By Michael Digregorio
Out here where God lost his tennis shoes, where the AEC cut its teeth and where Francis Gary Powers earned his wings is also the home of the most anonymous major flight facility in the world, where the Air Force pursues secret Black Protects (budgeted at 16-billion unaccountable dollars annually, a constant figure since the early 80s).
Concurrently, this same base is all the rage of many UFOies who claim human piloted alien crafts, or H-PACS, are alighting out of Area 51 on a regular basis.
But let's jettison back to terra firma and the Sagebrush Steppe for a moment.
Seated in the towering shadows of the 8,000-foot Groom Mountains, this highly classified testing and operations area, girding both ends of Groom Dry Lake, is as off limits and secluded as it gets.
For starters, Groom's north and west periphery are cloaked behind Nellis AFR's completely restricted, sprawling badland boundaries and its massive war training theatre, which begins just beyond north Las Vegas and devours the horizon for 160 miles.
Physically, Nellises' own brand of climax ecology mirrors post-war Iraq: a freakish, lethal landfill puncuatated by 1,000-lb. bombs, obliterated tanks and jeeps, plus half-buried Cadillac-sized darts - airborne targets towed around by one Top Gun type and shot up by another. Evoking the above ground testing period (1951-'63), half- singed Joshua Trees and charred cholla cactus - burned only on the side facing the blast - stand as forsaken landmarks of more than 100 nightmarish nuclear firestorms.
(Incidentally, nestled amidst Plutonium Flats and Fallout Hills, Nevada wildlife officials - a misnomer if there ever was one - established the Nevada Wild Horse Range at the north end of Nellis; and hard-pressed to Nellises' southeast corner is a 1.6 million acre Desert National Wildlife Range, an FDR-engendered haven for rare bighorn sheep, where, since World War-II, the Air Force has regularly honed its bombing and target acquisition. Official Air Force dictum says any pilot wilfully shooting a mustang loses his wings, though a Nellis-based airman admitted they'd "smoke anything that gets in the way of a mission.")
Looking out towards Emigrant Valley, Groom's southern fringe is buffered by a radioactive dirt moat larger than Luxembourg or Rhode Island, the Nevada Test Site (also encompassed within Nellis). Thirteen hundred and fifty square- miles of horrificly irradiated no-man's land, haphazardly pockmarked by hundreds of mammoth, moon-like craters carved-out by incessant, pointless (especially in a single superpower world) and costly (up to $60-million a pop) sub-scrub detonations of Nuclear Winter warheads.
Looming in the abstract as a Cold War dinosaur, the Test Site itself is the literal hub of a downwind cancer corridor manifesting epidemic proportion and millennium-spanning duration. With that kind of ominous reputation you'd think trespass would be the last thing on anyone's mind. But securing this outland remains a daunting task - made even more so as Groom's acreage and importance increases - for squads of ATV-riding rent-a-cops responsible for the outer perimeter, and inner sentries of military police in 4-bys and eggbeaters.
Published Area 51 images (of a non-high altitude nature) are scarce, mostly dated, preexpansion longdistance black & white pictures harking back to a few Outer Limits and Serlingesqe backdrops: a covert, seemingly lifeless base rising mirage-like against barren, totally unforgiving environs, almost obscured at distance behind shimmering heat waves.
This stark, foreboding Great Basin Desert apparition is now marked by dozens of protracted, nondescript and impermeable-appearing hangars, plus an extensive new production facility (comparable in size to the massive Palmdale skunkworks) rising incongruously off the alkali flats. A major expansion is underway: Groom is stretching in three directions, though in a one-superpower world and a dawning era of shrinking defense budgets, nobody knows why.
Consistent with western America's big hallmark, Groom already possesses the world's largest air traffic control antenna, a 150' by 400' rectangular-shaped mesh monster jutting from the base's north-west edge and conspicuous for 12 miles!
Yet another wild and overgrown Area 51 feature, where underfoot thousands of scientists toil in subterranean laboratories, is a nearly interminable six-and-half mile runway (most commercial tarmacs are less than a third that length) bisecting the dry lakebed.
Recently, a 10,000' extension was tacked on to the runway's southern end. Here again, Air Force officials from Las Vegas to Langley are at a loss for words. No one knows anything about Groom.
