A newly declassified CIA report has acknowledged the existence of the legendary Area 51, long rumored to be the site of extraterrestrial landings. But UFO buffs are likely to be disappointed at the disclosures.
In documents released on Thursday, the US Central Intelligence Agency for the first time made deliberate reference to the mysterious aviation testing ground, situated about 130 kilometers (80 miles) northwest of Las Vegas.
The site in the dry bed of remote Groom Lake in Nevada was chosen by the CIA as a testing range in April 1955 and designated on maps as Area 51.
The 400-page CIA history, publicly released online in response to a public records request by a US university, confirms that Area 51 was used to test fly the high-altitude U-2 reconnaissance plane, among other military aircraft.
The U-2 aircraft, developed in the highest secrecy in the 1950s, were designed to spy on the Soviet Union at high altitude. The planes flew at above 18,200 meters (60,000 feet) compared to the 3,000 to 6,000 meters for commercial planes at the time.
The disclosures follow decades of extreme secrecy about the site, which is at the center of myriad conspiracy theories about UFOs and experiments on alien spacecraft.
The high-altitude U-2 test flights in the area provoked numerous reports of UFO sightings in the late 1950s and most of the 1960s, which authorities, to protect the ultrasecret program, explained away as being caused by natural phenomena .
"High-altitude testing of the U-2 soon led to an unexpected side effect - a tremendous increase in reports of unidentified flying objects," according to the report, which added that the surveillance planes appeared to be "fiery objects" very high in the sky.
The secrecy surrounding the tests only served to increase rumors of an official cover-up of extraterrestrial activity, and Area 51 has provided material for numerous science-fiction films and conspiracy theories.
Among other things, Area 51 was linked to the so-called "Roswell incident," in which a weather balloon crashed in New Mexico in 1947, triggering rumors about an alien spacecraft crashing into the desert.
UFO true believers maintained that remains of the flying saucer were brought to the site for experiments aiming to replicate the extraterrestrial spacecraft.
tj/pfd (AFP, Reuters)