Area 51 is a remote tract of land in the southwestern portion of southern Nevada in the western United States. Situated at its center, on the southern shore of Groom Lake, a dry lakebed (salt lake), is a large military airfield, one of the most secretive places in the world. Other names used for the facility include Dreamland, Paradise Ranch, Home Base, Watertown Strip, Groom Lake and most recently Homey Airport. The area is part of the Nellis Military Operations Area, and military pilots refer to the forbidden airspace around it as The Box.
The intense secrecy surrounding the base, the very existence of which the U.S. government barely acknowledges, has led it to becoming the frequent subject of conspiracy theories and UFO folklore.
On July 14, 2003 the Federal Government admitted the facility's existence, tacitly conceding that the Air Force has an "operating location" near the lake, but it does not provide any further information. The base is conspicuously absent from Federal publications and inquiries to the government regarding the facility are rejected for reasons of national security.
Unlike much of the Nellis range, the area surrounding the lake is permanently off-limits both to civilian and normal military air traffic. Radar stations protect the area, and unauthorized personnel are quickly expelled. Even military pilots training in the NAFR risk disciplinary action if they accidentally stray into the exclusionary "box" surrounding Groom's airspace.
Deadly force is authorized if violators who attempt to breach the secured area fail to heed warnings to halt. Fines of around $600 seem to be the normal course of action, although some visitors and journalists report receiving follow-up visits from FBI agents. Some observers have been detained on public land for pointing camera equipment at the base. Surveillance is supplemented using buried motion sensors and by HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters.
The base does not appear on public U.S. government maps; the USGS topographic map for the area only shows the long-disused Groom Mine, and the civil aviation chart for Nevada shows a large restricted area,but defines it as part of the Nellis restricted airspace. Similarly the National Atlas page showing federal lands in Nevada does not distinguish between the Groom block and other parts of the Nellis range. Although officially declassified, the original film taken by U.S. Corona spy satellite in the 1960s has been altered prior to declassification; in answer to freedom of information queries, the government responds that these exposures (which map to Groom and the entire NAFR) appear to have been destroyed. Terra satellite images (which were publicly available) were removed from web servers (including Microsoft's "Terraserver") in 2004, and from the monochrome 1 m resolution USGS data dump made publicly available.
Its secretive nature and undoubted connection to classified aircraft research, together with reports of unusual phenomena, have led Area 51 to become a focus of modern UFO and conspiracy theories. Some of the activities at Area 51 mentioned in such theories include:
- The storage, examination, and reverse engineering of crashed alien spacecraft (including material supposedly recovered at Roswell), the study of their occupants (living and dead), and the manufacture of aircraft based on alien technology.
- Meetings or joint undertakings with extraterrestrials.
- The development of exotic energy weapons (for SDI applications or otherwise) or means of weather control.
- The development of time travel and teleportation technology.
- The development of unusual and exotic propulsion systems related to the Aurora Program.
- Activities related to a supposed shadowy one world government and/or the Majestic 12 organization.
Many of the hypotheses concern underground facilities at Groom or at nearby Papoose Lake, and include claims of a transcontinental underground railroad system, a disappearing airstrip (nicknamed the "Cheshire Airstrip", after Lewis Carroll's Cheshire cat) which briefly appears when water is sprayed onto its camouflaged asphalt, and engineering based on alien technology.
Game and Story Use
- Arguably the ultimate symbol of government secrecy, Area 51 may hold the evidence to any Big Secret the government is hiding, whether it be extraterrestrial, supernatural, technological or even relatively mundane.
- Besides holding the evidence, it may also be a headquarters from which related operations are launched. If the PCs are in on the secret and on the government's side, it may be their HQ.
- Information about Area 51 and what's hidden there can make a good MacGuffin.
- The transcontinental underground railroad system might connect to Dulce Base, making for an elaborate modern dungeon.