America's top-secret 'X Files' air base revealed

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The Independent US

Pictures of the top secret Area 51 base in the United States are now in circulation and will bring smiles to X Files fans the world over.

Pictures of the top secret Area 51 base in the United States are now in circulation and will bring smiles to X Files fans the world over.

Armed with the latest in high-powered cameras, two plane-spotters have blown a hole through the US's strictest security and revealed detailed shots of the legendary Area 51. Area 51 is an "above top secret" base featuring in many of the popular X Files TV series' storylines.

So secret is the base that the US government denies its existence. But unlike The X Files, Area 51 is real.

The pictures have provoked a red-hot reaction on the internet from aficionados of all things spooky. The base has given birth to a legion of Area 51 enthusiasts embracing ufologists, conspiracy geeks, plane- spotters and the plain mad.

Some say it is the site of germ and biological warfare tests, citing reports that workers from the base have died of strange skin diseases. Others say that the remains of nine UFO crashes are kept there, and rumours abound that it is home to the US government's very own flying-saucer programme.

What is certain is that Area 51 is a secret military facility about 90 miles north of Las Vegas, hidden in the three-million-acre Nellis Bombing and Gunnery Range. It was the site selected for the testing of the then top-secret U-2 spyplane in the mid-1950s. And the U-2's successor, the SR-71 "Blackbird", and the F-117 stealth fighter, are both said to have made their test flights there.

Rumours that the 4,000mph Aurora spyplane is there have recently been strengthened with a photo showing a large delta-winged aircraft at the base. And sightings of "UFOs" are so frequent along the highway that it has been redesignated "Extraterrestrial Highway" by the State of Nevada.

Area 51 is certainly suitable for a hypersonic aircraft, as it has one of the longest runways in the world which, at six miles, could land three space shuttles at a time.

Visitors are not welcome. The perimeter is patrolled by armed guards in Jeeps and helicopters. Signs warn to keep out of restricted areas and state that "the use of deadly force is authorised".

This is the only part of the US that cannot by law be photographed from the air. But the power of modern camera technology has made a nonsense of such distinctions, as has the enthusiasm of the base-watchers and spyplane enthusiasts drawn to the dry Groom Lake bed where the base is situated. It was a pair of these "Groomies" who took the latest pictures from a mountain-top 12 miles away - having first evaded the base security patrols.

Richard Cooper of Aircraft Illustrated, the first magazine to obtain the prints, said: "These panoramic shots are by far the most revealing done of the base so far."

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