Deseret Morning News
August 1, 2005 Monday
Lee Davidson Deseret Morning News
Pentagon inspectors are not amused that one Army database says Utah's vast Dugway Proving Ground has 1,192 square miles of test and training ranges within its Rhode Island-size borders, while a different database says it has only 456.
That is a difference of 736 square miles of maybe-it-exists, maybe-it-doesn't range land -- about 11 times as big as Washington, D.C.
The Army Audit Agency found similar big differences at many ranges nationally.
The Deseret Morning News obtained the report through a Freedom of Information Act request.
In response to the request, Dugway officials incidentally said for the first time why they are seeking to expand the base's boundaries. They want to stop people, such as UFO-watchers who think Dugway is the "new Area 51," from spying on official activities from nearby mountains. The Army previously had refused to comment officially on its reasons.
Inspectors wrote in the new report that nationally, they found a 5.8 million-acre discrepancy -- or 9,062 square miles -- between two Army databases that sought to track how much range land the Army has.
Dugway Proving Ground had the fourth largest discrepancy among the national bases assessed, and had 8 percent of the total by itself. (Army-used ranges that had bigger differences included: White Sands Missile Range, N.M., 3.3 million acres; San Juan National Forest, Colo., 634,562 acres; and Fort Greely, Alaska, 631,556 acres.)
In a written response to the Morning News, Dugway officials said most of the reason for differences stems from the two databases examining somewhat different things.
It said that one, called the Range Property Inventory (RPI), looks at "current active and usable ranges on the installation." It had the smaller number at 456 square miles.
The other, called the Army Range Inventory Database (ARID), was developed by a contractor nationally as part of a process "to document all areas that had the potential of munition contamination any time during the history of the installation." It listed the larger number for Dugway at 1,192 square miles.
Dugway's response to the ARID calculation said, "Many times the same area is counted many times as it was used for different types of tests. There were also some differences between the two databases in determining what was buffer zone and what was range."
Dugway is where the military historically tested many of its defenses against chemical, biological and radiological warfare, as well as many of its new weapon systems. It has also been used for troop training and maneuvers.
The Army Audit Agency said that such differences in definition accounted for discrepancies at many of the other ranges, too. Also, it said the ARID database included some lands not owned by the military that were available for test and training under various agreements, and ARID sometimes had better acreage counts because it used satellite geographical information the other database did not have.
Dugway's response to the Morning News said it currently has "sufficient land to accommodate current testing and training operations. There is some feeling that in the event a troop unit is assigned to Dugway, more land may be required."
However, it said that is not why the base has been lobbying to expand its southern boundary.
Some feel it would be in the government's best interest to restrict ongoing monitoring by non-military persons of sensitive training and testing by restricting access to higher ground around the installation that has been used by observers in the past, the response said.
Dugway previously had not officially said why it has been seeking that expansion and denied requests for documents that discussed it. (The Pentagon just last week gave a final official rejection of the Morning News' appeal of the Army's refusal to release such documents.)
However, aides to Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, previously said the Army had told the congressman, who is looking at legislation to expand the base, that officials were worried about people watching the base from nearby mountains.
Many UFO-watching groups say they suspect Dugway has become the "new Area 51," and works on aliens or alien spacecraft at the remote base. Some have posted pictures on the Internet of operations they watched from the Dugway Mountains, off Dugway property.
Others have also speculated that the Army wants the Dugway Mountains within its boundaries to avoid the possible high expense of cleaning up contamination there from the use of conventional and chemical arms through the years.
Siblings Louise, Douglas and Allan Cannon, who jointly own key land in the Dugway Mountains and hold many mining claims there, once sued the Army seeking to force cleanup of such contamination or, in the alternative, compensation for the tainted land. Their suit was dismissed because it was not filed soon enough after they could have learned about the contamination.
Court documents from the Cannon lawsuit disclosed that the Army contaminated their land with 3,000 rounds of chemical weapons at the end of World War II. It also bombed the surface of 1,425 acres of Cannon land with more than 23 tons of chemical arms.