Unusually beefy (especially for this area) 750 kilovolt power lines run into Groom, purportedly for laser weapon and particlebeam experiments. They're presence may correlate with recurrent, dramatic voltage loss in widely spread not-even-a-Stop-sign towns from Hiko to Caliente, pinpricking the big and beautiful Tickaboo and Pahranagat valleys arcing around Groom.
True or imagined, Area 51's transcendental qualities recently spun off grunge-metal Megadeath's "Hanger-18" rock vid, depicting aliens with a 'tude conspiring alongside four-star and scrambled egg brass deep beneath the Nuclear Proving Ground's concertina and electrified barbed wire perimeter, performing diabolical experiments on more laid-back cosmic callers.
Adding to Area 51's mysterious allure, you won t find the Groom base designated on run of the mill Silver State or Nuclear Test Site maps. And when I entered California Map & Travel to assemble the region's various USGS charts, unwittingly I walked into a startling subplot to a story that's dark chiller, sci-fi thriller, and Cold War holdover. There's even a real-life Beond character, (but we'll produce him later).
Jerry, a topo-type salesguy, began relating matter-of-factly the harrowing experience of a customer who'd requested similar maps six months earlier. This cute young lady (the only reason anyone remembered her story) visited Area 51's periphery charged with magazine storys and trash TV heresay of ET craft shooting through Tickaboo Valley's broad expanse.
Such as a glowing, joking ball of light saucer groupies hail as "Old Faithful" for its punctual, regular display on Thursdays at dawn during the winter - its rumored the base closes during brutally hot summer months. (On most Wednesday evenings fellow travelers assemble astride a black mail box 18-and-a-half miles south of Rachel, Nevada, the only man-made marker for miles and the best spot for eyeing unknowns.)
She then described a run-in with Air Force security who provided the military's version of a travel advisory for the Groom Mountains. Quoth the goon squad: 'If you return here we'll make sure you disappear." The map shop boys haven't seen her since.
Now if your curiosity is piquing, don't bother trying to purchase US Geological Survey's aerial photography quadrangles of Groom. Jim Goodall, a military aviation authority who's had three books published on Black Projects, relates all USGS coverage of the area - including files and indexes - has been removed from public access at their Reston, Virginia, headquarters.
And don't even think of towing a camera around Groom's outskirts. "They (inner security) pick up the glint off your lens," Goodall began, "and under 1950 criteria for protection of classified operations areas," specifically Executive Order Title 18, section 794, all cameras and film will be confiscated."
On a similar note, a few months back a Las Vegas-based Department of the Interior employee revealed where all his Groom Lake and Groom Range visuals formerly resided. Opening a floor-to-ceiling fireproof safe of regularly updated color slides pertaining to Nevada public land, a peculiar gap became immediately apparent among the solid file order. Very quietly, the cartographer explained Air Force officers, serious brass and scrambled egg-types, paid him a visit a few years ago to impound all Groom-area reproductions.
April, 1984. Roughly 100 clicks north of 'degas a solitary figure turns off of lonely Route 375 onto a hard dirt road originally trailblazed by the same driver's grandparents in 1890, This path into the Groom Mountains - delineated on state geological maps as a "fair weather, unimproved surface" - skirts the Groom mine, its adjacent spartan cabins and outbuildings all belonging to the Sheahan clan.
The road then descends toward and ends in a bone-dry playa three miles across and nearly five miles in length.
Thirty years ago Pat Sheahan's parents both died of cancers attributable to the atmosphere surrounding the family-owned and operated ore lead and silver mine. However, their physical demise had no connection whatsoever to manual labor, but to an invisible, virulent poison blanketing them.
During the 50s, while the Atomic Energy Commission detonated nuclear bombs into the atmosphere - blowing doors inward off hinges, causing windows to explode and tearing sheet metal sidings off of cabins at the Groom site, described in father Dan's diary inscriptions as "those terrifying tests" - atop Frenchman and Yucca Flats, only 38 miles upwind, the Sheahans worked their 100-plus patented claims.
They did so as horses showed large beta-burns and cattle went blind amid dry pelting cloudbursts of radioactive end-products and churning fallout-filled dust storms; even after a bombing and strafing of their property by Air Force jets as the entire family ate lunch close-by.
