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Under Soviet Satellites, How Area 51 Hid (And Invented) Secret Craft 155

An anonymous reader writes "No word yet on alien starships, but now that many Cold War-era Area 51 documents have been declassified, veterans of the secret US base are revealing some of the clever — and surprisingly low-tech — ways they hid futuristic prototypes from prying eyes."
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Under Soviet Satellites, How Area 51 Hid (And Invented) Secret Craft

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  • by Semptimilius ( 917640 ) on Tuesday May 24, 2011 @01:36AM (#36225134)


    • It's much easier to hide things in an underground cavern than in a building on the surface.

      There are various levels of secret. Classify everything; declassify "low-grade" secrets first.

      The base that didn't exist except in the minds of "conspiracy nuts" has been partially admitted to. I wonder what other "secrets" are out there, and where they're hidden. And when will they open Area 51 for tours?

      • by man_of_mr_e ( 217855 ) on Tuesday May 24, 2011 @03:46AM (#36225574)

        Nobody besides the government denies the existence of Area 51. The base exists, and is well proven for decades.

        What is denied is that there are aliens there, or really much of anything. Hell, the government even admitted its existence to the russians a couple of decades ago, and by treaty they were allowed to do flyovers of it. During a period of the 1980's to 1990's, it was all but abandoned. There was a lawsuit in the 1990's by workers who worked there about exposure to toxic fumes and chemicals.

        So no, the base does exist and has publicly existed to far more than just "conspiracy nuts" for decades. It was just very secretive and few knew what went on there.

        • or is everything else officially accounted for?

          • by Chrisq ( 894406 )

            Are there other secret bases?

            or is everything else officially accounted for?

            Yes, in Saudi Arabia.

            • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

              by Anonymous Coward

              What's up with the deserts?
              Are alien UFO:s prone to rust or something?

              • by dkf ( 304284 )

                What's up with the deserts?
                Are alien UFO:s prone to rust or something?

                It's hard to hide secret airbases in downtown Manhattan.

                More seriously, deserts are great for hiding things precisely because there's very few people around otherwise. Mountains would work too, but they're not so great for airbases due to the terrain, and it's also easy for spies to get somewhere where they can overlook the base. Farmland tends to have too many people about. A nice big forest would be quite good though, but only if its empty enough; large chunks of northern Canada are fairly well suited exc

          • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

            What is accounted for is the billions upon billions of dollars wasted in, spy vs spy, cold war nonsense.

            When cold war started to calm, information would purposefully leak about real or imaginary weapons in order to get things moving again, keep that money train rolling.

            Like all those secret bases, pretending to be far more than they were in order to less far less of a waste of tax payer dollars than they were, they were mainly there to feed the profits of the military industrial complex and to keep the

            • by geekoid ( 135745 )

              Since we came out of it a head, and without a nuclear war, I don't call it nonsense.

            • Try telling people in Hungary and Vietnam that the cold war was nonsense.
              • by lennier ( 44736 )

                Try telling people in Hungary and Vietnam that the cold war was nonsense.

                The millions of dead Vietnamese civilians killed by US saturation bombing to contain the Hanoi "domino" which fell anyway? I think they already know.

            • by plover ( 150551 ) *

              When cold war started to calm, information would purposefully leak about real or imaginary weapons in order to get things moving again, keep that money train rolling.

              I would suggest you do some reading of cold war history before dismissing it as a profiteering gambit by the military industrial complex. If you're interested in what the KGB was doing, I recommend you start with "The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB", by Christopher Andrew and Vasily Mitrokhin, as it was written by Mitrokhin, who was the senior historian of the KGB archives. Then, move on to "Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America", by John Earl Haynes a

              • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

                The point is how long did it last versus how long did it need to last and how much did it cost versus how much did it need to cost.

                If you think the military industrial complex didn't extend the cold war well beyond diplomacy could have ended it, they you fail to acknowledge exactly how it did end. The growth of communication between peoples allowed glasnost [] to come to the fore and gave the opportunity for political reform.

