It’s the facility which has fueled endless conspiracy theories since it was first established. Area 51 is wrapped up in so much speculation and mystery that it's hard to imagine anyone having any genuine facts about the place. Because of the high-level secrecy, people have gleefully speculated on the assurance that nobody could technically prove them wrong. But is there anything that we do know for sure? Here are 42 mysterious facts about Area 51.
1. On the Map
You can find Area 51 in the deserts of Nevada, just 83 miles northwest of Las Vegas. It’s located beside a dry lake known as Groom Lake. We don’t recommend that you get too close, however, for your own safety.
2. Is That All?
You might be wondering why it’s called “Area 51” and the answer might surprise you for how ordinary it is. It was derived from a grid reference that existed on an atomic energy commission map. What, were you expecting something a bit more sinister?
3. Bit of a Distance Away, No?
Although Area 51 is found in Nevada, its administrators are actually found in southern California. These administrators are the staff of Edwards Air Force Base.
4. The Mutants Are Coming!
Interestingly, Area 51 shares a border with the Nevada Test Sites’ Yucca Flat region. In case that name doesn’t mean anything, this region is where more than 700 nuclear tests were carried out by the United States Department of Energy. Does this mean that Godzilla might rise up from Groom Lake one of these days?
5. If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em!
Although Area 51 is kept off-limits to anyone who doesn’t work there, the surrounding area has evolved into a popular tourist destination. The small town of Rachel, which is nearby Area 51, often entertains these tourists. Nevada has gone one step further by dubbing State Route 375, the nearby highway, as the “Extraterrestrial Highway.”
This was done both for the conspiracies around Area 51 and the repeated testimonies of people who claim to have witnessed UFO activity in the area.
6. How Primitive!
Area 51’s original airfield was established during the Second World War, but only after the Americans entered the field in 1941. This airfield was known as Indian Springs Air Force Auxiliary Field. In a very humble origin story, the airfield consisted of just two runways that were each 5,000 feet long and unpaved.
7. “Section 31” was Already Taken
Area 51 has gone by a number of names over the course of its existence. Some of the monikers which didn’t stand the test of time are “Paradise Ranch,” “Watertown,” and “Dreamland.” To be honest, we can see why people didn’t use the nicknames that sound more suitable for Peter Pan’s home than a top-secret military base!
8. Come on Over!
Speaking of those other nicknames, we actually know the origins of one of them. Kelly Johnson was one of the designers who worked on Lockheed’s U-2 aircraft, which was the first of Area 51’s projects—more on that later. Johnson coined the term “Paradise Ranch” for the area as an attempt to encourage workers to move out there and help establish Area 51 in the first place.
Frankly, given the facility’s current reputation, all he’d have to do nowadays is confirm one of the many conspiracy theories about the place online!
9. Can We Get a Library Too?
The original layout of Area 51 during the 1950s was quite humble in comparison to what it’s become now. We already mentioned the unpaved runway, but there were also three hangars, a control tower, a number of shelters, and trailer homes, which housed the small crew of workers who lived there. To try and help stave off boredom, a volleyball court and cinema were also built in Area 51.
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10. Don’t Push Your Luck!
Interestingly, for all that this place is a place of such serious national security, nothing is blocking you from trying to approach it. You heard us right; there are no fences or walls around Area 51. What they did put up, however, were a number of warning signs (more on those later).
11. Tinfoil Hats at the Ready!
We’ll just get the subjective stuff out of the way. Over the decades, endless theories have been established as to what really goes on in Area 51. These theories have ranged from artificial weather control, the development of time travel, studying downed alien spacecraft, and programs conducted by a government which supposedly rules over the entire world.
12. Quite the Selection, There…
Naturally, given its ominous presence in American society, Area 51 has been parodied in several films over the years. Some of the more well-known recent films that have featured locations similar to Area 51 or which have referenced the facility include Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Fantastic Four (2015), and Paul.
13. Subtle Travels
During the Lockheed program in the 1950s, a number of personnel had to be flown in regularly from outside of Area 51, and this presented a problem for effective secrecy. The solution that was thought up was an unorthodox flying schedule. Personnel would fly very early in the morning on Mondays and left the facility late at night on Fridays.
Presumably, everyone would be too busy recovering from or preparing for the weekend to notice a bunch of guys coming and going from the Nevada desert!
14. Time for a Change
In 1959, Project OXCART was first established at Area 51. Among the purposes of this project was the testing and training for the Lockheed A-12 aircraft. A year after the project was first launched, an 8,500-foot runway was completed to replace the original.
15. More Changes! Why Not?
Speaking of renovations, 1961 witnessed a complete overhaul of Area 51’s original layout, replacing or repurposing the existing buildings. Among the new additions to the facility were three surplus Navy hangars, a reservoir pond with a perimeter of trees for privacy, and 130 Babbitt duplex housing units.
