It is basically impossible to write about Area 51 myths because it’s all true. The alien stories are pre-Internet, revealed by the heroes at Weekly World News. The flying saucers? The alien autopsies? Roswell? The secret alliance with the Grays to fight the Reptilians? It’s all true. All of it! The only myth is that there are myths about Area 51. Now you know. If you no longer see my work at ClearanceJobs after this piece, you know what happened. I would never clean a firearm while it’s loaded. The brake lines in my car are good. Don’t be fooled!

But maybe there are a few issues worth clearing up. Here are five myths about Area 51, and what is (probably) really going on down there.

“Nobody knows the purpose of Area 51.”

Area 51—or Groom Lake, and sometimes called “the site” by those who work there—is formally Air Force Test Center (Detachment 3), headquartered at Edwards Air Force Base. It is perhaps the most secure experimental aircraft test site in the U.S., if not the world. The facility was established in 1955 by the CIA expressly for that purpose—specifically: to test the U-2 spy plane. The A-12 was later developed there, and in the 1960s, it was a primo place to land and test stolen Soviet aircraft. The F-117 and a panoply of uncrewed aerial vehicles have since flown over the facility. Today it is run by the Air Force, and all of the service branches (and a good part of the intelligence community) have a presence there.

“What happens there and what it looks like remain a tightly guarded secret.”

Area 51 is known entirely for its association to UFOs (or UAPs—unidentified aerial phenomena—for the cool kids out there). That is, to outside observers, literally the definition of experimental aircraft. So I wouldn’t call Area 51’s purpose the most successful secret on the books.

As for what happens on the ground, Area 51 is a hive of activity—particularly post-9/11, when workers even went on strike over the intensely long hours they were asked to work. Couple the number of personnel over the years with the facility’s high profile successes and satellite imagery, and word will get out. Ultimately, it is a military facility with all the trappings that come with it. Far from X-Files seriousness, it even has a baseball field, a volleyball court, and a movie theater. I’m surprised some general didn’t demand a golf course.

Still, the Air Force is serious about keeping things there locked down. The U.S. government exercises de facto imaging satellite shutter control over sensitive areas by purchasing the exclusive rights to high resolution images of them. And if you are a contractor, you might be flown into the facility, or you might be driven in vans with blacked out windows, or required to wear frosted goggles. Which raises the issue that…

“…there is no good reason for the intensity of secrecy around Area 51.”

Yes and no. Is the secrecy overdone? Probably. But the aerial weapons systems of tomorrow are tested there. They have to be tested somewhere, and where better than Rachel, NV, population 54? The Air Force was never going to fly their latest experimental drone platform from LAX or LaGuardia. We didn’t spend this much money to build secret new planes only to have them photographed on the taxiway by Chinese spies.

History also plays a role here in its location. Area 51 is an easy, closed airspace. The land is vast and cheap and a breeze to keep watch on. Though perimeter security technology today is astonishing, in 1955, it was useful (it still is, really) to have motionless, drab, dead space in every direction, with mountains in the far distance: two security guards could lock down an entire horizon. Then as now, unless you are a roadrunner or coyote, the desert is an awful place. Spies and other watchers can’t keep a constant vigil on the test flight center because they would risk death in the heat.

Aside from the simple security and logistics issues, however, the intense secrecy around Area 51 is enormously beneficial to the facility’s bottom line. Secrecy and cold hard cash are directly related. If you are a government agency, the more secret you are, the more important you must be, right? And the more important you are, the less likely you are to see painful budget cuts.

“The government doesn’t acknowledge the existence of aliens or UAPs at Area 51.”

It’s fair to say that the government hasn’t really gone out of its way over the decades to discuss openly the existence of unidentified flying objects—in part because that really is Area 51’s real purpose (though of a more terrestrial origin). But it might surprise you to learn that the CIA either isn’t worried about you learning the truth about UAPs, or has a really good sense of humor about the whole thing. In 2016, the Company released a pretty good guide on how to investigate UFOs, using the Air Force’s Project BLUE BOOK—a 1940s-era program to investigate flying saucers—as a template. That same year, the agency released a trove of UFO documents.

The Navy made headlines in 2017 when it released some eerie video of what is very… otherworldly… aerial technology. It scared the pilot who shot the footage, anyway. Check out the video and you might feel the same way. The Navy announced new guidelines earlier this year for how pilots and personnel should report UFOs. Even Congress is getting serious about UFOs, requesting briefings on the topic. So the truth is out there, and maybe we will know it sooner rather than later.

“If we storm Area 51, we will finally learn the truth (and free the aliens).”

You don’t need me to tell you that’s storming a secret military facility is a bad idea, but… it’s a bad idea. The thinking behind the mirthful “Area 51 raid” earlier this year was that “they can’t kill us all!” And that’s probably true. But they sure can arrest everyone, and long before the first pair of uncleared eyes comes within ten miles of an aircraft hangar, let alone the extraterrestrial vessels to be found inside.

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David Brown is a regular contributor to ClearanceJobs. He is currently at work on his next book, One Inch From Earth, which tells the story of scientists who study the outer planets of the solar system. He can be found online at https://www.dwb.io.