Starting in 1989, groups of UFO believers began to camp out
near the Nellis Range boundaries near Groom Lake to watch for
As the news media caught wind of these "saucer base expeditions,"
print and television publicity was met with stony silence and terse
denials from Air Force officials. This further fueled public
speculation, spawned new rumors, and attracted still more publicity.
Camera crews from around the world descended on the remote and
forbidding Nevada desert.
Local entrepreneurs capitalized on the
situation by selling all manner of Area 51 souvenirs, videos, and
The DET 3 security force, comprised of Air Force and civilian
contractor personnel, worked overtime to intercept the "alien"
invaders. A few civilians discovered that some nearby hilltops with
a bird's-eye view of the secret base had been overlooked in the
government's Groom Range land grab. Word quickly spread. Tourists
sometimes camped on the hilltops 24 hours a day for days at a time.
Flight test operations and even ground activities had to be
postponed or cancelled.
In April 1995, the Air Force seized
5,000 more acres of public land to prevent civilians from viewing
Out of the
Black, Into the Blue
While many current and historic programs at Dreamland remain
classified, some information has been released to the public. Formal
announcements, published technical papers, and official personnel
biographies often reveal details of previously "black" projects. In
the absence of official information, rumors abound.
The Northrop B-2 Spirit Advanced Technology Bomber has frequently
been seen over DREAMLAND.
Prototypes from the B-2 Combined Test
Force at Edwards AFB and operational aircraft from a detachment of
the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman AFB, Missouri have flown against
Soviet-type radar systems and the Dynamic Coherent Measurement
System (DYCOMS). Known on-site as Project 100, this airborne RCS
range has been used to measure the L.O. characteristics of all U.S.
stealth aircraft from the F-117A to the F/A-22A.
Project HAVE GLASS was undertaken in 1982 to significantly reduce
the RCS of the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon. A series of
modifications included RAM coatings and fillings, reflective
materials, and component shape changes. The results were verified
using the DYCOMS.
In 1983 AeroVironment received CIA sponsorship to build a
proof-of-concept high-altitude, solar-powered, radio-controlled UAV
called HALSOL. It was essentially a rectangular flying wing made
from lightweight materials. Initial test flights were powered by
eight electric motors using silver-zinc batteries. HALSOL made nine
Maj. Frank T. Birk piloted the first flight of a "classified
technology demonstrator" at Groom Lake in 1985.
For his work on the
project, the Society of Experimental Test Pilots gave Birk the
Lieutenant General Bobby Bond Memorial Aviator Award that,
"recognizes an AFSC military rated crew member for outstanding
contribution to AFSC's test and evaluation mission while
participating in aerial duties."
On 2 October 1992, the 413th Flight Test Squadron was activated at
Edwards to provide test and evaluation capability for electronic
warfare (EW) systems. This change supported a consolidation of all
Air Force electronic combat assets in the western United States.
The mission of the 413th included
planning, providing for, and organizing worldwide ground and flight
tests of EW systems and equipment. A detachment of the 413th FLTS
conducted EW testing at Groom Lake. In May 2004 the 413th Flight
Test Squadron was inactivated as part of another consolidation and
realignment of EW assets that were then absorbed by the EW
Directorate at Edwards.
In the early 1990s Dennis F. "Bones" Sager was handpicked to lead a
"classified prototype aircraft" called the YF-113G from design to
first flight. As a fighter pilot and experimental test pilot, Sager
accumulated over 2,900 flight hours in 54 aircraft types including
Soviet fighters at Groom Lake. He was first Air Force pilot to fly
On October 18, 2002, Boeing uncloaked its secret Bird of Prey
technology demonstrator that was used to pioneer revolutionary
advances in low-observables, aircraft design, and rapid prototyping.
The project, initiated in 1992, remained
highly classified even after its conclusion in 1999. A Boeing
spokesman announced that it had been declassified,
technologies and capabilities developed [during the program] have
become industry standards, and it is no longer necessary to conceal
the aircraft's existence."
Phantom Works chief test pilot Rudy Haug
piloted the maiden flight of Bird of Prey in the fall of 1996. After
McDonnell Douglas merged with Boeing on August 1, 1997, The Boeing
Company continued to fund the project. Three pilots flew only 38
missions between 1996 and 1999.
Doug Benjamin, assigned to the Special Projects Flight Test
Squadron, was the only Air Force pilot to fly the Bird of Prey. He
flew 21 test flights including envelope expansion, mission utility,
and tactical applications sorties. Following Benjamin's retirement
from the military service in 2000, it was revealed that he had flown
three other classified aircraft.
Daniel R. Vanderhorst has flown at least seven classified aircraft
including TACIT BLUE. Many of his flights have involved
one-of-a-kind technology demonstrators. In one such aircraft he
tested modified landing gear and conducted initial tests of internal
weapons bays, and weapon separation tests. He holds the altitude
record in this still-classified aircraft.
There have also been reports of Advanced Concept Technology
Demonstrator (ACTD) projects undergoing flight tests at Groom Lake.
Other projects at the site may include
stealth helicopters, weapons development, unmanned aerial vehicles,
and avionics testing.
For half a century, the Groom Lake test site has been a valuable
asset for the development of aerospace vehicles and weapon systems.
There, workers toil in relative isolation and inhospitable
conditions to prove revolutionary technologies and enhance the
readiness of today's warfighter and support national requirements.
Most non-permanent base residents commute to Groom Lake an Mondays,
and often stay at the base until Thursday or Friday. Because of the
sensitive nature of their work, they can't share their
accomplishments with friends and family.
Former base commander Col. Larry McClain
summarized this burden of silence:
"For it is the lot of some men to be
assigned duties about which they may not speak. Such work is not
for every man. But those who accept the burdens implicit in this
silent labor realize a camaraderie and sense of value known to
few. These memories cannot be stolen. They will last always,
untarnished, ever better."