Unconsciously, Groom mine's 16 residents became the' original downwinders - the sole post-Hiroshima civilian victims of, American nuclear weapons.
Now roughly 13 miles from the blacktop and turning on a bend in the trail, the Sheahan heir finds heavily armed soldiers blockading the entrance to his own property.
Wielding full-auto assault weapons, Sheahan quickly realized these fellas meant business. An Air Force security contingent, Delta Force blue berets had seized his land plus 144 square miles of public space, denying access to all in the name of national security. Martial law had been laid down, not in some brackish People's Republic, but on nearly 90,000 acres of American soil without any authorization from state or local officials. And while a coup d'etat unfolded in our own backyard media coverage was undeniably MIA.
No Wolf Blitzkrieg reporting from, not even a silver-tongued Norman conqueror or a General Vague accounted for the Great Basin Desert Quiet Storm.
Harry Reid's constituents were optimistic they'd get some answers when their representative accepted an Air Force helicopter tour of Groom in the insurgency's aftermath. But upon returning from the disputed region Reid's desire for full disclosure petered out.
Thereafter, the Nevada Dem sang an Air Force tune about, "A need (for the takeover) based on information (he) received in Washington," and uttered "No comment on what is going on at Area 51." Moreover, congressman Reid apologized for Air Force transgressions: "It's not altogether (their) fault."
Likewise, as subsequent and contentious congressional hearings concerning Groom unfolded, Air Force spokesmen, evoking Watergate, consistently ducked a public disclosure, passing the buck all the way to the top. Orders for the Groom range annexation came from either the defense secretary or the president.
So why was Washington compelled to act in such a brazenly lawless manner, and what was so damned important about some mountain range in Lincoln County, Nevada?
Two years prior to the Groom land grab a group of Greenpeacers set foot on the Nuclear Test Site, en route they side-stepped dummy and live ordnance and ducked from earsplitting B-52s and F-16s flying just off the deck inside Nellis to stage an anti-nuclear testing demonstration. Video the group shot at the Test Site appeared almost immediately on Las Vegas TV.
Could this trespass have instigated an egg-faced Air Force to draw their own line in the Nevada sand, exerting greater hegemony in a state perpetually run roughshod over by the military with nary a hint of protest, to shore up easily compromised boundaries.
Some pondered a greater implication: if longhairs and tie die-clad peaceniks could perpetrate an ultra serious and highly embarrassing breach of security at Nellis and the top-secret Test Site, who couldn't?
Then again, in 1986, an even bolder Greenpeace group actually delayed a nuclear detonation by trekking to the Test Site via the same path - through Nellis. Soon after their demonstration one activist/hiker relayed to me an observation made near Ground Zero.
He eyed something truly awesome which left the entire group speechless and shaking. No one could identify this huge, whisper-quiet black flying wing. In actuality, Greenpeace spotted the Stealth bomber five years before Northrop partially unveiled the batplane at the Palmdale skunkworks.
Within Las Vegas spook circles that have withered altogether - along with a Soviet espionage wing which nurtured this shadowy subculture - Area 51 was unofficially known by myriad codenames: The Ranch, Watertown, S-4 (or S/Four, depending on your source) and Red Square, because maps supplied to Nellis-based flyguys delineate Area 51's borders in red, meaning flyovers are prohibited. It is also known as Dreamland, a handle which gained popularity when a former Ranch hand bragged crates buzzin' Groom Lake would make George Lucas drool.
And peering south from the family mine at 5,649-feet up in the Grooms, Pat Sheahan had a hellava view onto this max-security facility. Though in fairness to Sheahan, the miner's vista was less than earth-shattering; the entirety of Area 51's hands-on cloak 'n dagger work is conducted within a labyrinth of underground research labs.
Consistent with Area 51's surreptitious hallmark, its employees, mostly young mega-egghead MIT grads commute hugger mugger via their own terminal at Las Vegas- McCarran airport.
Until 1984, the remainder were bused-in as groups from the bustling one-building metropolis of Crystal Spring, 100-plus miles north of Neontown. Now a ghost town, this barroom/restaurant was a CIA ruse to covertly observe both loose-lipped Groom personnel, in addition to any drifters.
