Base Expansion

Area 51, taken in 1988

Once the A12 program was officially moved to Area 51, the Groom Lake facility began a binge of construction which continued for many years. This was a tumultous period for both the country and the experimental weapons research being undertaken at Area 51. During this era, projects such as nuclear propulsion systems for spacecraft and the stealthy SR-71, a variant of the super-secret A12, were being undertaken at the base. It was, however, not that much of a secret. The Atomic Energy Commision handed out maps as part of a publis relations kit which featured area 51 clearly labeled, and President John F. Kennedy actually flew to the base to take a tour. Despite these more public notices of activity, the base still managed to carry on it's super-secret programs relatively undetected.

Stealth technology hits the scene

Now well known and often showcased as a key part of the current conflicts in the middle east, stealth technology was almost totally unknown to the public in 1977. That was the year Lockheed began to work on the protype of what would one day become the F-117A, or "Stealth Fighter" as we know it. It was during this period that the facility began to build up numerous testing facilities for radar testing. Since the development of this early stealth aircraft, all new stealthy planes including the B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber right up to the new F/A-22A Joint Strike Fighter have tested their resistance to radar at the facility.

Secrecy Returns

In the late 70s and early 80s, the Air Force assumed control of the base, which had formerly been under the control of the CIA. Once the Air Force was in control, they began to actively discourage the public from approaching the Area 51/Groom Lake test range. This eventually led to the expansion of the government-controlled area by 89,600 acres, presumably to prevent anyone from getting anywhere near the active parts of the base where experimental craft could be seen. It was also during this period that officials began to patrol the outskirts of the base, actively pursuing anyone who may trespass. The final land acquisition for the base took place in 1987, when Congress authorized that the Groom Mountains which overlooked the base be incorporated in to it. This final move essentially eliminates any ability to see the base from the ground, once again shrouding Area 51 in mystery.

That mystery, however, would not last long.

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