In his poem, "A Tribute to All the
Whalers," J. E. Coleman describes DREAMLAND in this way:
AMERICA'S STRENGTH THROUGH
IS WHAT IS KEEPING FREE MEN FREE
SO IF YOU EVER HEAR ABOUT THIS PLACE
PLEASE HOPE IT EXISTS IN TIME AND SPACE
FOR WHAT THEY DO THERE CAN'T BE TOLD
BUT FREEDOM'S LIGHT THEY THERE UPHOLD
Many projects tested at Groom Lake over
the last five decades are still classified. The full story of this
unique national asset may never be known. Nevertheless, DREAMLAND is
beginning to yield its secrets at last.
The following is a general timeline of events at the Groom Lake,
Nevada, test facility.
It covers half a century of history
involving a unique national asset.
A secure test site was needed for the Central Intelligence
Agency's Project AQUATONE (Lockheed U-2). U-2 designer Clarence
L. "Kelly" Johnson sent project pilot Tony LeVier and Lockheed
Skunk Works chief foreman Dorsey Kammerer on a two-week survey
mission to scout locations for a new base in an unmarked
Beechcraft V-35 Bonanza.
Richard M. Bissell Jr., "special assistant" to CIA director
Allen Dulles, and director of the AQUATONE program reviewed
fifty potential sites with his Air Force liaison, Col. Osmond J.
"Ozzie" Ritland. None of the sites seemed to meet the stringent
security requirements of the program. They rejected Johnson's
proposed Site I (possibly Mud Lake) because it was too close to
populated areas. Ritland, however, recalled "a little X-shaped
field" just off the eastern side of Groom Dry Lake, about 100
miles north of Las Vegas, Nevada, just outside the Atomic Energy
Commission's (AEC) nuclear proving ground at Yucca Flat.
LeVier, Johnson, Bissell, and Ritland flew out to Nevada on a
two-day survey of the most promising lakebeds, including Groom
Lake. The abandoned airfield that Ritland had remembered was
sandy, overgrown and unusable, but the three-mile-wide dry
lakebed was perfect.
Bissell secured a Presidential action adding the Groom Lake area
to the AEC proving ground. Ritland wrote three memos to the Air
Force, AEC, and the Training Command that administered the
gunnery range. Signed by Assistant Air Secretary for Research
and Development Trevor Gardner, they insured that range
activities would not impinge on the new test site. Security for
the project was now assured.
Johnson met with CIA officials in Washington, D.C. and discussed
progress on the base and the AQUATONE program. His proposal to
name the base "Paradise Ranch" was accepted. It was an ironic
choice which, he later admitted was "a dirty trick to lure
workers to the program."
LeVier, Kammerer, and Johnson returned to Groom Lake in
Lockheed's Bonanza. Using a compass and surveying equipment,
they laid out a place for a 5,000-foot, north-south runway on
the southwest corner of the lakebed. They also staked out the
general layout of the base.
Herb Miller of CIA Development Projects Staff issued $800,000 in
contracts for construction of the base. Through the AEC, Miller
organized a team of construction crews.
Seth Woodruff Jr., Manager of the AEC Las Vegas Field Office,
announced to the news media that he had "instructed the Reynolds
Electrical and Engineering Co., Inc. [REECo] to begin
preliminary work on a small, satellite Nevada Test Site
installation." He noted that work was already underway at the
location "a few miles northeast of Yucca Flat and within the Las
Vegas Bombing and Gunnery Range." Woodruff said that the
installation would include "a runway, dormitories, and a few
other buildings for housing equipment." The facility was
described as "essentially temporary." The press release was
distributed to 18 media outlets in Nevada and Utah including a
dozen newspapers, four radio stations, and two television
LeVier and fellow Lockheed test pilot Bob Matye spent nearly a
month removing surface debris from Groom Lake (the area had been
used for gunnery practice during World War II). LeVier also drew
up a proposal for four three-mile-long runways to be marked on
the hard-packed clay. Johnson, however, refused to approve the
$450.00 expense, citing a lack of funds. Drilling resulted in
discovery of a limited water supply, but trouble with the well
soon developed and water had to be trucked in.
Construction of the base was completed. It consisted of a single
paved 5,000-foot runway, three hangars, a control tower, and
rudimentary accommodations for test personnel. The base's few
amenities included a movie theatre and volleyball court.
Additionally, there was a mess hall, and several water wells and
fuel storage tanks.
CIA, Air Force, and Lockheed personnel began arriving at the
Groom Lake test site.
The test site was officially and legally named Watertown after
CIA Director Allen Dulles' birthplace: Watertown, New York. It
is still listed as a member of Alamo Township in Lincoln County,
Richard Newton of the CIA assigned as base commander.
The first U-2 (Article 341), disassembled, was flown to "The
Ranch" in an Air Force C-124 cargo plane. Base commander Richard
Newton expressed his doubts to Kelly Johnson that the new
asphalt runway would support the weight of the loaded C-124.
Tony LeVier piloted the unofficial maiden flight in Article 341
during a taxi test.
Levier, with the callsign ANGEL 1, made the first real flight in
Article 341. Bob Matye flew chase in a C-47 with "Kelly" Johnson
on board as an observer.
LeVier completed Phase I (contractor) testing. His
accomplishments included taking the U-2 to 50,000 feet,
achieving the maximum design speed of Mach 0.84, and making a
successful dead-stick landing.
LeVier was replaced by Lockheed test pilots Bob Matye and Ray
Goudey, who expanded the altitude envelope to 74,500 feet.
The second U-2 (Article 342) was delivered to Watertown.
Test pilots Robert Sieker and Robert Schumacher joined the U-2
Pursuant to a request by the Las Vegas Review Journal the
previous month, the AEC released a statement regarding progress
on the "Watertown Project."
