Area 51
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Area 51 revealed

During the 1950s, the Area 51 base, originally named Watertown Airstrip, consisted of three small hangars, a control tower, dormitories, a warehouse and a few administrative buildings. It was meant to be a temporary facility until all of the U-2 spy planes were deployed to operational sites around the globe.  (Lockheed via Laughlin Heritage Foundation)
Area 51 grew into a permanent facility during the 1960s. New features included large hangars, better personnel accommodations, and an 8,500-foot concrete runway with a 10,000-foot asphalt overrun for emergency use. (Roadrunners Internationale)
As the base population expanded, several dozen trailers were acquired to provide rudimentary accommodations for contractors, military and government personnel.  (Lockheed via Laughlin Heritage Foundation)
A scale model of the A-12 reconnaissance aircraft was subjected to radar testing atop an inflatable pylon on the west side of the site. Anti-radar coatings and radar-absorbent structures developed during project Oxcart were the forerunners of modern stealth technology.  (Lockheed)
In early 1964, nearly the entire fleet of Mach 3 aircraft was lined up on the ramp at Area 51. This included the A-12T trainer, second from right, with its raised instructor’s cockpit. (Lockheed)
Workers unload a disassembled U-2 from a C-124 transport. After delivery to Area 51, each airframe was reassembled and prepared for flight-testing. (Lockheed)
Ground crewmen prepare a U-2 for takeoff from the surface of Groom Dry Lake. The lakebed served as a natural airfield, smooth and hard, and capable of supporting the weight of any aircraft.  (Lockheed via Laughlin Heritage Foundation)
Lockheed test pilot Tony LeVier made the initial contractor flights in the U-2 in 1955, ultimately reaching 50,000 feet (more than 20,000 feet shy of design cruise altitude) and achieving the maximum design speed of Mach 0.84.  (Lockheed)
U-2 pilots were required to breathe oxygen for two hours -- in order to purge nitrogen bubbles from their bloodstreams -- prior to making a high-altitude flight. Here, Lockheed test pilot Ray Goudey takes this opportunity to catch up on his reading. (Lockheed via Laughlin Heritage Foundation)
By the late 1980s, the Area 51 base population had grown to the point where a fleet of six Boeing 737s, seen here, was needed to ferry workers in from Burbank, Palmdale and Las Vegas each week. (Dreamland Resort collection)
Seen head-on, Northrop’s Tacit Blue stealth technology demonstrator, now displayed at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, looks like a flying saucer.  (Peter Merlin )
The F-117A was the first operational plane designed to be virtually invisible to radar detection. Its unusual faceted shape gave it an otherworldly appearance. (Lockheed)
Silhouetted against the early morning sky, the unusual shape of the YF-118G Bird of Prey suggests something otherworldly as it soars over the Nevada Test and Training Range.  (U.S. Air Force)