The Mountain State Legal Foundation announced last week that it is now representing the Cannons in their ongoing battle with the Army. That foundation says it seeks to protect private property ownership rights, and the multiple use of public lands. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Area 51: The Dreamland Chronicles; book reviews
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
May 15, 1998
SECTION: No. 3, Vol. 54; Pg. 64; ISSN: 0096-3402
By David Darlington Henry Holt & Co.; 1997 281 pages; $ 25.00
At the height of the Cold War, Lockheed wanted to find a place where it could test a secret new spy plane it was building at the "Skunk Works," its experimental plant in Palmdale, California. The company needed somewhere in the Western desert where a plane could land undetected and no one was likely to come wandering by.
"I knew right away what I wanted: a damn good dry lake," Tony LeVier, a pilot who had previously tested the F104 for Lockheed, told author David Darlington in a mid-1990s interview. Darlington, a San Francisco-based writer, had become interested in "Area 51" while writing a book about the Mojave desert.
In January 1955, LeVier and Lockheed's Dorsey Kammerier dressed up like hunters and took off in a single-engine Beechcraft to scout out potential sites.
"I got out my maps and chose a course through Arizona and Nevada... We landed on at least a dozen lakes. We took photographs and wrote a report on each one, rating them from one to ten. The last one we came on was Groom. It was round, about three and a half miles in diameter... It was a nice surface, and it was really out in the boondocks. Outside of Nellis [Air Force Base] there wasn't anything... The only thing of any importance nearby was the [Atomic Energy Commission's] Proving Ground, but we figured the fallout would keep people away. It was ideal, far better than any of the other sites."
The authorities at the Nevada nuclear testing range eagerly welcomed the secret project as a neighbor, and the range's air closure order was extended to include the Groom Lake area. By August, a base had been constructed and test flights of the U-2 spy plane had begun. The rest, as they say, is history.
But 40-plus years later, black-budget activities are still conducted in secret at Groom; and, if anything, security has intensified. As a result, not one, but several competing mythologies about Area 51 have arisen. Many stories concern the development of exotic new planes, but the most entertaining tales are based on the theory that Groom is where the U.S. government has amassed overwhelming evidence of visits by extraterrestrials. Many, if not most, versions of these flyingsaucer stories make the base out to be a hotbed of live aliens (sometimes reptilian in nature), fully functioning alien spacecraft, and bizarre experiments conducted on luckless humans captured by predacious creatures from outer space.
Tales of alien creatures--and efforts by others who believe that secrets like Area 51 have outlasted any reasonable purpose--had already made the matter of unmasking the government's operations at Groom Lake a minor industry. But openness activists and an antinuclear group, Citizen Alert, were further energized in 1984, when an air force land grab extended Area 51's "restricted zone" by an additional 89,000 acres.
In 1993, when the air force went after another 4,000 acres, Glenn Campbell, a Boston software developer who had just cashed in his company's stock and was looking for a new project, was drawn to the tiny community of Rachel, Nevada (population: 100), which had become local headquarters for freelance Groom Lake investigators.
A self-described "lobbyist for openness," Campbell felt that "the military is always pushing for more secrecy and more land; they could probably make a case that they need all of Nevada and the rest of the western states if we let them get away it it." He soon became a regular at the "Little ALe-Inn" ("Earthlings Welcome"), the bar and grill that was Rachel's commercial hub.
While he was allied to some extent with the "UFOlogists" in the area, Campbell's approach to exploring the phenomenon of Groom Lake was relatively objective, even scientific: He studied the terrain, tracked the activities of the "Cammo Dudes" (mostly guards from Wackenhut Corporation's security branch), noted the frequencies on which the Dudes radioed each Other, located traffic sensors along the highway that led to the secret air base, and best of all, discovered that much of the base at Groom could be seen and photographed from an elevated area he dubbed "Freedom Ridge," just outside the restricted area.
