Roadrunners Talk about Area 51 - 8 News NOW

George Knapp, Investigative Reporter

Roadrunners Talk about Area 51

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Groom Lake Groom Lake

If you think that no one can keep a secret anymore, you haven't met members of the Roadrunners International.

About 300 Roadrunners and their spouses are in Las Vegas this week to share stories about the secret work they did at the Area 51 military base, stories they've kept quiet for 50 years.

From outside the room, it looks like any of a thousand such gatherings, but inside, the stories being told by these former cold war warriors are unlike anything you might here in any other banquet room. The members of the International Roadrunners all worked at Groom Lake, better known today as Area 51.

They worked for the Air Force, for the CIA, and for defense contractors on what were then the most secretive military projects in the world -- the U-2, A-12 and SR 71 spy planes.

Harry Martin worked on the fuel system of the A-12 and was at Groom Lake for the very first flight.

"It is still the fastest and highest flying aircraft in the world," said Harry Martin who worked on the A-12 spy plane. This year marks the 50th anniversary of both the Groom Lake base and the U-2 spy plane.

Some of the Roadrunners were at Groom Lake from day one and were the first to fly the so-called Dragon Lady. "We were up in the unknown realm at that particular time. For example, I had the altitude record three times, and Ray Goudy had it three times. We were exchanging it, going higher and higher when the aircraft could," said Lt. Col. Hank Meierdierck, former CIA employee and U-2 pilot.

The Lt. Colonel had to use a code name even among other military men. He and the others would be gone for weeks at a time but could not even tell their wives what they were doing, which prompted jokes that maybe the wives thought the men had a second family somewhere.

Some of the family members are hearing the real stories for the first time, and the Roadrunners are making a concerted effort to preserve the history of those heady days.

"For many years, we couldn't talk about anything we did. They've taken the lid off it where we can, so while we still can mentally and physically, we're going to get some of the stories out," said T.D. Barnes, former CIA electronics expert.

Many of the best stories occurred in House 6, the Groom Lake barracks that became the bar and poker room at the base, and which is the namesake of the bar at the reunion. Pieces of history are everywhere here -- an actual flight manual from the U-2, patches and insignia from different units -- you can guess which one caught our eye -- and the original news release from 1955 announcing the creation of area 51-- KLAS TV was on the list.

It was only in later years that Area 51 dropped off the map. The Roadrunners hope to make sure their contributions don't likewise disappear. The Roadrunners gathering is not open to the public, but you can click here to learn more about the organization and the history of Groom Lake.

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