                A process slowed by Mutual assured destruct

                • by plover ( 150551 ) *

                  "Hindsight is always 20/20." It's always easy to say "if only we had done this." The thing was, back when this all started there was no talking. None. Nobody could walk across the border, go visit uncle Ivan, nothing. There was no internet, of course. Any international phone calls had to be pre-approved, and were routed directly through KGB headquarters. Any American was under constant surveillance from the moment he stepped through the Iron Curtain. And with reason, from the KGB's perspective - any

          • There's one on the backside of the Moon* and one on the Mid Atlantic ridge, about halfway between Iceland and the Azores. There's probably also one east of Powderville, MT and one west of Spencer, ID. The last one is almost completely underground.

            *) The Space Shuttles are being shelved because the military has something much better.

            • by lennier ( 44736 )

              The last one is almost completely underground.

              How did that come about? Were there unexpected budget cuts to the XCOM budget before they could dig the last five metres? Or just the typical design snafu where the architect said "But mes ames, you simply must put a swimming pool above the TRIGA reactor! The Cherenkov radiation makes such a bold statement! Non, I will not hear any objections!" and the general sighed and said "okay, whatever, just make sure the alien containment facility on the tenth sub-basement is neutrino shielded and we'll compromise"?


        • Nobody besides the government denies the existence of Area 51.

          That's a myth. It used to be true but hasn't been for a very long time now. Their comments these days are typically, "no comment." The simple fact is, the government has officially acknowledged and admitted area 51 exists. The fact is even part of official court records.

          Far too many confuse redaction policy with official status. Officially, area 51 exists. Policy, on the other hand, requires all references be redacted.

      • by plover ( 150551 ) *

        It's much easier to hide things in an underground cavern than in a building on the surface.

        Perhaps "safer", but definitely not "easier". They needed to get their prototype spy planes in and out of hiding quickly to run their tests before the next soviet satellite was scheduled to come overhead. (They posted a daily list of all the soviet satellites' orbit schedules.) To get the planes underground would have required giant elevators and big caverns. To get them into buildings required nothing more than a tow dolly and a truck.

        Actually, you should RTFA because it's really interesting. For exam

    • by denzacar ( 181829 ) on Tuesday May 24, 2011 @04:54AM (#36225760) Journal

      IT'S A TARP!

    • by lennier ( 44736 )

      Volcano lair.

      The heat screens your rocket silos from prying infrared images, plus acts as a handy geothermal power source. And you get a permanent way to dispose of unwanted guests / security risks / repeated fashion offenders. Elegant and practical.

      There's a reason good cliches become cliches, darlings!

  • The link in TFA leads to some sort of bogus site - it automatically started downloading a zip file of some sort.

    • by Pikoro ( 844299 )

      I think you clicked that link wrong. Got nothing of the sort here.

      Wait, that was too nice. uh, let me try again:

      your mom's face leads to some sort of bogus site. stop cowering... feeb? :P

    • Well I found the site by browsing from the main NG site. (Didn't try the summary link) Here joo go: []
      • I got it on the third attempt. Digging further, I was redirected to Actual site is as I pinged it. First is in germany, second is Akamai and gives the real site.

      • by qubezz ( 520511 )
        The article is a puff 'news' piece regurgitating a new NatGeo documentary Area 51 Declassified [] that premiered on May 22. Check your local listings or favourite video sharing site. []
    • I didn't get a zip file but I did get a malware alert from Safari. Possibly NG or an ad provider hacked?

    • checked for malware lately?
    • by weave ( 48069 )
      Happened to me too. In Safari in a Mac. It immediately started a fake scanning in a browser window. I closed it right away and the Mac installer started and asked me to install Mac Protector, so I quit the installer and all is well. I did some reading and a lot of people apparently go ahead and install a program they know nothing about including entering in their admin credentials to allow it to install with root privs. Sigh... So seems like Nat Geo's ad farm or service is infected....
      • by JohnG ( 93975 )
        My roommate, my neighbor, and a friend of mine have all been hit by rogue anti-virus programs on Windows in the past 3 weeks or so. I've had the same thing that happened to you happen to me twice today. I guess someone has decided to bring the rogue anti-virus scam to Macs. Thankfully, it isn't so easy to get administrator access to a UNIX machine and the scammers have to actually ask permission to install their virus. Fixing my roommate's computers was a pain in the ass, and my neighbor had to go to work b
    • How apt. A malware payload in an article about A51.

      The conspiracy crackpots will have a blast with that one.

