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Area 51 No Longer (Officially) a Secret 115

Posted by Soulskill
from the truth-is-out-there dept.
schnell writes "The first-ever declassified story of Area 51's origin is now available, thanks to a Freedom of Information Act filed years ago by George Washington University's National Security Archive. The (only lightly redacted) document is actually primarily a history of the U-2 and A-12 ("Oxcart") spy plane programs from the Cold War, but is remarkable for being the first-ever official unclassified acknowledgment of Area 51's purpose and its role in the program. Interesting tidbits include that the U-2 program was kicked off with a CIA check mailed personally to Lockheed Skunk Works chief Kelly Johnson for $1.25M; a U-2 was launched off an aircraft carrier to spy on French nuclear tests; and the U-2 delivery program itself was actually done under budget, a rarity for secret government programs then or now."
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Area 51 No Longer (Officially) a Secret

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  • by Thanshin (1188877) on Friday August 16, 2013 @08:54AM (#44582549)

    The entire thing must be completely fake.

    I refuse to acknowledge as possible the finalization of a secret government program under budget.

    • Re:False documents (Score:5, Interesting)

      by gl4ss (559668) on Friday August 16, 2013 @09:07AM (#44582641) Homepage Journal

      kelly johnson was an engineering god and he didn't run the projects to just pump money out of government. of course back then the guys were probably actually motivated, that they felt a real need to build u2, a12 etc.. and their plan to pump more money out of government was to keep churning out cool stuff instead of extending one project to last their entire professional career.

      "Um.. it'll work if we build it out of titanium! what do you mean we'll have to invent the machinery to make it happen? do it already!"
      14 rules for saving cash:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kelly_Johnson_(engineer)#Kelly_Johnson.27s_14_Rules_of_Management [wikipedia.org]

      "Because only a few people will be used in engineering and most other areas, ways must be provided to reward good performance by pay not based on the number of personnel supervised."

      • by Sockatume (732728) on Friday August 16, 2013 @09:35AM (#44582869)

        Of course, that was all part of the plan. The alien rumours were a start, but by creating a project that genuinely came in under budget - completely impossible, but irrefutable because it was true - they ensured that nobody would ever believe anything that was said about Area 51.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Rule 15 is interesting as well

        Note that Kelly had a 15th rule that he passed on by word of mouth. According to the book "Skunk Works" the 15th rule is: "Starve before doing business with the damned Navy. They don't know what the hell they want and will drive you up a wall before they break either your heart or a more exposed part of your anatomy."

        I know that feeling.

      • by Epicaxia (2773451)

        Johnson's biography [amazon.com] is quite a good read--not going to win a Nobel prize in literature any time soon, but the content is a delight for aerospace engineers like me. Johnson WAS Skunk Works, for many many years.

        Funny note about Rule 4: He's advocating version control for engineering projects. If he was alive today, I suspect Mercurial would give him a hard-on.

        Rule 4: A very simple drawing and drawing release system with great flexibility for making changes must be provided.

        Last point: It's funny how many of the 14 Rules are anathema to modern management practice, particularly as implemented by the dominant aerospace firms

      • Re:False documents (Score:5, Informative)

        by kimvette (919543) on Friday August 16, 2013 @12:07PM (#44584373) Homepage Journal

        > "Um.. it'll work if we build it out of titanium! what do you mean we'll have to invent the machinery to make it happen? do it already!"

        Completely false. They tried less exotic, more conventional materials before turning to titanium. They also wrestled with how to deal with thermal expansion - and the state of metallurgy at the time was such that the best way they could come up with to deal with it was to have gaps in the fuselage (including the fuel tanks!) at normal temperatures, which caused the tanks to leak until the fuselage came up to operating temperature. This is why after a Blackbird/Oxcart/etc. takes off they would immediately go supersonic to heat up the airframe so the designed-in leaks would seal up, then they would meet up with a tanker to refuel. The A-12/YF-12A/SR-71 was absolutely b;eeding edge at the time, and remained so in many ways even to this day. The only manned air-breathing aircraft which could match the "official" top speed of the Blackbird was the MiG-25, and such a sprint in that bird requires an immediate overhaul or replacement of the engines. The SR-71 could CRUISE up to and well past the published speed because it was constructed largely of titanium throughout.

