Satellite images lift cloak of secrecy from Area 51

An Air Force complex northwest of Las Vegas is unveiled on the Internet by a private corporation.


The following article was published in the "Las Vegas Review-Journal", April 18, 2000. It was sent to us by Devin Loving.


RALEIGH, NC. - The truth is out there - on the Web. Photos of Area 51, the super-secret Air Force test site in Nevada that has long tantalized UFO and conspiracy buffs and fans of "The X-Files," are being posted on the Internet.

"This is the first glimpse into the most secret training and testing facility for the Air Force," said John Hoffman, president of Aerial Images Inc. of Raleigh.

The company planned to post five images of the site, divided into four frames each, in collaboration with Microsoft, Kodak, Digital Equipment Corp., Autometric Inc. and the Russian agency Sovinformsputnik.

The partners launched a Russian satellite from Kazakstan in 1998 to map Earth's surface and Area 51. An open-skies agreement signed in 1992 by 24 nations, including the United States and Russia, made the effort possible.

Despite the government's lack of acknowledgement that a base exists, former Area 51 workers have said the 100-square-mile Groom Lake base is about 75 mites north-west of Las Vegas in the arid, rugged Nellis Air Force Range.

One of them, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, applauded Hoffman's company for keeping Area 51 in the public's eye.

"Here again is more evidence that the base is there and can't be hidden," the former worker said Monday. "Private industry has exposed the place, and it's amazing - the government still denies its actions and its responsibilities for illegally disposing of toxic waste."

Groom Lake workers have claimed they were injured by toxic fumes burned at the base. Their lawsuits were appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which decided not to hear them.

Beginning with the U-2 spy plane in the 1950s, the base has been the testing ground for a host of top-secret aircraft, including the SR-71 Blackbird and, more recently, the F-117A stealth fighter and B-2 stealth bomber, which was flown to check its systems against foreign radars, according to the former Area 51 worker.

The base's airspace is restricted; aircraft are not allowed to fly over it. But satellite overflights are allowed as part of an agreement to verify arms-control compliance.

Among UFO aficionados, it has long been known simply as Area 51, the base's designation on old Nevada Test Site maps. They believe that unidentified flying objects from other worlds are hidden at the base, where their parts are copied for U.S. prototypes.

The images, with resolution good enough to distinguish a car from a truck, are better than earlier telephoto shots from the nearby mountains. The only other known image was alleged to have been shot by a Soviet satellite in the 1960s. That image is much fuzzier.

"There are runways, there are buildings, there are buses, there are test beds, but there aren't any little green men or super-secret aircraft to be seen," Hoffman said of the new photos.

Several government agencies are aware of the images and haven't responded, said Hoffman, 52, a Vietnam veteran who recently retired from the National Guard after 23 years. "I've had no feedback from anybody that indicates anybody gives a hoot," he said.

An Air Force spokeswoman would not comment Monday on any security concerns about the images.

"We acknowledge having an operating site there, and the work is classified," spokeswoman Gloria Cales said. The work involves "operations critical to the U.S. military and the country's security."

Aerial Images, at www.terraserver.com, offer a link to the Area 51 pages.

The images show craters, some seemingly formed by something dropped from the sky, others possibly by something coming out of the ground. There are up to 100 buildings, living quarters, tennis courts, a baseball field, a track and a swimming pool.

There are some paved roads and several parking lots, according to the former Area 51 worker. But in the new images, buses are the only visible vehicles, raising the question of how employees get to and from work.

In one of the new images, a shrouded aircraft is visible on a ramp.

The source said base officials adhered to a standard procedure to keep aircraft they are testing hidden while satellites pass directly over the base. This so-called "cover time" was a technique for protecting sensitive government assets, he said.

Walter Andrus Jr., international director of the Mutual UFO Network, based in Seguin, Texas, seemed to have a hard time believing the object of so much secrecy and discussion would soon be available on the Web.

"We have other photos taken from the ground and from the air, but they aren't this current, he said. For the newly released photographs, see www.terraserver.com.

For more photographs and reports on the base that have been published by the Review-Journal since 1993, see "Inside Area 51" in the in depth section of lasvegas.com.

By Martha Waggoner, Associated Press, contributions by Review-Journal writer Keith Rogers
From "Las Vegas Review-Journal", April 18, 2000


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