Campbell was eager to share what he learned, and soon produced The Area 51 Viewer's Guide, a publication that offered a wealth of information to any citizen-observer who wanted to take a look at Groom Lake for him- or herself. It included answers to such commonly asked questions as "What will happen if I intrude into the restricted zone?" and "What is the best time to look for flying saucers?" As a sideline, Campbell sold embroidered patches depicting a plane taking off from Area 51, an item that proved to be popular with tourists and would-be UFO spotters. As his activities grew, Campbell installed a copier and a fax machine in a comer of the A-Le-Inn's bar, and printed the Inn's address on his business cards.
Campbell's excursions to Freedom Ridge attracted all sorts--" airplane heads" who would go to any length on the chance of spotting an exotic new aircraft, people who claimed to have been abducted by aliens, people who claimed to be aliens, conspiracy theorists who believed that Groom was inhabited by members of a cabal that was about to take over the world, and even mainstream media types, like a crew from ABCs Nightline program--who had their own story made for them when their videotapes and equipment were seized by the patrolling Cammo Dudes.
Campbell's trips to Freedom Ridge became even more popular with the media after he cleared some boulders, making the ridge accessible by car. One UFO tracker described Campbell's companions on the first four-wheeled Freedom Ridge expedition as no longer "saucer nuts" but "journalists doing deals, schmoozing each other to sell their photos and talk up story ideas."
Still, it may have been Campbell's success with the media that sped the coming of failure. It was probably inevitable that the story of Area 51 would rapidly come to be regarded as "overexposed" and old hat.
But other arrangements were also unraveling. The owners of the A-Le-Inn, said to be jealous of Campbell's business acumen, expelled his business activities from the bar; Campbell's onagain off-again relationships with the UFOlogists deflected his attention from openness issues; and in July 1995, opportunities for civilians to observe activities at the secret site were sharply curtailed when the government closed off Freedom Ridge.
Meanwhile, another potential source of information about Groom Lake--twin lawsuits against the Defense Department and the Environmental Protection Agency filed by the surviving spouse of a Groom Lake worker who was alleged to have been made ill through exposure to hazardous materials (joined by six other cases of alleged injury)--were rejected by a federal judge on the grounds that hearing them would endanger national security. In June 1997, despite all evidence to the contrary, Popular Mechanics even declared that Area 51 was no longer being patrolled and that the base at Groom Lake had been closed. Editor Jim Wilson suggested that experimental testing had been moved to a facility near Dugway Proving Ground in Utah.
Area 51 is an entertaining book, and author Darlington's interviews and reconstructions of Groom Lake's early days are a real service. In the end, however, it is the alien seekers, the tragically abducted, and self-appointed aliens like the extraterrestrial Hungarians led by "Amb. Merlyn Merlin II" who seem to have appealed most to the author. Darlington faithfully records the voices of these paranoid folk, and their boastful claims of secret clearances and mysterious midnight meetings ring true. And what a boon they must be to the government's own paranoid types, who can point to them as persuasive proof that those who oppose continuing secrecy at Area 51 are card-carrying members of the crackpot corps.
And that's the problem. For whatever the government is up to at Groom Lake, it goes on unimpeded, with the siren song of the saucer nuts--with whom Campbell eventually reconciled--drowning out any legitimate inquiry into how much secrecy and how large a restricted compound the government needs to conduct black-budget activities.
Linda Rothstein is managing editor of the Bulletin.
The new 'Area 51.'U.S. Air Force moves its top-secret test site
No. 6, Vol. 174; Pg. 54; ISSN: 0032-4558
The Air Force has abandoned top-secret testing at its once most secret test site. We know why and we know where they moved it to.