  • Why was it called Area 51?
    • Re:Why 51? (Score:5, Funny)

      by plover ( 150551 ) * on Tuesday May 24, 2011 @01:41AM (#36225150) Homepage Journal

      Why was it called Area 51?

      Because calling it "CIA Secret Aircraft Research Area" might have given the wrong idea to the Soviets?

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It wasn't called area 51, I forgot what the base is called but the reason why people called it area 51 is because of a quad number that it was seen from (area 51). I didn't read TFA but from a lot of testimonies from former employees it seems that it was a secret base intended to develop high-tech stuff against the reds. Whether or not there's alien technology may or may not be true, but I don't think it would be in area 51 if it were held somewhere. It was mostly an airbase that grew bigger over time, and

      • Paradise Ranch, Dreamland, and Groom Lake are the most common other-names for A51.

      • even an underground base in the grand canyon simply because over 100 miles of it hasn't ever been recorded and it would be the most ideal place to have a hiding spot.

        What on earth would make anyone think that a giant tourist attraction would be an ideal place to house a top secret military base? If I were going to find a place to hide a military base, it'd be somewhere where no one goes, like a library in New Jersey or anywhere in Idaho.

        • Probably because anything anyone noticed would simply feed the UFO conspiracies. It would be the equivalent to testing anti-gravity pills in a haunted house :P
    • Why was it called Area 51?

      If I remember correctly from one of the shows on it, the terrain there is so desolate that the military maps just denoted different "Areas." The base happened to be situated in "Area 51." It was on TV, and I vaguely remember it that way, so I am totally sure its true.
      • Nope, you're correct. Pretty much they drew off areas in the middle of the desert, and assigned numbers to them. The area is huge, and it would be a waste of time coming up with names for each part of it.

        I have seen maps indicating some other areas, but that doesn't help reinforce the mystery of "Area 51", so conspiracy folks don't generally publish that much. Come on, if it's Area 51, and assuming it's just an average spot on the map, there may be 100 "Areas". I don't reme

    • Maybe it was commissioned in 1951... or so *they* want you to think!

    • I'm pretty sure the States is divided up into a number of areas for operational control. It so happens that this one has been assigned the number '51'.
    • Re:Why 51? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Wyatt Earp ( 1029 ) on Tuesday May 24, 2011 @01:53AM (#36225214)

      Its part of the Nevada Test Range, the NTS area next to it is 15, the block commonly called Area 51 is more properly known as Groom Lake (for the dry lakebed there) and on some maps, CIA documents and in corporate literature that block is Area 51.

      The Presidential Determination that keeps Federal Courts from touching operations there refers to it as "The Air Force's Operating Location Near Groom Lake, Nevada:.

      • Ding ding ding! You are winner! Close enough for gubmint work, anyway.

        At least that's what our tour guide said during an NTS tour. Although Area 15 isn't adjacent. There's a gap. Area 15 is the northeasternmost "area" on most publicly available maps and you can see Groom Lake Road heading northeast from Area 15 in the direction of Area 51. 15.8 miles from the Sedan crater viewing point according to Google Maps.

    • Because that's how the US Government labels stuff per site. For example, the Hanford Site in Washington where plutonium was made for nuclear weapons has a "100 Area", "200 Area", and "300 Area" which designate where the reactors are (100), chemical separation complexes (200) and the various support facilities (300).

      Area 51 is part of the Nevada Test Site. That "area" designation is usually pointing towards a specific function - in this case, spy plane R&D, and hiding aliens.

    • by geekoid ( 135745 )

      There are several areas. They are used for a variety of purposes, usually around aircraft.

      They are not sequential. It's just a number someone picked.

      You don't want a neat logical grid of locations. It's one of the many security measures.

  • This is a Harold Clamping parallel, how loons fool themselves. Area 51 could only have been credible alien ship junkyard to a poorly educated lot. Most modern people believe in repeatable, falsifiable observations. Those who don't live with a world view that is arcane, oblivious, and ignorant. As such, why give them the media attention? Do you also laugh at people with Down's syndrome or any other serious challenges? These dudes are parts the modern freak show.

    • "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." - Arthur C. Clarke
      "...and/or can be attributable to Satanic Cults/the New World Order/neo-Nazi supermen/aliens." -Me

      • by Myria ( 562655 )

        "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." - Arthur C. Clarke

        I disagree. Magic doesn't follow the Second Law of Thermodynamics. In any unknown advanced technology, we could identify the heat reservoir.