Surveyed in 1944 and constructed in 1955, Groom originally came under the aegis of the CIA. At other junctures, possibly simultaneously, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), Defense Nuclear Agency (DNA) and the Department of Energy (DOE) had ongoing involvement at Area-51.
Prior to being shot down high over the old USSR, Francis Gary Powers, along with the first U-2 prototypes, were bivouacked here within a 50s version of Biosphere.
Powers, part of a supremely elite Detachment 10- 10, spent his every waking moment like a monk at the Groom base sealed within a fenced compound. The high altitude, strategic reconnaissance plane Powers piloted, and its successor, the SR-71 Blackbird, were also partially designed and flight tested at Groom.
So naturally our next generation spyplane, the hypersonic Aurora, which hums along at between Mach 5 and Mach 6 (or six times the speed of sound) and creates phantom earthquakes when it flies, is stretching its wings there, or in conjunction with a new restricted area at Pahute Mesa. Stealth technology, dubbed "Senior Trend" by the Air Force way back when, was also refined at Area 51, resulting in the basing of those early birds observed by Greenpeace.
In the early 70s an Air Force intelligence group, "Systems Command" assumed Groom reigns; a few years hence Las Vegas TV divulged Area 51's existence for the first time. (Ironically, just after the illegal Air Force takeover of Groom's adjoining area, Systems Command vice-commandant, Lt. General Robert Bond died behind the controls of the then hottest Soviet fighter, the MIG23 Flogger over Groom Lake in April of '84.)
And this is when things started getting weird.
The original scuttlebutt surrounding Groom hinted at Project Redlight, recreating flight handling characteristics of extraterrestrial vehicles; though Redlight may also relate to an ongoing military effort at stamping out brothel soliciting of Air Force personnel.
The existence of an Air Force designed, conventionally-powered disc was officially acknowledged, However, rumors later spread that Area 51 played host to "Project Snowbird," an Air Force sub-product of the umbrella "Aquarius" program: test driving a ditched alien craft christened in 1972.
A former Nuclear Test Site radio technician wielding top-secret work clearance for Area 51, furthers the aforementioned by claiming said domestically produced disc was merely a decoy for the interplanetary imported type.
Presently residing in Iowa, "Mike" disclosed a UFO of unconventional or otherworldly propulsion and silent operation had taken to the skies of south-central Nevada during the early 60s. (At roughly the same juncture Readers Digest published a story based on a UFO exploding over the Nuclear Test Site.)
While running remote lines into an Area 51 warehouse between 196263, Mike noticed large numbers of heavy wooden crates, shipped in from Edwards Air Force base in California, marked "Project Redlight."
Mike and other ex-Groomies contend they contained parts from an extraterrestrial West Coast aerospace scientists tried to copy unsuccessfully.
On numerous occasions Mike noted the purported spaceship's silent running characteristics while working nearby. Standard operating procedure dictated that he was never allowed to view the runway during liftoff and landings. Although Mike claims to have glimpsed a grounded UFO behind a building at Groom, 20-30 feet in diameter and pewter-colored. The same craft, he believes, was recorded on film by Test Site radar techs and seen on a UFO documentary.
But the biggest bombshell on Area 51 had yet to be dropped.
In late 1989, the Las Vegas CBS affiliate trotted out a physicist-scientist claiming to have done a four month stint at the S-4 section of Area 51. Bob Lazar, a gaunt, bespectacled 33-year old Dungeons & Dragons type and one of only three people in Nevada history to be convicted of pandering, is currently the hottest ticket on the New Age/UFO speaking circuit.
Like Willie Kennedy Smith's alleged assailant, Lazar's identity was electronically altered for previous TV appearances and he usually gave "Dennis" as a pseudonym (which Lazar asserts was his supervisor's name at S-4).
But on a highly successful weeklong KLAS-TV series on UFOs, a descrambled Lazar asserted to the presence of nine different alien craft berthed in connecting hangars at Groom. He described them as: "The'top hat"'; "the 'jello mold"'; "the 'sport model', (which) looked new and operated without a hitch"; and one (that) looked like it was hit by some sort of projectile...a large caliber had gone through it."
