Isolated in the Nevada Desert, a dusty path leads to the heavily guarded Area 51 – an area marked only by orange poles. Covered with blinking surveillance cameras and sensors, the warning signs threaten that deadly force will be used on those who trespass. Has Area 51 been used as a landing spot designated for extraterrestrial passengers on a comet? Perhaps it is the home to aliens held captive by the government or the site of a reconstructed Moon to fake the landing footage? These imaginative stories from conspiracy theorists are very unlikely. Instead, Area 51 seems to be where secret military planes and weapons are tested.
The airfield first began service in WWII as an aerial gun range before the CIA established the site as the location for Project AQUATONE. This project was developing Lockheed U-2, a strategic reconnaissance plane. The new aircraft would allow the military to fly at much higher altitudes and enable them to fly over the USSR without the risk of being shot down. Keeping this secret was a matter of national security, but people noticed the unusually high-flying craft that civilians couldn’t explain, so when the test flights started it wasn’t long before UFO sightings were reported.
While the U-2 operations stopped in the 1960s the base continued to test experimental planes. The base’s primary purpose today is not publicly known, but we can say that almost certainly there are no aliens at Area 51. Almost.
Whatever is happening in Area 51, the US Government has gone to a lot of trouble to make it difficult for anyone to find out. Historically, the site has been hidden from maps and not recorded on official documents. The land is patrolled by private security guards; they are kitted out with long-range viewing devices, night-vision equipment and 4×4 vehicles with monitors fed by movement sensors around the border of the base. If you are found to be trespassing on the grounds the guards are authorised to shoot to kill. Even if you were to gain top security clearance, you would still be kept in the dark about the true nature of Area 51. Staff arrive on unmarked planes, there are no windows at the facility and teams are not informed about anything outside their own duties.