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Area 51

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Area 51

Area 51 is a military base, and a remote detachment of Edwards Air Force Base. It is located in the southern portion of Nevada in the western United States, 83 miles north-northwest of downtown Las Vegas. Situated at its center, on the southern shore of Groom Lake, is a large secretive military airfield. The base's primary purpose is to support development and testing of experimental aircraft and weapons system. The base lies within the United States Air Force's vast Nevada Test and Training Range. Although the facilities at the range are managed by the 99th Air Base Wing at Nellis Air Force Base, the Groom facility appears to be run as an adjunct of the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert, around 186 miles southwest of Groom, and as such the base is known as Air Force Flight Test Center . Though the name Area 51 is used in official CIA documentation, other names used for the facility include Dreamland, Paradise Ranch, Home Base, Watertown Strip, Groom Lake, and most recently Homey Airport. The area is part of the Nellis Military Operations Area, known by the military pilots in the area as "The Box" or "the Container".

Area 51 shares a border with the Yucca Flat region of the Nevada Test Site, the location of 739 of the 928 nuclear tests conducted by the United States Department of Energy at NTS. The Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository is 44 miles southwest of Groom Lake. The same "Area xx" naming scheme is used for other parts of the Nevada Test Site. The original 6-by-10 mile rectangular base is now part of the so-called "Groom box", a 23-by-25.3 rectangular area of restricted airspace. The area is connected to the internal NTS road network, with paved roads leading south to Mercury and west to Yucca Flat. Leading northeast from the lake, the wide and well-maintained Groom Lake Road runs through a pass in the Jumbled Hills. The road formerly led to mines in the Groom basin, but has been improved since their closure. Its winding course runs past a security checkpoint, but the restricted area around the base extends further east. After leaving the restricted area, Groom Lake Road descends eastward to the floor of the Tikaboo Valley, passing the dirt-road entrances to several small ranches, before converging with State Route 375, the "Extraterrestrial Highway", south of Rachel.

Groom Lake is not a conventional airbase, as frontline units are not normally deployed there. It instead appears to be used during the development, testing, and training phases for new aircraft. Once these aircraft have been approved by the United States Air Force or other agencies such as the CIA, operation of that aircraft is generally conducted from a normal air force base.Soviet spy satellites obtained photographs of the Groom Lake area during the height of the Cold War, and later civilian satellites produced detailed images of the base and its surroundings. These images support only modest conclusions about the base, depicting a nondescript base, long airstrip, hangars and the lake.

Groom Lake was used for bombing and artillery practice during World War II, but was then abandoned until April 1955, when it was selected by Lockheed's Skunk Works team as the ideal location to test the forthcoming U-2 spy plane. The lakebed made an ideal strip from which they could operate the troublesome test aircraft, and the Emigrant Valley's mountain ranges and the NTS perimeter protected the test site from prying eyes and outside interference. Lockheed constructed a makeshift base at the location, then known as Site II or "The Ranch", consisting of little more than a few shelters, workshops and trailer homes in which to house its small team. In only three months a 5,000-foot runway was constructed and was servicable by July 1955. The Ranch received its first U-2 delivery on July 24, 1955 from Burbank on a C-124 Globemaster II cargo plane, accompanied by Lockheed technicians on a Douglas DC-3. The first U-2 lifted off from Groom on August 4, 1955. A U-2 fleet under the control of the CIA began overflights of Soviet territory by mid-1956. During this period, the NTS continued to perform a series of atmospheric nuclear explosions. U-2 operations throughout 1957 were frequently disrupted by the Plumbbob series of atomic tests, which detonated over two-dozen devices at the NTS. The Plumbbob-Hood explosion on July 5 scattered fallout across Groom and forced a temporary evacuation.

Even before U-2 development was complete, Lockheed began work on its successor as part of the CIA's OXCART project, involving the A-12, a Mach-3 high altitude reconnaissance aircraft, a later variant of which became the famed USAF SR-71 Blackbird. This aircraft flight characteristics and maintenance requirements forced a massive expansion of facilities and runways at Groom Lake in 1960 since the aircraft required an 8,000-foot runway and additional infrastructure. The main runway was lengthened from 5,000 to 8,500 in autumn 1960. Preparations began for the arrival of OXCART in early 1962: the FAA agreed to close off airspace around Groom Lake, security was greatly enhanced, and the small civilian mine in the Groom basin was closed. The facility received eight F-101s for training, two T-33s for proficiency flying, a C-130 for cargo transport, a U-3A for administrative purposes, a helicopter for search and rescue, and a Cessna-180 for liaison use, and Lockheed provided an F-104 chase plane. The first OXCART was covertly trucked to the base in February 1962, assembled, and it made its first flight 26 April 1962. At the time, the base boasted a complement of over 1,000 personnel. It had fueling tanks, a control tower, and a baseball diamond. Groom saw the first flight of most major Blackbird variants: A-12, the abortive YF-12 interceptor variant, and the D-21 Blackbird-based drone project. The A-12 would remain at Groom Lake until 1968 and occasionally deployed to other United States bases overseas. The SR-71 Blackbird,

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