It stated that,
"construction at the
Nevada Test Site installation a few miles north of Yucca Flat
which was announced last spring is continuing. Data secured to
date has indicated a need for limited additional facilities and
modifications of the existing installation. The additional work
which will not be completed until sometime in 1956 is being done
by the Reynolds electrical and Engineering Company, Incorporated
under the direction of the Atomic Energy Commission's Las Vegas
U.S. Air Force C-54M (44-9068) transporting personnel to
Watertown crashed near the top of Mt. Charleston, about 20 miles
west of Las Vegas. Nine civilians and five military personnel
were killed. There were no survivors.
After the accident, Lockheed took on the responsibility of
transporting personnel to the test site. A C-47, owned by
Lockheed, was used to bring in pilots, technicians, and special
Defense Secretary Charles Wilson visited Watertown for a
briefing on the U-2 operation.
By the beginning of 1956, four U-2 aircraft had been delivered
to the Groom Lake test site.
The fleet consisted of nine aircraft, and six CIA pilots were
undergoing flight training at the site.
Col. Landon McConnell was assigned as base commander at
CIA Director Allen Dulles visited Watertown to personally meet
the first training class.
As Wilburn S. Rose took off on a training flight in U-2A
(56-6678), one of the wing pogo wheels failed to separate. Rose
flew low over the field, trying to shake it loose. The aircraft,
heavy with fuel, stalled and crashed, killing Rose.
The second class arrived at Watertown. It included Francis G.
"Frank" Powers, who would later win dubious fame after being
shot down and captured while flying a U-2 over the Soviet Union.
While Powers' class underwent training, a group of four Greek
and one Polish pilot also came to Groom for familiarization in
the U-2. The Greek pilots all washed out during training, and
the Polish pilot was never allowed to fly the U-2.
The second U-2 class completed their training.
The third U-2 training class arrived at Watertown. Among others,
it included Frank G. Grace Jr. and Bob Ericson.
Grace was killed during a night training flight while flying
U-2A (56-6687). He became disoriented by lights near the end of
the runway, and flew into a telephone pole.
Bob Ericson was flying U-2A (56-6690) at 35,000 feet when he
suffered an oxygen failure. As he began to pass out, the
aircraft went out of control. Ericson managed to open the
canopy, and parachute to a safe landing on the Navajo Indian
Reservation in Arizona.
Article 341 was modified for a series of radar cross section (RCS)
tests called Project RAINBOW. Lockheed attempted to reduce the
RCS of the U-2 using radar-absorbent materials.
Another U-2, Article 344, was strung with piano wire of varying
dipole lengths between the nose and wings of the aircraft to
reduce the radar signature. These methods created extra drag
with a resultant penalty in range and altitude. The U-2 aircraft
modified under Project RAINBOW were known as "dirty birds"
because they were not aerodynamically "clean."
During a Project RAINBOW test flight, Article 341 suffered a
flameout at 72,000 feet due to airframe heat build-up. Pilot
Robert Sieker's pressure suit inflated, but his helmet faceplate
failed and he lost consciousness. The aircraft stalled at 65,000
feet and entered a flat spin. Sieker revived at low altitude and
attempted to bail out. Without an ejection seat, or enough
altitude for a safe manual egress, Sieker was killed. His body
was found near the wreck, with his parachute partially deployed.
More information here.
An AEC information booklet called "Background Information on
Nevada Nuclear Tests" published in 1957) gave a cover story for
the Watertown operation. It stated that the National Advisory
Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) was operating U-2 aircraft at
the Groom Lake site,
At that time, the aircraft were unpainted except for
fictitious NACA markings in the event that one of them was lost
The AEC conducted a safety experiment with an XW-25 warhead just
five miles northwest of Groom Lake in Area 13. Called Project
57, the test was part of Operation Plumbbob. The device, with a
design yield of one to two kilotons, was involved in a simulated
accident without a nuclear detonation. The test spread plutonium
over 895 acres. More information here.
AEC Radiological Safety Officer Charles Weaver, Oliver R. Placak,
and Melvin W. Carter participated in two meetings held at
Watertown. The film Atomic Tests In Nevada was shown and
discussed during two meetings. Watertown personnel were briefed
on nuclear testing activities, radiation safety, and the
possibility of radiation hazards from the Operation Plumbbob
test series. Before leaving Watertown, the AEC men met with two
Air Force officers, Col. Jack Nole and a Col. Schilling, and
Richard Newton to discuss arrangements for radiation monitors to
visit the airbase whenever fallout was anticipated in the
Shot BOLTZMANN, a 12 kiloton blast, was fired from a 500-foot
tower on northern Yucca Flat. Watertown personnel were required
to evacuate the secret base to avoid fallout.
Two minor atomic blasts, FRANKLIN and LASSEN, were fired at
CIA pilot classes finished training.
The U-2 test operation moved to North Base at Edwards AFB,
Operational U-2 aircraft were assigned to the 4028th Strategic
Reconnaissance Squadron. 4028th SRS commander Col. Nole led the
first of two three-ship U-2 formations from Watertown to their
new home at Laughlin, Texas.
Watertown became a virtual ghost town. The base was apparently
in caretaker status with a site manager, security, and minimal
complement of personnel present.
An atomic test code-named WILSON deposited fallout on Watertown.
The AEC measured radiation exposure inside the evacuated
buildings and vehicles at the base to study the ability of
various materials to shield against fallout. In effect,
Watertown served as a laboratory to determine the shielding
qualities of typical building materials that might be found in
any average American small town.
The 37-kiloton PRISCILLA shot was detonated at Frenchman Flat.
HOOD, the sixth nuclear shot of Operation Plumbbob, caused
substantial damage to the Watertown airbase. The device was
lofted by balloon to a height of 1,500 feet over Yucca Flat,
about 14 miles southwest of Watertown. On 5 July 1957, HOOD
exploded with a yield of 74 kilotons. HOOD's shockwave shattered
windows on two buildings at Watertown, and broke a ventilator
panel on one of the dormitories.