        • by Tweezak (871255)

          I was always amazed that the evasive maneuver employed by the SR-71 in the event of a ground-air missile launch was to simply accelerate away. That is seriously badass. Granted, if you are at 80k feet you will have some time before said missile even gets close.

        • The SR-71 was one bad-assed plane. I got to look at one up close in Pamldale about 1972 when I was about 5. Prettiest bird ever. When they retired it, the last one flew from LA to DC in about an hour. Think about that. And keep in mind, they designed it in late 1950'/earily 60's. If they had that, imagine what kind of bad-assed shit they have flying now.
    • by Pherdnut (969927)

      Let's not forget that they crashed one in Russia.

    • by MickyTheIdiot (1032226) on Friday August 16, 2013 @09:22AM (#44582777) Homepage Journal

      Art Bell says it's fake. Why would I not believe him.

      (this post itself is fake)

    • Amateur! Every one knows you can trust documents wrapped in tin foil.
    • by jellomizer (103300) on Friday August 16, 2013 @10:24AM (#44583371)

      Nah the key words were "only lightly redacted"

      so This project was Under [strike]the the oversight of our alien overloads, who financed it by extracting gold from asteroids, in exchange for our compliance which helped hide our[/strike] Budget

    • since it is secret there wolud possibly be fewer congresscritters tacking on pork for their district.
    • by laejoh (648921)
      Yeah, definitely photoshopped!
    • by mbone (558574)

      Actually, of all of the facts in the summary, that one I knew. Lockheed used to mention that a lot back in the 1960's (the skunkworks wasn't a secret, just most of what they did).

  • > "The (only lightly redacted)documentis actually primarily a history of
    > the U-2 and A-12 ("Oxcart") spy plane programs from the Cold War,"

    Of course it's only lightly redacted -- they made the whole thing up. Light redaction is how we know they're lying. Give it up feds! >:-(

    Give us the LGM BEM SAUCERS NAO!

  • by plopez (54068) on Friday August 16, 2013 @09:10AM (#44582669) Journal

    If you look at the aircraft that came out of the skunk works you'll know what I mean. He and his organization came up with the P-38, the U-2, the C-130, and the SR-71; to name only a few achievements. It makes most people in tech look like little kiddies playing in a sandbox.

    • The F-117A Stealth Fighter came after Johnson retired but he was still acting as a consultant to the company. I'm not sure how much he contributed to that design but that was another achievement for the Skunk Works team.
    • by stjobe (78285)

      Indeed.

      I don't fancy the U-2 or C-130 much, but the P-38 and SR-71 are two of the most aesthetically pleasing aircraft ever to have graced the skies. In fact, the SR-71 is probably the most beautiful plane ever to have flown. That it's also still the current speed record holder (air-breathing manned aircraft, record set in 1976) despite being retired since 1998 is just icing on the cake.

      I'm quite grateful that I managed to squeeze in a trip to the Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles last time I was in DC so I could

      • by jonwil (467024)

        What I want to know is when the US government is going to declassify the REAL top speed of the SR-71. (that is, the fastest speed it was ever recorded as being flown at rather than the fastest speed it was rated to fly at, the fastest speed it was designed by Lockheed to fly at or the fastest speed the air force allowed its pilots to fly it at or the fastest speed the air force is willing to admit it flies at)

        • by stjobe (78285) on Friday August 16, 2013 @12:27PM (#44584647) Homepage

          From wikipedia [wikipedia.org]:

          The Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird holds the official Air Speed Record for a manned airbreathing jet aircraft with a speed of 3,530 km/h (2,193 mph). It was capable of taking off and landing unassisted on conventional runways. The record was set on 28 July 1976 by Eldon W. Joersz and George T. Morgan Jr. near Beale Air Force Base, California, US

          There's non-official (e.g. Brian Shul's book Sled Driver) reports of speeds up to Mach 3.5 (4,200 kph or 2,600 mph), but those aren't official. Different official and unofficial analyses of the materials and production techniques of the SR-71 strongly suggest that it was incapable of reaching much more than Mach 3.5 (among other things the pressure wave from the nose would enter the engine intake and unstart the engine; also the metal divider on the windshield got so hot at those speeds it threatened the integrity of the windshield).