Regarding how one properly hails a broken-down ET, Lazar referred to them as "The kids," a term gleaned from official Area 51 memoranda.
For credibility's sake, the KLAS report made Lazar undergo polygraphs, testing his transmundane mettle. The first lie-detector examination proved inconclusive, the second revealed deceit. Another polygrapher believed Lazar was passing along information he had only heard of and not seen.
A third polygraph operator, a corporate security advisor/ex cop from Los Angeles, found Lazar's responses to be unfeigned in four pass-throughs.
Though he added, "lie_ difficulty in determining Lazar's truthfulness stems from the fear that was drilled into him. Lazar insists Area 51's oppressive security atmosphere was the major bummer of what could have been a tremendously exciting post, alluding to intimidation tactics by guards (even at his very first security briefing) who made their points at the end of M-16s while thumping his chest and screaming in his ear.
By stepping forward Bob Lazar feels his life is in danger. Besides crank calls, Lazar affirms while embarking to an Asia-bound jumbo at Las Vegas-McCarran airport, where a great deal of yen in speaking fees awaited, his tires were shot out. Though Lazar failed to produce or keep the perforated rubber as evidence and has refused inquiries by respected paranormal researchers.
George Knapp, the KLAS newsman who interviewed Lazar, maintains Lazar isn't the only Dreamland deep throat the reporter is privy to. Though Lazar remains the only one to go public so far.
A Las Vegas "professional" formerly stationed at Nellis told the TV journalist he saw a saucer touching down outside of Area 51. The upshot of his observation resulted in "being taken away for several hours of debriefing."
Another Knapp source, a Nellis airman responsible for a radar installation, professes to "unknowns" appearing on radar scopes in three quick blips, estimating their speed at roughly 7,000 mph. They could also stop "on a dime." When word of this leaked out, radar operators were told to turn off sensors for that area and forget it.
Pat and Joe Travis, proprietors of the Little A'Le'lnn bar and motor lodge, have a stake in the going's on at Groom Lake. Besides a few local cow-pokes, they serve pub grub and selfstyled libations like the Transporter and the Beam-Me-Up-Up-Scotty to legions of UFOies arriving weekly from L.A. (where else?) breaking up long road trips to the black mail box outside of Area 51.
Groom-based camo-clad Air Force thugs leering behind RayBans, who arrive as foursomes in nondescript Chevy 4x4s or Ford Broncos, also frequent the Inn.
But Pat Travis knows which side her bread is buttered on, this cute little 50ish lady falls in line with the true believers. For not only are the ET craft real, in her estimation there's six of Lazar's "kids" hunkered down at Area 51.
And like all good things the Air Force, on the heels of their own high-country junta and blatant trampling of constitutional law, has, literally gone ballistic in attempting to squash the heady atmosphere surrounding the recent goings on at Groom.
Last year, the loosely-knit Los Angeles-based Secret Saucer Expedition Group, had a close encounter of the worst kind when one of their caravan vehicles was buzzed, then bumrushed by an olive-drab CH-53 helicopter bearing no insiginia. Assault charges were filed with the DA's office, dually bolstered by video capturing the airborne intimidation act and a dented car-roof submitted as evidence.
Conceding to those handicapped by stinted imagination, like Bush voters and Skeptical Inquirer subscribers, hard and fast explanations abound concerning the crafts defying gravity and the laws of physics. Such as a laserpowered, disc-shaped lunar shuttle craft called "Delta"; any one of three Lockheed "Black" projects, including "Aurora." Or the "Shadow" which saw duty in the Gulf War, an unmanned aeriel vehicle (UAV) and a dead ringer for a flying saucer.
Nevertheless, quite a few respected aerospace experts have gone on record believing in UFO activity at Groom.
But as for the laws separating civilian and military control of our land and airspace, military aviation experts like Jim Goodall aren't hedging about the latest additions to the Groom facility and another powerplay in the works for adjacent Lincoln County public land.
"Strong rumors persist that the Air Force plans on absconding with all the land bordering west of Route 375, south of Highway 6 and east of 95." They haven't submitted a building permit or an Environmental Impact Statement, and there's absolutely no justification for another landgrab.
HTML by Area 51 Research Center, 6/23/96.