A maintenance building on the west
side of the base had its west and east doors buckled, and the
south door of the supply warehouse west of the hangars was also
A civilian pilot was detained when he made an emergency landing
at the Watertown airstrip. Edward K. Current Jr., a Douglas
Aircraft Company employee, had been on a cross country training
flight when he became lost, ran low on fuel, and decided to land
at Groom Lake. He was held overnight and questioned.
Nevada Test Organization (NTO)
security officials reported the incident to the Civil
Aeronautics Administration (CAA), which administered the air
closure over the Test Site. The following day, the NTO Office of
Test Information issued a press release to the news media,
describing the incident. The statement noted that the "Watertown
landing strip is in the Groom lake area at the northeast corner
of the Nevada Test Site."
Operation Plumbbob nuclear testing continued. Five additional
safety experiments and 18 more full-scale detonations were
conducted. Several shots dropped significant fallout on
They included DIABLO, DOPPLER,
SMOKY, and WHITNEY. SMOKY had a yield of 44 kilotons. It was
fired on top of a 700-foot tower in Area 8, about 14 miles
southwest of Groom Lake. The mushroom cloud was extremely dirty,
and spread radioactive debris over the Groom Lake area.
An area comprised of 38,400 acres of land surrounding the
Watertown base was officially withdrawn from public access under
Public Land Order 1662. This rectangular addition to the Nevada
Test Site was designated "Area 51."
USAF personnel from Edwards AFB embarked on a two-day survey
trip in an L-28 to investigate potential emergency landing sites
for the X-15 rocket plane. The L-28 received clearance to land
on Groom Lake, the fifth stop on the trip. The crew tested the
hardness of the lakebed surface by dropping a 10lb. steel ball
from a height of six feet and measuring the diameter of the
The survey report described Groom
Lake as follows: "The surface is very smooth and extremely hard.
All approaches are good, and runways can be used in any
direction with just over three miles of lake available. This
lake is considered excellent for emergency use." Groom Lake was
designated as a contingency landing site for eleven X-15
missions, but none of the flights had to abort to the secret
EG&G agreed to move its radar test facility to Groom Lake for
security reasons. A special pylon was constructed on a paved
loop road on the western side of the lakebed.
Aerial photos of Groom Lake were taken for construction
contractor Holmes & Narver, Inc. (H&N).
The AEC issued a press release regarding construction of a
butler-type building for "Project 51" at Groom Lake. The
statement indicated that the building would be used to "house
data reduction equipment for use by Edgerton, Germeshausen, and
Grier [EG&G, Inc.] in an Air Force Program." The construction
project led to a labor dispute. REECo obtained a court order to
force the union to provide half a dozen sheet metal workers for
the project, then agreed to arbitration of the dispute prior to
an injunction hearing in district court.
A full-scale mock-up of the A-12 was shipped to Area 51 for
radar signature testing by EG&G.
Joe Vensel, Forrest Petersen, and Jim McKay flew from the NASA
Flight Research Center (FRC) at Edwards to Nevada in a NASA
R4D-5 (17136) to re-survey X-15 landing sites. They landed on
the northern end of Groom Lake, just outside the restricted area
and tested the lakebed surface by taxiing the aircraft across
the hard-packed clay.
They soon saw jeeps approaching from
Watertown, but the R4D took off before the jeeps arrived.
An Air Force crew attempted a survey following a winter storm.
Air Traffic controllers at Area 51 denied landing clearance to
the survey aircraft, so it just made a fly-by. The crew noted
that there was water on the east half of the lakebed.
Project High Range was completed to track the X-15. It was a
High-Altitude Continuous Tracking Radar range over 400 miles
long, and stretching from California to Utah. It included radar
facilities and microwave relay units. One of the latter, MRU-4,
was placed on top of Bald Mountain, 14 miles north of Groom
Base construction began at Area 51 to build facilities to
support Project OXCART, the Lockheed A-12. Since the existing
5,000-foot runway (built for the U-2) was incapable of
supporting the weight of the A-12, a new airstrip (Runway 14/32)
NASA and AFFTC personnel discussed the idea of using the
airspace over Groom as a launch site for the X-15. They
determined that Groom had advantages over Mud Lake, near
Tonopah, since there were more intermediate contingency landing
sites available between Groom and Edwards. The Use of Groom Lake
also meant a reduction in AFFTC support requirements since there
was already an airfield with emergency equipment and personnel
at the site. Ultimately, they agreed to remove Groom from
consideration as a launch site due to difficulty obtaining
clearance into the area.
Runway 14/32 was completed. The A-12 required a runway at least
8,500 feet long and 150-feet-wide. A 10,000-foot hard asphalt
extension, with a concrete turnaround pad in the middle, cut
diagonally across the southwest corner of the lakebed. A
semicircle (called "The Hook") approximately two miles in
diameter was marked on the dry lake so that an A-12 pilot
approaching the end of the overrun could abort to the
hard-packed playa instead of running his aircraft into the
An unpaved airstrip (Runway 09/27)
crossed the lakebed from southwest to northeast. Another strip
(Runway 03/21) was laid out as a crosswind runway.
The essential facilities at Area 51 were completed. Three
surplus U.S. Navy hangars were obtained, dismantled, and erected
on the north side of the base, just north of the three original
hangars. They were designated as Hangars 4, 5, and 6. A fourth,
Hangar 7, was also built.
One hundred and forty surplus U.S. Navy housing units were
transported to the base and made ready for occupancy. The
original U-2 hangars now served as maintenance and machine
shops. Facilities in the main cantonment area included workshops
and buildings for storage and administration, a commissary,
control tower, fire station, and housing.
The airspace over Groom Lake became part of a new Restricted
Area called R-4808N (replacing the former Prohibited Area
P-275), that covered both the Nevada Test Site and Area 51. It
prohibited overflights below 60,000 feet.
CIA Inspector General Lyman B. Kirkpatrick arrived at Area 51
for a three-day visit. Afterward, he had some critical comments
regarding Area 51 security and OXCART project management.