          So yeah, official word would be great, but there is little doubt the SR-71 was capable of Mach 3.5 but not much more than that.

      • It is all, of course, just personal taste...but I think the U-2 is one of the prettiest planes ever made. The C-130 is just a truck...and trucks just look like trucks.
        • by plopez (54068)

          But what a truck! Rugged, forgiving, able to land on airfields with poor surface, high angle landing, rato pods.... It is the Unimog of aircraft.

      • by CTachyon (412849)

        Back when I was living in Wichita, Kansas, one of the few nice things about the area was the Cosmosphere [cosmo.org], a shockingly out of place top-notch aerospace museum in nearby retirement town Hutchinson. It has a decommissioned SR-71 [sr-71.org] hanging from the ceiling in the lobby. I'm not by any means an aircraft geek, but even I have to stop and mumble "that is a gorgeous plane".

      • the SR-71 is probably the most beautiful plane ever to have flown.

        The SR-71 is undeniably a gorgeous plane and I agree that the P-38 is striking as well. But for my money I love the look of the YF-23 if we are talking about jets and the P-51 Mustang if we are talking about prop planes. Just my own preferences of course. I like the U2 just because it is SO simple in design. Basically a powered glider. Simple, elegant and still functional to this day.

        • by stjobe (78285)

          Oh, let's talk beautiful planes :)

          WWII-era: Me 262 takes the top spot with its shark-like fuselage and sleek lines, the P-38 as mentioned looks simultaneously both powerful and really, really graceful, the Westland Whirlwind is also gorgeously aggressive with its propellers sticking out in front, and of course the old stalwarts the Spitfire and the Mustang are magnificent designs. Then there's the striking utilitarianism of the Me-109 and the robust stubbiness of the early Fw-190, and the impressive gaping

  • Space Aliens (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Are You Kidding (1734126) on Friday August 16, 2013 @09:16AM (#44582725)
    So where is the part about the captured Space Aliens and their ship?
  • i believe they are forgetting to mention all the aliens theyve been testing on and keeping secret from us
  • Wait, what? (Score:4, Funny)

    by chinton (151403) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [todhsals-100notnihc]> on Friday August 16, 2013 @09:49AM (#44582989) Journal
    You mean that Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction was fiction? Shocking. Does that mean we really did land on the Moon?
    • Of course it was fiction. They were necropsies. Autopsy is when you do a post mortem on a human.
  • Skunkworks (Score:5, Interesting)

    by caseih (160668) on Friday August 16, 2013 @10:17AM (#44583285)

    I highly recommend the memoir, "Skunkworks" by Ben Rich, who was Kelly Johnson's successor. He tells a great story of the building of the U-2 program, and also later projects including the SR-71 Blackbird, and the F-117 stealth fighter. Amazing stories.

    According to Ben Rich, it was Dick Chaney who ultimately got the SR-71 canceled, and instructed them to destroy all the plans, tooling, and parts for building the aircraft. Ostensibly this was to prevent any other nation from ever learning its secrets. And all this was because Chaney's cronies owned companies who made spy satellites. Even though a lot of analysts argued we still needed aircraft for some surveillance, they decided to go with satellites. Which of course other nations know where they are and when they go overhead. And since then the U-2 has still flown because there are missions that only an aircraft can perform.

    Even as recent as the gulf war (yes I'm old enough to consider 1991 as recent) these aging spy planes were pressed into action because they were all we had, and they performed their task very well. Have to admire how well the military does being yanked around so much by politics (and of course they dish the politics right back... sequester and all that). But with all the abuses revealed of late by Private Manning, perhaps it's only fitting that the military is in decline, along with the nation, and has had its toys taken away.

