I-Team: Area 52, The Secret Sister - 8 News NOW

George Knapp, Chief Investigative Reporter

I-Team: Area 52, The Secret Sister

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Some of the greatest and most secretive airplanes in history have been developed in the Nevada desert, most of them at the now-infamous base known as Area 51. It turns out Area 51 has a sister facility -- Area 52 -- and it's a place with secrets of its own.

Area 52 isn't quite as secretive as Area 51. For one thing, you can at least find it on some maps. But it's off limits to most of us because of the classified work that goes on out there. The base has been bombed, blasted, poisoned, and nuked in the pursuit of cutting edge technology that probably can't be tested anywhere else.

At Cisco's in Tonopah, you can get a grilled cheese or crispy fries, but you won't get much information, not about the classified military base that sits in the desert east of this hardscrabble mining town.

Jose Ramirez: "They sure got a lot of stuff out there."

George Knapp: "What is it?"

Jose Ramirez: "You know more than I do."

It's a Tonopah tradition to keep a tight lip about a place they call "The Base." Back in the mid-80s, when the rest of the world was still in the dark about stealth technology, Tonopah residents saw bat-like 117's flying overhead almost nightly, but didn't tell anyone. Ramirez' son and daughter-in-law work at the base.

Jose Ramirez: "I don't ask the kids. I don't want to put them in that position."

The base, all 525-square miles of it, is best known as the Tonopah Test Range, or TTR. In government documents, however, it's called Area 52, sort of a nod to a better known and far more secretive sister facility on the other side of the Nellis Range, Area 51. The connection between the two is more than sequential.

Joerg Arnu, Dreamland Resort webmaster, said, "Yes, TTR is really referred to in official documents as Area 52. On several occasions, black projects moved from Area 51 to TTR, Area 51 being, of course, a super-secret facility, TTR being slightly less secret. It's still a secret facility but not a supersecret facility."

Joerg Arnu is at the center of a loose, worldwide network of aviation watchers who share information online about the so-called black world, including Areas 51 and 52. Employees at both bases travel to work onboard unmarked planes that depart a private terminal in Las Vegas.

Arnu and other listen to the air traffic chatter for clues about what's going on. The most obvious indication that 52 is less secretive than 51 is a rocket-shaped sign 20 miles east of Tonopah. Unlike 51, TTR is listed on most maps, although the paved road leading to the base isn't. At the main gate, armed security forces stop any unauthorized visitors, and with good reason.

Aviation researcher John Lear said, "There's always something going on there, some secret project going on there."

Before he became interested in UFOs at Area 51, famed pilot John Lear was staking out the boundaries of Area 52 in search of secret planes, planes that some think were never built.

"Originally, when the F-117 came out, that was a cover airplane for another airplane, the F-19. The F-19 was made for the Navy. They made 62 of them. You go anywhere on the net and they say that's total bull, there was no F-19. But there was," Lear said

Area 52 is managed by the private Sandia Corporation, a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin. The base serves both the Department of Energy and Department of Defense. Because the area is so isolated, it's the perfect spot to cut loose. It's there that new missiles are tested, bombs are dropped, cannons are fired, bunker busters are tried, and all sorts of things that go boom.

As Joerg Arnu says, "Where they can blow stuff up and nobody cares."

It took decades for images from 52 to be declassified. It will be decades more before we see what's underway now. One effort believed underway at TTR is the weaponization of UAVs. This is where the military figured out how to strap missiles onto predators, for example, and it's believed the work on drones is a major effort at TTR.

If you think secrets can't be kept, you've never met Colonel Gail Peck, who headed a classified program dubbed "Constant Peg." From 1978 through 1988, Peck commanded a team of pilots who flew Russian MiGs in simulated combat against American warplanes. It's long been known that Area 51 had MiGs for radar testing. Peck put those planes into combat action from Area 52.

Col. (Ret.) Gail Peck, U.S. Air Force, said, "It was compartmentalized into what we call must-know. Meaning, that if you were going to participate, you were brought into the program, briefed, participated in the program, then were debriefed; you had the door shut behind you."

They built the long runway at TTR, not for the Stealth as everyone has long believed, but for a fleet of MiGs. Through ten years and 15,000 sorties, the public never knew about it until 11 months ago, some 19 years after the program ended.

Col. (Ret.) Peck said, "The fact that security was maintained is a reflection of the respect that all the pilots who participated had for the value of it. It just was not a leaker."

As far as anyone knows, TTR did not receive any of those strange disc-shaped craft that people claim to have seen at Area 51 over the years, but, there are more exotic secrets about programs at the base -- things supposedly deep in the ground.

CONT.>>> Area 52: Weird and Wild Stories - Part 2.

E-mail Chief Investigative Reporter George Knapp.

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