After almost sixty years, and a ridiculously high number of pop culture references, the CIA has finally confirmed that Area 51 is real. As The Atlantic Wire reports, the revelation comes from a recently declassified document that details the site. The 407-page paper explores the discovery, research, and development of the government base, which was popularized the world over as the home of secret alien-focused research by the The X-Files and Independence Day.
Of course, the CIA document doesn’t refer to aliens at all. Instead, it acknowledges Area 51 as the base for the government’s U-2 spy plane program. The site was used in World War II as an “aerial gunnery range” for the Army Air Corps, and already had a non-paved airstrip. An anecdote in the document tells the story of a near-miss involving key members of the program:
“From the air the strip appeared to be paved, but on closer inspection it turned out to have originally been fashioned from compacted earth that had turned into ankle-deep dust after more than a decade of disuse. If LeVier had attempted to land on the airstrip, the plane would probably have nosed over when the wheels sank into the loose soil, killing or injuring all of the key figures in the U-2 project.”
THE PROPOSED NAME WAS ‘PARADISE RANCH,’ BUT POP CULTURE DECIDED OTHERWISE
But why the name Area 51? That was never the intended name for the site, but rather a carry-over from the naming scheme on a map of the much-larger Nevada Test Site. After President Eisenhower approved the addition of the wasteland to the test site, the name “Paradise Ranch” was chosen, but it didn’t stick.
The declassified document serves as the first official government recognition of the Area 51 base — although it has been mentioned in other government documents, references to the base were redacted from intelligence papers released when the larger Nevada Test Site became declassified.