    • I remember a press conference with Colin Powell where he was asked what he thought of the SR-71 being cancelled. He said with an obvious 'I am answering your question even though I am not answering it ' smile that "that is a political question".
    • by k31bang (672440)

      Even as recent as the gulf war (yes I'm old enough to consider 1991 as recent) these aging spy planes were pressed into action because they were all we had, and they performed their task very well. Have to admire how well the military does being yanked around so much by politics (and of course they dish the politics right back... sequester and all that). But with all the abuses revealed of late by Private Manning, perhaps it's only fitting that the military is in decline, along with the nation, and has had

  • by nimbius (983462) on Friday August 16, 2013 @10:21AM (#44583333) Homepage
    is it me or is FOIA kinda toothless these days? the oxcart and have blue shit has been a discovery channel/history channel show fodder for almost a decade. most everything in the release is common knowledge to anyone with access to wikipedia. FOIA was designed to start answering questions like who visited the whitehouse while George Bush was president, how does the domestic spy program work, and did we seriously commit war crimes in iraq.

    instead its been so neutered, ignored and redacted at every level of government its basically a rubber stamp for any agency seeking to claim legitimacy in their clandestine day to day operations. the NYPD ignored for 2 years their FOIA for stop and frisk, and administrations routinely claim state secrets or executive privilege when they hear a question they dont like.

    People like Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning and Julian Asssange are today the only means by which we request the freedom of information from our government, elected by and for the people. sideshows like this are to ensuring accountability in the government as the scopes monkey trial was to ensuring credibility to evolution.
    • by Sockatume (732728)

      I don't think any state or nation has ever had an FOIA which trumped things like Secret classification or commercial priviledge. Where on Earth did you get the impression that it was supposed to provide access to things like NSA files?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      People like Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning and Julian Asssange

      Snowden leaked evidence of wrongdoing. Manning leaked everything he could get his hands on, whether it showed wrongdoing or not. Assange is a middleman, he's an information broker whose only motivation is to make the US look bad (his words, not mine). The three are nothing alike and should not be referred to as if they are.

  • by k6mfw (1182893) on Friday August 16, 2013 @11:14AM (#44583835)
    you have to be a US citizen work at Groom Lake. duh!
  • by sootman (158191)

    While everyone else is making jokes about aliens and the budget, I'm still trying to wrap my head around what it would take to launch a U2 (103-ft wingspan) [wikipedia.org] from a carrier. Besides the width, I didn't think it was optimized for short takesoffs, and it looks like the wings would snap off if you launched it with a catapult. [wikipedia.org]

    • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L8HMPMYL19E [youtube.com]

      Looks like landing is all about catching the tailhook, and planes are very strong for certain stress. The takeoffs look like maybe they put just enough power into the catapult to get it in the air? I can't tell if there is a catapult there...but I would assume there has to be.
      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        They had U2s at Utapao when I was stationed there in 1974, and those things wouldn't need a catapult. Those crazy long wings make it so it doesn't need much room to take off, huge amounts of lift. As to landing, almost any plane landing on a carrier will need a tailhook.

        An SR71, now, I doubt they could launch from a boat. Not much wing but fantastically humungous engines. Their runways were about a mile long, they'd thunder down the runway with the ground shaking a mile away, do a wheelie, and take off stra

    • While everyone else is making jokes about aliens and the budget, I'm still trying to wrap my head around what it would take to launch a U2 (103-ft wingspan) [wikipedia.org] from a carrier. Besides the width, I didn't think it was optimized for short takesoffs, and it looks like the wings would snap off if you launched it with a catapult. [wikipedia.org]

      Considering that downward visibility is so piss-poor that landing it on a regular runway involves another pilot in a car driving along the runway talking the aircraft down, landing on an aircraft carrier must have been an... exhilarating experience.

    • by rubycodez (864176)

      the width part not a problem (assuming pilot with brass cajones), the U2's had widths from 80' 2" to 104' 9".....C130 with 133' wingspans can land and take off from carriers.

    • Well, bigger wings make the takeoffs shorter. I always tought the U2 was so big because it needed a huge operational range, but takeoff distance is at least a nice siede effect (if not the actual reason for them).

  • and the U-2 delivery program itself was actually done under budget, a rarity for secret government programs then or now."

    All of this stuff is obfuscated.

  • The DoD just finished moving the UFOs to another location.

  • All the aliens must have died. No need to keep it secret anymore...
    I don't know about you, but I miss them already... :(

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