In his preliminary summary report Kirkpatrick stated: "The
'Area' in my opinion appears to be extremely vulnerable in its
present security provisions against unauthorized observation.
The high and rugged northeast perimeter of the immediate
operating area, which I visited in order to see for myself, is
not under government ownership. It is subject to a score or more
of mineral claims, at least one of which is visited periodically
by its owner. Several claims are sites of unoccupied buildings
or cellars which together with the terrain in general afford
excellent opportunity for successful penetration by a skilled
and determined opposition."
Kirkpatrick felt that Area 51 was "already demonstrably
vulnerable to air violation including landings," that "major
installations are not rigorously protected against sabotage,"
and that construction of facilities had been undertaken before
construction personnel had received a full security clearance.
Richard M. Bissell thought these points were valid. The
assistant to the CIA Deputy Director of Plans noted that Bissell
"was particularly interested in why we have not yet been able to
eject the various citizens holding property around the Area."
Col. Robert J. Holbury was named commander of Detachment 1,
1129th Special Activities Squadron Roadrunners and Area 51, with
Werner Weiss of the CIA as his deputy.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) expanded the
restricted airspace above Groom to 22 by 20 nautical miles. The
lakebed now lay at the center of a 440-square-mile box at the
heart of the Nellis Air Force Range. Eventually, the airspace
was restricted continuously, at all altitudes.
The first A-12 prototype (Article 121/ AF Serial No. 60-6924)
was trucked to the test site.
Support aircraft began arriving at Area 51. These included: six
McDonnell F-101B and two F-101F Voodoos for training and photo
chase, two T-33A Shooting Stars for proficiency training, one
Lockheed C-130 Hercules for cargo transport, one U-8A for
administrative use, one Cessna 180 for liaison use (later
replaced with a Cessna 210), and a Kaman HH-43 helicopter for
search and rescue (later replaced with a UH-1). Two F-104A/G
Starfighters (56-0790 and 56-0801) served as chase planes during
the OXCART flight test program.
Article 121 made its unofficial first flight at Area 51 with
Louis W. Schalk at the controls. He flew the aircraft less than
two miles at an altitude of about 20 feet.
The following day, Schalk made a 40-minute flight. Schalk's
official first flight, several days later, was witnessed by a
number of CIA personnel (including Richard Bissell) and Najeeb
E. Halaby, head of the Federal Aviation Administration.
Second A-12 airframe (Article 122) arrives at Groom Lake and is
mounted on the RCS pylon for three months of testing.
SEDAN, a 104-kiloton thermonuclear explosion, created a crater
320 feet deep and 1,280 feet across on Yucca Flat. The
radioactive dust cloud drifted northeast over Groom Pass.
Shot BANDICOOT detonated in a subterranean shaft with a yield of
12.5 kilotons. Dynamic venting deposited fallout on the Groom
A Lockheed test pilot flew a U-2 against radar sites at Area 51
to evaluate its radar cross-section. This was shortly after the
Cuban Missile Crisis, and may have been precipitated by the loss
of a U-2 to a Cuban SA-2 surface-to-air missile on 27 October.
During a subsonic engine test sortie in A-12 (Article
123/60-6926), Ken Collins descended into a thick cloud deck. Ice
quickly built up in the pitot tube, causing erroneous airspeed
readings in the cockpit. The jet suddenly stalled and pitched
up, entering an inverted flat spin. Collins ejected, and the
A-12 impacted south of Wendover, near the Utah-Nevada border.
Secrecy of the OXCART program was maintained by telling the
press that a Republic F-105 had crashed. More information here.
The first YF-12A (Article 1001/60-6934) made its maiden flight
at Area 51 with James Eastham at the controls.
A flight of three F-105 Thunderchiefs, led by British exchange
pilot Anthony "Bugs" Bendell, was on a practice nuclear weapon
delivery sortie about 80 miles north of Nellis AFB when one
aircraft experienced an oil pressure malfunction. One F-105
returned to Nellis while Bendell led the stricken craft to the
airfield at Groom Lake. After making a pass over the field with
no response to distress calls, Bendell advised the student pilot
to land. At this point, two F-101 Voodoos intercepted Bendell
and forced him to land also.
Lou Schalk took Kelly Johnson for a ride in the TA-12 (Article
After President Lyndon B. Johnson announced the existence of the
YF-12A (intentionally calling it "Lockheed A-11" at Kelly
Johnson's request), the YF-12A test program moved to Edwards
Lockheed test pilot Bill Park flew a high-speed sortie in A-12
(Article 133/60-6939). While on final approach to Groom Lake,
the controls locked up, and the aircraft began to roll. Park
ejected just 200 feet above the ground. He swung through just
one parachute oscillation before touching down.
Kelly Johnson flew Najeeb Halaby to the Area 51 test site.
Halaby was taken up for a flight in the two-seat TA-12 trainer
Bill Park piloted the first mated flight of the M-21/D-21
combination. The M-21 motherships were Article 134/60-6940 and
The A-12 was declared ready for operational use.
After takeoff in A-12 (Article 126/60-6929), Mele Vojvodich was
forced to eject as the aircraft went out of control about 100
feet above the ground. The flight lasted only six seconds.
Vojvodich parachuted to safety as the A-12 exploded nearby on
the frozen surface of the lakebed. The cause was traced to
controls that had been accidentally cross-wired during
The Lockheed D-21 TAGBOARD ramjet powered unmanned
reconnaissance drone was launched for the first time from a
dorsal pylon on the M-21 mothership.
The fourth launch attempt was made from M-21 (60-6941) with
60-6940 flying chase. After leaving Groom Lake, the aircraft
flew out over the Pacific Ocean. As the D-21 separated from the
launch pylon, it struck the tail of the M-21 resulting in the
loss of the aircraft. Pilot Bill Park ejected safely and was
rescued 150 miles off Point Mugu, California. His LSO Ray Torick
ejected but drowned before he could be rescued.