        • Unless it is sufficiently advanced to dump it into a parallel universe.

        • by dkf ( 304284 )

          Magic doesn't follow the Second Law of Thermodynamics. In any unknown advanced technology, we could identify the heat reservoir.

          That's besides the point. If magic worked, we'd be able to use systematic study with it and it would become technology. It'd just be driven by fairy tears or tiny imps or something instead of electrons.

          And overall the Second Law would still hold. Things get really really screwy when you don't have that. You just might not see where the heat sink and source were located.

    • People who believe in UFOs are only loons because they are a small minority. Lots of people believe in God, despite there being no compelling evidence in the same way that there isn't for extra-terrestrials, but because that is a commonly held delusion it is considered normal. Sanity is defined as the norm, not what is rational.

      • What do you mean by "believe in UFOs"? The term, in and of itself is commonly used in aviation (i.e. if see something go by and can't identify it, even if it appears man-made, it's an unidentified flying object) and doesn't really have anything attached to it that would require belief.

        Now if you are implying that people who hold the belief that all UFOs are piloted by extraterrestrials, then that might require a leap of faith that could be subject to question, but someone just merely stating that they s
        • I saw something, it seemed to be in the sky, therefore it was an Unidentified Flying Oject. It was probably a weather balloon. Or a pelican. It could have been some secret CIA spy plane.
          I hallucinated an disc-shaped spacecraft full of aliens who flew the 186,000,000,000,000,000 miles from Sirius to give me a prostate exam, they were in a flying saucer.
          I was molested by a flying bar hade. No, I'm not crazee.
          • by Thud457 ( 234763 )
            I may not be crazee, but I sometimes click submit before checking my post. Here's the bar hade [] reference for ya.

            Oh good grief, /. won't let me post AC, this is ridiculous.
        • by geekoid ( 135745 )

          since he specifically mention extra-terrestrials, we can assume he is talking about alien craft.

          • by KZigurs ( 638781 )

            hey, mexicans aren't extra-terrestials regardless of whatever definition of terra you use.

      • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) *

        No, they're loons too.

      • by geekoid ( 135745 )

        I would use the term irrational. and I would apply it to both groups.

        "Sanity is defined as the norm, not what is rational."
        sigh. No it is not.

        Society just gives tertian irrationalities a pass until the go too far.

    • If ETs have the technology to cross interstellar distances then presumably staying hidden from human detection is a trivial technological problem. They may also have plenty of reason to stay hidden, ie to not to disturb us. Especially since we are so obviously easily disturbed. Thus I find it absurd we even bother debating alien technology being on earth at all, why assume we could even percieve it? Leave it to the loons. Area 51 is probably nothing, and if it is something then we're not going to know abou
    • by plover ( 150551 ) *

      People want to believe in flying saucers or flying spaghetti monsters can look at a "secret government installation" and blame whatever they want on it. This article is not about those idiots, nor is it about other self-delusional idiots such as Harold Camping. Nobody's giving them attention in this article. This article is about what actually took place at Groom Lake, as told by one of the former workers at the site. Area 51 is where the CIA tested their top secret spy planes. It's no more (or less) e

  • Am I the only one with a desperate urge to push it over?
  • This sounds a little like what the Allies were doing with operation fortitude [] - before the dday landings. They build inflatable rubber tanks and artillery - and placed them in locations that made it look like the invasion would be aimed at Calais. Of course then they weren't trying to confuse satellites - but German spotter planes.

    • by Luckyo ( 1726890 )

      Worth noting that soviets were absolute geniuses of this warfare, far eclipsing West. When USSR fell, the real size of their army proved to be approximately 40% smaller then most conservative estimates before that.

      Reason? Large inflatable pseudo-armies, that actually had proper radar cross-section and IR signature that fooled all the massive reconnaissance conducted on USSR from air. It made the listed area51 tricks look like child play.

  • They moved the mockup planes under cover when Soviet satellites were passing over.
    When they supposed that the Soviets were learning about the shapes of the aircraft with infrared from shape the ground shadow left in the hot sun, they made funny-shaped shadows.

    That's pretty much the whole article.
    Is it just me or is Nat'l Geo running out of things to write about?

