Bill Yoak tells his story about working in Area 51, meeting Kelly Johnson and working on secret programs, followed by an original documentary about the U-2 Spy plane, and a documentary about Kelly Johnson, the mastermind behind Skunk Works.
Area 51 is the common name of a highly classified United States Air Force (USAF) facility within the Nevada Test and Training Range. A remote detachment administered by Edwards Air Force Base, the facility is officially called Homey Airport (ICAO: KXTA, FAA LID: XTA)or Groom Lake (after the salt flat next to its airfield). Details of its operations are not made public, but the USAF says that it is an open training range, and it is commonly thought to support the development and testing of experimental aircraft and weapons systems.The USAF and CIA acquired the site in 1955, primarily for flight testing the Lockheed U-2 aircraft.
The intense secrecy surrounding the base has made it the frequent subject of conspiracy theories and a central component of unidentified flying object (UFO) folklore. It has never been declared a secret base, but all research and occurrences in Area 51 are Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information (TS/SCI). The CIA publicly acknowledged the base’s existence on June 25, 2013, following a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed in 2005 and declassified documents detailing its history and purpose.
Area 51 is located in the southern portion of Nevada, 83 miles (134 km) north-northwest of Las Vegas. The surrounding area is a popular tourist destination, including the small town of Rachel on the “Extraterrestrial Highway”.
The origin of the name “Area 51” is unclear. It is believed to be from an Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) numbering grid, although Area 51 is not part of this system; it is adjacent to Area 15. Another explanation is that 51 was used because it was unlikely that the AEC would use the number.According to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the correct names for the facility are Homey Airport (XTA/KXTA) and Groom Lake, though the name “Area 51” was used in a CIA document from the Vietnam War. The facility has also been referred to as “Dreamland” and “Paradise Ranch”, among other nicknames, with the former also being the approach control call sign for the surrounding area. The USAF public relations has referred to the facility as “an operating location near Groom Dry Lake”. The special use airspace around the field is referred to as Restricted Area 4808 North (R-4808N).
Lead and silver were discovered in the southern part of the Groom Range in 1864, and the English company Groome Lead Mines Limited financed the Conception Mines in the 1870s, giving the district its name (nearby mines included Maria, Willow, and White Lake). J. B. Osborne and partners acquired the controlling interest in Groom in 1876, and Osbourne’s son acquired it in the 1890s. Mining continued until 1918, then resumed after World War II until the early 1950s.
The airfield on the Groom Lake site began service in 1942 as Indian Springs Air Force Auxiliary Field and consisted of two unpaved 5,000-foot (1,524 m) runways.
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) established the Groom Lake test facility in April 1955 for Project AQUATONE: the development of the Lockheed U-2 strategic reconnaissance aircraft. Project director Richard M. Bissell Jr. understood that the flight test and pilot training programs could not be conducted at Edwards Air Force Base or Lockheed’s Palmdale facility, given the extreme secrecy surrounding the project. He conducted a search for a suitable testing site for the U-2 under the same extreme security as the rest of the project. He notified Lockheed, who sent an inspection team out to Groom Lake. According to Lockheed’s U-2 designer Kelly Johnson:
We flew over it and within thirty seconds, you knew that was the place it was right by a dry lake. Man alive, we looked at that lake, and we all looked at each other. It was another Edwards, so we wheeled around, landed on that lake, taxied up to one end of it. It was a perfect natural landing field as smooth as a billiard table without anything being done to it.
#skunkworks #airplane #aircraft