Area 51. It’s one of those places that’s enshrined in popular culture. It’s been part of The X-Files, it was the setting of a beloved arcade shooter, it was where we had aliens in Independence Day… it’s made a place in popular culture despite being so highly classified government agencies have refused to admit it exists. Well, until yesterday, when the CIA rather abruptly declassified everything.
A 355-page report was declassified back in June, but it was only released to the public yesterday. Sorry, we don’t now have proof aliens exist, but it is a treasure trove of Cold War and aviation history.
Essentially the CIA has admitted what was obvious pretty much from day one: Area 51 was a top-secret aircraft testing facility for the U-2 spy aircraft and Project OXCART, the plane that was the precursor of the iconic SR-71 Blackbird. In fact, the report gets into the nitty-gritty details: What Eisenhower thought of the whole idea actually gets an entire section to itself. And yes, the CIA gets into UFOs:
High-altitude testing of the U-2 soon led to an unexpected side effect-a tremendous increase in reports of unidentified flying objects (UFOs). In the mid-1950s, most commercial airliners flew at altitudes between 10,000 and 20,000 feet and military aircraft…operated at altitudes below 40,000 feet. Consequently, once U-2s started flying at altitudes above 60,000 feet, air-traffic controllers began receiving increasing numbers of UFO reports.
It even gets into Project Blue Book and other UFO story staples, revealing that essentially their job was to figure out when civilians were spotting U-2s and figure out how to keep that from happening again. The report also explains that the U-2’s silver wings were at such a height they’d reflect the sun down into the eyes of pilots and passengers. In fact glints from the U-2 could be seen on the ground. Tantalizingly, though, even the CIA admits U-2 flights only account for the “majority” of UFO sightings.
If you trust the government, this derails a lot of conspiracy theories about aliens and Roswell, up until about 1974, which is where the report stops. And where we’re sure a whole new raft of conspiracy theories will start. Or continue because, come on; no conspiracy theorist trusts the government.