Col. Hugh "Slip" Slater takes command of DWT 1, 1129th SAS and
While returning to Area 51 from a routine training flight, A-12
(Article 125/60-6928) crashed near Leith, Nevada. A faulty gauge
had allowed the jet to run out of fuel 70 miles short of Groom
Lake. Walt Ray ejected, but failed to separate from his seat,
and was killed.
Sam Mitchell (CIA) assigned as commander of Area 51.
James S. Simon Jr. died while flying chase during a night sortie
of the TA-12. As the TA-12 approached the south end of the
runway Simon's F-101B (56-0286) struck the ground and exploded
near the South Trim Pad.
Under the SENIOR BOWL program, the D-21 drone was reconfigured
for launch from a B-52 and redesignated D-21B. Two B-52H
aircraft (60-0036 and 61-0021) from the 4200th Support Squadron
were sent to Groom Lake for the test program.
The unofficial first flight of the D-21B (Article 501) occurred
when one of the drones was accidentally dropped due to a
The first actual launch of a D-21B was completed successfully
from a B-52H over the Pacific Ocean.
Project HAVE DOUGHNUT, a joint USAF/Navy technical and tactical
evaluation of the MiG-21F-13 began at Area 51.
First test flight of HAVE DOUGHNUT MiG-21.
Project HAVE DOUGHNUT was completed.
Project HAVE DRILL/HAVE FERRY evaluation of two MiG-17F
airplanes began at Area 51 with delivery of first airplane.
First MiG-17 test flight completed.
Second MiG-17 delivered to Area 51.
First flight of second MiG-17.
Project HAVE DRILL/HAVE FERRY was completed.
The CIA began testing a remotely piloted vehicle (RPV) At Area
51 under project AQUILINE. With a six-foot wingspan and pusher
propeller, the television-guided RPV was designed to gather
intelligence by intercepting electronic transmissions from
inside denied territory.
Project HAVE GLIB, evaluation of foreign radar and threat
systems began. A complex of actual Soviet systems and replicas
began to grow around "Slater Lake" (the pond, which had been
named after the former Roadrunners commander), a mile northwest
of the main base. The systems were given names such as Mary,
Kay, Susan, and Kathy. They were arranged to simulate a
Soviet-style air defense complex.
BANEBERRY, a 10-kiloton blast was
detonated at the bottom of a 910-foot-deep shaft on Yucca Flat.
Shortly afterward, radioactive gases erupted from a surface
fissure. The plume reached an altitude of 8,000 feet and moved
northeast. The fallout cloud arrived at Groom Lake an hour
later. Within 20 minutes, radiation levels had reached a peak
exposure rate of 0.18mR/hr. (compared to a normal background
reading of 0.02 mR/hr.). Within another hour the cloud had
The Microwave Radar/Repeater Annex (MRU-4) on a three-acre
parcel at the summit of Bald Mountain was improved. Construction
at the site was sponsored by the Air Force Flight Test Center (AFFTC)
at Edwards AFB.
Project AQUILINE was canceled and the surviving airframes were
placed in storage.
Project HAVE IDEA was initiated to evaluate foreign aircraft at
Area 51 and elsewhere. The test aircraft initially included
MiG-21 and MiG-17 variants.
The CIA Office of Special Activities (OSA) filed a Memorandum of
Agreement regarding a classified project to be undertaken at
Area 51. The top-secret project, with a classified code-name,
was expected to last about one year. Six permanent personnel
were assigned to the test site, with up to 20 personnel "on site
during peak periods of short duration activity." Project
personnel planned to use Hangars 13 through 17 at the south end
of the test site.
The 4477th TEF Red Eagles was activated at Nellis AFB to support
evaluation of foreign aircraft.
A C-5 had arrived at Area 51 carrying the Lockheed HAVE BLUE
prototype. Also known as the Experimental Survivable Testbed (XST),
HAVE BLUE was the progenitor of the Lockheed F-117A. It was the
first airplane built to be virtually invisible to radar.
6513th Test Squadron Red Hats was activated at Edwards AFB to
support evaluation of foreign aircraft.
HAVE BLUE completed its maiden flight with Lockheed test pilot
Bill Park at the controls. On hand to witness the event were
Skunk Works chief Ben Rich, his predecessor "Kelly" Johnson, and
Ken Perko of the Advanced Research Projects Agency. The flight
was also monitored by the White House Situation Room and
Tactical Air Command Headquarters at Langley AFB, Virginia.
The first HAVE BLUE aircraft (Article 1001) was returned to
Burbank for modifications. It was prepared for RCS tests (with
RAM coatings and removal of the nose boom).
HAVE BLUE (Article 1001) returned to Area 51.
During a test flight in HAVE BLUE a sudden drop caused the
airplane to slam down hard on the runway. Fearing he would slide
off the runway, Bill Park applied full power and aborted the
landing. He climbed to altitude, automatically retracting the
gear, and again attempted to land. The chase pilot told Park
that his right main gear had failed to come down. As fuel levels
became critical, Park decided to eject. He was struck by the
seat and knocked unconscious during bailout, suffering injuries
that ended his flying career.
The wreckage was buried near Groom Lake.
HAVE BLUE (Article 1002), the low-observables technology
demonstrator, made its first flight piloted by Lt. Col. Norman
K. "Ken" Dyson.
Lockheed conducted the first test of its stealth cruise missile,
code-named SENIOR PROM. Six prototypes were built. They somewhat
resembled a subscale, unmanned version of the HAVE BLUE. The
demonstrator models were launched from a DC-130 from the 6514th
Test Squadron from Hill AFB, Utah. The SENIOR PROM test articles
and launch aircraft were housed in Hangar 17 at Area 51.
Article 1002 was lost due to an engine fire. Dyson noticed two
hydraulic system warning lights while flying about 35 miles from
Groom Lake. He ejected, and the last HAVE BLUE tumbled end over
end to the desert floor. The wreckage was buried near Groom
The CIA transferred control of the test site to the Air Force.