* A cloud of brown dust snakes behind me as I speed down the desolate desert road. A dozen miles ago. I passed the solitary steel mailbox that marks the turnoff for Area 51. For a place that isn't supposed to exist, it's odd that the "secret" air base occupies whole chapters of aviation history. It was here, in 1955, that the U-2 spyplane first took wing. In the years that followed, its successors, the A-12 and SR-71 and later the stealthy F-117A fighter and B-2 bomber, danced across the same blue-steel Nevada sky.
Rumors persist of even more amazing aircraft. Secret hangars supposedly conceal the mythical Aurora, a methane-burning replacement for the high-flying SR-71 spyplane. And--if you believe that X-files and J. Edgar Hoover's dress collection exist--there are even crashed UFOs that engineers patched up and somehow learned how to fly. I'm not searching for hypersonic aircraft or E.T.'s flying machine. My mission is less lofty. I'm trying to avoid getting arrested.
When Popular Mechanics correspondent Abe Dane traveled these roads to research our January 1995 cover story, "Flying Saucers Are Real," camouflaged guards driving white Jeep Cherokees dogged his every turn. Tourists who accidentally strayed down the road I am now driving on were arrested by these "canno dudes" and heavily fined. To cover the cost of a similar encounter, I've packed an envelope with $ 2000 in $ 50 bills in the trunk, along with my sleeping bag and extra bottled water.
On my flight to Las Vegas, which is about 100 miles to the south, I read up on Area 51 lore. That may have been a mistake. Imagining what might be "out there" paints ordinary desert scenes in a sinister hue. Instead of dismissing a buzzard-pecked carcass as road kill, I find myself wondering why aliens would travel hundreds of light-years to practice laser surgery on a cow. Driving along in this Area 51 state of mind, I'm prepared for almost anything--except for what I see next. The road has just vanished, as completely as if it never existed.
I brake the car, step out, check my map and compass, and then (sorry, Avis) climb on the trunk for a better view. A 360 [degrees] scan quickly solves the mystery. There has been a washout. The missing road reappears about 100 yards ahead. Tracing its line toward the horizon, I see what I've come to find--the back door to Area 51.
There is no guard post. A cattle gate, the sort you can buy at Kmart, seals the road, but the two heavily tarnished brass locks that secure the gate's chain are no blue-light special. They are strictly military-issue. Rusting strands of waist-high barb wire hang just beyond the gateposts. I had expected something taller, electrified. The warning signs flanking the gate aren't very threatening either. One warns "no trespassing." Its weather-beaten companion cautions me that the Air Force drops real bombs on the other side of the fence. My attention returns to the locks. The tarnish extends inward toward the tumblers, suggesting they haven't seen a key in a while. Perhaps no one comes out here anymore?
To test the theory, I flash the car's headlights and lean on its horn. After 15 minutes of wearing down the battery, I quit. Disappointed, I balance my camera on the roof of the car, set the shutter-release timer and blast off a few crooked snapshots to show the boss my trip to Las Vegas hasn't been all buffet and blackjack.
Why it moved
My visit seems to confirm what circumstantial evidence first suggested more than a year ago. Area 51 has shut down. Not that anyone should be surprised. After all, the base became America's worst-kept secret the moment talkshow host Larry King announced its presence to his national audience during a special on UFOs. Of course, UFO and aviation buffs knew this all along. The name "Area 51" and a description of its mission as the proving ground for Lockheed's U-2 reconnaissance aircraft appeared for a fleeting moment on a blackboard used as a prop in an aircraft promotional film.
The equally fleeting moment of fame that King's television exposure created for the nearby town of Rachel has also faded. Today, the locals who lunch at the Little A'le' Inn after collecting their mail from the line of postboxes that mark the center of this town of double-wide trailers don't see too many strangers. The unusual aerial phenomena that once lured tourists have become so rare that the Nevada state legislature has tried to help boost business by naming the adjacent stretch of Route 375 "The Extraterrestrial Highway."