  • by Dachannien ( 617929 ) on Tuesday May 24, 2011 @08:14AM (#36226470)

    Another interesting thing about Groom Lake is its status as restricted airspace. If you find R-4808N on the FAA's Las Vegas sectional map (e.g., at [] ), you'll see that it covers two things: a large area over the old Nevada Testing Site, where the Department of Energy used to test nuclear weapons, and a big conspicuously square area with a large dry lake bed called Groom Lake smack dab in the center. The fairly large airport that's been built next to and extending onto the lake bed is also not labeled on those maps, despite the fact that various other land features and manmade structures just a few miles away (including in the Nevada Testing Site) are labeled to serve as landmarks to pilots.

    Restricted airspace listings (the text versions, to be used in conjunction with various airspace maps, e.g., [] ) tell you a few things that provide a mechanism for legally accessing them. For instance, they tell you what hours they are restricted (such as a fixed pattern of hours each week, or by specifically issued FAA notice, etc.), what elevations are restricted, the using agency (the agency for the benefit of which the airspace is restricted), and the controlling agency (whom you would contact to try to get clearance to enter the airspace) in the case of "joint use" airspace.

    If you look up R-4808N in the restricted airspace listings, it tells you (a) that the restricted airspace is in continuous operation, i.e., it's restricted 24 hours a day every day; (b) it's restricted at all elevations from the ground up; (c) there is no "controlling agency" listed, meaning the airspace is not joint use; and (d) the using agency is the Department of Energy, meaning that the block of restricted airspace is lumped in with the Nevada Test Site even though the Air Force actually runs the Groom Lake facility. All of these characteristics are fairly unusual as restricted airspace goes, and I've only found one other bit of restricted airspace in the listings that doesn't list a controlling facility (a tiny bit of airspace at the Tooele Army Depot in Utah).

    Nellis AFB near Las Vegas manages almost all of the restricted and military operation airspace in that area, and they're the ones who will angrily contact you via radio if you even approach the restricted airspace in that area. The restricted airspace is more of a legal mechanism to deal with pilots who encroach on the airspace after they land, and Nellis AFB will send fighters out to strongly dissuade anyone who comes too close to the airspace even if they don't enter it.

    One other thing to note is that the runways at Groom Lake are actually quite busy. There is a restricted access terminal at McCarran (Las Vegas) Airport where some thousand or so people board planes that make trips to and from Groom Lake throughout the day. The flights use the name "Janet" when talking to the tower at McCarran (similar to how a United Airlines flight would be referred to as, e.g., "United 123").

    • The fences around Area 51 are still marked with "No trespassing signs" that indicate that they are authorized to use deadly force if you violate the sign.
      • I know Nevada is a sin-friendly state, with it's gambling and prostitution, but what kind of depraved lunatic would violate a sign?!! I mean really, couldn't someone who is, uh, sign oriented easily find a consensual relationship?
      • The fences around Area 51 are still marked with "No trespassing signs" that indicate that they are authorized to use deadly force if you violate the sign.

        Oh yeah, you're a dirty little sign, aren't you?

      • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) *

        Groom Lake was supposedly abandoned for a long time, and supposedly the security patrols stopped and the cameras stopped operating. But more recently, I saw reports that they had re-opened it (maybe they were testing that Air Force space shuttle there or some other anti-terrorist spy gear there).

      • by plover ( 150551 ) *

        My favorite Buckaroo Bonzai bit: the sign reading "Trespassers will be Violated"

      • Documentaries about Area 51 love to focus on those signs as if they are unique, but they are not. Those signs are pretty ubiquitous on Air Force bases around restricted areas, such as the flight line or a sensitive building. An example is this one [] from Langley AFB (not my photo). They are also posted on the fences around a base.

        If you ever visit an Air Force base for an air show, look around the entry control points, they are sure to have that sign nearby.

        Deadly force authorized does not mean shoot on sight

    • by MachineShedFred ( 621896 ) on Tuesday May 24, 2011 @10:50AM (#36228038) Journal

      In case you're wondering, that restricted airspace at Tooele Army Depot is likely because of the incinerators that are torching hundreds of tons of nerve gas stored there. I wouldn't be surprised if such a restriction is imposed over the Umatilla Army Depot in eastern Oregon for the same reason.

No extensible language will be universal. -- T. Cheatham