Civilians can drive up to the front and back gates of Area 51, but don't try to get in — trespassing can result in arrest and up to an $1,000 fine, six months in prison, or both, which bold red signs around the base parameter make very clear. Tourists can get their kicks in nearby Rachel, Nevada, which boasts on its website a human population of 98 and an alien population of "??" There's no gas station in Rachel, and the trailer that billed itself the Area 51 Research Center has shut down, but visitors can enjoy a meal at the Little A'le'Inn and stay at the conspiracy-focused Dreamland Resort.
In 2016, Google Earth images revealed a mysterious mile-long landing strip in Area 6 of the Yucca Flat test site, about 12 miles (19 km) northeast of Area 51. A handful of hangars cluster at one end of the runway. Nothing is known about exactly what the is being tested at the airstrip, but the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security both use the site. Security experts told Live Science that the site might be used to test reconnaissance drones and their sensors.
There may be no good evidence that the military captured and studied UFOs at Area 51, but files declassified in 2013 revealed that the U.S. did test "secretly obtained" Soviet MiG fighters during the Cold War of the 1970s and 1980s. These secretive projects were dubbed HAVE DOUGHNUT, HAVE DRILL and HAVE FERRY.
Those same documents were the ones that revealed that Area 51 (or Groom Lake, for those who prefer the official terminology) was a testing site for the Lockheed A-12 Oxcart and the D-21 Tagboard. They also revealed that the F-117 Nighthawk, a stealth attack aircraft made by Lockheed, was tested at Area 51. That craft started operating in 1981 but was kept secret from the public until 1988. Nighthawks were flown in the Gulf War and during the war in Yugoslavia as well as in the Iraq war.
Hillary Clinton's Promises
Oh, what could have been? During the 2016 race to secure the Democratic nomination for president, candidate Hillary Clinton said she'd like to make more files about Area 51 public. "I would like us to go into those files and hopefully make as much of that public as possible. If there's nothing there, let's tell people there's nothing there," Clinton told Jimmy Kimmel on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" in August of that year. Clinton told Kimmel that her husband Bill Clinton had looked for information on government knowledge of extraterrestrials during his presidency and come up with nothing.
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Stephanie Pappas is a contributing writer for Live Science, covering topics ranging from geoscience to archaeology to the human brain and behavior. She was previously a senior writer for Live Science but is now a freelancer based in Denver, Colorado, and regularly contributes to Scientific American and The Monitor, the monthly magazine of the American Psychological Association. Stephanie received a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.