As I finish my Alien Burger with Extrusions (melted cheese) and Appendages (french fries), Chuck Clark, author of the Area 51 & S4 Handbook, tells me he thinks the airfield's last secret plane, the Aurora, left a year ago. Bob Lazar--whose picture hangs behind me on a paneled wall filled with autographed photos of other UFO notables and several movie stars--claims the government moved the crashed flying saucer he worked on at the S4 site to a more secret location. Even Glenn Campbell--founder of the Area 51 Research Center and guide to PM correspondent Dane during his trip--has left for Las Vegas.
Though it may seem cynical to some folks, we think the most convincing evidence that top-secret testing has stopped at Area 51 comes from the Air Force itself. After years of denying the existence of an airfield at the northern end of its Nellis Range, a base spokesman in Nevada and a Department of Defense (DOD) official in Washington, D.C., both tell PM that "training and testing activities take place at the Groom Dry Lake Bed." DOD even agreed to consider--but at press time had still not acted upon--our request to visit the site.
What's happening--or more accurately, not happening--at Area 51? Lest we mislead anyone into thinking a talk-show host forced the government to abandon a perfectly good secret test site, we should point out that even before King's production crew arrived in Rachel, the Air Force had several good reasons to leave.
High on this list is the Open Skies Treaty. The pact was first proposed by President Dwight Eisenhower during a meeting with Nikita Khrushchev in Geneva, and it was finally signed into law in 1992. It allows the 27 signatory nations--including former Soviet bloc countries--to fly their most sophisticated spyplanes over one another's most sensitive military bases.
The reason the Air Force couldn't simply burrow into the surrounding mountains to hide their most secret aircraft is an equally compelling reason for it to leave. Three years ago, a group of former workers who had become seriously ill after working at Area 51 asked the government to conduct an investigation to see if they had been exposed to toxic substances. DOD lawyers convinced a judge the information had to remain secret. But Area 51's next-door neighbor, the Department of Energy (DOE), felt differently about such secrets. It had begun to make public previously classified data documenting the effects of Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) nuclear-bomb testing at the Yucca Flats test site. This data showed that long-lived radioactive residues from nearby nuclear bomb tests regularly rained down on Area 51.
However, even if there had been no spies above and radiation below to worry about, the Air Force would have likely begun packing anyway. Like the U-2 spyplane that created the need for Area 51, the base itself had become obsolete. The next generation of ultrahigh-performance military aircraft would need a different type of proving ground. We believe we know where the Air Force will build this new base--the new Area 51, or, as it is officially named, Area 6413.
Picking up the trail
About the time the tourist trade slumped in Rachel, Nevada, residents in the Four Corners area of Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico started seeing strange lights in the sky. What interested PM about these sightings was their proximity to Falcon Air Force Base. The small base in southern Colorado is the headquarters for the Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) and its Space Warfare Center (SWC). More importantly, the base had just become the home for the SWC's 576th Flight Test Squadron, the unit most likely to test the prototypes for the next generation of breakthrough aircraft.
I booked a flight, rented a Jeep and spent two days cruising the mountains between Salinda and Colorado Springs. I didn't see strange lights or find a secret air base, but I did find the path that would eventually lead to the new Area 51.
The first break came when I learned the types of missions the Air Force expected its next-generation aircraft to fly. As the result of a series of once classified projects named Science Dawn, Science Realm and Have Region, engineers at the Air Force's Phillips Laboratory at Kirtland AFB, in New Mexico, concluded it would be possible to build a plane that could fly to a trouble spot anywhere on the globe within 40 minutes, for a bargain price of between $ 1 million to $ 2 million a mission.
Discovering how these planes would achieve this level of performance would tell us the type of facility that would be needed for their initial testing. An important clue came in a remark Gen. Joseph W. Ashy, the recently retired commander of AFSPC, had made while being interviewed by Aviation Week & Space Technology, which has such an uncanny reputation for predicting future aircraft developments that it is often called Aviation Leak. Ashy said: "We will have a very short runway out there and we will have a reusable space plane." By itself, the comment might not have seemed helpful. But we already knew another important fact about the future aircraft's performance from the Have Region technical studies, which had by now been declassified. Engineers had calculated that engines capable of producing the thrust needed to reach the speeds and altitudes for fast-response global missions would be so powerful they could lift a plane off the ground vertically.
