Monday, 27 August 2012

Area 51 Declassified
Shadowy government departments, X Files, extraterrestrial pilots and futuristic crashed flying saucers - even Elvis Presley. They are all supposedly contained in the legendary and mystical Area 51 complex in the Nevada desert.

The intense secrecy surrounding the base - the U.S. government barely acknowledges its existence - has guaranteed its popularity in conspiracy theories and sci-fi films.

But now declassified information and pictures have given a rare and tantalizing glimpse into the most famous top secret site on Earth.

Prototype: Suspended upside down, a titanium A-12 spy-plane prototype is 'prepped' for radar testing. After a rash of declassifications, details of the legendary Area 51 are coming to light

Blackbird: The U.S. Air Force's SR-71 (double cockpit training version) was in many ways a product of Area 51 testing and an evolution of the A-12, which was decommissioned in 1968

Fateful flight: CIA test pilot Ken Collins, above left, in front of one of the spy-plane prototypes. When a 1963 test flight ended in a crash in Utah, a recovery team was sent from the Area 51 section of Edwards Air Force Base in Nevada. The signs in an otherwise empty section of desert, above right, is all there is to show of the secret site

The pictures predominantly deal with the January 1963 crash of a A-12 spy plane - the prototype of what was later to become the SR-71 'Blackbird'.

In details to be aired tomorrow night on Area 51 Declassified, a documentary for the the National Geographic Channel, the crash was quickly covered up by the government.

At the height of the Cold War, the U.S. Air Force, the CIA and NASA did not want to show the progress they had made in both supersonic and stealth technology.

Essentially undetectable to radar technology at the time, the A-12 could fly at 2,200 miles an hour - almost three times the speed of sound, which is fast enough to cross the continental U.S. in 70 minutes.

From 90,000 feet, the plane's ultra-sensitive cameras could capture foot-long objects on the ground below.

Almost 50 years after the event, the documentary reveals how a routine test flight turned into a potential international incident when CIA test pilot Ken Collins was forced to eject from a wildly out-of-control aircraft.

Crash site: Even to the untrained eye, the wreckage shows a futuristic aircraft design that the U.S. was desperate to keep secret. While Collins kept curious locals away, a team from Area 51 rushed to the site

Quick response: A government 'sanitation' team uses bulldozers and cranes to remove all traces of the A-12 spy plane from the Utah desert. The whole incident was kept secret for more almost 50 years

Cover-up... literally: Knowing when Russian spy satellites were expected over the U.S., the Area 51 team had to cover any unremoved wreckage with tarpaulins so they could not be photographed

Flying under his Area 51 code name Ken Colmar, Collins was testing the A-12's subsonic engines at at 25,000 feet when 'the airplane pitched up and went up and got inverted and went into a flat incipient spin'.

In layman's terms, that is when a plane ceases to be aerodynamic and begins an unrecoverable freefall - in this instance, while also upside down.

With a high measure of understatement, Mr Collins adds: 'I thought I'd better eject, so I ejected down, because I was upside down.'

The plane went down near Wendover, Utah, and - despite the unconventional ejection - Collins safely parachuted to the ground.

He was immediately met by three civilians in a pickup truck, who offered to give him a ride back to the wreckage of his plane.

But Collins had been trained to keep civilians away from military crash sites at all costs, so told the kind-hearted folk to drive him in the opposite direction. He launched into his pre-arranged cover story that the plane had a nuclear weapon on board and it was unsafe.

Heavyweight removal: Smaller pieces of debris were packed up in boxes, while larger bits of wreckage, such as the engines, were cut up using blowtorches and loaded onto flatbed trucks

upsideRadar testing: The unique design of the A-12 made it virtually invisible to radar at the time. A mock-up of the aircraft is seen here upside down as it is tested. Ironically, this is is also how test pilot Collins had to eject in 1963

At the same time, a team of government agents from Area 51 had been scrambled to the site and were initiating a complete cover-up operation. Pieces of wreckage were loaded into boxes, and larger parts - such as engines - were cut to pieces by blowtorches and loaded onto flatbed trucks.

Photos show how the recovery team had to cover A-12 wreckage with tarpaulins so that Russia's own spy satellites could not identify any of the technology.

By the following day, there was little left at the site that would suggest a crash had even taken place. Details of the crash and the wreck site were kept secret during the next half century.

Collins even claims that U.S. officials later asked him to undergo hypnosis and treatments of 'truth serum' sodium pentothal to be sure he relayed every detail of the incident truthfully and correctly.



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