Page 5 - The 'X' Chronicles Newspaper - May/June 2022 Edition
P. 5

Area 51’s Top Secret Outrageous Projects 5

                  Area 51's Most

            Outrageous Top Secret

               Spy Plane Projects

           Their designs were so radical
         that test flights over the Nevada

          desert often prompted a rash of
                    'UFO' sightings.

                      by Sarah Pruitt
                                                              U-2 Dragon Lady

        In 1955, the Central Intelligence Agency, U.S.
        Air Force and defense contractor Lockheed        manned space program.                            due to its sleek tapered design and black radar-
        Martin chose an ultra-remote site in the Mojave                                                   absorbing paint. On July 28, 1976, pilots flew an
        Desert of southern Nevada, about 80 miles        The U-2 (accidentally) took its first test flight SR-71 at a record speed of Mach 3.3, or 2,193
        northwest of Las  Vegas, to begin testing and    over Groom Lake on August 1, 1955 and less mph. At 400 feet per second, this was literally
        developing the newest, most advanced aircraft    than a year later flew over the USSR for the first faster than a speeding rifle bullet. Retired in
        in the world at the time.                        time, becoming “immediately the most 1990, after more than three decades of service,
                                                         important source of intelligence on the Soviet the SR-71 remains the world’s fastest aircraft.
        For decades, the Nevada  Test and  Training      Union,” according to a now-declassified CIA
        Range, better known as Area 51, didn’t appear    report. There was a cost, however: In 1956, three Soviet MiG-21
        on any public map, and the U.S. government       CIA pilots were killed during U-2 test flights,
        didn’t even admit it existed.  Thanks to the     including two at Area 51 and one at an Air Force  In addition to testing new aircraft technologies,
        ironclad security surrounding the site, and the  base in Germany. In May 1960, the Soviets shot   Area 51 was also used to study foreign
        experimental nature of the “black aircraft” tested  down a U-2 over the Russian city of Sverdlovsk,  warplanes that the U.S. government obtained
        there, rumors of unidentified flying objects,    capturing its pilot Francis Gary Powers and      covertly during the Cold War. In the late 1960s,
        captive aliens and other mysterious activities   forcing the United States to admit it was spying.  according to now-declassified CIA documents,
        have swirled around Area 51 ever since the ‘50s.  While President Eisenhower halted all U-2       the  Air Force obtained “Fishbed-E,” a Soviet
                                                         flights over the Soviet Union, plans were        MiG-21 jet fighter that was loaned to the United
        But even if no alien-made UFOs ever took to the  already in the works for a smaller, faster—and   States after an Iraqi pilot used it to defect to
        skies over the salt flat known as Groom Lake,    stealthier—aircraft.                             Israel. Under the program codenamed Have
        we now know—thanks in large part to                                                               Doughnut,  Area 51 personnel inspected and
        declassified CIA documents—that a number of A-12 Oxcart & SR-71 Blackbird                         reverse-engineered the Mach-2 fighter in order
        highly sophisticated, highly unusual aircraft                                                     to learn how it performed and compare it to
        were developed and tested there. From the U-2 Launched in 1957, Project Oxcart produced two select U.S. fighter planes.
        spy planes of the Cold  War era to a purely of the fastest, highest-flying aircraft in U.S.
        experimental Star  Trek-inspired craft from the history, the one-seat Archangel-12 and the two- Over 40 days in 1968, U.S. pilots flew the MiG
        1990s, here are six of Area 51’s most intriguing seat SR-71 Blackbird.  The  A-12 had two jet in 102 test flights, logging 77 hours of total
        aircraft.                                        engines, a long fuselage and a distinctive cobra- flying time.  They found that while the Soviet
                                                         like appearance.                                 plane was slower than American planes like the
        U-2 Dragon Lady                                                                                   F-5 and F-105, it had a tighter turning radius
                                                         The first completed A-12 arrived at Area 51 in than any of them; this finding led analysts to
        In the early 1950s, at the peak of the Cold War,  February 1962, after being disassembled in warn U.S. pilots to avoid “prolonged
        the CIA began a covert effort to develop a       Burbank and transported to Nevada in a maneuvering engagements,” or dogfighting.
        reconnaissance plane that could reach an altitude  specially designed trailer that cost almost
        of 70,000 feet, high enough (it was thought) to  $100,000 (more than $830,000 today). To keep The top secret MiG program at Area 51 paid
        avoid detection by Soviet radar.  The result,    the A-12’s existence secret, the CIA briefed the dividends in the skies over Vietnam, where U.S.
        developed under the code name Project            head of the Federal  Aviation  Administration Air Force pilots ended the war with a two-to-one
        Aquatone, was the U-2, the single-engine         (FAA), who made sure air-traffic controllers overall kill-loss ratio, downing a total of 137
        aircraft with glider-like wings designed by      were told to submit written reports of unusually Soviet-made MiGs. It would also spark the
        Clarence “Kelly” Johnson, founder of Lockheed    fast, high-flying planes, rather than mention creation of the now-famous  Top Gun fighter-
        Martin’s Advanced  Development  Projects         such sightings over the radio. Still, reports of pilot school, established in 1969.
        division (better known as Skunk  Works).         UFO sightings around Area 51 would reach new
        Lockheed built the plane at Skunk  Works         heights in the mid-’60s, writes Annie Jacobsen                           (Continued on Page 6)
        headquarters in Burbank, California, in just     in Area 51: An Uncensored History of America’s
        eight months, then sent it for testing at Area 51,  Top Secret Military Base, starting just after the
        which Johnson nicknamed “Paradise Ranch.”        A-12 made its official first flight over Area 51 in
                                                         April 1962.
        Before the U-2 was ready to fly, Lockheed
        engineers had to find a fuel that would not      Declared fully operational in 1965, after
        evaporate in the high altitudes at which the     attaining a sustained speed of Mach 3.2 (just
        aircraft was designed to fly.  To meet this      over 2,200 m.p.h.) at 90,000 feet of altitude, the
        challenge, Shell Oil Company produced a          A-12 began flying missions over Vietnam and
        special low-volatility kerosene fuel using the   North Korea in 1967. The following year, it was
        petroleum byproducts it normally employed in     retired in favor of its Air Force successor, the
        its “Flit” fly and bug spray. In addition, the   SR-71 Blackbird.
        technology behind the pressurized suits
        developed to keep U-2 pilots alive at such high  Longer and heavier than the A-12, the SR-71         Soviet MiG-21
        altitudes would later play a key role in the     paired supersonic speed with a low radar profile,
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