Considered together, these two pieces of information spelled bad news for our search. A plane that could land on a short runway after taking off vertically could be hidden just about anywhere. If the Air Force hadn't needed money to build this extraordinary aircraft, we might have never found the new Area 51.
The winged wonders tested at the Groom Dry Lake Bed, the original Area 51, were bought with money funneled through secret "black budget" accounts created by the nation's intelligence agencies. But since the 1970s, these organizations had better tools in the form of spy satellites. In the 1980s, the capabilities of these orbiting eyes improved even more. The Air Force officers assigned to NASA space shuttle missions had completely mastered the art of on-orbit satellite refueling. This meant the National Reconnaissance Office could steer a spy satellite just about anywhere it was interested in looking. The Air Force's next-generation plane might gather the information a bit faster, but for the type of strategic surveillance information the intelligence community needed, its existing, well-proven assets worked just fine. And with hundreds of billions of dollars of new F-22s and Joint Strike Fighter aircraft already on its must-have list, the Air Force would likely find it impossible to get Congress to publicly finance yet another high-performance aircraft. To get its new plane, the Air Force would have to get creative.
On February 28, 1997, a pen stroke solved the Air Force's money problem. It also pointed us in the direction of the new Area 51. The event was unremarkable. Gen. Howell M. Estes 3rd, commander-in-chief of AFSPC, and NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin signed an agreement to share "redundant assets."
The most important of these redundant assets was now under construction at Lockheed Martin Skunk Works, the Palmdale, California, incubator that previously hatched the mysterious birds that disturbed the quiet of the desert near Rachel. The Air Force's breakthrough aircraft would be one the public already knew as NASA's X-33. Skunk Works engineers had designed it as a half-scale flying testbed for the space plane that would become the 21st century's space shuttle. (See Tech Update, page 24, Sept. '96.) Measuring 68 ft. long, the lifting-body-shaped craft was a direct descendant of the ultrahigh-performance Have Region aircraft. It could take off vertically, fly faster than Mach 15, soar to 50-mile altitudes and then land on an ordinary runway.
By the time it was announced, this assets-sharing agreement between the Air Force and NASA was already old news to aerospace industry insiders. Three days earlier, Maj. Ken Verderame, a deputy manager at Phillips, had explained precisely how the X-33 could be turned into a weapon. Speaking at a NASA-sponsored technical conference in Huntsville, Alabama, he pointed out that Skunk Works designers nestled a 5 x 10-ft. payload bay between the X-33's liquid-oxygen and fuel tanks. It wouldn't be used on the NASA missions, but engineers at Phillips were already hard at work on a modular "pop-up" satellite and weapons launcher that could fit inside it. Verderame went on to explain future plans for modular "pop-in" cockpits.
Knowing that the Air Force had long planned to use the X-33 as an operational aircraft made a curious piece of information we had received months earlier fit into place. In the fall of 1996, NASA had announced the selection of the Michael Army Airfield as a backup runway for several X-33 missions. Given the field's location in a desolate stretch of desert about 80 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, the choice seemed puzzling. But now that the Air Force had acknowledged its plans to use the X-33 as a weapons platform, it made perfect sense. Studying a map of Utah shows that Michael AAF has the exact same security feature that drew U-2 developers to Area 51. It sits next to a ferocious junkyard dog.
Where the Groom Dry Lake Bed had a nuclear test site to discourage the uninvited, Michael AAF has an equally, perhaps more, compelling deterrent. It is in the midst of Dugway Proving Ground, the place where the Army stores and tests nerve gas. PM learned exactly how secure this site is when we dispatched a plane equipped with an aerial camera to get a closer look. The pilot was warned that if he tried to overfly the site he would be shot down.