AFFTC commander B/Gen. Philip J. Conley Jr. originally
designated and activated the new unit as the 6516th Test
Squadron, under the supervision of the 6510th Test Wing.
The Special Order designating and activating the 6516th Test
Squadron was revoked and the unit was activated as OL-AA,
Detachment 3, AFFTC. Col. Larry D. McClain was assigned as
commander of DET 3, AFFTC.
The 4477th Test and Evaluation Flight sponsored Phase I
construction of a new airfield and support facilities at Tonopah
Test Range (TTR).
The $7 million project included construction of a maintenance
hangar, a concrete apron, access taxiway, propane tank, a few
permanent outbuildings, and 16 mobile homes. The original
6,000-foot runway was extended to 10,000 feet. It was laid out
with the same heading as the main runway at Area 51.
The 4477th TEF Red Eagles was upgraded to squadron status as the
4477th Test and Evaluation Squadron.
Phase II construction, sponsored by the 4477th TES, began at TTR
at a cost of $17 million. It included an expansion of the apron
area, construction of a taxiway, fuel tanks, a dining hall,
water tank, warehouse, support utilities, and a
The Lockheed test site at Groom Lake accepted delivery of the
first SENIOR TREND Full-Scale Development prototype (designated
In preparation for TAC operational test and evaluation of the
F-117A, Phase III construction began at TTR.
At a cost of $79 million, facilities were built for the 4450th
Tactical Group, the unit that would operate the aircraft.
Col. Charles "Pete" Winters became commander of DET 3, AFFTC.
Winters had served as McClain's vice commander.
Lockheed test pilot Hal Farley successfully completed the first
Phase II construction at TTR was completed in January 1982. This
provided a new home for the 4477th TES, and began the transition
of TTR (also known as Area 52) from a bare base to a standard
Air Force base.
TACIT BLUE, a stealth technology demonstrator built by Northrop,
was trucked to the Groom Lake test site in several large crates
for final assembly in Hangar 8.
Northrop test pilot Richard G. Thomas, made the first flight of
TACIT BLUE. The first production F-117A (80-10785) was delivered
to DREAMLAND, disassembled, inside a C-5.
Test pilot Bob Riedenauer attempted takeoff in the first
production F-117A (80-10785) on its maiden checkout flight.
Before the first test flight, technicians relocated a
servomechanism from one equipment bay to another, and rewired
it. Unfortunately, they inadvertently reversed the rate gyros.
As Riedenauer lifted off, the aircraft flipped over backwards
and crashed. He suffered injuries that left him hospitalized for
The aircraft was a complete loss and, since the takeoff had not
been successful in any sense, the "flight" was not even included
in the test logs.
Project HAVE GLASS was undertaken to significantly reduce the
radar cross-section of the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting
Falcon. A series of modifications included RAM coatings and
fillings, reflective materials, and component shape changes.
AeroVironment received CIA sponsorship to build a
proof-of-concept high-altitude, solar-powered, radio-controlled
UAV called HALSOL. It was essentially a rectangular flying wing
made from lightweight materials. Initial test flights were
powered by eight electric motors using silver-zinc batteries.
HALSOL made nine test flights, beginning in June 1983.
Col. Ralph H. Graham assigned as commander of DET 3, AFFTC.
Lt. Gen. Robert M. Bond, Vice Commander of Air Force Systems
Command, visited Groom Lake for two orientation flights in
Lt. Gen. Robert M. Bond made two orientation flights in a
Russian-built MiG-23 jet fighter. While making a high-speed run
during his second flight, Bond lost control and crashed in Area
25 of the Nevada Test Site. He was killed while ejecting.
Richard Thomas completed the 100th flight of TACIT BLUE.
Approximately 89,000 acres of public land and private holdings
northeast of Groom Lake were closed to the public for "national
security reasons." This area comprised the Groom Mountain Range
that overlooks the lakebed. The appropriation was done without
fulfilling the legal requirements for an environmental impact
statement. Air Force officials denied there would be any
significant impact because the area would only be used as a
TACIT BLUE completed its final flight. Following a highly
successful test program, the one-of-a-kind aircraft was stored
in the Area 51 "boneyard." Eventually, it was displayed at a
classified museum facility in the low bay (called "Dyson's
Dock") of Hangar 18.
Col. Karl M. Jones Jr. assigned as commander of DET 3, AFFTC.
Maj. Frank T. Birk piloted the first flight of a "classified
demonstrator" at Groom Lake. For his work on the project, the
Society of Experimental Test Pilots gave Birk the Lieutenant
General Bobby Bond Memorial Aviator Award which "recognizes an
AFSC military rated crew member for outstanding contribution to
AFSC's test and evaluation mission while participating in aerial
The U.S. Air Force issued a proposal (ex post facto) for the
withdrawal of the 89,000 acres of land in the Groom Mountains
that had already been seized in 1984.
New dormitories were constructed. Several large water tanks were
added to supply the base. Hangar 18 was built near the south
ramp. Four "Rubber Duck" temporary aircraft shelters were
erected near the Southend for use by TAC during F-117A OT&E.
Many new facilities were built and, by the end of the decade the
"Rubber Duck" shelters were replaced with metal hangars (Hangars
20 through 23). Runway 14/32 was extended 4,600-feet further
southeast of the lakebed because the north end was subject to
flooding during the rainy season.
Congress officially authorized the withdrawal of the Groom
Col. James W. Tilley II assigned as commander of DET 3, AFFTC.
President Ronald Reagan signed legislation making the Groom
Mountains part of the Nellis Air Force Range until 2003. The
Desert Research Institute in Reno was contracted to conduct an
archeological survey of the area for renewal of the withdrawal.
Col. ??? assigned as commander of DET 3, AFFTC.
