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Bota

'Area 51', the mysteries of the military base in the Nevada desert

'Area 51', the mysteries of the military base in the Nevada desert

Area 51 is the most famous military institution in the world that officially does not exist. If it did exist, it would be found about 100 miles outside Las Vegas in the Nevada desert, wedged between an air force base and a now-abandoned nuclear test site.

So what about those urban legends – UFOs studied in secret, underground tunnels connecting hidden objects? For decades, people at Area 51 thought they would take their secrets with them to the grave. At the height of the Cold War, they cultivated anonymity while pursuing some of the country's most secret projects. Conspiracy theories were left to the popular imagination. But when we talk to Collins, Lovick, Slater, Barnes and Martin, it's clear that much of the folklore was fueled by real facts.

The US government refuses to talk. You cannot drive near this Zone, and until recently, the airspace above it was limited – to the space outside the atmosphere. Every mention of Area 51 is redacted from official documents, even those that have been declassified for decades now. It has become the Holy Grail of conspiracy theorists, with UFOlogists claiming that anti-flying saucers are being built and that the Pentagon is keeping extraterrestrials in frozen state. Urban legend says that Area 51 is connected by underground tunnels and trains to other secret facilities across America. In 2001, Katie Couric said that 7 percent of Americans have doubts about the moon landing — they think the footage was shot in the Nevada desert.

The problem is that the myths of Area 51 are difficult to discuss if no one can talk about what happened there. But someone is willing to talk – in fact, there are five men, and their stories rival even the wildest rumours. Col. Hugh “Slip” Slater, 87, was commander of the Area 51 base in 1960. Edward Lovick, 90, spent three decades conducting radar tests of some of the world's most famous aircraft (including the U-2, A- 12 and F-117). Kenneth Collins, 80, an experimental CIA test pilot, has received the Silver Star medal. Thornton “TD” Barnes, 72, was a design engineer at Area 51. And Harry Martin, 77, was one of the men responsible for supplying the spy planes with half a million gallons a month.

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