Hitting pay dirt
With Michael AAF in Utah selected as the landing site for military X-33 missions, we believed we were fast closing in on the location of the new Area 51. The next step would be to find the launch site. The flight profiles we had been shown made it unlikely that--at least during prototype testing--the same base could be used for both launches and landings.
We found the critical clue hidden in plain view. An Air Force organization chart used in a congressional briefing identified a launch site called WSMR, the White Sands Missile Range. During the Huntsville technical conference, Verderame would explain its selection. Given its elevation of about 4000 ft., anything launched from WSMR would push through nearly a mile less atmosphere than if launched from the Air Force's facility at Cape Canaveral. So, while a vehicle launched from sea level could lift a 6000-pound payload, one launched from 4000 ft. could lift l0,000 pounds. The signs pointing to WSMR in New Mexico as the new Area 51 seemed almost too clear.
This caused us to take a closer look at the technical information presented at the congressional briefing and Huntsville technical conference. We saw a problem, and it appeared to be a showstopper. Some of the numbers didn't quite add up. The distance between this launch site in New Mexico and Michael AAF in Utah--in the vicinity of 700 miles--was too far a distance for the X-33 to cover during pop-up flights required for 40-minutes-to-anywhere missions.
There was, however, a second Whites Sands launch site--one that wasn't mentioned in either the congressional briefing or the Huntsville technical conference. It was located about 200 miles from Michael AAF, which fit within pop-up mission flight profiles. What's more, portions of it were at an even higher elevation, closer to 4500 ft., which meant an even greater payload capacity than possible from the New Mexico site. It is the White Sands Missile Range Utah Launch Complex.
The Utah Launch Complex--which we believe will be the new Area 51--is an even more desolate and forbidding stretch of real estate than Groom Dry Lake Bed. Located south of Utah Route 70 and east of the Green River, it is like the Groom Dry Lake Bed--beneath unlimited-ceiling restricted airspace designated as R-6413. A satellite reconnaissance expert who examined images of the site told PM, "If you wanted to hide something [from satellite imagery], this would be the perfect place to do it."
To get a closer look at the terrain, we contacted Aerial Images, the American firm that sells satellite photos taken by former Soviet spy satellites. The company was at first willing to sell us higher-resolution images. But after analysts in Moscow reviewed the closeups we had requested, we received a call from the company saying that the images would be unavailable for "security reasons."
We didn't need satellite images to see that the Utah site made the perfect location for the new Area 51. The basic infrastructure for launching the Air Force's next-generation aircraft is already in place, as a result of the complex having been built for the rocket testing in the early days of the military space program.
With our sights focused on Utah, we also found recent evidence of the Pentagon's interest in the site. Two years ago, just as activity at the original Area 51 began to wind down, the Pentagon began testing the local waters to gauge the public reaction to the complex's reactivation. It floated a trial-balloon story that it planned to reactivate the base for missile flights southward to WSMR in New Mexico. The opposition was swift and intense, mostly from environmentalists and other outdoors lovers who worried about the possibility of missiles falling on recreational areas in the vicinity of Moab, to the south. Citing this opposition, the Pentagon announced it would drop the project.
PM has, however, obtained copies of other government documents, including budgets, that show $ 8.2 million has been allocated to refurbish the missile assembly building and improve the surrounding site at the Utah Launch Complex. Curiously, these funds will be paid by DOE, the successor to the old AEC, whose nuclear testing blanketed the old Area 51 with radioactive fallout.
Part of the public's fascination with the original Area 51 is its rich collection of stories about crashed flying saucers, alien bodies and unexplained lights in the sky. The relocation of Area 51 does not necessarily mean those tales will be left behind when operations begin here in Utah, perhaps as early as 1999.