16. Maybe it’s Subliminal Messaging?!
If you try to use Google Maps to find Area 51, you’ll notice that someone at Google has quite the sense of humor. Any time someone moves the mouse cursor over Area 51, the cursor turns into a little spaceship. And no, you can’t use that as proof that you’ve seen alien spacecraft at Area 51!
17. Can the Government Cover This Up, Please?
One of the lesser-known films which deals with Area 51 would have to be the 1997 TV movie Trucks. Based on a short story by Stephen King, the story features aliens arriving at Nevada, declaring war on us, and turning trucks into sentient beings which target and kill people. And yes, this film was inspired by the same short story which inspired King’s directorial debut, Maximum Overdrive. You can see why it’s not fondly remembered!
18. Getting Bigger
Along with new projects and programs, Area 51 has only expanded over the years. Expansions were carried out in 1983, 1995, and 2015.
19. Land Grabbers
Speaking of that expansion in 2015, that particular expansion was a seizure of land which had belonged to a Nevada family for nearly 140 years. Because the land overlooked the base, a federal judge deemed that it posed a risk to national security, and so signed an order which transferred the property ownership to the United States Air Force.
20. Calling it “The Blair Alien Project” was too Obvious
It should surprise nobody that the found-footage horror genre should tackle the subject of Area 51 in one of their films. In 2015, Area 51 was released by Paramount Insurge. The film follows a group of young people infiltrating the top-secret facility to get answers for what happened to their friend after he was abducted.
Three guesses whether they find extraterrestrials when they arrive!
21. Where Else Would a Video Game Nerd Go?!
One of the most recent ways that Area 51 has appeared in the zeitgeist is thanks to James Rolfe, best known to millions of fans as the Angry Video Game Nerd. At last count, his videos have been seen more than 1.5 billion times. When the Internet celebrity got the clout and finances to make a movie about his famous character, Rolfe created a story which involved aliens, Area 51, and the Angry Video Game Nerd.
Despite mixed reviews, Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie has achieved cult film status online.
22. Space Pics
In 1974, a CIA official whose name is lost to history sent a memo to William Colby, the then-director of the CIA. The memo reported photographs taken by astronauts onboard the Skylab space station. Specifically, the photographs were taken of a location which is clearly sensitive to the CIA, based on the language of the memo. It also resulted in a furious debate within the departments as to whether it was ethical to classify previously unclassified images in the name of national security.
23. Connecting the Dots
Space historian Dwayne A. Day was one of the people particularly interested in the what is now known as the Skylab incident. He was convinced that the sensitive location was Area 51, and this was a time when the US government still didn’t even acknowledge that Area 51 was a thing. In 2006, Day published “Astronauts and Area 51: the Skylab Incident” in a free online publication known as The Space Review.
24. Natural Resource Search
Long before Area 51 was established at Groom Lake, silver and lead were being mined around the aforementioned lake during the mid-19th century. In fact, the lake got its name from the English mining company called Groome Lead Mines Limited. It was this company which financed the establishment of the Conception Mines during the 1870s.
25. Changing Hands
The mines around what would later be Area 51 stayed active for just under a century. Ownership of the mines did change during that time. Groome Lead Mines Limited relinquished their interests to J. B. Osborne and his partners. The mines were temporarily closed in 1918 but resumed production after the First World War was ended.
The mines closed for good in the 1950s, just as Area 51 itself was established instead.
26. Welcome to Earth!
One of the most famous portrayals of Area 51 in mainstream pop culture would have to be the 1996 sci-fi movie Independence Day. In it, the theory that aliens are being kept in that facility is taken to its “logical” conclusion by having it be the new base of operations for the good guys when the White House is destroyed by an alien invasion.
We’re suddenly wondering if that movie was ever screened at the real Area 51 just so everyone could have a laugh.
27. Avoiding a Cheap Shot, I Guess
Speaking of Independence Day, a poster for the film appears in the TV series The X-Files, that classic show about shadowy conspiracies, paranormal activity, and everything in between. Surprisingly, Area 51 is only brought up in passing in the show. Frankly, we’d be sure that they’d spend at least a whole season there!
28. Feeling Powerless, Ironically
Believe it or not, Area 51 has been discussing the idea of drones and unmanned aircraft ever since 1960. This was spurred as a necessary goal due to the Soviets shooting down a U-2 aircraft with Greg Powers inside it. This resulted in a crisis which fueled hostilities and negative opinions during the Cold War.
29. I Was There, I Swear!
Beginning in 1989, an American named Bob Lazar made a series of claims about Area 51 and the work which was done there. He not only claimed to have been a physicist who worked in Area 51, but he also claimed to have seen government documents which confirmed alien interactions with humans for over 10,000 years. Whether you believe him or not, Lazar’s stories were what really fuelled the general public’s interest in Area 51.
