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Area 51 is a runway. Read about the U-2 and SR-71

August 20, 2013 - Paul Giannamore
I'm no tinfoil hat-wearing, been probed by alien guy.

I am, however, fascinated by Area 51, so when the story broke over the weekend that the government formally acknowledged its existence (which I thought Bill Clinton did back in the 1990s), I had to learn more.

The national big-time media, in conjunction with the tinfoil hat-wearing, ailen-probed bloggers all focused on the whole Area 51 aspect of what got declassified in the National Security Archives.

I went looking for a copy online of what the declassified document really says.

It reads like a really, really good documentary or history book about the Lockheed U-2 spyplane, which was pretty much tested and developed at the Groom Lake airstrip in the Nevada desert, the Area 51 of mystery lore, so named because of its real-estate designation as part of the Nevada bomb and missile testing range. And the even more fascinating to me SR-71, its spyplane successor technically still available for service, but pretty much a museum piece replaced by drones.

In its heyday of the 1950s and early 1960s, the U-2 was an American badass. It looks like the unholy union of a glider with an F-104 body, because that’s essentially what it is. It was developed as a black art/black ops plane, kept hidden as possible from the federal budget, (and it even came in under its black ops budget) from the prying eyes of the public, from anyone who might have leaked details. It had about two dozen overflights of the Soviet Union, snapping away photos (there’s a big section of the declassified report that describes what went into making cameras in the early 1950s work from 70,000 feet altitude). It flew over Cuba during the missile crisis.

It was eventually displaced by the near-spaceship SR-71, a physically fearsome looking specimen that positively bends the mind with its speed and capabilities, and that it does not look like an airplane. A weird dull-black speedboat with really big jet engines, maybe, but not an airplane.

The report talks about Kelly Johnson, (aviation enthusiasts hear angels singing at the mention of the name), the famed Lockheed engineer whose Skunkworks in Burbank produced all kinds of flying goodies of the space age. It was because of the location in Burbank that the mystery flights to Area 51 started — the Lockheed people needed to be with their bird during testing, but moving a big group of people off the grid might have drawn suspicion.

And the U-2 is deemed responsible for about half the UFO reports of the 1950s and 1960s, according to the report. It flew about 40,000 feet higher than the airliners of the day, and when the sun caught it just right, especially as the sun was setting, airliner pilots would see some kind of flaming, weird, saucer-looking thing far, far above them where no airplanes were possible to be. Or so they thought. The truth was up there, after all. (By the way, I just skimmed it, but it seems Project Blue Book, the Air Force program that is the subject of so much good sci-fi about aliens over the years, may simply have been created as a way to explain away the U-2 sightings, not really to find the truth about UFOs.)

And if all that good U-2 stuff isn’t fascinating enough for us just plane folks, there is a discussion of the design of the successor, what became the SR-71 Blackbird, the Mach 3, 90,000 footer that looks sinister even while it’s parked on display in museums. (At one point, the Navy in 1958 had proposed a hypersonic, ramjet powered inflatable aircraft to avoid radar, a big problem of the U-2. The concept was rejected.)

There are hand-drawn sketches and notes and calculations by Johnson in these documents, which ominously have the word “secret” lined out on them. How cool is that? (He wasn’t much for formal committees and typwritten memoranda. The engineers worked no more than 50 feet from the planes in the Skunkworks, and notes were jotted down and ideas penned out on the spot and that’s how stuff got done. I see my brother, with his 38 years of aviation, sketch on napkins sometimes, too. There’s a lesson there.)

A mockup of the A-12, which became the SR-71, was actually driven on a trailer truck from Burbank to Area 51 in late 1959! (“Just weather testing equipment, ma’am. Now move along!” one almost can hear the guards telling bystanders inquiring what was under the blanket at rest stops along the way.)

There is the history of what Johnson did and why in making the uber-weird looking A-12/SR-71, much of it having to to with radar evasion.

It was all cloak-and-dagger, CIA-controlled, we-could-tell-you-but-then, well you know, stuff.

I’ve got a lot of reading to do because this stuff fascinates me. If you are remotely interested in spy planes, aviation, high-tech 1950s-1960s style, the Cold War, Kelly Johnson and the Lockheed Skunkworks, you must read this report.

Area 51, as it turns out, is pretty much just a runway and a hidden airbase for cutting-edge planes.

Hey, I don't believe everything the government tells me anymore, but this declassified stuff is pretty cool. (Please, NSA note that I wrote that in addition to all my protesting about unconstitutional gathering of data.)

The truth is out there. And I'm going to keep on reading.


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