Northrop's stealthy AGM-137 Tri-Service Standoff Attack Missile
(TSSAM), based on technology from TACIT BLUE, underwent initial
After several decades of use, Runway 14/32 was becoming too
expensive to maintain. AFFTC leadership considered several
options, and ultimately decided to build a new parallel runway
east of the old one. Construction of Runway 14L/32R began.
Col. William W. Dobbs assigned as commander of DET 3, AFFTC.
The F-117A Combined Test Force relocated its operation from
Groom Lake to Site 7 at AF Plant 42 in Palmdale, California.
The 6513th Test Squadron Red Hats was inactivated. It was
reactivated immediately as the 413th Flight Test Squadron,
providing test and evaluation capability for electronic warfare
When Runway 14L/32R was completed,
the old airstrip became Runway 14R/32L. The new runway had no
asphalt extension, but an overrun line, extending to "The Hook"
was marked on the lakebed. Most of the northern half of Runway
14R/32L was closed, reducing the active runway length to about
Col. Craig P. Dunn assigned as commander of DET 3, AFFTC.
The U.S. Air Force filed a notice in the Federal Register
seeking to withdraw 3,972 acres of land from public on the
eastern perimeter of the DREAMLAND section of the Nellis Air
The 412th Test Wing at Edwards began formation of an EW
Directorate to encompass all aspects of ground and flight test
of EW assets and act as a "gateway" to DET 3, AFFTC, providing
technical guidance on how to use their capabilities for
electronic combat testing.
Several workers filed a lawsuit against the government, claiming
damages from exposure to toxic fumes from burning waste at the
Groom Lake facility.
Gen. Ronald W. Yates, commander of Air Force Materiel Command,
visited DET 3, AFFTC for two days.
The EW Directorate was unofficially established, consisting of
the Electronics Research Division, 413th FLTS, Avionics Test and
Integration Division, and Electronic Combat Development Flight.
A unique Electromagnetic Test Environment (EMTE) was created to
support open-air development test and evaluation and operational
test and evaluation of electronic combat systems.
The NC-130H (87-0157), with a dorsally mounted rotating radar
dish, was modified under the Advanced Simulation and Training
Initiative (ASTI). ASTI provided enhanced threat density of
open-air combat training ranges by injecting virtual targets
from a ground-based simulator through real-time data links.
The Air Force seized 5,000 more acres of public land to prevent
civilians from viewing the base from nearby hilltops that had
been overlooked in previous seizures. This occurred in the midst
of increased public scrutiny of the secret base.
Col. ??? assigned as commander of DET 3, AFFTC.
The YF-113G "classified prototype" made its first flight.
On 29 September 1995 President Bill Clinton signed Presidential
Determination No. 95-45. It stated in part: "I find that it is
in the paramount interest of the United States to exempt the
United States Air Force's operating location near Groom Lake,
Nevada from any applicable requirement for the disclosure to
unauthorized persons of classified information concerning that
TACIT BLUE was declassified and delivered to the U.S. Air Force
Museum in Dayton, Ohio, for permanent display.
McDonnell Douglas test pilot Rudy Haug piloted the maiden flight
of the "Bird of Prey" (also known as the BoP). The classified
technology demonstrator showcased low-observables ("stealth")
and lean manufacturing capabilities. Over a three-year period,
the "Bird of Prey" completed 38 test flights. The Boeing Company
purchased McDonnell Douglas in 1997 and continued funding for
the BoP. Besides Haug, the BoP was flown by Air Force test pilot
Doug Benjamin and Boeing test pilot Joe Felock.
Col. ??? assigned as commander of DET 3, AFFTC.
Col. Mark A. Stubben assigned as commander of DET 3, AFFTC.
There was a large fire, possibly caused by an aircraft accident,
on the southern slopes of the Groom Mountains north of Groom
Air Force takes official ownership of Area 51 in a land swap
deal, signed by President Clinton. Click here for LVRJ article.
The white Jeep Cherokee security vehicles are being replaced by
Ford F-150's, and later Chevy 2500 4x4 pickup trucks.
The Transient Parking ramp (JANET ramp) was excavated and
Col. David W. Eidsaune assigned as commander of DET 3, AFFTC.
Area 51 North Gate (Back Gate) is upgraded with a chain link
fence, double gate and a new guard shack. More information and
F-22A (91-4004) was flown through the Dynamic Coherent
Measurement System (DYCOMS) airborne RCS range (known on-site as
Project 100 or simply P-100) to verify the low-observable
characteristics of the Lockheed Martin F/A-22A Raptor. All but
two of the original tanks in the fuel farm were removed and two
new large tanks were installed.
The South Delta Taxiway was marked as Runway 12/30. It is
approximately 5,420-feet-long and 150-feet-wide, with convenient
access to the Southend ramp. Runway 14R/32L was closed in its
DET 3 security personnel from EG&G Technical Services went on
strike for two days, citing low wages and excessive amounts of
overtime in the three months since the terrorist strikes in
September. Supervisors were forced to man posts vacated by the
70 striking guards. Click here for LVRJ article.
Col. Thomas J. Masiello assigned as commander of DET 3, AFFTC.
Construction of the two new fuel tanks is completed. A new
Center Taxiway, providing access to Runway 14L/32R, is
constructed. It includes a new access way to Hangar 19 (the
"Scoot-n-Hide shed"). Construction is completed by July 2003.
Click here for a Satellite Image, and photos from Tikaboo Peak.
The Southend ramp in front of Hangars 9 through 16 was similarly
replaced in the summer of 2003.
A Beech 1900 (N27RA), operated by EG&G, crashed on a flight from
Groom to TTR. The civilian pilot, David D. Palay, and passengers
Derrick L. Butler, Michael A. Izold, Daniel M. Smalley, and Roy
A. Van Voorhis (contractors with JT3 LLC) perished. Click here
for LVRJ article.
The 413th Flight Test Squadron was inactivated as part of a
consolidation and realignment of EW assets.
50th Anniversary of establishment of Groom Lake test facility.