The names associated with the Groom Lake test facility include both formal and informal designations, and don't all refer to precisely the same thing.
Groom Lake is the name of the geographic feature that defines the test site. It is an ancient dry lakebed with a surface of sufficent hardness for aircraft operations. It includes some marked airstrips, but for all practical purposes the entire surface should be considered an active runway under the jurisdiction of the air traffic control tower.
Paradise Ranch is the name suggested for the test site by Clarence "Kelly" Johnson of Lockheed in 1955. According to his personal log, this name was approved and accepted. This is why many oldtimers refer to the site as "The Ranch." This nickname has been used for many years as generations of workers passed it on.
Watertown is the official name bestowed on the test site in 1956. It was taken from the name of CIA director Allen Dulles' hometown. Watertown is still legally listed as a member of Alamo Township in Lincoln County, Nevada.
Area 51 is the designation applied following the land seizure of 20 June 1958. This designation specifically identifies a 38,400-acre block of land surrounding the airfield and much of the lakebed.
Dreamland is the radio callsign for the base, introduced in the late 1960s (it replaced Yuletide). It referred specifically to a large area of airspace (a special operations area) surrounding Area 51, including parts of the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) and the Nellis Test and Training Range (NTTR). Eventually, the Dreamland airspace was reduced to cover an approximately 24-square-mile box with Groom Lake at its center. This resulted in many pilots (mostly Red Flag participants) nicknaming it "The Box" or "Red Square" (because it was defined as a no-fly zone during the various exercises in the range). The Dreamland callsign still appears in Air Force pilot's flight guides.
Detachment 3, Air Force Flight Test Center, (DET 3, AFFTC) is the name of the administrating unit and the operating location at Groom Lake. It was established in the late 1970s. The organization has grown from a small cadre of less than squadron strength to an entire test wing with multiple groups of squadrons and flights.
Detachment 1, 1129th Special Activities Squadron. This was used by the operating unit mainly during the timeframe from 1960 to 1968, when the base was called Area 51, but it also appears for some years afterward on Nevada Test Site security regulations.
Home Plate and C-Base were nicknames used mainly by security personnel in unenecrypted radio communications, rather than calling out the actual name of the base. The Home Plate nickname dates to at least the 1960s and was used to identify the base in Project OXCART flight logs, and occasionally in other documents and correspondence.
Pittman Station. If asked where they worked, Air Force personnel were told to say "Pittman Station, Henderson, Nevada." This was derived from the original mailing address at the now defunct Pittman Postal Station (originally P.O. Box 121, later P.O. Box 52B). Civilian contractors at Groom lake were told to say the worked for "EG&G at the Test Site." In the 1990s, the mail drop moved to an office building in Las Vegas.
Homey is the name given in the Terrain Awareness and Warning System (TAWS) database, that also includes the airfield's four-letter designator KXTA (the three-letter domestic designator is just XTA). The database lists the paved runways 14-32 and 12-30.
The base has also been referred to in much more informal fashion by personnel who say they work "Out of Town," "Out at the Range," "Elsewhere," "St. Elsewhere," "Nowhere," "The Test Site," or simply "The Site."
By Peter W. Merlin