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America’s top-secret Area 51 base hit the headlines once again this week after a million people signed a jokey Facebook petition saying they would storm the base.
In response, the US military issued a warning saying, ‘The US Air Force always stands ready to protect America and its assets.'
But why do so many people believe that the American military is experimenting with alien technology inside the base’s perimeter?
Area 51 is a real place: it’s a top-secret base where the American military has experimented with hi-tech aircraft such as spy planes, and opened in 1955.
There’s a 25-mile no-fly zone over the site, so it’s rarely been pictured from the air, which adds to the mystique.
The American government only acknowledged that the base existed in 2013 following a Freedom of Information request.
It’s around 80 miles outside Las Vegas, and is clearly visible on Google satellite imagery, which has been pored over obsessively by UFO hunters looking for evidence of alien craft.
Myths started spreading in the late Eighties that it was home to experiments on aliens, and it has since been immortalised in films - and is now a tourist destination.
Why do people believe there are UFOs there?
The myths around Area 51 arose due to the ‘testimony’ of former employees such as Bob Lazar, who claimed in televised interviews to have worked on reverse-engineeered alien technology at a site near Area 51.
Lazar’s claims were made into a film, ‘Bob Lazar: Area 51 and Flying Saucers.’
In 2014, a dying scientist, Boyd Bushman claimed to have reverse-engineered flying saucer technology for defence firm Lockheed Martin at the site.
Bushman said, in the video recorded on August 7 this year, ‘With respect to the alien craft, we have American citizens, who are working on UFOs 24 hours a day. We are trying to learn what to do.’
Bushman’s video confession was peppered with images of alien bodies. He claimed that there are two groups of aliens under study at Area 51 and other sites.
Bushman claimed that aliens have long fingers, webbed feet, and hail from a planet known as Quintumnia.
But the details of Bushman and Lazar’s biographies are disputed, and there is no clear evidence that either ever worked at the site.
Where do the flying saucers come in?
Conspiracy theorists began to link Area 51 to UFO stories including the ‘Roswell incident’, where a supposed ‘flying saucer’ crashed in 1947.
The day after the crash, it was reported as a ‘flying disc’, and provoked sensational headlines - but the military revealed it was a crashed balloon.
Conspiracy theorists have since claimed that aliens or their technology were taken from the site, but there is no evidence for this.
The US military revealed that the balloon came from a secret project where microphones on high-altitude balloons spied on Soviet nuclear tests.
The idea that it was alien has been extensively debunked, but is still touted by conspiracy theorists.
Are any of these claims true?
The motivations of people who claimed to have worked at Area 51 on alien technology are murky - although some of them seem to have believed what they were saying.
Nigel Watson author of the UFO Investigations Manual, says ‘Boyd Bushman believed in what he was saying. As long ago as 2008 he passed a polygraph test, during which he claimed he had worked on antigravity projects, alien technologies and had even met and photographed an alien, and examined at least 8 different types of alien spacecraft.
‘Bushman also revealed that he had received death threats and that security personnel had attempted to discredit him and tried to keep him from talking to the public.
‘He said the aliens fly their spacecraft on a special flightpath that takes them through a shaft drilled on the side of a mountain near Area 51. He went on to say 230-year-old humanoid aliens from the planet Quintumnia lived at Area 51.
‘There is no solid evidence for their stories. Indeed, the extreme nature of these claims makes serious investigators shy away from this subject, and talk of UFOs and aliens is an effective way of hiding the real human technological activities at the site.’
If there are no aliens, what is really there?
Area 51 is a top-secret military base at which highly classified aircraft are flight tested, starting with the Lockheed U-2 spy plane.
The U-2 spy plane was a highly classified aircraft which flew over the Soviet Union at altitudes of up to 70,000 feet.
Other aaircraft such as the SR-71 Blackbird, and the F-117A Nighthawk stealth fighter have also been tested at the site.
Is there really a secret airline which flies to the site?
There is an airline known as ‘Janet’ which flies from Las Vegas to various top-secret military sites including Area 51.
Adverts for flight attendants are occasionally posted saying, ‘Active Top Secret Clearance Highly Desired.’
Janet’ - believed to stand for Joint Air Network for Employee Transportation - a fleet of passenger aircraft which fly from Las Vegas’s McCarran International Airport to secret sites including Area 51.
Some claim that the name actually stands for 'Just Another Non Existent Terminal’ and the flights carry U.S. air force personnel.
Flights have travelled to and from Las Vegas since 1972, with the current ‘Janet’ fleet made up of Boeing 737-600s.
What would happen if people stormed the site?
The plan - titled ‘Storm Area 51, they can’t stop all of us’, was hatched on a Facebook group and is set for September 20 this year, at 3am, with attendees pledging to ‘see them aliens’.
Titled, ‘Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All Of Us’, the plan has attracted thousands of people claiming they will attend.
It’s unlikely anyone will: trespassing at Area 51 would be felony offence under U.S. law, carrying a jail sentence.
The US military has also issued a stern warning, with Air Force spokesperson Laura McAndrews said that the base, 'is an open training range for the US Air Force, and we would discourage anyone from trying to come into the area where we train American armed forces.'