Newly declassified documents with the dry title “Central Intelligence Agency and Overhead Reconnaissance: The U-2 and Oxcart Programs, 1954-1974″ reveal that Area 51, long thought by conspiracy theorists to house debris from a crashed extraterrestrial vehicle, was merely a testing site for government spy planes. CIA officials had acknowledged the facility’s existence before, but this marks the first time documents have referred to it by name and addressed its purpose. The report makes no mention of its status after 1974.
The U-2 was a lightweight, single-engine plane that flew [10,000] feet higher than any other plane during that period. The report states that “high-altitude testing of the U-2 soon led to an unexpected side effect — a tremendous increase in reports of unidentified flying objects (UFOs).” According to the documents, “U-2 and later OXCART flights accounted for more than one-half of all UFO reports during the late 1950s and most of the 1960s.” The Air Force responded to reports by linking to them to weather-related phenomena, but the distinctively man-made shape of the planes made residents suspicious.
So too did the secretive behavior of many associated with the facility: “As the deliveries of U-2 airframes to the testing site increased, a major logistic problem arose: how to transfer Lockheed employees from Burbank to Area 51 without arousing a great deal of curiosity.”
Area 51 staff eventually settled on flying essential personnel to and from the facility early Monday morning and late Friday evening, despite fears that the latter would make them especially conspicuous to locals.
The release of these documents is unlikely to end the debate about what actually transpired at Area 51, as much of it is still redacted.
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Scott Eric Kaufman is the proprietor of the AV Club's Internet Film School and, in addition to Raw Story, also writes for Lawyers, Guns & Money. He earned a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of California, Irvine in 2008.
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