Have you ever wondered what really goes on at Groom Lake, Nev., otherwise known as Area 51?
The super secret Air Force flight facility isn't a myth (read my personal experiences at the end of this piece.) But what goes on there frequently becomes fantasy. That's what happens when you mix alien conspirators with advanced aircraft.
Area 51 is the subject a day of discussions at the Museum of Flight on April 26. Presenters include authors Peter Merlin and T.D. Barnes.
Merlin is an aviation historian at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in California and Barnes is president of the Blackbird spyplane historical organization, Roadrunners Internationale, and has authored books about the A-12/SR-71 Blackbird programs at Area 51.
The day includes a tour of the museum's Blackbird. The program runs 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is free with admission to the museum.
Schedule of Events
10 to 11 a.m. - Book signing with author Peter Merlin.
11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. - Area 51 presentation by author Peter Merlin.
1:30 to 2 p.m. - Guided tour of the Museum's M/D-21 Blackbird in the Great Gallery.
2:30 to 4 p.m. - Presentation by author T.D. Barnes, president of Roadrunners Internationale.
4 to 5 p.m. - Book signing with T.D. Barnes.
For more information about Roadrunners Internationale: roadrunnersinternationale.com
For more information about the musuem: www.museumofflight.org/
And now my story:
Back in 1988 when I was a much younger journalist working in Reno I camped out in the desert looking for the then still officially secret stealth fighter (F-117). There had been rumors of the plane in Nevada and Eastern California for years. Lately, the plane had been seen in daytime. It had evenly allegedly buzzed a baseball game in nearby Tonopah.
Back then you could drive along a fence and get a partial view of Groom Lake's hangars - though still many miles away.
I had received directions from a guy who hunted UFOs. (Some sources may be a little wacky but that doesn't mean they don't know how to draw a map.) The guy told me to drive along the fence and look for two tall poles.
"The UFOs line up on them when they land," he told me.
So, I waited. And waited. In the hot Nevada desert.
Then, from the distance, I heard a loud roar. Up from behind a mesa rose the arrowhead shape of a stealth fighter. On either side of it were two T-38 trainer jets. All three planes were steeply climbing. I shot photos with my longest lens but they were still far away.
After about an hour the fighter flew right over me, a few hundred feet high, on its way to the landing strip. And yes, it was lining up on those two poles. I shot tack sharp pictures of the plane's fuselage with its wheels down. I couldn't see the top side or cockpit but a USAF insignia was clearly visible.
A week later and before I could publish my photos the Air Force released the first official fuzzy black and white photo of the fighter and I lost my scoop. But my pictures were sharp and in color. I published them anyway in the Reno Gazette-Journal.
Some years later, maybe because of people like me, the government seized more land and moved its military reservation's borders further out. Now, no one can get a view of Area 51 unless they have clearance.
Or are an alien.