The Air Force Times reports that the distinctively painted CT-43 transports, which previously flew workers between Area 51 to a depot at the edge of McCarran Airport in Las Vegas, have begun making flights to Utah. And not far away from the new Area 51, millionaire Robert M. Bigelow, the prominent financier of paranormal and UFO research, has just purchased the 480-acre Sherman ranch for the site of the National Institute for Discovery Science. Its mission: to conduct scientific studies of the crop circles, cattle mutilations and other bump-in-the-night phenomena that the folks in these parts have been reporting for decades. So there should be no shortage of fascinating speculation for years to come.
Report: Utah Town, Air Force Headed for Close Encounter; Secret Base: Is It Headed For Utah?
Salt Lake Tribune (Utah)
May 23, 1997, Friday
Nation-World; Pg. A1
BY CHRISTOPHER SMITH THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE
Green River Mayor Judy Ann Scott admits she was a willing participant in keeping mum about a secretive plan to relocate America's alleged UFO base from Nevada to eastern Utah.
"A magazine reporter called me about six weeks ago to ask if I knew anything and, when I didn't, he pleaded with me not to tell anybody," smiles Scott. "He didn't have to worry. The last thing I'm going to do is tell the City Council that spaceships are going to be landing here soon."
In a cover story that military and congressional sources contend is bunk, Popular Mechanics says the Air Force plans to abandon its "Area 51" base at Nevada's Groom Dry Lake 90 miles north of Las Vegas. The secretive operations would be moved to the old Green River Missile Launch Complex just south of Green River, 180 miles southeast of Salt Lake City. The old Utah base, once a testing pad for Athena and Pershing missiles, was closed by the Army in 1975.
The military supposedly wants to move its "black budget" aircraft testing from Groom Lake because of Area 51's fame and latent radioactive contamination from surface testing of atomic bombs in the 1950s.
UFO enthusiasts long have maintained that Area 51 is a storage site for crash-recovered flying saucers or bodies of alien explorers. Nevada tourism officials recently designated Route 375 on the fringe of Area 51 "Extraterrestrial Highway."
The magazine strings together fact with speculation to declare that the Air Force plans to use the old Green River base as a launch site for the so-called X-33, a new generation space shuttlecraft being tested for military and spy applications. Last July, NASA announced that Michaels Army Air Field at Dugway Proving Ground in western Utah would be a backup landing strip for the X-33, which would take off from Edwards Air Force Base in California.
But Popular Mechanics contends the military version of the X-33 -- allegedly able to launch vertically and fly 50 miles high at Mach 15 speed -- will depart from a refurbished Green River missile base beginning in 1999, landing at Dugway. The program would be administered from the Air Force's Space Warfare Center near Colorado Springs, Colo.
The magazine claims to have documents showing an $ 8.2 million budget for refurbishing the decaying Green River base, easily visible from Interstate 70.
It all sounds fine to Scott, although she's skeptical about the truthfulness of the story.
"There hasn't been anyone out there for a long time, although one of our city employees said he saw some big military helicopters land there on a Sunday morning a few months ago," says the mayor. "But the base is pretty accessible and open. That was a problem the last time something like this was suggested."
In 1992, the Army proposed launching nonlethal target missiles from Green River across Canyonlands National Park to White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, where they would be intercepted and destroyed by defensive weapons. Supported by Green River residents but opposed by American Indian tribes, the Bureau of Land Management and environmentalists, the Army dropped the idea in 1995.
The latest alleged resurrection of the missile base came as a surprise to the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), which led the fight against the 1992 proposal.
"We wouldn't have a position until we've seen something on paper," said SUWA's Scott Groene. "But aliens have always been big supporters of wilderness, so who knows?"
While the Popular Mechanics story has yet to be addressed on the World Wide Web site operated by the Area 51 Research Center (www.ufomind.com), Jiles Hamilton of the UFO Research Center in Florida says most E.T. buffs figured a relocation was coming.
"With all the publicity and movies and vendors selling stuff right along the highway, nothing was a secret out there anymore," said Hamilton. "Apparently they now want to slip off to this place in Utah. But I don't think it will be any more of a secret than Area 51."