30. It was This or Expendables 5
Regardless of whether you believe Bob Lazar’s claims, there’s no denying that he influenced pop culture in a big way by bringing public attention to Area 51 when the US government was still refusing to acknowledge the facility’s existence. In 2018, a documentary was released about Lazar titled Bob Lazar: Area 51 & Flying Saucers. On a side note, the documentary was narrated by actor Mickey Rourke.
31. Area 51? What Area 51?
The CIA only acknowledged the existence of Area 51 in 2013, in a 400-page history which was released to the public by the National Security Archive at George Washington University. Unfortunately for any conspiracy theorists out there, they didn’t make any mention of UFOs, aliens, or anything like that. But then again, would you really expect them to release that kind of information anyway?
32. Ten Year Anniversary?
In 2005, Midway Games released a video game focused entirely on the mysterious military facility, appropriately titled Area 51. The video game’s plot follows a small group of people facing off against mutants and aliens, of course! Developed by Midway Studios Austin, the game is actually inspired by an arcade game with the same name which first appeared in 1995.
Among the celebrities who provided voice work for the series were the late Powers Boothe, music legend Marilyn Manson, and X-Files star David Duchovny. Why are we not surprised by any of these people’s participation?
33. To Die For?
In case you consider walking past the warning signs of Area 51, be warned that you will be seen. Guards have been posted all over the area, and according to a man who used to work there as a guard, they have full authority to shoot or even kill any trespassers who ignore the warning signs. Frankly, we’d rather not try to dodge bullets just to go see some (alleged) aliens!
34. Do You Hear the People Sing?
As many of you reading this have probably heard by now, Area 51 became a trending topic in a big way in July 2019, when a satirical proposal to storm the base became more popular than anyone could have imagined. Millions of people online voiced support for the push to invade Area 51, which was humorously titled “They Can’t Stop All of Us.”
The enthusiastic response was such that even the US military spoke up about it when they reinforced their position that “The US Air Force always stands ready to protect America and its assets.”
35. Speaking in Code
You might be wondering how the employees of such a restricted and heavily guarded area can access it. It turns out that any employees traveling to and from Area 51 don’t use cars, but a plane. Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport has a restricted terminal, which is nicknamed the “Gold Coast.”
36. Was it Named for Someone’s Mom?
Speaking of that restricted terminal, even the planes which take employees to and from Area 51 are restricted! The planes are unmarked except for a red stripe along their bodies, and they belong to a classified airline which we only know as “Janet" (or "Just Another Non-Existent Terminal").
37. We’ll Take It From Here
Area 51’s importance rose as the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union escalated. Soviet and other foreign aircraft which were captured by the US were transferred to Area 51 for extensive study. While these actions weren’t exclusive to Area 51, they took over from previous efforts as the years went on.
38. This Looks Like a Good Spot!
Area 51 was first established in 1955 by the CIA. It was here that the reconnaissance aircraft known as the Lockheed U-2 was designed, in part by Kelly Johnson. Due to the need for secrecy, Lockheed conducted flight tests and pilot training programs at Area 51 rather than at their own facilities. The climate and terrain were also extremely beneficial to flight tests.
39. The Challenge
In 1994, a lawsuit was filed against the US Air Force and the US Environmental Protection Agency. The plaintiffs were five contractors and the widows of two others. The contractors claimed that they had been exposed to unknown chemicals when they were at Area 51, leading to high levels of such toxins as dioxin and dibenzofuran in their body fat.
Liver, skin, and respiratory problems were also reported by the plaintiffs as consequences of their exposure to the chemicals.
40. The Argument
The 1994 lawsuit demanded not only financial compensation for the injuries and deaths caused by the actions undertaken by Area 51 personnel, they also wanted information on the chemicals released so that treatment could respond accordingly. In response, the Air Force, who oversees Area 51, argued that declassifying such information would threaten national security.
41. The Outcome
Ultimately, the lawsuit by the contractors against the Air Force and the EPA was dismissed due to a lack of evidence. This was achieved by a determination by then-President Bill Clinton to exempt Area 51 from environmental disclosure laws. This exception is renewed yearly by the US president to this day.
42. There’s a Simple Explanation
As we mentioned before, the U-2 was being frequently flown around Area 51 during the 1950s. This type of aircraft was known to fly 60,000 feet above the ground, back when most military aircraft flew at 40,000 feet and civilian aircraft at 20,000. The extreme height of the U-2 led to the setting sun catching the aircraft’s metal wings.
This phenomenon has been used to explain away many of the supposed UFO sightings that people have reported witnessing in Nevada.