Area 51 is a top secret USAF base officially known as Air Force Flight Test Center, Detachment 3, and is located in a remote area of land in the southwestern portion of southern Nevada.
Area 51 is also known as Dreamland, Watertown Strip, Paradise Ranch, The Box, Groom Lake, Neverland, and other by other names. The number 51 refers to a 6x10-mile block of land in grid number 51 of the Nevada Test Site, the centre of which is a large air base which the government will not discuss.
Area 51 contains an airfield whose primary purpose is believed to be the operation and analysis of enemy aircraft and weapons systems, and secret development and testing of new military aircraft. It is also believed that a number of Soviet aircraft obtained by the United States through various means are kept at Area 51 for study. Because of the high security of the area, and the high numbers of experimental flights, Area 51 is the frequent subject of UFO conspiracy theories. Area 51 has been the traditional testing ground for "black budget" aircraft before they are publicly acknowledged including the U2 spy plane, Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, B2 Stealth Bomber and F117 Nighthawk.
Until 1997, the US Air Force denied all knowledge of the existence of Area 51. Then in 1997 the U.S. Government declassified the existence of Area 51. Even though the government acknowledged the existence of Area 51, the area surrounding the lake is permanently off-limits both to civilians and normal military air traffic. The area is protected by radar stations, and unauthorized personnel are quickly expelled. Even military pilots training in the Nellis Air Force Range (NAFR) risk disciplinary action when they accidentally stray into the exclusionary "box" surrounding the Test Centre's airspace.
The base does not appear on any publicly available U.S. government maps; the USGS topological 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 appear to have been destroyed.
Area 51 appears on satellite photography on sites such as Google Maps although it is widely believed that the images available are manipulated, and that anything secret will be underground.
US President Bill Clinton also signed a Presidential Determination exempting Area 51 from from environmental laws.
I find that it is in the paramount interest of the United States to exempt the United States Air Force's operating location near Groom Lake, Nevada (the subject of litigation in Kasza v. Browner (D. Nev. CV-S-94-795-PMP) and Frost v. Perry (D. Nev. V-S-94-714-PMP)) from any applicable requirement for the disclosure to unauthorized persons of classified information concerning that operating location.
Workers at Area 51 commute to work aboard 737 jets from a terminal at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas which is only two blocks from the Las Vegas Strip. On aviation frequencies, the jets reportedly use JANET radio call signs (e.g. JANET 6). The name's meaning is unknown, however it is said to be an acronym for "Joint Air Network for Employee Transportation".
It is also reported, and commonly believed by conspiracy theorists that Area 51 is the location where Alien craft, or UFO's, are taken to be examined and reverse engineered. Technology from the crashed UFO recovered from Roswell is reputed to have been used to construct the highly advanced stealth plane, the F117.
In the 1980's the base increased in size, along with the runway. Shortly after, mysterious lights began to appear above the base, and armed guards known as the "cammo dudes", popularised by TV show The X-Files, started patrolling the border. The government closed many viewpoints from which the Area 51 base could be seen.
Area 51 is a common location for many television, movie and computer games, including X-Files, Stargate SG1, Star Trek, even the Simpsons.