Three videos declassified by the Pentagon depicting what looks like “unidentified flying phenomenon”, or UFO’s, have reignited conspiracy theories surrounding the existence of extra-terrestrial life.
The US Navy has released the three films alongside a statement in which the Department of Defence acknowledged that the footage, which had previously been leaked online, was in fact authentic. The statement also confirmed that the Department of Defence still considers the “aerial phenomena observed in the videos” as unidentified.
Many conspiracy theorists have long believed the existence of extra-terrestrial life, and synonymous with those theories is the Nevada-located US Air Force base of Homey Airport, known more commonly around the world as Area 51.
To help debunk the myths, here’s all the gen on Area 51, although judging by some of its fascinating history, this might actually serve to prove the existence of… well, something or nothing.
As Fox Mulder would say, "Scully, the truth is out there."
What Is Area 51?
Officially, Area 51 is called Homey Airport. It comprises of the buildings and hangers that make up Homey Airport, and the accompanying dry salt flat of Groom Lake.
Essentially, the salt flat is a huge airfield.
The base is situated within the US Air Force’s Nevada Test and Training Range, located about 80 miles away from Las Vegas (about the distance between London and Salisbury Plain).
The area was acquired by the US Government in 1955 just as the Cold War was really starting to ramp up towards a possible full-blown, and nuclear, World War Three.
This Cold War history is central to the secrets of Area 51.
But Why Is Area 51 So Secret?
Well, the origins of the base, and its secrecy, initially lay within the pages of Cold War history.
When the base was built in 1955, then US President Dwight D Eisenhower – the former D-Day General – knew that a key element of superpower supremacy lay in the USA having better technology than the Soviet Union.
This would eventually prompt the period known commonly as the space race, which in 1969 resulted in the first moon landings by astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.
Before the space race began, however, the USA focused some of its scientists and engineers on the development of high-altitude aircraft.
Their hopes were for the creation of a plane that could be flown so high it would be able to fly over Russia undetected, and even if it were to be seen from the ground using radar-based technology, it would be too high for the Russians to engage and shoot down. This resulted in the creation of the U-2.
The Lockheed U-2 Recognisance Aircraft was a top-secret CIA programme. It was imperative to the USA that the world new nothing of its revolutionary high-altitude technology - technology that would be used solely for spying against Russians. And for that reason, its base needed to be shrouded in secrecy, too.
When Lockheed delivered the U-2 “Spy Plane” to the CIA, those aircraft – and the U-2 programme as a whole – became based at Homey Airport, or Area 51. It was this that perhaps generated the most secrecy surrounding the early activities of Area 51.
That Was In The 1950s… What Else Has Gone On At Area 51?
A tonne of other stuff is the short answer.
The immediate neighbour to the base is the Yucca Flat, where a total of 739 nuclear tests have been carried out over the decades. Situated next to that is Yucca Mountain, which the US has used as a nuclear waste repository.
In the 1960’s, Area 51 became the home of the “Foreign Technology Evaluation” facility.
This was a team tasked with capturing and understanding mostly Soviet manufactured aircraft and the technology behind them.
Some of the matters handled as part of this era of Cold War espionage are fascinating, involving defections by fighter pilots and the stealing of aircraft by tricking crews into landing planes in US-friendly territories.
In 1966, an Iraqi Air Force pilot called Captain Munir Redfa flew his MiG-21 to Israel and defected after being ordered to drop Napalm on Kurdish villages in Northern Iraq. Within a year, his Soviet MiG fighter jet was in the hands of the USA, based at Area 51, where US pilots were able to test the aircraft’s endurance limits under battle simulations against their own USAF fighter pilot crews.
In the 1980s, the US began testing a new stealth fighter plane, the F-117. The Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk, to give it its full name, is perhaps the most iconic stealth fighter jet in history.
Just like the U-2 was during its early testing and operational life, the Nighthawk’s home was the Area 51 base.
What Does US Law Say About Area 51?
It’s important to note that Area 51 itself isn’t officially classed “secret”.
However, the activities that are conducted there, like the F-117 project or the early U-2 test flights in the 1950s, are classed as such.
The area surrounding Homey Airport and Groom Lake is permanently off-limits to both civilian and normal military air traffic. This “no fly zone” rule is so officiously enforced that even if military pilots stray into it, they could be faced with disciplinary action.
Nobody who works at Area 51, apart from those charged with providing security, can carry weapons on site.
Cameras are also banned from the area, both inside and out.
Those who think they might be able to avoid detection from the many security cameras, electronic fences or roaming armed guards may want to think again… Area 51 is reported to even have motion sensors buried in the ground to detect the lightest of footsteps.
Now, that is secure.
What Are The Common Conspiracy Theories Concerning Area 51?
Most of the theories relating to Area 51 involve either aliens or UFOs.
The most widely believed story relates to a place called Roswell, a city located in the southern US state of New Mexico.
The Roswell matter focuses around the crashing of a weather balloon in the city in 1947.
In the 1970s, conspiracy theorists began to say that the crashed balloon was in fact a UFO, and that the alien occupants of the spacecraft had been captured and taken to Area 51.
In the 1990s, the US Government released two reports conceding that the crashed object was in fact an observational balloon to a military nuclear test. Even following these two official reports, rumours and conspiracy theories about Roswell have continued to this day.
Other spooky but perhaps fanciful theories include the development of exotic energy weapons, the practice of weather control, the development of time travel and teleportation technology and activities relating to a shadowy one-world government.
Is There Any Evidence To Support Any Of These Theories?
It depends what you mean by evidence.
There is nothing that proves the existence of UFOs, Roswell or extra-terrestrial life on earth.
But over the years people who have claimed to be former employees at Area 51 have spoken out about their supposed work, and some of what they have said could be considered spooky, depending on how susceptible one might be to conspiracy theories.
In 1989, Bob Lazar claimed he had worked in an underground facility at Area 51 called “Sector 4” and that his tasks included working on an alien spacecraft that the USA had in its possession.
Seven years later, speaking as part of a film documentary on Area 51 called Dreamland, a nameless 71-year-old man who claimed to have been employed as a mechanical engineer at the secretive facility said that he had worked on a spinning disc-like aircraft that had originally been recovered from a crashed extra-terrestrial vehicle.
The man also claimed to have worked with an extra-terrestrial being, named J-Rod, whom he described as a “telepathic translator".
In the early 2000s, the alien “J-Rod” appears in the claims of another apparent former employee of Area 51, this time in the purported experiences of Dan Crain.
Crain said that he had been set to work on the cloning of alien viruses, alongside the alien J-Rod.
However, evidence later emerged that Crain had actually been working as a parole officer in Las Vegas at the time he had claimed to have been studying a PhD in New York. This threw into doubt the credibility around Crain's life experiences, and little more has been said by him since.
None of these claims have been officially recognised.
Wasn't There Plans For A Mass Break-In To Area 51?
Yes. In July 2019, two million people joined a Facebook event to "storm Area 51", a story that achieved international coverage in the Press.
However, the event also caught the attention of the US Air Force who promptly announced that they "stood ready to protect America and its assets".
The strong words from the military appeared to put off the majority of the two million intended trespassers, and instead just 150 people made it to the gates of Area 51.
Of those 150 people, just five caused enough of a security issue to warrant arrest. About 3,000 people instead attended a festival that was being held nearby at the time.
There are currently no further plans afoot to break into one of the world's most secure areas.
And as such, the secrets of Area 51 remain, for now, safe.