With all the secrecy shrouding Area 51, it's time for some light to be shed. Learn more about the nicknames, entertainment, food, spy planes, and rumors surrounding this infamous site.
The name ‘Area 51’ derives from its marking on 1950’s Nevada Test Site maps. Today, the official name of Area 51 is Air Force Flight Test Center, Detachment 3, or AFFTC Det. 3 for short.
Area 51 was also referred to as Groom Lake (the name of the dry lake Area 51 was built around), Paradise Ranch (a half-serious way to entice employees to accept positions at the remote, rustic base), Watertown (the official name of the test site, given in 1956), and Dreamland (after an Edgar Allan Poe poem).
Area 51’s nickname DREAMLAND was allegedly derived from an Edgar Allan Poe poem by the same name. It 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.”
When Area 51 was chosen as the testing site for the OXCART, a new, 8,500-foot runway had to be built. So as not to draw attention, contractors worked under cover of night.
Flying at 2,200 mph, it took OXCART pilot 186 miles just to make a U-turn. To accommodate the plane, an additional 38,400 acres of land around the base had to be withdrawn from public access and the restricted airspace expanded to create a 440-square mile box.
Early on, the only entertainment at Area 51consisted of a single cement tennis court and a small bowling alley. There was no television, and radio signals only made it through the surrounding mountains in the evening.
The Area 51 mess hall sometimes served lobsters and oysters. Once a week it was steak night.
There is a sliver of truth to the conspiracy theory that the moon landing was staged at Area 51. Various space equipment – including land rovers and life support systems – were tested by the astronauts at the adjoining nuclear testing grounds.
A recent poll showed that 57% of Americans believe that UFOs are real.
After an increase in UFO sightings in 1952, the CIA concluded that “there is a remote possibility that they may be interplanetary aircraft,” and that it was necessary to investigate each sighting.
90% of reported UFO sightings could be easily debunked, while the other 10% were “a number of incredible reports from credible observers.”
Over half of all UFO reports from the late 1950s through the 1960s were accounted for by manned reconnaissance flights (namely the U-2) over the United States.
The A-12 OXCART required special fuel in order to fly at such extreme speeds and heights. The fuel was made to withstand extremely high temperatures and would not ignite even if someone threw a match into a barrel full of it.
The OXCART cruised at 2200 miles per hour, but because the plane was secret it was kept out of official speed competitions.
The A-12 OXCART consisted of more than 90% titanium. It was the world’s first titanium plane.
An A-12 spy plane was used when the USS Pueblo was captured by North Korea to photograph the area and determine the ship's location.
The OXCART's engines acted as vacuum cleaners, sucking up any debris left on the runway. So personnel would vacuum the runway before each test flight.